Touching on Shotshell Reloading

By Randy Wakeman

The reasons for shotshell reloading are many; it is a natural extension of the sport. There is a good deal of satisfaction in breaking clays or bagging birds with the shells you manufactured, it is a great family hobby, and you can have a lot of fun doing it. You can also save a few dollars as well, particularly on field loads. There is no theorizing as to the quality of the components, as you know precisely what they are.

I've been reloading shotshells for a few decades, I started with MEC products (600 Jr.), and MEC is still what I use. "MEC" is Mayville Engineering Company, Mayville, Wisconsin. Descriptions of their entire line and other information can be quickly obtained at

The type of reloader you choose is contingent on your needs. If you are interested in getting your feet wet without a large investment, or don't plan on reloading a lot of shells, a single stage press makes good sense.

The most economical model, the MEC 600 Jr. Mark V, remains the world's best selling shotshell reloader. The MEC "Sizemaster" adds a resizing station and an automatic primer feed, and is an easy choice to make if buying a new single stage shotshell reloader today. A thumbnail sketch of what a single stage reloader would be basically a platform where a single empty hull is moved around from station to station manually. The old 209 primer is removed (deprimed), and a new 209 primer is pressed in. Then, powder, wad, and shot are all added (the powder and shot dropped by gravity from a 'charge bar'), finally finishing the shell with at the crimping station. That's it in a nutshell.

I had the need for a progressive press a long while ago, and invested in a 12 ga. MEC 9000G, which produces a shell with each pull of the handle. It is a lot faster, and if you reload a lot of shells it is an easy choice. The MEC 9000G has a rotating turret that indexes from station to station with each handle pull. You start the process by placing an empty hull in the first station, and aside from manually adding a wad to its station, the 9000G does the rest. Your job, after everything is set up, is to load empty hulls and new wads. As you do so, you monitor proper operation and component levels. I liked my 12 ga. 9000G so much I bought another one for 20 ga.; they both do a fine job.

If you want to save some money, you'll buy components in bulk. Further, in some cases you can use the same powder for more than one gauge as allowed by the manufacturer's recipes. I burn more Alliant "Green Dot" than any other powder. It makes excellent 1-1/8 oz. 12 ga. loads, and also makes excellent 7/8 oz. 20 ga. loads. It also makes some very good 16 ga. 1 oz. loads, so with the proper hulls, wads, and primers, Green Dot has several uses. A bit slower powder, Alliant "Unique," does a fine job for 1-1/4 oz. 12 ga. hunting loads all the way down to 28 gauge 3/4 oz. loads.

As for hulls, there are two basic types: the "compression formed hull," which is one piece, and the Reifenhauser style (and variants) that has more room inside for components. Though most any hull style "can" be reloaded, the compression formed hull is far superior in life. The Remington "STS" compression-formed hull is the best hull for reloading I've found. You can easily get ten reloads out of an STS hull while maintaining a good crimp. I usually reload five times and toss them, but I know some folks that go 20 reloads or more with them. If you are buying new ammo for the hulls, Remington STS hulls are the easy choice.

Folks have their preferences as far as primers and wads, but I use Remington STS primers as they fit the STS hulls I'm reloading the best. For wads, I use Winchester AA wads and its clones most often. By clones, I mean the Harvester "Claybuster" and the "Duster" wads that are essentially identical to the Winchester AA wad.

Powder manufacturer's reloading data is quite good; see the Alliant and Hodgdon web sites. There are powder preferences by specific load and reasons for those preferences, but that is a story for another day. Of the shotshell reloading books, the 4th edition of the "Lyman Shotshell Reloading Handbook" remains my favorite, though it is getting a bit dated. More than just loads, it gives preferred loads and covers exterior ballistics.

The price point of promo 12 ga. shells can make reloading appear expensive, and so it is if you just don't shoot much. What you can do is build any load you want, and turn out vastly better quality shells than the birdy and ducky boxed promo loads at slightly less cost.

As the gauges drop in size, the price seldom does, though reloading them takes correspondingly less powder and shot. It makes avid 28 ga. shooters, for example, among the biggest cost-per-shot beneficiaries.

You also have the flexibility to turn out "managed recoil loads," spreader loads, and whatever else suits your fancy. The more frugal among us may wish to split the cost of reloading gear with a couple of their best shooting buddies, which minimizes the cost of entry. If you've not tried shotshell reloading, you'll likely find as many others have that it is both easier and more rewarding than you might think.

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Copyright 2006 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.