Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Misadventures in Reloading

Ahh, the pains joys of rolling your own ammo. There’s nothing quite like sitting at your reloading station and pulling that handle and seeing a deformed perfect cartridge come out. Countertop has now taken his first steps in reloading.

He even shares a picture of cartridges that got caught in the die, which folded down part of the cartridge walls. I have a few of those I’ve never discarded. I’ve pulled the bullets out of them (if you’re just starting to reload a good bullet puller is a godsend). I can’t quite throw away primed brass and I really don’t feel like trying to drive the primer out of the pocket (can you say BANG). So, they are mute reminders to always check my settings before cranking that handle.

I’ve reloaded pistol cartridges for some time now, but I went through a learning curve that Countertop will experience. I’ve even had one or two misadventures in reloading that I guess I could mention.

I once reloaded .38 caliber cartridges with a Lee Loader. It’s a set of hand tools that you tap with a hammer (be sure your primer is in the right place). They come with a dipper to measure powder. (NOTE: any fault lies with the operator not the tool.)

Well, somehow on one batch I wasn’t quite filling that dipper to the brim although it seemed like it that time. Maybe my estimating ability was off, my hand shaky, or I should have turned the TV off (never have distractions when you reload). Seriously, I did know better than watch TV, but you can't always control all the other distractions around you.

Anyway, I took my newly loaded box of ammo to the range and began sending lead down range. Nothing like shooting ammo you made. It really is satisfying.

I was shooting an older Model 15 Smith & Wesson revolver. You might guess what happened. I had a squib load after shooting about 15 perfectly loaded rounds. Guess what else happened. I fired another one right after the first squib and it was a squib as well (thank God). I always listen for the sound and am conscious of recoil, but when you’re shooting fast enough, it’s almost impossible not to draw that trigger back just a little too far.

My mind finally caught up to my trigger finger and I froze. I remember thinking this isn’t good. This isn’t going to be pretty. I opened the cylinder and dumped the brass and unfired cartridges. I glanced at the sides of the barrel quickly and was relieved when I didn’t see any bulges, splits, or craters. I breathed a sigh of relief until I noticed a bullet sticking out of the muzzle.

Hmm, it didn’t respond to finger pressure, but my fingers responded to heat. I won’t do that twice. I took it home and tried pulling the bullet out. Channel lock pliers did nothing but deform the lead. I tried tapping it out in both directions, but the second bullet had expanded the first bullet and nothing was budging.

I ended up buying a new barrel from Smith & Wesson. If you look at the revolver now, you wouldn’t think anything untoward happened to it. But, the barrel is more modern than the frame. The original barrel was rounded where it fits into the frame, but the new one is squared. The difference isn’t that great, but I know it’s there—my constant reminder to be really careful whenever I’m reloading ammo. One good thing, though, the gun is more accurate with the new barrel than it was with the old. How about that.

That’s the only truly bad thing I’ve done—occasional crumpled brass notwithstanding. I enjoy reloading, especially shotgun shells. For pistol cartridges I use a Lee Pro 1000 and have had really good luck with it. But, I also check everything twice now, I never take anything for granted, and I spot check completed rounds periodically for powder weight, crimp, seating, and anything else I can check.

I hope Countertop enjoys his new hobby. It won’t save you a lot of money, but you can build ammo that suits you and your guns. Just be careful and think about what you’re doing every step of the way.

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