by Rick Sapp
You will need a place to set up, preferably one where you will not be continuously distracted and where you can be reasonably certain that other hands, especially those of children, will not meddle in the components. It would also be very helpful if you had a buddy who was also a reloader, because you will have questions, you will make mistakes, and to call the retailer – who may direct you to the manufacturer – is time consuming and can be frustrating.
Begin with a single stage reloader, one that allows you to learn one shell at a time. Look for things that will make your handloading life easier and simpler. If you shoot both the 12 and sub-gauges, you will save more money per shell by concentrating your loading on the smaller guns. Before you buy, then, verify that the press can be set up to load everything you want to shoot and that it will not cost you hundreds of dollars more to load your 20-gauge and 28-gauge shells, too. It helps to have a press that sizes shells automatically and automatically feeds primers, even if you have to pay a little extra for the primer feed. In short, look for some labor saving features up front. You could end up using this press for darn near forever because its serviceability will not decline with age.
At some time in your shotgunning life, you may become deeply involved with one of the clay sports. As an All American Trap Shooter, for example, you would want to speed up the loading process because you are experienced and you need to build more shells. At that time, you might buy a progressive press, i.e., one that automatically advances hulls through the basic reloading cycle with every pull of the lever. Do not sell or junk your single stage, though, because it can usually be retrofit to load your hunting shells, which will usually be far fewer in number and different in load character than those required for a trap shooting.
It is better to spend a couple hundred dollars extra up front for the right machine than it is to suffer with years of irritation. Now, let’s go shopping.
MEC: MAYVILLE ENGINEERING
The introductory single stage press from MEC is the 600 Jr. Mark V. It can load eight to ten boxes per hour and can be upgraded with an automatic primer feed which eliminates the need to handle each primer individually.
Mayville Engineering (www.mecreloaders.com) has manufactured shotshell reloaders under the MEC name since 1956. Everything from the least expensive single stage machine to a fully automated progressive loader is available in the line. (MEC’s Internet site also gives information, prices and parts lists for a number of their discontinued models, thousands of which are still pumping out shells today.)
Beginning with what MEC considers “the world’s top selling reloader” and the very first machine many reloaders use, the 600 Jr. Mark 5 was introduced in 1985 and costs only $118. MEC says that once the operator gains a little experience, this single stage reloader can fill eight to ten boxes of shells an hour. In addition, it can be upgraded with the 285 CA Primer Feed, which eliminates the need to handle each primer individually. This press is adjustable for 3-inch shells and is available in all gauges, plus the .410. All MEC reloaders include one charge bar and three powder bushings:
• 10-gauge (2-ounce bar with bushings 37, 40 and 44),
• 12-gauge (1 1/8-ounce bar with bushings 29, 30 and 32),
• 16-gauge (1-ounce bar with bushings 23, 25 and 29),
• 20-gauge (7/8-ounce bar with bushings 20, 22 and 24),
• 28-gauge (3/4-ounce bar with bushings 14, 16 and 21)
• .410-bore (1/2-ounce bar with bushings 10, 11 and 12, or for a 3-inch shell, the 11/16-ounce bar with bushings 10, 11 and 12).
MEC believes that its Sizemaster reloader is an excellent choice for hunters. The built-in Power Ring Collet Resizer returns all types of shells – with brass or steel bases, high base or low – to factory specifications. The Sizemaster is adjustable for 3-inch shells and fills all gauges and the .410. Additional die sets cost $90 for any gauge except the 10, which is $105. Extra powder bushings are $2.20 and charge bars are $13. An automatic primer feed is standard on the $179 Sizemaster. It loads primers for all gauges, except the 410.
According to Mayville Engineering, the gauge-specific Steelmaster is the only shotshell reloader that is fully equipped to handle steel and lead. The resize head accepts any shell base and the press has an automatic primer feed. Separate presses are required for 10-gauge (1-1/2-ounce bar for BB through #2 with bushings 31, 34 and 37), 12-gauge (2-3/4- and 3-inch: 1-1/8-ounce bar for BB through #3 with bushings 25, 32 and 34) or 12-gauge (3-1/2-inch: 1-1/2-ounce for BB through #2 with bushings 36, 37 and 39A). In the 10- or standard 12-gauge expect to pay about $193 for the Steelmaster, but in the 3-1/2-inch 12-gauge size, the price jumps to $206. Die sets to change gauge cost $90 for any gauge except the 10, which is $105.
Extra powder bushings are $2.20 and charge bars, $15.
The MEC 650N is advertised as “maximum effect for minimum effort” – at the bargain price of just $240. Although it works on six shells at once and finishes a shell with each pull of the handle, the 650N does not resize hulls. If you buy this press, resizing becomes a separate operation. MEC says that the 650N is “the ideal press for the person who likes to resize and inspect their shells as a separate operation.” (MEC’s separate Super Sizer shell resizer costs $67. It is built-in to all “new generation” MEC reloaders. Separate parts must be purchased to resize different gauges.)
A good quality reloader like the MEC 650N will reload a lot of shells without giving you many maintenance hassles. The 650N has three crimp stations: beginning the crimp, folding and tapering.
The 650N press uses three crimping stations. The first one starts the crimp and the second closes it. The final station places a very slight taper on the shell, which allows it to feed easier through pumps and semi-autos.
Other features of the 650N however make it more attractive. The automatic primer feed is standard, for instance. This press is available in all gun sizes, but die sets to switch one machine between gauges are not available and the 650N does not load 10-gauge shells.
MEC’s progressive 8567 Grabber mechanically programs 10 operations at six stations. This $338 reloader has a fully automatic primer feed, auto-cycle charging and the three-stage crimp mentioned above. The built-in Power Ring resizer operates without interrupting the reloading sequence. The operator manually places hulls and wads in the proper place and a finished shell is subsequently produced with each pull of the handle. Optional kits are available to load 3-inch and steel shells. (The 8567 is not available in 10-gauge.)
The 9000-Series is MEC’s top-of-the-line progressive press with plenty of automatic features, such as primer feed. The $407 model #GN is hand-powered while the $958 #HN is hydraulic and operates via a foot pedal. These machines incorporate all of the 8567’s features including automatic resizing, automatic indexing and finished shell ejection after final crimping. The 9000-Series does not reload 10 gauge shells and die sets are not available.
MEC has a number of press accessories available such as a dust cover, larger capacity primer feed tray, jig fixture and intermediate bottle supports. Note that a steel shot kit and charge bar must normally be installed to reload steel shot.
A charge bar determines the amount of shot that will be dropped, while the bushing determines the amount of powder. The ratio for powder is determined by the recipe you select and the brand of powder you use.
Ponsness/Warren (www.reloaders.com) has developed reloading gear for almost 40 years and its Platinum 2000 Series progressive reloading presses are state-of-the-art. The 2000s feature P/W’s typical cast frame and precision-machined parts. With eight shells in separate stations and various stages of completion, a 2000 automatically performs the following functions with each pull of the handle: indexes the shells, de-primes and re-primes, drops a precision volume of powder, inserts the wad, then drops a precision volume of shot, crimps the shells and finally ejects a completed shell.
The author of the previous edition of this venerable volume called P/W reloader’s full-length re-sizing dies their “very best feature.” With a P/W 2000, the shell is pressed into a sizing die at the very first station and it rides through the balance of the process contained within this steel ring. In this system, a hull rarely distorts, and as much pressure as necessary can be applied for proper crimp closure.
P/W is especially proud of the hopper and the primer feed on these machines. Their EZ-Fill Access Hopper holds more than 25 pounds of shot and up to a pound of powder in a high-impact plastic divided container. When you need to load several different recipes, special bushing-access holes allow quick shot and powder bushing changes without the usually laborious task of draining and removing hoppers. Purchased separately, it is $90.
The brass external primer feed allows an operator to easily adjust primer seating depth without taking the primer feed assembly out of the machine. Primers are held in a tray, approximately at eye level, and are fed downward through a sleeve into the feed assembly by gravity. Purchased separately, the primer feed is $100.
A Lifetime Warranty on the index system and P/W’s new Die Removal Cylinder come with this series of presses. P/W says the Die Removal Cylinder is built with 100 percent Grivory®, which it says is “a new compound that is stronger and more rigid than aluminum.” It allows you to easily remove and inspect shells during the reloading process to check powder or shot weights, by simply lifting a die pin and sliding out the shell. The 3-pound Die Removal System is also available to update many older P/W reloaders. It costs $170 and comes with the P/W shell extracting kit.
A 52-pound Platinum 2000 with sizing die system is available in 12-gauge (powder bushing H, shot bushing #6 for 1-1/8-ounce), 20-gauge (powder bushing D, shot bushing #4 for 7/8-ounce) and 28-gauge (powder bushing B, shot bushing #3 for 3/4-ounce), as well as the .410-bore (powder bushing 2A, shot bushing #1 for 1/2-ounce). They have a catalogued price of $699, although the factory’s 2004 Christmas Special flyer offered them for $649 and you can undoubtedly buy them for less through a reputable internet source. (Of course, if you buy through a local retailer, you may not pay the rock-bottom price. You will almost certainly, however, have access to friendly and helpful technical assistance when you run into difficulties or have questions that are not covered on the manufacturer’s Internet site. And you will have questions.)
The P/W 800 Plus was new for 2004. Built with full-length resizing dies and a gear-style index system, this progressive machine sounds an audible “click” when it is fully indexed. (Because I always worry about proper seating and positioning of mechanical elements, I like this small feature.) A die-removal cylinder allows for easy shell removal at any station. The 800 Plus uses the EZ-Fill Access Hopper and all other standard features of a 2000. Lacking a central shaft, 800 Plus tooling kits are installed in a tool head. This allows you to convert to another gauge in about five minutes without the need to readjust any of the crimping stages.
The 52-pound 800 Plus with sizing die system is available in 12-, 20- and 28-gauge as well as .410-bore with a catalogued price of $699 and the same powder and shot bushings as those listed for the 2000 Series. The 2004 Christmas Special flyer from the factory offered these reloaders for $649! Individual gauge-specific tooling kits cost an extra $295.
Close-up of MEC rig filling a clay load of 1-1/8-ounces of #7-1/2 shot.
P/W says their 53-pound L/S-1000 is the “only fully progressive reloader that loads lead, steel and bismuth shot without the need for any type of conversion kit.” This press features a silent indexing system and the company’s new Grivory Die Removal System. The precise Uni-Drop System on the L/S-1000 drops any shot size, up to and including BB. The 12-gauge model ($849) loads either 2-3/4- or 3-inch shells while the 10-gauge model ($895) loads only 3-1/2-inch.
The single stage reloader in P/W’s current press line-up is the Du-O-Matic 375C. Like the larger and more expensive L/S-1000, the Du-O-Matic will load lead, steel or bismuth without requiring a conversion kit. The dual tool head lets you install a second tooling set when you want to change gauge. Look for extra large shot and powder tubes, which include baffles and a positive-lock charge ring that prevents the accidental flow of powder. A positive, full-length resizing die contains the shell throughout the loading operation. Your shell always emerges bulge-free. A 31-pound Du-O-Matic is available in all gauges plus the 410 bore. Expect to pay around $300 if you purchase it direct from Ponsness/Warren, except for the 12-gauge/20-gauge model, which is $384.
Ponsness/Warren offers a large number of options and accessories for its reloading presses such as dust covers, shell counters, shovel handles, a new finished-shell Front Drop collection system and multiple types of conversion kits that allow older P/W presses to load non-toxic shot. Its top-mounted Automatic Shell Feed System is available for those who quickly tire of feeding shells manually, one by one. The Shell Feed holds 500 empty shells, and sends them brass-down onto the shell feed seating assembly. An electric motor, which turns the sorting disc in the hopper, is equipped with a micro-switch that stops the motor automatically when the feed tube is full (30 pounds, 12-gauge only, $395 0r thereabouts).
About the time your eyes glaze over and you’re sure that you will soon turn up three cherries from cycling the press handle, you will be willing to spend $899 for P/W’s Hydro-Multispeed, single cylinder hydraulic system. With a floor-mounted pedal, this 65-pound hydraulic system permits hands-free reloading. It has three speed settings and P/W guarantees that it will not damage your P/W reloader with high pressures. Extra-long hoses with quick-disconnect couplings allow for floor placement of the motor. An optional cylinder kit allows you to hook up your Hydro-Multispeed assembly to more than one press for loading multiple gauges or recipes at one time (9 pounds, $400).