Reloading Components: A Beginner's Guide

Reloading Components Bullet, Brass, Powder, primer

By Mat Brost

Unlocking the door to the first house you bought. Starting the engine of the first truck you fixed. Pulling the trigger to fire the first cartridge you loaded – what a feeling.

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Understanding Reloading Components: Brass, Primer, Powder & Bullet

Hornady Unprimed Brass Rifle Cartridge Cases
Hornady Unprimed Brass Rifle Cartridge Cases

Reloading your own ammunition is not only cost effective, it's rewarding. While the numerous possibilities for custom-tuning ammo make reloading gratifying, they may also seem overwhelming at first. Don't worry; we're here to help. With the knowledge provided below and the proper reloading manuals, you will be tailoring loads for optimal performance in no time.

Brass Casing: The Reusable Part of a Cartidge

Let's begin with the brass casing. As the only reusable part of a cartridge, brass is the fundamental starting point of reloading. It holds all of the components together and seals the chamber. This seal causes pressure from the expanding gasses created by the burning powder to drive the bullet down the barrel.

Internal capacity (brass thickness) can vary between brass manufacturers, affecting chamber pressure, velocity and accuracy. Powder charges should revert to the starting charge recommended in your reloading manual when the brass (or any other component) used with a specific load changes. If a load is already at or near maximum pressure, loading it into a case with less internal capacity could result in an over-pressure load.

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Cartridge Primers

The next part of a cartridge we need to look at is the primer. The primer ignites the powder and seals the base of the cartridge. Using the correct primer for your cartridge is paramount for loading safe, effective and accurate ammunition.

Ramshot Smokeless Powder
Ramshot Smokeless Powder
  • Magnum primers are hotter and burn longer than standard primers, so they work better with larger loads of harder-to-ignite ball or spherical powders.
  • Match-grade primers are made with tighter tolerances, which increase the accuracy of your load through more consistent ignition.

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Reloading Powder: How it Works

After you have your brass and primer selected, it's time to decide what powder to use. Ignited powder creates the energy to fire the bullet. In other words, powder is what delivers the BOOM. There are a lot of different powder options to choose from, but they are all one of two types: single base or double base. Single-base powder is made of nitrocellulose while double-base powder is made of nitrocellulose and nitroglycerine. Of the two, double-base powders produce more energy. These two types are cut into three basic powder configurations:

Cartridge powders
  • Cylindrical or extruded powders deliver some of the most consistent performance. The shape of the powder delivers high-load densities for superb accuracy. These powders are offered in a variety of cuts. The finer the cut, the better it meters through powder drops.
  • Cylindrical or extruded powders deliver some of the most consistent performance. The shape of the powder delivers high-load densities for superb accuracy. These powders are offered in a variety of cuts. The finer the cut, the better it meters through powder drops.
  • Spherical or ball powders deliver consistent charges and meter the best through powder drops, making them a great choice for loading large quantities of rounds.
  • Flake powders generally have more surface area than other powders, so they burn faster, which makes them good for shotgun and pistol cartridges.

Choosing the Correct Bullets

Once powder is selected, the final component needed is the bullet. Do not underestimate the importance of choosing the correct one. A bullet that works well for plinking may not work well for hunting. In order for your cartridge to perform well, you must choose the correct bullet for your shooting needs.

4 Types of bullets
  • Hornady Varmint Rifle Bullets
    Hornady Varmint Rifle Bullets
    Plated bullets are typically the least expensive, making large-volume shooting, like plinking, more affordable.
  •  Full-metal-jacket (FMJ) rifle bullets are ideal when varmint or predator hunting for furs. They do not expand on impact, causing very little damage to hides. However, this could lead to more tracking of wounded animals and less-humane kills. FMJ pistol bullets offer flawless feeding characteristics. Both pistol and rifle FMJ bullets deliver deep penetration.
  • Soft-point and hollow-point bullets are the most popular hunting bullets. They are offered in both flat-based and boattail designs. Their controlled expansion on impact delivers mass trauma and stopping power.
  • Tipped and match-hollow-point hunting and target rifle bullets have long, tapered noses with very little wind resistance, making them highly accurate, even at long distances. They too are offered in both flat-based and boattail designs. The hunting bullets use differing rates of expansion, all designed to stop your targeted species in their tracks. The match-target bullets are designed for target shooting and will likely not offer the expansion or penetration needed for effective kills on game animals.

Every time you bring a load to its optimal performance you get to relive that you-did-it-feeling.

After you have chosen your bullet, you have all of the components you need to load a complete cartridge. With this fundamental knowledge, as well as the wealth of information provided in reloading manuals, you're well on your way to reloading cartridges that are perfect for your shooting needs. Remember, while the many possibilities can be challenging, it is that very challenge that makes reloading so satisfying.