Many shotgunners reload their own ammo citing economy as the big reason they do so. That's a bit of a fib, few folks ever save money. Most get to shoot more for the same amount of discretionary income expended. While few consider it a hobby in itself, we often think of it as a pleasurable adjunct to shooting like a fly fisherman tying his own flies. The break point for considering a reloader is probably about 100 rounds a week. YMMV.
Reloading's also surprisingly simple,safe(With a disclaimer later), and enables us to tweak a load for a specific target,shot opp,choke, etc.
A minimum of equipment is required, and a few accessories are nice to have.
The very first thing one should buy is a Manual. The Lyman Shotshell Manual contains not only recipes for various loads, but ancillary stuff like how to set up the press.
FYI, recipes are tested combinations of components that are SAFE to shoot. Leaving the tested stuff behind is rushing in where angels fear to tread. Stick to the loads listed in the manual exactly, no substitutions.
A recipe will include....
Brand and type of hull.
Brand, type and amount of powder.
Brand and type of primer.
Brand and type of wad.
Amount, by weight, of shot.
Presses measure powder and shot volumetrically, not by weight. The very next thing you should buy is a scale to check the weights of both powder and shot. The bushings used for powders come close, but they vary a little from the published weights and MUST be checked. These weights have to be checked out before loading and during the process.
Once you've read the manual thoroughly and figured out how to work the scale, you need to buy a press. These come in two kinds.
Single stage presses do one shell at a time. They are slower than progressive presses, which do several, one shell being made every time the handle's pulled. S/S presses are much less expensive than progressives.
Single stage presses start off with the mostly plastic Lee Load All. It's very inexpensive, holds up well, loads darn near all kinds of loads in one gauge, and has lots of happy owners.
However,the MEC 600 Jr is the 870 of the reloaders. Everybody has at least one and they hold up forever. Brand new, they run less than $100 from the catalog places like Midway and Gamaliel. With addons, they adapt to 3" mags, Steel shot, 2 1/2" shells ad infinitum. MEC, (Mayfield Engineering Corporation) is a class act, and stands by their stuff. They'll rebuild an old MEC for a few bucks, but my bet is they do few.
I broke a shot bottle holder on mine. I called them, they sent me a new part for a pittance, and wouldn't take plastic over the phone, They billed me later, Meanwhile tech support there told me how to patch up the old one with JB weld. So I've a spare part for something that'll never need it. A class act...
Mine was bought used, along with manual, scale, and some components for $80. My guess, the payback period was 3 weeks. It took a half hour to set everything up, another half hour to load up the first box of reloads, and maybe 15 minutes for the second. Without busting a sweat, I can knock off a box of stuff good or batter than factory loads now in 12 minutes. The most expensive reload I use is the same quality as an AA or STS target load, and runs less than $2.80 a box.
Pacific, among others, makes a good single stage press, but the MECs rule.
Among progressives, there's more choices,from more MECs up to the Spolar, which roughly corresponds to a Lamborghini. The hydraulic version runs less than $1500, and Dicksie Spolar will set the thing up for your pet load and run off 100 on it before it leaves the factory. A box in 3 minutes with this is not near the record.
For new folks, I recommend getting a single stage. Less mess when we botch the sequence, easier to learn. Spills are inevitable. I bolt my MEC to a piece of 2X8", set that in a shallow pan and C clamp the whole thing to the workbench. The pan catches most of the spillage.
It's best if we do not set this up over a carpet. Bare floor is easiest to clean up, and less static electricity. I run a ground wire from the press to reduce static E. Powders meter more uniformly. Also, do not set up your loader near open flame. Or, use a vacuum cleaner to get up spilled shot and powder. Shot will ruin the vac, a spark from the motor to spilled powder granules can ruin your day.
Next,you need hulls. I vehemently recommend sticking to the top line target stuff. AAs from Winchester, STS hulls from Remington and Gold Medals from Federal are the best. Value packs and off brands do not hold up to repeated loadings. Few shoot as well, some turn dangerous.
Commonly, one buys top ammo like the AA stuff a case or so at a time, shoots it up and uses the cases until they're ragged, then repeats the above. Or, picking up discarded hulls at the range is often used to supplement one's purchases. I've a friend, known here as the Hull Elf, who gives me once fired STS hulls 500 at a time. Everyone should have such a friend....
Winchester primers are found nearly everywhere, so is Clays powder, made by Hodgdon, an old and upright company.
The Winchester wads are ubiquitious, but the clones made by Claybuster are as good,IMO/ They cost considerably less. These are easy to find.
A killer recipe for Old Trusty Rusty means zilch if you can't find the stuff or buy them over the Net. Use common stuff and skip the aggravation.
A few extras are nice to have. I use a stacker which holds the loaded rounds as they sit in a box, one pulls an empty box down over them, inverts, removes the stacker and closes it up. Great time saver.
An auto primer is also good for saving time and hassle.
Bins and boxes for holding wads, hulls etc are nice to have but you'll figure this one out yourself. The one that holds my hulls came with canned soup in it.
While there's universal charge bars around,I hear they tend to drift settings. I use different bars for shot weight from 3/4 to 1 1/4 oz and maybe 5 powder bushings.Add these as needed,if needed.
Again,use the scale to ensure consistency and safety.
One can learn how to use the equipment rightly by reading the Lyman manual. I did. But, I had a good background in loading metallic cartridges and a strong sense of self preservation. Go carefully, or get an experienced reloader to show you how.
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December 24, 2003, 08:08 AM
Write this on a piece of paper and tape it somewhere prominent on your bench:
"If anything feels/sounds/looks wrong... STOP! Figure out what's going on, then inspect and weigh everything in production. Fix the problem and then move on."
This is particularly important with progressive presses, but applicable to all. If you're pulling that lever and you feel too little/much resistance, or something feel crunchy, DO NOT try to force it.
Always remember that you are making small bombs that are going to be set of very close to your face. Shrapnel hurts.
Oh, and when people ask you if you save money reloading, never include any allowance for either the time it takes you, nor the gas money you spend driving 150 miles to the shop that sells wads for $0.12 less per 500 than the local place.:D
December 24, 2003, 10:39 AM
Good write up.
As one who doesn't really enjoy reloading, I agree that it should be easy, simple and quick.
I use a Mec progessive, e-z pack loader and common, easy to load/buy componants. Hodgen powders, Winchester primers, STS hulls(or AA) and I do "splurge" on wads. I use the factory wads for whatever hull I'm using simply because I find them to "fit" better, i.e. easier and quicker than many of the cheaper wads.
It's hard to beat a Mec for most reloaders.
I started on a single stage, but really would have no trouble recommending a progressive for a new shooter that really was going to shoot some rounds. On a grabber or a 650, it's hard to envision a circumstance that would allow a dangerous load to be loaded without trying to do it, given the design of the reloader. That's assuming you follow the proper charge weights and powder, etc.
December 24, 2003, 05:57 PM
Thanks, folks, you make good points.
Everyone should keep in mind that grenades and shotshells have similar working pressures.
And since I've no control over your reloading, sue someone else if you goof. I'm broke anyway.
December 24, 2003, 06:30 PM
What a great write up. Makes me want to start reloading shotshells.
Couple questions. Can you reload one at a time on the mec press or will it spill stuff if you do? Got any experiance with the RCBS dies?
Everyone should keep in mind that grenades and shotshells have similar working pressures.
What a great sign for the reloading room wall.:p
December 24, 2003, 10:10 PM
Reloading Ammo 101....
Good Topic Dave , thanks!
Good points made so far; Safety , safety glasses,reloading rules and rules of safety posted where easily read, fire extinguisher, safe handling and storage, washing hands ,when in doubt-don't, no distractions, write down the recipe and have thumbtacked where easy to read, known( control) weight to zero scales, covered metal waste can...etc.
I've said this before about chokes and bbls, applies to any and everything, just because a bushing ,or charge bar is "supposed to be does not mean it is. I have seen a set of used reloading equip boughy at a flea market that someone had honed bigger-- bushings had also been made larger--never assume, measure.
One thing I have done and it's been 20 yrs ago, I was working on a load, I had probably every bushing Mec makes X4. I bought multiples and just kept the bushing that worked in 12, 20 , 28 or 410 with the 12 or whatever charge bars and the like.
I tried univeral charge bars , I do not like, I refuse to use them and I have my reasons. If you have them and like- fine. That is your right...respect mine as well.
I needed to throw a certain grain weight, I could not get what I wanted to throw, I tried multiples of bushings next size down-too little, next up-way too big, and the 4 or 6 of the bushing called for still threw too much.
Black electrical tape, cut and inserted/taped to the inside of the powder bushing, throw five charges weight/5 to get average until I was able to tweak that bushing to throw that powder . Stays put, being slick no drag/impede of powder thrown.
Yellow Testor' model paint and marked with Sharpie [ "w 29w") was my flag "warning bushing 29 " had been tweaked. My recdipe book had notation and even though that bushing stayed with that particular guage, err on side of caution.
I ran across this a few times and repeated when new powders came out, new loadings, new hulls, came out, etc..
December 25, 2003, 05:49 AM
Ed, my MEC does only one at a time. The progressives do more than one, so every time the handle's pulled a round is completed.
RCBS used to make, and may still, dies for their metallic reloaders in 12 gauge. Is that what your inquiring about?
If so, no experience, sorry.
December 25, 2003, 08:42 AM
Some great posts here.
Sometimes the savings are not as great as you might think particularly if you are paying for hulls and consider your time of some value. 12 gauge savings for me work out to less than a dollar a box compared to acceptable factory ammo. Reloading is a definite money saver if you shoot 28 gauge. Go here to find out just how much a box is costing you.
I don't reload 12 gauge to save money. I reload 12 because I can develop precisely the load I want and have it whenever I want it without depending on the whims of a factory or supplier.
Like any endeavor, reloading can go wrong. You will spill shot and powder eventually and to make clean up a little easier I put my MEC 9000 onto a large cookie sheet and then bolted both to the bench. When shot spills it stays contained. Keep a hand whisk, dust pan and some compressed air nearby to clean up any powder spills and DO NOT use a vacuum cleaner to clean up spilled powder. If you spill a lot of lead on the floor be careful about your footing. Those little lead pellets will act like a thousand ball bearings and can make a hard surface very slippery.
Having loaded tens of thousands of rounds I've had some where the wad cocked or some other problem arose. It's very tempting to try and recover the primer and other usable components. Decapping a live primer from a shell isn't worth the risk. I've seen a MEC loader where the primer let go and it wasn't pretty. For the sake a couple of cents, discard any shells that don't work out as planned.
And if the shell doesn't sound right when it fires stop immediately and check the barrel. I've never had a double load but have had a load or two where there wasn't enough powder. I've also found factory loads, including Winchester AA, with similar problems. When it doubt, check it out.
December 25, 2003, 11:40 AM
When I built my reloading bench, I put some quarter round almost all the way around, to help contain any spilled shot or powder. I did leave a small break, just about an inch long, positioned directly over my trash can. That way, I can use a 2 1/2" paintbrush to sweep the stuff into a small pile and then directly into the trash can.
Also, at the end of each reloading session, I use a 4" section of strapping tape like a lint brush to completely get rid of any loose powder or shot from the bench and the press.
Cigar boxes were practically designed for MEC charge bars.
When I started shooting seriously, a good friend who'd been reloading for years had me load probably 500 shells with his equipment, under his supervision. In that way, I got a good idea of how things worked and how to recognize and fix the common problems. Oh yeah, and he also sold me a used 9000G for fairly cheap. I try to keep that sort of generousity and helpfullness in mind whenever I'm talking to other shooters. That's yet another helpful thing he passed along.
BTW, if you are intending to build your own reloading bench, remember that there is no such thing as overbuilt. Mine is like a tank to begin with, and when I've got 20 or so bags of shot on the lower storage shelf (built more like a pallet than a shelf), it would take something approaching glacial movement to budge the thing.
PJR - I have a small box labelled "Reloading Mistakes - DO NOT USE", which holds all of the seriously messed up shells I've ever cranked out. Do you have any good ideas for safe disposal? I'm leary of just lighting the box on fire next Independence Day.:uhoh: :D
December 25, 2003, 12:54 PM
PJR made a point I forgot to mention earliier:
I can develop precisely the load I want and have it whenever I want it without depending on the whims of a factory or supplier. This was especially true years and years ago with the loads available and with the fixed chokes of shotguns of the day. Truth is I could make a better loading for MY task and for MY shotgun.
Set up: Well I started out simple with a Versamec 700 single stage bolted to a pc of wood, "C" clamped to an old table. Buddy of mine made me a "tray" with 1" sides so to contain any spills. I just put onto table the 700 inside tray and "C" Clamped. Then before you know it other sizes of hulls, and reloaders "just appeared".
Heavy oak kitchen stand with drawers and doors, refinished in cherry. All eight reloaders were mounted on the same size and stained wood, bases, matching bolts and wing nuts. I had stained two pcs of heavy ply wood, on one I had drilled holes to match the reloaders ( one each single stage or progressive in 12, 20, 28, .410). Atop the Kitchen stand a nice pc of heavy cloth, then the first pc of plywood. The second pc of plywood with pre-drilled holes , quarter round and bolts went next, Heavy duty "C" clamps kept this all secure. So I had 3 reloaders side by side. Just undo wing nut, remove a reloader with its base, replace with the one I wanted, onto bolts and wing nut back down.
I had 8 reloaders going all the time and not far to walk to garage for supplies, or to shelve reloaded shells.
A buddy ,whom I have mentioned before, had a similar set up, and added P&W reloaders. 5 guys on a cold wet winter day can sure put together a bunch of shells.
I'm back to simple, I still have the kitchen stand, and the whole set up. Again as referrred to in another thread , just me and the Versamec 700 and a well used sheet metal tray and "C " Clamps these days. Letting the Veramec take some retirement time, figured we both deserved a break.
Besides it is more fun to get someone else set up and running, make sure they get it right, and hey if I get invited to stay over and eat supper and watch the daughter pull the handle and help daddy...sounds like quality time to me. See the wife grew up reloading and shooting, she has the son on the other reloader...Ok so at age 3 he is not really into it...rather use the shell stacker...but it's a start. :)
December 25, 2003, 02:08 PM
The RCBS SS dies that I seen are a single die with a few attachments for switching stages. You use them on a RC press, but have to remove the 1 1/2" bushing on the press to insert the die. Kind of looked like a pita to use but I could be wrong. If I started reloading shotshells it would be on a limited small scale, just slugs and maybe some buckshot.
I just cant decide if I should break down and buy a SS press like the mec or just add the RCBS dies. If the mecs will allow single loading, it sounds like that may be the way to go for me.
December 25, 2003, 02:23 PM
Dave ..... Kudos Sir ......... nice write-up.
Ignoring my time - I do tho think I save enough to matter .... I reckon my box of shells costs me about $2 ...... partly cos I buy bulk from a distributor that has very good prices.
Steve ..... ''electrical tape to tweak a bushing'' .... oh my ..... why is it that some of the simplest things get overlooked ...... thx for that .... will remember and probably expedite sometime.:)
December 25, 2003, 03:45 PM
Edward, no experience personally, but I have known persons to complain about the switching out, extra die purchases...they bought Mecs, or Lee.
Hornady also makes a reloader ( forget name) people did the same , went to Mecs, or Lee.
Basically it boiled down to the expense of dies , available components for various loads ( like new powders coming out...hence new recipes). Mec just makes reloading too darn simple and almost idiot proof for just a little money...Lee is next in line. If a person is never ever going to do but one or two recipes for a particular shotgun, get a Lee...too many Lee loaded shotshells have felled too many small game over the years. Mec is just a like a 870 Lee is like a single shot, both will last longer than we will , the Mec is more versatile, the Lee just works.
Folks I dealt with preferred to focus on metallic on the RCBS ( Redding . Lyman , whatever) dedicated for that purpose. When came time to load shotshells, Mec, Lee ( or even PW) was dedicated, mindset and focus changed. Felt as if SAFETY was better...this for this, that for that.
Plus it is nice to walk away from doing metallic, take a break, turn around and crank out a few shotshells, nice to hold onto something bigger as a buddy says when the arthritic fingers need a break...still making headway, just headway with shotshells for a bit. Plus anyone can pick up a 230 gr bullet dropped...evreyone should experience picking up 1 1/8 ozs of shot, at least once. :)
The Lee and Mec are pretty much turn key ready to use deals at a low price.
I like simple, I like being safe, just too easy for me to grab a single stage Mec and tweak a load
Chris I used the electrical tape to tweak a bunch of loads -one in particular comes to mind- a Duck load. 1 3/8 oz of #5 extra hard shot. Heck that load was so good, I had ducks land with white
"I surrender flags", swim to me, tie a slip knot on my game carrier and hang themselves without having to fire a shot...the load's reputation preceded me. [ that or they were French greenheads]. :D
December 26, 2003, 03:10 AM
You can laugh.. or cry.
After getting my hands on a 2nd hand MEC reloader, target hulls, red dot and green dot powder and bags of shot.. we found that WADDING, that's right, plastic wadding was one of the most expensive things we bought.
We sat down and did the math, wads, powder, shot, primers, and time invested.. and started buying bulk packs at Wally World.
I COULD still load shot shells if I wanted, it just doesn't seem like I'm saving money like I am loading for hi-powered rifle.
A lot of my 25 pound bags of shot went up the barrel of my Pedersoli BP 12 ga. double.
December 26, 2003, 05:31 AM
Rob,bulk paks are good ammo, but not the best. My reloads are as good as any AA or STS target loads.And they're tweaked to give the best preformance on a particular shot type.
In days of yore nail polish was used more than tape to reduce the volume of a bushing.
Reloading your own certainly isn't mandatory. It does offer some options, including more bangs for the buck.
December 26, 2003, 10:44 AM
Agree with Dave on more bangs for buck......I load 12 and 20 ga. AA or STS quality shells for about 60% of lowest store price around here. If I loaded a higher volume, enough to justify bulk component purchases, I could lower my cost even more. Right now, I buy powder in the 1-pound containers, primers a brick at the time, and wads one or two bags at the time.
Biggest reason for reloading, though, is hobby value, not cost savings. I get a lot of personal satisfaction out of loading my own shells and taking game or clays with them. The experience gained from reloading has greatly improved my understanding of the function and influence of the various components in the shells and has helped me become a better shotgunner. (Tho I still have a long way to go to be "good")
Reloading also gives good "dad" time with my son, as he helps count the hulls to be reloaded and then removes the finished shells from the final crimp station and places them in the box. Sometimes I allow him to decap/resize a bunch of hulls by himself while I'm working nearby in the shop (nothing else on the bench, only empty hulls and the press). That saves me a step later when it's time to start reloading, and it fosters his interest in the sport - - keeps him interested and eager to learn, so he really soaks up my instructions on safety, ethics, etc.
I would also like to give honorable mention of the MEC Sizemaster. I have two of them (along with a MEC 650, which never gets used - shell advance and hand motions go opposite of sizemaster, gets confusing and leads to too many lead pellets bouncing around on the bench). They are basically the same as the 600 Jr., Mk V, except with a collet resizer instead of a die. The collet is adjustable, and the press comes with the auto primer feed. The cost new is generally only about $20 more that the cost of the 600 Jr. plus the EZ prime. It doesn't tend to flatten the rims of the hulls the way i've seen some dies do. Works on brass and steel heads with equal ease. Others may feel differently, but for me the sizemaster is first choice, then the 600 jr.
December 26, 2003, 04:44 PM
With regards to pricing...
I figure that my reloads are running just about $3.14 per box. Around here, Gander Mtn is about the only place that stocks multiple cases of Remington STS shells. The cost is usually $4.79 - $4.99 per box, less 5% for a full-case discount.
It takes me about an hour to crank out 250 shells on my 9000G (although I'm admittedly kinda pokey when reloading). It would take 15-20 minutes each way to drive to GM, plus finding what I want, plus browsing, etc...
The big problem with GM, is that they have a limited selection. Even if you stick with straight 1 1/8 oz loads, they usually carry 9's or 8's in the light target loads, and 7.5 in the light handicap or handicap. I prefer to use either 8.5 or 7.5, and run both around 1150fps (the equivalent of a light target load).
If you want to vary from 1 1/8 oz loads, then the selection is even more limited. I'll often want to use 1 oz or 7/8 oz, which are nearly non-existent. When they do get some, it's almost always the Winchester stuff (which is good ammo), but it gets snapped up very fast and is normally $4.99 per box.
I especially like the flexibility of rolling my own hunting loads. I've got one in particular which is proving to be an absolute hammer on pheasants this season. Those cost me about $4.00 per box to make, while premium hunting ammo generally runs twice that.
I've found that with shotgunning in general, experimentation is a good thing. Try a variety of stuff and see what works best. Reloading just makes that much easier.
December 27, 2003, 06:10 AM
The EZ prime is a nice accessory,JB. This JR has it. And nothing against Sizemasters, the 600 Jr is ubiquitous.
TR, good point. Loads I've wanted a few of, or loads I use many of, are easy to build.
The squirrel hunt I did in November used some oz loads of 6s I cobbled up with reclaimed shot from old 60s ammo. Otherwise, it was my light handicap load.
I can make skeet loads of 7/8 oz, trap loads of same, those HC loads at 1 oz, and 1 1/8 oz loads changing only the charge bar, bushing,hull and shot size. Each of these has been patterned, so I lose an alibi if I miss. No prob, I've dozens...
Right now, awaiting the next range trip, or warmer weather, are skeet loads, two different trap loads, that handicap load, some experimental buck loads, etc. All were made here.
I made up some 1 1/8 oz, 1150 FPS loads with 7 1/2s to see how they did with the new Carlson tube and the Full tube that HSmith gifted me with. Patterns look very good with both, so I'll see which tube works best for trap singles.
That's the advantage of loading one's own....
January 24, 2005, 01:39 PM
Thanks to all the good advice in this thread, I just got done loading my first box of #,7/8oz. loads on a used MEC 600 Jr. I bought on Ebay. They look perfect. Will try them out when the weather clears up (we got a little snow here over the weekend - 12"!). Thanks to the suggestion of putting 1/4 round moulding around the piece of plywood the MEC is mounted on. I removed a shell from station 3 after dropping the shot a bit too enthusiastically, and spilled apprx. 1/2 the contents. That 1/4 round saved me from a nasty cleanup job!
January 24, 2005, 02:58 PM
You're very welcome, nice to know this is helping folks out.....
January 25, 2005, 09:04 AM
The 1/4 round is a good idea. (Wish I had thought of that.) Instead I used a cookie tray underneath the reloader. Just mounted the reloader through the tray to the bench. This was sufficient to contain the spilled shot.
January 25, 2005, 09:49 AM
Thanks for the good thread, guys. This here THR has the highest signal to noise ratio on the whole freakin web.
Oh, and an extra special thanks for finding something *else* for me to spend money on ... and you just *know* that I'm going to pass on the Lee Load-All for some gold-plated Spolar that has hydro-coptic marzelvanes and will synchronize cardinal grammeters. Thanks.
Anyway, since you've ruined my life, how about answering a question? Is there anything stopping me from buying, say, a MEC9000 and using it as a single-stage press to get used to the process and the equipment and only then using it as a progressive?
January 25, 2005, 11:03 AM
Head over to www.mecreloaders.com and check out the online 9000 manual. The "using the 9000 as a single stage to get used to it" is exactly the process that MEC suggests the new user to try before going progressive. (I think that it is within the first 15 pages or so.)
January 26, 2005, 07:54 AM
As I gear up for reloading, I know I don't have the space I need for even a Lee Load-all. Or the budget :( What I do have on hand is an old Lee Loader for 12 ga. I know it will be slow going, but I really want to get an idea of reloading at this point, vs cranking out the rounds.
Lee hasn't sold or supported this kit for years. Are there any sites or sources for suggestions and tips with one of these?
January 26, 2005, 08:28 AM
Mr Anti, or can I just call you Bubba,
Ebay is where to find the hand reloading kits. Search for Lee Loaders. There are usually several 12 Gauges, some 20s, the occasional 16, and the elusive .410s listed. I suggest that you lurk for a bit. Sometimes, as with all Ebay auctions, the bidding get really weird. I'll let you in on a real secret, search in reloading for MRC. MRC either covered or was the original manufacture, of the Lee Loaders for shotguns. I picked up a mint condition MRC 12 gauge reloader for less than $5. Shipping was more than the item. Also be careful when buying a shotgun handloader kit. Make sure that the crimp starters are there. They seem to be the common missing parts.
January 27, 2005, 08:17 AM
Those Lee Loaders are slow as heck, but make good ammo. I used one in 7X57 Mauser to crack MOA at benchrest in the mid 70s.
Do get a manual and FOLLOW THE RECIPES RELIGIOUSLY .....
January 28, 2005, 04:29 PM
Bumping this thread as an oldie but goodie. Everyone considering reloading shotshells should review.
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