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Wiltz: Give some thought to loading your own ammo

When it comes to both pleasure and satisfaction, handloading my own ammo fills the ticket on both counts. I enjoy going down to the basement, putting on a relaxing CD, and spending an hour or two cranking out a box of ammo.

The satisfaction part? It's heading down to the river bottom for a whitetail buck, or heading to Africa for a gemsbok (equally exciting), and knowing that my home-brewed ammo will get the job done as well as, or better than, factory ammo.

On Feb. 10, the Mitchell Cabela's store hosted "Reloading 101," an ammo reloading demonstration. I hope you attended, if you were at all interested. Loading your own isn't new. Back when we entered the 20th century, most every firearms enthusiast loaded his own, and Winchester sold far more components than factory loaded ammo.

It was back in the 1960s when I first sat down at the kitchen table with a Lee Loader, mallet, powder, primers and bullets. My first big game kill, a pronghorn antelope, was made with one of those handloads. Since that time I've added a press, powder scale, case trimmer, case tumbler and numerous dies to my equipment. I currently reload the following: .223 Rem., .25-06 Rem., .270 Win., .30-30 Win., .300 Savage, .30-40 Krag, .308 Win., .30-06 Win., .32-20 Win., .33 Win., .35 Rem., .38 Special, .41 Long Colt, .45 ACP, and .45-70 Gov. I have also cast my own bullets and loaded shotgun shells. I can talk reloading.

If you have never reloaded your own ammo, you might find it intimidating at first. Dies need to be adjusted, and the right amount of powder needs to be measured precisely. Neither of these operations is difficult, and it's all downhill from there. Though I am capable of being a real klutz, I have made but one reloading mistake in my 50-plus years of reloading. I'll talk about that when we get to shotgun shells.

What phase of the operation could go wrong? Assuming that one uses the correct powder, primer, and bullet, I'd look at charging the empty cases with powder as a potential problem area. One could get distracted and fill a case twice. However, this is unlikely, as a double charge would overflow the case in most instances. What I'm saying is that if you are at all interested, give loading your own ammo a try. For me, it has been a satisfying lifelong hobby.

The one mistake I referred to? I unknowingly reloaded some shot shells that were damp inside. The primer fired, but the powder was too damp to ignite. The primer had enough power to push the lead shot down the barrel, but the wad remained in the barrel. Had that gun been fired with a wad in the barrel, the result would have been disastrous. From that day on, I put used unprimed shot shell cases in the oven at 150-plus degrees for 30 minutes. That dries them out.

One-hundred eighteen years ago, the turn of the century, was a potentially dangerous time to load your own with the transition from black to smokeless powder. Up until about 1895, the Winchesters, Colts, and Marlins were made for black powder rounds. The increased chamber pressure of smokeless powder stressed many an older rifle or handgun, and that caused unpleasantries for uninformed do-it-yourselfers.