Reloading, now and in the future, is the best way to ensure your ammunition independence instead of relying on supply chains and retailers to provide a secure supply of ammunition. Reloading affords you the freedom to create your own ammo outside of the ups and downs of the global economy.
This article also appears in this month’s Complete Survivalist Magazine
Preparing for the Future
While it’s still a good idea to secure a good supply of surplus or bulk ammunition when prices dip,
it’s also a good idea to get proficient at reloading. The key to proficiency at reloading is getting the tools and skills you need now and knowledge through practice and practical application. The more you reload, the more you will understand what forces are at play and why you need to do what you’re doing. This will be vital when the time comes when supplies become scarce, and you need to make substitutions.
One thing you need to keep in your inventory and continue to replenish so that you’re at maximum levels is primers and powder. These components require complex chemistry to produce and are difficult to homebrew; the good news is you can purchase powder and primers in mass quantities for lower prices than ammo and store them in much smaller space. It would be a good idea to keep at least 10,000 primers on hand, for example. There may be limits to the amount of powder and primer you can keep on premise based on your home owners insurance or local fire regulations, but you should be able to store at least 20 pounds of powder and 10,000 primers. This will make a lot of ammunition for a long time.
For high-power rifles, you’re going to need to fire copper jacketed rifle bullets. It doesn’t make sense to go through the work of reloading if you’re going to load lower velocity lead bullets for rifles. With special presses and dies, you can actually make jacketed rifle bullets out of raw materials, but this is advanced reloading. You need to secure a supply of jacketed rifle bullets for reloading, they are as vital as primers and powder. For pistols and pistol caliber rifles, you have the choice of shooting copper jacked and plain lead bullets. Lead bullets are cheaper and easier to keep stocked up. You also have the ability to make lead bullets with a bullet mould. The downside is, again, you cannot push lead to the higher velocity that a jacketed bullet can handle. Also, lead will also foul barrels more readily than a jacketed bullet.
The basics of reloading is taking a spent case, clean it, and use a press and dies to remove the spent primer and re-size the brass, load a fresh primer, powder, and bullet and make it into a fresh round.
The best firearms to reload for are ones in common calibers that take brass cased rounds that are boxer primed. You can reload steel cases, but most are berdan primed and not worth the effort to reload. Steel pistol cases can usually be reloaded, so don’t discard these without checking the primer type. If you are going to reload military surplus brass, be aware that the primers are crimped in and you will need a tool to remove the crimp to allow the brass to be reloaded.
The most basic tool for reloading is the reloading manual. Get a good one, both from the bullet manufacturer you plan to use and for the caliber you plan to reload. Getting the knowledge to use your reloading tools in a safe and reliable manner is probably the best way ensure your immediate survival when reloading; reloading can be dangerous and you need to be able to make the right choices when purchasing powder and working up loads. Keeping good notes is also vital; you need to keep records of how you run your reloading process what your final recipe is. All these records should be stored both on paper and electronically.
The core reloading tool is your reloading press. What press you decide to purchase is going to affect your reloading process greatly. On the cheaper end of the spectrum is the single stage press. They are simple, rugged, and reliable, but slow to load. Because the single stage press can hold one die, each reloading operation must be run in batches. Another type of press is a turret press. This press has a turret head that holds each die and allows each step of the reloading process to be performed on the round, then the next round is loaded into the press. Finally, there is the progressive reloading press, which holds all the dies and allows for a reloading operation to be performed on a round each time the press handle is pulled. That way, as long as there are fresh components being loaded into it, a continuous stream of loaded ammunition will feed out of the press.
Dies are next big component in your reloading kit. I’d recommend getting the best quality dies you can afford, with titanium carbide or carbide dies. Carbide coatings reduce the possibility of a case getting stuck and destroying the die, which would be the worst case scenario. Getting the best quality dies will also help you make the best quality ammunition. Even if you plan on running a progressive press, you can still make match grade ammunition using high quality dies and careful reloading.
A stuck case remover kit would be a wise investment to protect yourself from a mistake that could jeopardize your entire reloading operation. A stuck case remover taps into the base of a stuck case and removes the stuck case from a die with mechanical force. With any luck, the case will separate from the die and you can continue reloading.
You will need a means to clean your brass. Popular methods are vibratory tumblers with a corn cob or walnut based media. In a lights-out situation, a hand-cranked tumbler with corn cob media will do the trick. You’ll also need a media separator to remove the brass from the media, some types which can also be used as a hand cranked tumbler.
Some other tools you’ll need are case gauges (to be sure you re-sized brass properly), primer pocket swagger and reamers to clean up the primer pockets, case trimmers to remove excessive length on bottleneck rifle rounds, and case lube to ensure that cases feed into the reloading dies smoothly and re-size without issues.
Overview of the Reloading Process
Dirty brass, either fired or bought in bulk, is cleaned, usually in a tumbler. Brass is then inspected for cracks and split necks. The clean brass is then lubed. Lube can be water based, oil based, or even animal fat based. Lubed cases are pressed into the resizing die where the used primer is knocked out. If this is military brass and is being reloaded for the first time, now is when the primer pocket crimping is swagged off, using either a primer pocket swagger that presses out the crimp, or a tool that cuts off the crimp. The re-sized case is then filled with powder. Depending on your die, the brass may be “belled” slightly in order to accept a bullet more readily. A bullet is then seated to a set seating depth. Next, depending on the round being loaded, a crimp may be applied to remove the bell and crimp in the bullet.
Electricity has brought some of the modern convinces into the reloading room; vibratory tumblers, electric brass trimmers, etc. There are hand tools available to perform this work. Reloading will take more time, but these tools will allow you to continue without disruption. They are cheap and I’d recommend purchasing a backup set of tools, in case the first wear out.
Summary for the Survivalist
The key points a survivalist needs to take away from this are to stock up on supplies that can’t be created easily, collect all the knowledge you can and keep good records, procure hand tools to replace electric tools when possible, and practice reloading as often as possible. The more experience you have with reloading, the more prepared you will be when you need to work with less resources.
All Photos by Mr. Smashy (click here for photostream)