Tuesday, April 26, 2011

They joys and benefits of cartridge reloading

I've been slow to blog lately because I've been stuck at home for so long and unable to get out and find much blog motivation. But Brigid's post on reloading was like a good smack in the head. I mean, what have I been doing here at home all day? Reloading! In fact, I just finished a run of .303 cartridges that beat hell out of any military surplus stuff as far as accuracy goes. And for less than $200, I now have a .50 ammo can filled with 500 rounds of excellent .303 ammunition.

I started out this batch when I noticed an ammo can back in the far reaches of the space under my reloading bench. There's a lot of them back there, and every now and again I pull one out and find something really cool that I'd forgotten putting there. In this instance, it was a bit over 500 empty .303 cases, all Greek military stuff (HXP headstamp), and to my surprise, I saw that they were all primed with Winchester Large Rifle (WLR) primers.

Well damn. I don't even remember doing that, but the ammo can was sealed and a random sampling of a few of the primers showed them good, so I set those aside and went seeking bullets.

I've had problems loading accurate loads for my Enfield rifles before, because as anyone who shoots Enfields know, while the bore is supposed to be .311 in diameter, in actual practice, due to wartime manufacturing quality control and decades of shooting, (Two of my Enfields are 95 years old currently; the newest one is 45.) some of these bores are a fair bit larger, and accuracy blows, especially when you're trying to reload using surplus Russian bullets what are also allegedly .311 but which, in practice, tend to run from .311 down to nearly .309. Mate those undersize bullets up with an oversized bore, and you've got a rifle that shoots "Minute-of-general-direction" even if everything else is right. Even store-bought .303 hunting ammo runs to the shy side of .311 (thanks, lawyers!), so that's not much better, but you're paying close to a buck a round for it.

But then along come my pals at Midway, and they have some Hornady 174gr. soft-point ball bullets that are .312 in diameter, just a bit oversized, to ensure a snug fit in all of those sloppy Enfield barrels out there. I bought six hundred of them and set aside 500 for the production run. Then I used the last hundred rounds for testing.

After perusing several current reloading manuals, I settled on a powder range using IMR 4895, a propellent that I already use for my .30-06 loads. Some people like to find the optimum powder for each caliber but I like to standardize, just to keep things simple and efficient. I'm just shooting the .303 for fun now, not trying out for the US Palma Team. I load various five-round batches at different charge weights across the rough range that the manuals suggest, starting low and working up in 0.2 grain increments. I then took my worst-shooting Enfield (a #4mk1) out to the range and fired for evaluation, noting with some glee that it was grouping like a champ with these new bullets. And this was a rifle that previously would have had problems hitting the floor if I dropped it. I finally found a load that really seems to work right, and then I took two other Enfields out, An Indian #1Mk3 and an Eddystone Pattern 1914, and gave them a try. The results were impressive with all three of the rifles, so I declared it to be my new .303 load and set to filling cases and seating bullets. Now I've got enough .303 to allow me to enjoy shooting these rifles for a while, and I've ordered enough new bullets to allow me to reload these cases another time or two. The end result is that I can now shoot and enjoy these classic rifles for about a quarter of what it would cost me to go to Wal-Mart and buy factory ammo for them, and I get much more accurate ammunition to boot!

Shooty goodness treasure:

As an added plus, I actually enjoy sitting down at the press, making new ammo as my Blues and old Rock tunes play on my computer. My ammo production is usually always helped along by music greats like BB King, Bob Seger and Jerry Reed. Good times.

The new rifle food:

The test rifles:
Top to bottom:
Pattern #1914, Eddystone Arsenal, United States (1916)
#1Mk.3, Ishapore, India (1964)
#4mk.1, Royal Ordnance Factory, Maltby, England (1941)
Makes you just want to sing "We are the World", don't it?

Nah. We'll stick with Seger:


  1. I'm always glad to see an SMLE afficiando.
    I worked with a Brit for years. He lived in the U.S. for 40 years, never changed his citizenship (because paperwork wouldn't change who he WAS.)
    He lusted after an SMLE, but his 4th American wife (whom he lovingly called SWMBO)wouldn't allow it.
    (He's shot one in U.K. service in the 50's). But we went shooting with many of my rifles, which he heartily enjoyed.
    His name was Clive - quelle Brit, eh? Sadly, he died in his sleep a couple years ago. SMLE's always make me think of him.

  2. Very nice. I need to start loading for my .303s. Remind me to get your recipe the next time you come up.

  3. "this was a rifle that previously would have had problems hitting the floor if I dropped it."

    That's clever, right there. Thanks for the smile.

    p.s. Adding you to my blogroll - which I shoulda done sooner.

  4. VERY nice, and glad you had something to occupy your time other than chasing Murphy out of the kitchen :-)

  5. Well, between Brigid and your posts, I am feeling some pressure to put those 148 gr SWCs (I found about 1500 of them, hard cast, in the garage a couple months ago) in their proper places.

    As well as some fodder for the 1911 and P-90.

    And not to mention some .270 Win.

    Lotsa work to do...

  6. Would love to learn how to reload, but admittedly, I'm a little nervous about doing that. I guess I'm afraid I'll blow myself up or something! (kidding)

    Beautiful guns, though.

  7. Great post, good pictures. I use IMR 4895 for 30.06 in '03 Springfield and Garand. Works good in 7.5 Swiss, too.