In a recent conversation with a range master from a local agency, I asked what was new with their 2010 firearms training. While I would not have been surprised to find out the budget had been pared down a little, it was painful to hear that the agency had only enough bullets and budget to qualify, not train. In fact each agency I spoke with, both local and out-of-state, shared the same sentiment. At a time when random acts of violence against law enforcement officers are on the rise, training budgets are at an all-time low. One way officers can save money is by reloading their own bullets. Reloading, or metallic cartridge reloading, which is using expanded brass and reloading components to remanufacture cartridges.
Reloading for law enforcement priorities differs from reloading for sporting purposes. Law enforcement reloaders should be making their cartridges for two reasons: price and availability. Sporting arms reloaders often reload to create unique cartridges or capabilities. For this reason, a law enforcement reloader will generally use off-the-shelf components and loads, which duplicate factory cartridges.
The good news is the easiest cartridges to reload are also the ones most commonly used for law enforcement and have the cheapest components. These cartridges include the .38/357, .45 ACP, 9mm and .40 S&W. All four have a fairly good margin for error in loading.
No agency will likely become directly involved in reloading. This is for individual officers to augment their training. Also, reloaded ammunition should never be used for defensive purposes. The purpose of this article is to encourage officers to explore further and become proficient at reloading. One cannot become completely competent by reading a single document, nor should anything here be misconstrued as a full set of instructions.
How it works
Reloading is a four-step process: Sizing and decapping, priming, charging and seating. Everyone knows that shooters who reload save their brass. Fired brass is the best source for reloading. Inspect the brass for cracks and dents. After it lands on the range floor, a quick dust off with fine steel wool or better, a brass tumbler built for this purpose, will make loading easier. After many loadings, the brass must be inspected for other things like excessive length, but one can get several loadings before this kind of treatment. Reloading dies are used in conjunction with a reloading press, a simple device that gives the act of inserting cartridge brass into a steel die a little more leverage and a means of ensuring everything is concentric.
The other three components are primer, propellant and projectile. The primer is the metal button at the head (base) of the cartridge, which is struck by the firing pin. The powder is ignited by the primer, and the bullet is propelled down the barrel from the rapid expansion of gases.
Sizing and decapping
Picture the brass as a cup that fits in the chamber of the firearm bullet-first. In order to work, it has to flex a little to seal the chamber, or expanding gases would escape around it. When the gun is fired, the brass expands, taking the shape of the chamber. In order to smoothly fit into the chamber (and sometimes even the magazine) again, the brass must be resized. This is done by running it into a die which moulds it back to its original size. The sizing die is a simple mandrel with an inside diameter slightly smaller than the brass inserted into it. The sizing die often has a punch, that also removes the spent primer, or decaps the brass in a single operation. The punch is usually a hardened rod which protrudes from the sizing die. It pokes through the primer hole and pushes the primer out the bottom.
Many pistol caliber sizing dies use a carbide sizing button inside the sizing die. This carbide is hard and polished smooth so no lubricant is required for the sizing process. In order to simplify the work, use only carbide pistol dies.