Reloading Accurate Rifle Ammo – Part 2 - Priming,Charging & Seating.

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Reloading Accurate Rifle Ammo – Part 2 - Priming,Charging & Seating.

Post by Zeliard »

Originally posted by Carteach0.

Note: This information was originally posted in 8 different posts. I've combined them into fewer, but related, posts.

Reloading Accurate Rifle Ammo – Part 2– Priming the Pump - Time to Get a Charge - Bullet Seating, the Final Event - Bonus Section: The Results!

Methods of Case Priming

In the three part ‘case prep’ articles we looked at preparing once fired rifle cases
for hand loading.

Now, let’s look at the first step in the loading process; Priming the cases.

We’ll leave choosing the brand and type of primer for another time. In this piece
we’ll concentrate on actually pressing the primers into the case.

There are many gidgets, gadgets, and required geegaws used in the priming process.
Simply making the initial decision of what tool to use can be exhausting.
Here we’ll look at two basic types, each representative of a class.
Please note, this article deals only with single priming cases, not
the whole process of progressive reloading and the complicated
mechanisms used on those presses.


First up, and my personal favorite, is the LEE Auto Prime. Mine has been in constant use
for many years, priming untold thousands of cases in that time. This type of tool is
also made by RCBS and others, but the LEE is what’s on my reloading bench.
Next week an RCBS version will probably join it, and my fickle heart will
be lost once again.


The LEE Auto Prime requires the use of special shell holders, but the set is
fairly comprehensive and not too expensive. Both the hand tool and the shell holder
set can be bought new from Midway USA for under $25 together. The tool
comes equipped with two interchangeable trays, one for large primers and one
for small.

One of the useful features of this tool is the ability to prime cases without
actually touching a primer. Primers can be easily contaminated, and skin
oil is sufficient to damage the exposed priming solution. Primers are dumped
straight from the box into the tipping/feed tray. (RCBS has the same feature
on their tool)

Since the primers must be oriented correctly to be installed, the tray has
concentric ridges molded into it. Gently rocking the tray back and forth
will tip the primers over till they are all facing fire-side up.


From this position they will be fed directly to the primer installation ram press.


A cartridge case is slipped into the shell holder, which will place the primer
hole directly over the ram. Light hand pressure is all that’s usually required to
seat most any primer. Too little pressure and the pocket is oversized. Too much
pressure, and something is interfering with the seating process. Once the
correct pressure is determined, every slightest change in seating quality
becomes obvious to an experienced hand.

To me, this represents the largest benefit to this type of primer seating tool.
The ‘feel’ of seating the primer can make problem cases obvious. Primers seated short,
or too deep, stand out like a sore thumb.

Cases that have had their primer pockets massaged as shown in the ‘case prep’
articles usually seat every primer exactly the same, nicely.

There is a shield that installs over the primer tray, and it should be left
in place while in use.


While using the LEE Auto Prime, or during *any* priming operation
for that matter, eye protection should be worn. Accidents can and will
happen, and primers can be touchy things. While I have never had a primer
fire during seating, there are reports of it happening. Better to be safe
than sorry. In fact, I make a point of aiming the priming tool away from my
face as I seat a primer.

It should be noted that LEE specifically states Federal primers are not
to be used in this tool, and reduced quantities of other primers are to
be loaded at one time.

The next genre of priming tool examined is what I call the ‘press ram priming
tools’. These mount in a reloading press and use the ram stroke to seat the

The only advantages to these tools I can think of is they always use standard
shell holders, and usually the tool comes as part of every press kit.

The press ram prime tools I own, an RCBS and a LEE, both came ‘free’ with
new presses I’ve bought over the years. I’ve never used the LEE version, but
the RCBS tool gets used often with my 7.62x54mm loading.
Why that case? Because I don’t have an Auto Prime shell holder in that
size, but do have a standard shell holder.


Both the RCBS and the LEE come with interchangeable tool heads for small
and large primers, but the RCBS is clearly better built of finer materials.


In using the RCBS press priming tool, one piece of reloading equipment must
be cleaned, as it will matter now. The shell holder is used as part of this
tool and the primer is fed through the center of it. It must be cleaned or the
dirt accumulated over years of reloading will migrate to the primer pocket.


Following directions, the tool is set up so the primer ram just comes through the
base and seats the primer. I recommend seating the first one very carefully till
it’s just right, then dial the shell holder and base down on the ram (with the
properly primed case installed) so every succeeding case is primed the same way.



It should be noted the average press has *massive* power compared to what’s
needed to seat a primer. My own RCBS Ammomaster loses all feel as to how the
primer is entering or seating in the pocket. In fact, just dropping my press handle
the last six inches of the stroke usually seats the primer just fine. The handle alone
is heavy enough to do the job.

In using a single feed priming tool like this RCBS, the primers must first be dumped
into a flip tray and aligned properly. Then each primer is picked up and set into the ram
prime. I prefer to have the ram raised all the way when I charge it, sticking up through
the shell holder. Then I lower the ram just enough to slide in a case, and seat the
primer with a finger or two’s worth of pressure.

An important note: Wash your hands before handling any primers!!


Great care must be taken, no matter what kind of tool is being used, to get primers
properly seated. Never leave a primer seated above the surface of the case, and usually
seated a bit below the surface is better.

Primers seated high are a common cause of slam fires and firing out of battery.
This mean gun go BOOM when you don’t intend it to. That’s bad; real bad.
If a primer is found to be too high, it can usually be put back into the tool
and carefully adjusted. This problem is not often encountered when primers
are seated by hand, but progressive presses have a bad habit of giving us high
primers some times.


The one on the left is obviously too high, and must be corrected.

As each case is primed, I like to set the case mouth down in a loading tray.


Just to be sure nothing falls in the case, and to discourage any moisture
from finding it’s way to the exposed primer. While unlikely to be an issue
on most loading benches, why take the chance?

Our next step will be charging the case with powder, followed by seating
a bullet. Each step is worthy of it’s own article and will be covered in the
future as we load these 8x57mm cases together.

Cheers friends, and keep your primers dry!


Time to get a charge......

In previous articles we looked at preparing some 8x57mm cases for reloading.
Once the cases were prepared, we seated new primers. Now, it’s time to move
on and properly charge the powder in our custom precision ammunition.

Before we begin, a few words about the loading process from here on out.

Consider this photo:


Notice something unusual about my loading bench?

Normally, I have parts from several rifles and various types of ammunition resting
here. Also might be found some stripper clips, a lot of tools, and maybe a book or two.
An old soda bottle, half a ham sandwich, and perhaps a puppy can make an appearance.
All this is normal, but not today, for today we ....... LOAD.

Safety is the first and foremost concern when reloading. Let me be as clear as I can
about this. There is *no* room for error when reloading. Procedures must be established
and followed to the letter. Distractions mean stopping the process.

Why does the bench look different today? All that’s on it is just we need for the
loading session. No less, and no more. No distractions.

Please notice there is one kind of powder, one kind of bullet, one set of cases, one set of
dies, etc. The idea should be clear here...... keep it simple and clean. No distractions
and no room for mistakes. If there is only *one* powder, then the wrong one can’t be
mixed in by mistake. The same holds true for cases, bullets, dies, primers, you name it.

On my bench, by my procedure, this can of powder will be the only one here till I am
done and the powder measure is emptied back into it. The same with bullets.... no other
till I am done with this load set.

That said, let’s have a look at the tools to be used in handling the powder this session.
First up, and of primary importance to precision loading, I give you the scale.


Years ago I invested in a RCBS 10-10 balance beam scale. It’s proved to be money well
spent. The accuracy and repeatability is second to none. It sets up and zero’s easily
on a level surface out of the wind. The magnetic dampening makes measuring
easier as well.

It’s only drawback noted is the time it takes to make measurements. While fast
by old standards, it’s certainly glacial by new electronic ‘scale’ (pun intended).

Used to drop the bulk charge, we have a Hornady powder measure mounted on a
bench stand.


Once again, this measure is older than some of my children. It comes with two
micrometer type measure chambers that are easily changed. A small one for
light charges and a large one. I have hand loaded cartridges from the .32acp
all the way up to .458 Winchester Magnums using this measure. The only issues
so far is fine accuracy with long grain powder, and binding with small flake

I own another measure that works nicely with fine flake powder, but it’s not mounted
on the bench today. The old Pacific antique measure resides on the shelf while the
Hornady is in use.

When I load most pistol ammunition, and some lighter charge rifle ammo not
expected to be supremely accurate, I use the charges as thrown by the measure.
Every so often a charge is weighed in process, but it’s never thrown a curve yet.

For powder charges that are on the edge, or in cases where accuracy is the goal,
each individual charge is weighed. To do this in a reasonably rapid manner a powder
trickler is used.


This device can drop powder a few granules at a time directly into the scale bowl.
If the measure is throwing charges just under the desired level then it takes only
a few twists on the trickler tube to finish the load, accurate to the single granule.

While any powder funnel can be used to flow a charge into the case, I prefer an
older MTM funnel with a ‘drop’ tube. The fall through the tube allows the powder
charge to pack itself into the case somewhat. When the chosen charge is
enough to fill the case, a bit of packing will make bullet seating easier.


So, all the toys displayed, lets go through this powder charging process step by step.

First off, zero the scale as displayed above. Follow the directions, but a few tips are
in order.

The scale needs to move freely and be repeatable. Once set, touching the scale
pan should rock the scale beam and have it return to zero. Any binding is an issue
that must be resolved. It’s a good idea to set the scale up in a space where it’s not
likely to get bumped by accident. Once bumped, it must be re-zeroed. Level,
clean, and safe is the way to go.

Now the scale is zeroed, dial it to the desired charge. In this case, exactly 52 grains.


With the scale ready to go, it’s time to set the measure. The correct chamber in place,
throw a few charges into the pan to get a ‘rhythm’ going. It’s important to work the
measure lever in a repeatable fashion. Simply dump these charges right back into the
powder reservoir or into the trickler. Once you have the feel for the mechanism, throw
a charge into the pan and weigh it. It will surely be too much or too little. Dial the
measure setting higher or lower, then drop another charge right on top of the last
in the pan. Dump this back in the reservoir.

Why? Because the act of resetting the measure will cause the powder in the measure
to settle into the chamber, making the next charge heavy. Understand this and drop
it back into the reservoir. The same holds true if the bench is struck hard or the powder
measure is operated too harshly for a throw.

Continue this till the measure is set up to drop charges just under the desired weight.



Next step..... using the powder trickler, drop a few granules at a time till the exact
desired charge is reached.


One thing to be remembered is this: There is no money lost when tossing a charge back
into the measure and starting that load over. If it’s too heavy, or too light to top off
easily, just toss it back and throw another one.

In the pan now lays a perfect powder charge. Good! Use the funnel and drop it
into the case!


Oh Boy! It can’t be long now! Almost there! We ALMOST have.....

A loaded cartridge!

That waits till the next installment, where we’ll read about setting up a standard seating
die and seating the bullet. We’ll also discuss over-all cartridge length and seating depth.

Bullet Seating, the Final Event

In the first five installments of this epic work, we look at all the steps
of reloading reasonably accurate rifle ammo, right up this point:


Here we sit with a rack of nicely prepared and primed cases, all loaded with perfect
powder charges. All that’s left is to seat the bullets and box them up.
How hard could that be?


Bet you thought I would say it’s way hard, then spend a thousand words telling
why in detail. Actually, it’s mostly way easy. The *hard* part is deciding exactly
how far in the case to seat the bullet. The bit where we press the bullet into the case?
The die deals with that once it’s properly set up. Just load the press and push the
handle down!

Nope, the next thousand or so words will be about setting up the die, mostly.
Also, maybe a little about seating depth, and a little about cartridge boxes.
Oh.... some about labels too.

Come to think of it, I’ll just be babbling along for a while.

Before we can set up the die, we must decide how deep to seat the bullet.

This is one subject that can keep reloaders gathered late around the camp fire.
Everyone has an opinion, and the weird thing about it is.... most are right.
The reason is simple. Every rifle, every bullet, and every load has a sweet spot
where the bullet needs to be seated for best accuracy. Arguing about where that
spot resides is silly.

Finding the perfect load for a rifle usually means changing one detail at a time,
making little adjustments and testing till the recipe is refined. Once all the other
factors are worked out, precision shooters will often haul their reloading gear right
to the range and test seating depths. Making changes a few thousandths of
an inch at a time till the ‘sweet spot’ is found for that load and bullet.

Since we are not loading for precision rifles here, but military surplus weapons,
I’ll approach the subject differently.

While a benchrest shooter might be concerned solely with how far his bullet
seats compared to the barrel lands, Hi Power match shooters and Mil-Surp hobbyists
have magazines to deal with. In addition to that, Military rifles often have long throats
the bullet must jump before entering the rifling. Seating to touch the lands, if even
possible, usually means the cartridge will not feed from the magazine.


We also have to consider another factor. Cartridge handling and durability are an issue.
Bullets seated too shallow can fall free if not treated carefully. On the other side of that
coin, bullets seated too far out might engage the rifling on chambering, followed by
pulling the bullet out of the case if the bolt is opened. A action full of powder is not
a pretty sight!


In my humble opinion, rifle cartridges in the .30 caliber arena should have bullets seated
at least one half the neck deep for reliable handling in a target shooting environment.
If defensive use was the goal deeper seating would be in order. Military loaded ammo
usually has bullets seated full depth, at the least.

(The following directions and tips are for setting up a standard RCBS seating die.
Specialty seating dies require following the makers directions.)

My methods are really pretty simple. First, mount the die in the press. At this point
leave the die very loose. Loose enough that it won’t be doing anything to either
the case or bullet when the ram is raised.


At this point we insert a case into the shell holder on the press ram. (I like to use a spare
case for this step, rather than a match prepared case.)

Raise the ram till the case is fully inside the seating die. If there is any hint the die
is impacting the case, lower the ram and unscrew the die a bit. If the die does not
touch the raised case, then screw the die down till it just does, then back it off ½ a
turn and set the lock ring.



The goal here is to have the die fully support the case as much as possible while seating
the bullet. Skipping this step, or seating with the case only partially in the die, can
contribute to the bullet being seated in a non-concentric manner. Non-concentric means
wobbly, and wobbly is baaaaddddd.

Now bullet meets case for the first time. With a *charged* case mounted in the shell
holder, set your bullet of choice in the neck. It probably won’t stay there straight
as the neck is sized smaller than the bullet diameter. It had better be, anyway, or you
grabbed the wrong bullets!

The bullet will probably have to be guided with one hand as the press ram is raised
and the assembly run into the die gently. Take care not to pinch your fingers! The
average press can snap your finger like a toy, and it really, really hurts. I know.
I don’t want to tell how I know, but I really, really know.

As the bullet and case enter the die for the first time, make sure the seating stem
is backed well off. We don’t want to fully seat the bullet here, just nudge it into the
case. This will take repeated attempts, tweaking the seater stem a bit at a time.
Go slow, and have a bullet handy to match up with the subject, using it to judge
how deep in the neck our bullet is being seated.

If this is the first attempt with this rifle, I would be checking the fit against the
rifles magazine. NOTE: Do not load the rifle in the house! There is no need to
even have the bolt in the rifle! Just check for fit and then dump the magazine floor
plate to release the round. Do not even take the risk of chambering the round.

(Once the maximum length is found for the magazine, load development can begin
in looking for maximum accuracy.)

If this is an established load (which the one this article is based on..... is) then I
use another method. I set my vernier caliper to the desired over all length and lay it
on the bench. Each step of setting the seater, I try the loaded round against the caliper
as a gauge.


Bumping the seating stem a few thousandths at a time, continue matching to the gauge
till it just fits. The last couple of thousandths should be carefully measured, and
rechecked after the seating stem is locked down. The act of locking the stem will usually
change the depth by a thousandth or two, and must be accounted for.


The seating die is now set up! Go ahead and seat the rest of the bullets!

Whoo Hoo! The set of match ammunition is now finished!

NOW what do we do with it?

How about we box it up properly, and mark it properly?



Good quality cartridge boxes are worth investing in. They can last almost a lifetime
and serve to protect the time we’ve invested in or precision ammunition.
They also keep the ammo racked in a way that lets us label it properly.

One of the problems facing handloaders is keeping track of the details. This isn’t
factory ammo, and we can’t just go to the store and buy another box.
Safety demands we track everything we do. Common sense tells us we can’t hope
to duplicate a winning load without knowing what we did.

Logs books are a must, but labeling the ammunition is key as well. Some people
like to number their loads, then log the data. Others simply mark up the box with the
load data and skip the log. My choice..... both of course. I log the load as I shoot
it in testing, and I mark up all the load information on the box, or a label
inside the box. Sometimes I place a detailed log sheet inside the box, and
often I write the load data on the test target and save that as well.

In labeling the ammo box, and just about everything else for that matter, here is a
tool worth it’s weight in gold.


My sister in law gave me this one two Christmases ago. My first job, label her dog.
The second, label her other dog. After that it got interesting.

These can be purchased for around $20 now, and have a multitude of uses.
Label powder, bullets, ammo, spare parts, and just about anything else.

Looking at the box shown above, we see it’s labeled in a way that will let me duplicate
the load as long as I keep the cases in that box, and that box mated to the rifle.

Now, I know some smarty is going to notice a word on the box I haven’t used yet.
“Comparator”. This is a device that allows the hand loader to set up every new
load and bullet combination to the same distance-to-lands as the sweet spot
requires. It looks like a big machined nut, but in each flat is a hole exactly at
the marked caliber. It fits on the bullet right at bore diameter, where the bullet
will strike the lands as it proceeds down the barrel. This is the spot on the bullet that
must be referenced to recreate the distance-to-lands with any bullet desired.



With the comparator on the bullet, measure the length from the cartridge base to the far
end of the comparator. Now we have a number that can duplicate in developing a new
load for that rifle.

That little tidbit finished, it’s time to wrap this up.

In the six parts of this article I’ve tried to lay out some methods I use to work within
my hobby. If they are helpful, then great, it’s all been worth it.

To new reloaders, I offer this advice: Buy some manuals and *read* them.
If you can find an experienced reloader willing to teach, do that too.
Take your time, be careful, and never push the limits. Don’t go on the hunt
for the most power, the highest velocity, the tiniest bullet...... etc.
It’s wasted time. Hunt instead for accuracy and reliability.... there the
gold will be found.

Bonus Section - The Results!

I got to spend an hour at the range today. Cold.... when is that blasted global warming
going to kick in? Shivering at the range in April, watching snow fall..... sheesh

I have this new-to-me Turk model 38. A 1943 K-Kale that is in excellent shape.
There is no reason in the world this rifle should not shoot decently, and today was
the day to find out. Today was the first time I have fired this rifle.

I shot at 50 yards, the distance I can see these targets without my eyes bluring too much.
I wanted to make it a test of the ammo, not my aging eyes.

Here she is off the bench at 50 yards with 50's Yugo surplus. The group is just a bit over
1.5", which is not terrible for a 60 year old Mauser battle rifle with miserable sights shooting
50 year old mil-surp ammunition. I should mention.... the first shot was the ten-X, and my
heart jumped. What a good omen!


A group like this is encouraging to me. The rifle wants to shoot, it's just up to me to
give it what it needs.

That said.... I took along ten rounds of the ammunition built during the six part
'Accurate ammunition' articles. Just ten, on strippers, on a whim. This ammunition is
intended for my other Turk 38 and was not developed for this rifle. I figured this would
be a fair test..... New rifle, nothing prejudged, same shooter, same day, same everything else.

So here is a five shot group of the match ammo loaded in the article, which is a 200 grain
Sierra boat tailed hollow point match bullet loaded over 52 grains of IMR 4350, lit off by a
Winchester WLR primer.


This group is just over .75". Thats as good as I can see at 50 yards using the
rough old Turkish battle sights. Actually, it's better than I can see and I can't
account for that.

In another thread I posed the question: How far must a rifle move on the bench
to deflect the bullet 1" at 100 yards? The answer seems to be about .005"
movement will change impact 1" at 100 yards. Using that figure, it would
translate to only .007" movement of the rifle on the bench could have given
me this .75" group. There are other factors in play, but that should indicate
how much accurately built ammunition counts!

The only other shooter there this afternoon was shooting a very tricked out
Rock River AR platform with handloaded ammo and a high mag scope.
He was also shooting .75" groups, only at 100 yards.

$125 antique Mauser battle rifle = .75" at 50 yards.
$1250 custom AR target rifle = .75" at 100 yards.

I guess this whole business of loading ammunition with accuracy in mind
really pays off.
Proud alumni of Transylvanian Polygnostic University. "Know enough to be afraid."

"Vertroue in God en die Mauser".-Faith in God and the Mauser.

"Send lawyers, guns and money." -Warren Zevon

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