Reloading for Beginners

WAD SUBSTITUTION CHART

Can’t find the WAD you want for your shotshell load?

Check out the WAD Substitution Chart to find a replacement that will perform the same.

SUBSONIC LOADS

Subsonic loads refer to those whose velocity is less than the speed of sound. Not all “subsonic” loads are noted as such in the data, because the cartridge is not capable of producing supersonic velocity. An example is .32 S&W. All data in this caliber is subsonic but is not normally tagged with the name subsonic. In 9mm, most loading data are supersonic. Some data is shown that is subsonic. These loads are noted as subsonic. Most rifle loadings are all supersonic, so subsonic loads are specially down-loaded to stay below the speed of sound.

The noise that shooting makes has two components, the noise of the hot gases escaping the muzzle and sometimes flashing as they hit the atmosphere (muzzle blast), and in the case of supersonic loads the crack of the sonic boom as the bullet breaks the sound barrier. Subsonic loads do not have this second component of noise. As a side note, if a silencer is attached to the gun it will only suppress the muzzle-blast noise. It cannot suppress the supersonic crack. For this reason people shooting with a silencer prefer subsonic loads, even when shooting a rifle.

COMPRESSED LOADS

Normally a pistol or rifle shellcase is considered full, or 100% loading density, when the powder charge sits at the base of the bullet when the bullet is fully seated. It is possible with some powders and cartridges to increase the powder charge slightly above this point, such that when the bullet is seated it actually compresses the powder charge slightly. This condition is known as a compressed load.

Hodgdon notes in its reloading data if the subject charge is a compressed load. A full case, or lightly compressed charge is an ideal condition for creating loads with the most uniform velocities and pressures, and oftentimes, producing top accuracy.

RELOADING THE .308 WINCHESTER

The .308 Winchester is not only a historic battlefield caliber, it is an established match caliber and one of the best all-around North American hunting calibers. The proper burn rate powder for the .308 is a mid-range rifle powder, which gives the reloader a large selection of appropriate choices. Where is the best place to start?

The Hodgdon Reloading Data Center (RDC) lists 21 different powder types that can be used in the .308 Winchester. All these powders are appropriate in the listed loads. However, if you are new to the .308 the choices can be overwhelming. Here is a quick guide to help you get started.

PREDATOR Loads
(light weight, fast velocity)
MILITARY Duplicate Loads HEAVY Bullet Loads
Benchmark
H335®
IMR 8208 XBR
H322
IMR 3031®
BL-C(2)
IMR 4895
H4895
Varget
IMR 4064®
CFE 223
Varget®
IMR 8208 XBR
IMR 4064®
Winchester 748
RELOADING THE .223

The .223 caliber has evolved from the battlefield AR-15 platform to popular sporting use in varmint and predator hunting, match competition, and all-around plinking fun. Reloading for the .223 is easy and there are a number of great powder choices. Where is the best place to start?

The Hodgdon Reloading Data Center (RDC) lists 21 different powder types that can be used in the .223. All these powders are appropriate in the listed loads. However, if you are new to the .223 the choices can be overwhelming. Here is a quick guide to help you get started.

VARMINT Loads
(light weight, fast velocity)
MILITARY Duplicate Loads HEAVY Bullet Loads
H322®
Benchmark
IMR 8208 XBR
CFE 223
Varget®
Winchester 748
BL-C(2)
H335
IMR 4198
H322®
H4895
CFE 223
Varget®
IMR 4895
IMR 8208 XBR
BL-C(2)
MATCHING SHOT TYPE AND SIZE TO RELOADING DATA

It is easy to assume that all shot types can be reloaded similarly; after all, they look the same – being round balls of metal. However, in loading shotgun shells, this assumption cannot be further from the truth.

The two characteristics of shot that change reloading data are shot hardness and density.

Shot hardness has a direct effect on chamber pressure. Softer shot produces lower pressure; harder shot raises chamber pressure dramatically. The softest shot type is lead. The hardest shot types are steel and tungsten. Bismuth falls between lead and steel. This is the primary reason that lead shot reloading data can never be used with any other type of shot.

Shot density affects how much room in the shell case the shot charge will take up. To try to simplify shot density, think of it this way:

  • A coffee cup of steel shot weighs less than a coffee cup of bismuth shot
  • A coffee cup of bismuth shot weighs less than a coffee cup of lead shot
  • A coffee cup of tungsten shot is heavier than all the others

Just remember, in shotshell reloading the reload data must be specific to the type of shot being used. Hodgdon reloading data meets this requirement.

PRIMER SEATING DEPTH

Primer seating depth – how far the primer is inserted into the shell case – is carefully controlled in factory ammunition. You also need to be aware of primer seating depth when reloading. Seating the primer too deep below flush can damage the internal components, leading to misfires and inconsistent ignition. Seating the primer too high (above flush) can cause the cylinder to not rotate in revolvers, and can cause problems when the bolt slams home in semi-autos. Seating above flush can also result in misfires.

Unless you are reloading on a progressive machine (each pull of the handle yields a loaded cartridge), the primer seating depth is controlled by feel as the primer is inserted. This is especially true if you are using a handheld priming tool. The primer seating depth is best checked with your finger tip. Sliding the index finger across the bottom of the primed shell case will quickly determine if the primer is above or below flush.

The ideal seating depth is just below flush. As you gain experience in loading, the feel to accomplish this will become familiar. It is best to use your finger to test every primed shell case. If the primer is above flush it can be run through the seating operation again to push it below flush.

EFFECT OF CRIMP DEPTH ON SHOTSHELLS

Crimp depth of a finished shotshell reload is an important dimension to monitor for consistent ballistics and safe loads. This is one adjustment on a shotshell loading machine that is easy to overlook. An example of the correct crimp is what is found on factory loads. If your reload crimp is too loose (not enough crimp depth), it will hurt ballistic uniformity. A crimp that is too tight (too deep) can increase ballistics more than what is expected from the reload data. All shotshell reload data on the Hodgdon website has been created using an average crimp depth of 0.055″.

As an example, here are ballistic test results of a standard 7/8-oz, 12-gauge load when crimp depths are varied

Crimp Depth Velocity Chamber Pressure
0.030″ (too loose) 1,308 fps 9,300 psi
0.050″ (normal reload crimp) 1,329 fps 10,500 psi
0.070″ (too tight) 1,351 fps 11,900 psi
0.090″ (very tight crimp) 1,363 fps 13,100 psi

This data was created in the Hodgdon Ballistics Laboratory under controlled conditions, and only the top two loads show pressures that stay within the SAAMI industry standard of 11,500 psi.

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