The first part of this article dealt with answering the basic question: If I am a deer hunter, hunting with a rifle, should I consider reloading?
I also laid out two suggestions as first steps along the road, Chevalier’s book and the RCBS Rock Chucker Supreme Master Kit.
Assuming you really are thinking of taking the leap, I wanted to share what you what comes next. From here on out, a lot of this is going to depend on your personal style of reloading. What is your personal style? That is hard to say, but nearly every guy I know has his own quirks. We all pretty much get there, but we get there in different ways. The bottom line is that there is more to the color of paint on the press. Each press is a little different, but whether one is better than the other is in the eye of the beholder. The same goes for all the other pieces. One guy will hate Lee priming systems, another will despise the RCBS scale. The fact of the matter is that they all do a pretty good job, but the reloader himself may have trouble adapting. Do not give up right away. If the first try does not mesh with you, try one more before giving up entirely.
For a beginner, do not worry about a progressive press or even a turret press. Buy a single-stage press. No matter how far you go down the road, that first press will be of use to you. Do not jump into progressives as a first step. You will be overwhelmed.
For the rest of this article, I am assuming that you have picked the Rock Chucker Kit like I did. Here are the additional things you will need:
Choosing your Dies
If you look at my die collection the majority are RCBS. There is no real magic to it. Some are Lee, some are Redding. My preference comes from having a local sporting goods store that had a good reloading department. It carried RCBS dies. It’s been out of business for 8 years. There are two things I can say in favor of RCBS dies:
1) The customer support has been excellent. If I break a decapping pin, I call the 800 number; even after 10 years, they replace the pins.
2) There is a little locking screw on the side of the big locking nut that lets me set that adjustment permanently. Some dies (like Lee) don’t.
You will need one set of dies for each chambering you load.
Selecting a Primer System
The priming system that comes with the Rock Chucker is half-way to useless. I immediately started looking around for a better system to seat primers. RCBS has a hand primer that has worked wonderfully. I also hear good things about the Lee
RCBS sent me a 10-5-5 scale with the master kit. It was okay, but I really did not trust it. I finally broke down and bought a set of checkweights, and my trust was restored. I knew going into it that a scale is only as good as its reference. If you put a 50 grain weight on the scale and get it zeroed properly, you should be able to then adjust the scale to 47 grains or 52 grains and the scale, no matter how crude, should be close to being dead-nuts on. There was nothing wrong with the scale, just my attitude.
A brand new set of checkweights will set you back close to $50, I got mine on E-Bay for less than half that. In the meanwhile, I took a few items to work and weighed them on a high-precision scale and used these for check weights. It was just a split-shot from my tackle box and bullet and a brass bead, but it was enough to establish not only that the scale could be verified against an external measurement, but that it was also giving consistent readings.
There are various ways to clean cases– wet and dry. You will need to figure out a way to clean cases. My choice was a vibratory cleaner and corn cob. Here’s the one I picked. It was cheap. It has been working for 10 years without a problem. You put the cases in before you go to bed, and the cases come out shiny when you get up in the morning. I use a little spritz of cleaner solution.
I don’t do a whole lot with case preparation. I don’t even clean my primer pocket or uniform my flash holes. This is deer hunting, not bench rest shooting. If I’m getting 1 ” or 2″ groups at 100 yards, I am crowing like a rooster. My one big splurge was this:
You use this with some ground mica lubricant. I run the dip the case mouth in the little reservoir of lubricant, run it down the brush, and then size my case.
You will need a caliper. Mine was as cheap as I could get. Buy one up front and get used to measuring to the nearest .001″ Mine has lasted a decade.
Mine is a half-sheet 3-ring binder with lined filler paper and dividers, 1 for each chambering I load. A plain steno book is probably all you need for starting out, but make sure you have something to write things down and be meticulous.
The Rockchucker kit comes with the latest Speer Manual. You can never have enough loading books. I have a recent Lee and a Lyman. It is good to have these for comparison. The two references I use most are the data site at www.Hodgdon.com. It has load information for Hodgdon, IMR, and Winchester powders in a simple easy- access database.
I also use POINTBLANK, free reloading software for the PC. POINTBLANK is more concerned with external ballistics than reloading per se. However, it is a great tool for modeling a load. One thing it shows me is that if I have a load that works, and I have a wild hair to bump the load up a bit, the resulting change in velocity and force is usually negligible. It still hits the deer at the same spot. The deer still falls over dead. The nice thing is that I can do this on a computer and I do not have to waste powder and lead chasing this stuff down.
The previous owner left me a home-brew workbench that had about as much surface as a half-sheet of plywood. I use that. I added shelves and I beefed up the front so there would be a solid attachment point for the press. Actually what I did was overkill, but there is something to be said for pulling the handle on the press and having no wobble. 3/4″ plywood and 2 X4 are about all you need. An old desk should be fine.
I have a set of crescent wrenches for setting up my dies. Mine came from the Dollar store– you will never have to really bear down on anything. I also have a couple of screwdrivers, a hex wrench set and an assortment of nails and screws for digging at stuck corn cob. I keep all my loose tools in a jewelry case, I got for a $1 at a yard sale.
. . . oh, and one other thing:
For a beginner, a chronograph is way over the top. However, if you get into this at all, you are going to start wondering how fast the bullets are travelling. I have a Chrony F1 that only set me back $90. It does the job. After I bought it, I realized that I had just been guessing wildly on a lot of things. A chrono lets you know exactly how fast the bullet is traveling. You plug that into POINTBLANK and Viola! (How did she get here?)
Putting it All Together
2001 was my first year shooting reloads. I’ve got a new farm, a new stand, I’ve got my new loads too. I’d worked all the way from January to September getting it just right. Prior to finding the farm, I’d been thinking about a combination deer/boar trip out to the Texas Hill Country, and settled on 165 Grain Hornady SP’s over IMR 4895 loaded into Remington 30-06 brass left from my first boar hunt in 1984. This load was equally accurate in my Winchester Mod 70 and my Remmie 742.
Thirty minutes into the Opener, a nice deer I had come to name Spike, the Wonder Buck came up the trail. I took the Winchester Mod 70 and got it set on his boiler room and . . . “Click.” Spike walked off. Spike wasn’t a spike. He was just a little 6 pointer that had been bugging me all through bow season. I named him Spike, because he was feisty and tenacious with the ladies– been chasing them since October.
Spike had gotten wise to me early in October and started showing up at my stand at the most inopportune times. He had an uncanny sense that allowed him to pick the one direction off the stand that I could not get a bow. He had an annoying sense of timing– showing up just as I was getting up for my mid-morning stretch. He also could slip in on my blind side and start eating acorns under my tree so that I would not notice him until it was too late.
Spike got wise to me, and I decided that a change of stand was in order. I knew which way he was coming, so on the last weekend before season I put my climber on a new tree 80 yards further back on the trail.
There he had been, at 30 yards dead-on in the crosshairs, and I’d had a primer fail on me. Drat. At the time, I blamed the rifle, but I cycled the next round when I got back to the house and got a satisfying bang. I tried the round that had Spike’s name written on it, and it was a dud. I tried another round and got another bang.
In 10 years I haven’t had another dud. It was just one bad primer out of hundreds. In fact, I went out on Sunday morning and bagged a nice fat doe with one out of the same batch out of my Remington 742.
Spike? He got a one -week reprieve.
The next Saturday, I was back in my buddy stand with Mooseboy. We got to witness an awesome once-in-a-lifetime meteor shower that was still visible as the sun was rising. About a half hour later, a herd of doe came tromping through with Spike taking up the rear!
“It’s a buck!” hissed Mooseboy.
“I’m taking him.” I said. I brought the Remington 742 up. Spike made the mistake of following the doe a little to closely, down the hill. I caught him in the brisket at 10 yards. Spike’s rack was the the first to go up on the wall. I dumped the powder out of that one bum round and it sits on my bench now as the reference I use for calibrating my ’06 die. We looked for the ejected brass, but it went into a sticker bush.
In the end I could not complain . I got my first buck at the farm with my first batch of reloads and had my son get to see it all being done.
Since that day, I have not taken a deer with a factory load, nor have I had a misfire, nor have I had to substantially change the load I fired that morning. It has been through 4 deer rifles including Mooseboy’s M1 Garand. I keep swearing I’m going to go to a 150 grain bullet to get a little velocity, but I just never seem to get around to that project.