RELOADING: Gear Up
A friend recently asked me to set him up to reload for precision rifle. As I was writing out the shopping list, I started thinking about how much research, trial and error, and frustration went into my reloading journey. Then I thought, why not write some of this out? Maybe it will help someone else. So... here we go.
First, though, a few notes/caveats/warnings:
Don't be dumb. Just because something worked for me, doesn't mean it will work for you. This post is meant as a guide. It's not a substitute for your own research and common sense.
This is for PRS-style shooting. As you'll find as you get into precision rifle reloading, there are many kinds of shooters. An F-Class shooter is going to approach reloading much differently than I do. While I chase consistency, I'm limited in that I need to churn out, say, 100 rounds per week. Sometimes more. I have a job and a life outside of shooting. Spending an entire day in my basement reloading lair isn't acceptable.
Reloading isn't for everyone. If you're not a detail-oriented person, you might want to pass on reloading. Consistency in your reloading process isn't just for precision. It's also for safety. If you dump some extra powder in, you might be okay. Then again, there's a chance you might blow up your rifle. And hey, guess what direction that bolt is going if you have a catastrophic failure? That's right... BACKWARDS. Into your face.
Buy once, cry once. You don't have to go crazy. But recognize that the cheap stuff will cause headaches. Buy middle-of-the-road or higher. You'll thank me later.
With all that said, let's get into it. Here's a shopping list I put together for a buddy who is getting set up to load 6.5 Creedmoor for his Tikka with a T3x action and a 24" factory barrel:
PRESS -- Redding Big Boss II
Go with a single stage press or a turret press if you're reloading for precision rifle. Personally I run a Forster Co-Ax, which I recommend highly. But my buddy opted for a Redding Big Boss II to save a bit of dough. The Redding's reviews are good. It looks to be a really solid choice. We also ordered a Redding shellholder (#1) to accompany the press.
I opted for the Co-Ax for two reasons. First, the design of the Co-Ax allows dies to "float," which helps with concentricity. Second, the Co-Ax doesn't require shellholders.
DIES -- Redding Premium Full-Length Sizing Die w/ Micrometer Seating Die
Redding makes excellent dies. One question you'll run into is whether to run a full-length sizing die or a neck-sizing die. The difference is that the F/L sizing die resizes the entire length of the brass, all the way down to the web. The neck-sizing die only resizes the neck of the cartridge.
Without getting too technical, I full-length size everything. This keeps things running smoothly when you're out in the field. When you neck-size only, clearances are tight. Your reloaded cartridges will just barely fit into your rifle's chamber. Add some dust and sand to the equation. Now you're wrestling with your rifle in the middle of a stage, trying to get a round to chamber. Not good.
In my personal set up, I run the Redding Type S Competition F/L dies. These allow you to change out bushings to set neck tension. While messing with bushings is a little much for the newbie reloader, having this added feature is something I like.
Powder Scale -- RCBS Chargemaster Lite
Powder scale and dispenser is essential. Keep it simple and go with a Chargemaster Lite from RCBS. While some folks run considerably more expensive scales/dispenser set ups, these are not essential as you're getting into the game. Chargemaster Lite's are very capable of producing reloads with excellent SD's.
Calipers -- Hornady
Any calipers that are made of metal, measure at least down to the thousandth-of-an-inch, and have good reviews will be fine. Check out Amazon.
Comparator Body -- Sinclair
Bump Gauge Insert -- Sinclair
Bullet Comparator Body -- Sinclair
A comparator body is another essential item. The comparator body together with accompanying inserts allow you to measure "shoulder bump" and cartridge length from base to ogive ("CBTO").
Why not just simply measure cartridge overall length? Well, you can, but you'll find some variation in shape/deformation of bullet meplats/tips. Most people agree that a more useful measurement is CBTO.
Ball Micrometer* -- Anything with good reviews on Amazon
You can go without a ball micrometer if you aren't using a bushing die. But if you do opt for bushing dies, grab a ball micrometer too. It will help you settle on the correct bushing(s) to order.
BRASS CLEANING -- Hornady Digital Vibratory Tumbler + Tumbling Media
The best shooters I know clean their brass with corn cob media in a dry tumbler. I have always been partial to wet tumbling with stainless steel media. There are pros and cons of each. But for newer shooters, the dry tumbling is simple. No need to dry brass.
DECAPPING DIE -- Lee Universal Decapping Die
Most sizing dies have a little pin that decaps (i.e., de-primes) fired brass. I prefer to use the Lee Universal Decapping die instead to decap my brass before tumbling the brass. The benefit is cleaner primer pockets.
HAND PRIMER -- RCBS Universal Hand Primer
Many reloading presses have a priming station built in. Don't use these. Hand primers are better in my experience.
TRIMMER -- Sinclair Stainless Ultimate Trimmer + Fired Case Holder
Get the trimmer that includes the micrometer. Keep in mind too that if you're purchasing new brass, you'll also need to order a "New Case" case holder in addition to the "Fired Case" case holder.
Lube for Sizing Die -- Hornady One Shot OR Imperial Sizing Wax / Dry Neck Lube
I have stayed away from Hornady One Shot because I've heard a lot of stories of cases stuck in sizing dies with the Hornady One Shot. Then again, some of my friends who are excellent shooters swear by the stuff. I've always liked the combination of Imperial Wax and Imperial Dry Neck Lube (graphite).
Bullet Puller -- Hornady Cam Lock + Appropriate Collet
The Hornady Cam Lock bullet puller is so, so much better than the kinetic pullers.
Reloading Trays -- Any will work. Get at least two.
Hornady Sure-Loc Lock Rings -- Get 3-4 of these.
These rings are a much better design than the lock rings that come with Redding dies. Once you get your Redding dies, pull off those lock rings and replace them with the Hornady rings.
Chamfer/Debur -- Lyman Case Prep Multitool
The hand tool is fine to start. Get one with a VLD-style chamfer attachment. Down the road you may explore options that speed up brass prep. But a hand tool is a good start that's also low cost.
In terms of reloading equipment, that's all you need to get started. Eventually you may want to upgrade or add to some of these things... you'll always be on the lookout for ways to save yourself TIME while maintaining (or improving!) your ES's and SD's. There are some excellent ways to do that, but be prepared to spend some cash.
One topic I'm currently exploring is annealing. Many serious shooters anneal their brass. Annealing helps uniform neck tension and increase brass life. I'm 6-7 firings deep on some Hornady 6.5 Creedmoor brass. I'm starting to notice quite a bit of spring back in the necks. No doubt annealing would be helpful.
Feel free to email me with any questions, comments, corrections, etc.: firstname.lastname@example.org.