Getting started with shotgun shell reloading is easier than you think


Reloading shotgun shells is one of the proven ways to fill your scattergun with the load you’ve always wanted and save money while doing it. While you queue for the armory’s meager weekly haul of new ammunition, other enterprising shooting enthusiasts are already filling their carts with wads, primers, and shells. With all due respect to the makers, ever since we discovered we could reload, we haven’t looked back. We’ve been too busy creating our own 12-20 gauge loads, looking for the perfect cartridge for our favorite shotgun. Whether you’re an avid waterfowl hunter or a skeet shooter, you may find that a comparable reloading system can be the key to keeping you shooting longer and more often. Most shooters get into it to save money, but it’s also a great hobby for anyone who shoots regularly. For those who are hesitant to dive into the world of reloading, you probably have a lot of questions. Is reloading worth it? How many times can you refill the cases? (empty shells) And what powder is used to do it all? Luckily, it’s not as difficult as you might think. This is what you will need to start hand loading shotgun shells.

Is it cheaper to reload shotgun shells?

Getty Images: Vitalli Bezverkhii

The price for 50 pounds of 7-1/2 lead is around $170. This is enough to make several hundred rounds and is one of the most expensive components of the reloading process. Compare that to the price of a box of similarly branded brass shells, such as the Winchester Super-X. Once you start making comparisons, you can see that it can be worth the initial expense and effort. front?

Honestly, you can reuse just about any old shotgun shell, or you can buy them new. Shotgun shells aren’t like reloading brass. You cannot use them an infinite number of times like you would a rifle casing. However, you can often get between two and ten uses out of a single shell before it gets too worn out. It depends on the materials from which the hull is made. Still, this is a significant cost saving compared to buying factory ammunition every time.

Although, if you’re serious about starting to reload, we recommend diving straight in and reloading your rifle shells as well. Most major sporting goods outlets sell reloading supplies, so chargers and other materials are usually readily available. Anyone can do this with a little practice, but you’ll need to study the concept first. In fact, while a reloading press is probably the best method for cartridges, reloading (and the most efficient) can be done “by hand” using the no-press technique. Even the wad can be crafted by the recreational shooter, but we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves.

Material needs

Reloading shotgun shells

Getty Images: Vitalli Bezvekhii

As we already mentioned, you will need to invest in some things upfront. But once you have the most important items, you’re set. After that, all you will need to buy are components and materials. At a bare minimum, you will need to pick up the following items:

  • Cartridge reloading press
  • smokeless powder
  • Powder measure
  • Seashells (shells)
  • wads
  • Primers
  • Shot
  • Reloading Manual

A quick word on safety here. Smokeless powders are intended for use in shotguns, rifles, and handguns as the primary propellant. If used in muzzle-loading weapons, they can cause serious injury or even death. Your muzzleloader will literally explode if you mix them up, so if you also have a muzzleloader, make sure the different types of powder are stored separately and are clearly marked. It’s just common sense and it will protect you.

For those unfamiliar with the other components, the wad refers to the part of the shell that separates the powder from the shot, which for many years was paper or cardboard. Wads today are usually plastic. The primer is installed in the center of the brass on the back of the shell. When fired, it is then crushed by the hammer or firing pin which explodes and ignites the powder charge. The best part is that many different shot sizes can be purchased by the reloader to create their own specific cartridge according to their needs, including lead, steel, and tungsten among others.

The reloading press

Here is just one example of a reloading press. The one in the video is considered the single-step type. It will reload 2-3/4″ shells up to 3″ magnum shells. If you plan to reload larger shells, you will need a machine that will perform this task. Read the fine print on the box carefully before purchasing. Progressive cartridge presses perform all the functions of a press at the same time, whereas a single-stage press requires the user to manually move the cartridge through each stage of the loading process: depriming, priming, releasing the powder, wad and shot, then crimping the closed shell.

This video is a great overview of what a progressive cartridge press actually does and how easy it is to use. While some single-step presses are reasonably priced under $100, other fancier models can cost you well over $1,000 with plenty of good options in between. Like many things in life, you get what you pay for. The more you spend, the better your press will be in most cases, and the easier it will be to reload a lot of shells in a short time. Once you’ve chosen your usual brand of powder, pads and primers, all you need to do is load it all into the press and let the machine do the work.

Techniques without a press

For those who just don’t have the budget for expensive reloading gear, that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. There are several “no-press” reloading techniques. The video above is just a quick example of how to make one using a simple “Lee loader” kit that can be found on eBay, often for less than $20. There are even cheaper methods than this that use like the nails and pegs method pictured below.

The only downside to using no-press techniques is that they aren’t as neat and effective. It will take much longer to reload a hundred rounds or more. However, if you have the time and the will, this method will save you a lot of money and you will feel less guilty for using so much ammo at the range or while hunting. Whichever method you choose, make sure the reloading manual comes into play. We strongly recommend that your first batches of reloadings follow the instructions in the manual precisely, whether slugs, birds, or of buckshot. Try not to experiment with your ammunition until you have a solid understanding of exactly what is going on with each load of powder, wad and type of shot. Most malfunctions with reloaded shotgun shells seem to happen with new reloaders that tried to get creative too quickly and didn’t know what they were doing.

The good news is that reloading is only difficult the first few times you try it. With a little practice and some trial and error, you’ll be making your own shotgun shells like a pro.

Please check out my book”The path of the hunter” from HarperCollins. Be sure to follow my Web pageOr on Facebook and Youtube.

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