by: Walt Berger

The safe reloading of metallic rifle ammunition is largely based on the use of common sense. For example, it is common sense to refrain from smoking while reloading where gun powder is present. The same goes for wearing eye and ear protection while shooting. However, there are a few safe practices and procedures that may be less obvious to those who are new to reloading, and this chapter will discuss them briefly.

  1. ALWAYS use the correct type of powder and the correct amount of powder. And NEVER mix powder types.
  2. ALWAYS maintain proper cartridge case length.
  3. ALWAYS keep components (bullets, cartridges, powders, etc.) in their original containers.
  4. ALWAYS keep small children out of your loading area and away from all loading equipment and supplies.
  5. NEVER decap live primers.
  6. ALWAYS clean up your loading area after use.

Powder Type and Amount

One of the most dangerous mistakes to be made in reloading is to use too much powder or use the wrong kind of powder in a given cartridge. Therefore, deciding on the type of powder to use and the amount of that particular powder is something that should be taken very seriously. DO NOT begin reloading unless and until you have a thorough understanding of the specifications for the powder and cartridge you will be using.

This manual lists the minimum and maximum charges for every powder that is suitable for each cartridge. You should always start at the minimum powder charge and work up slowly and methodically. If you have a powder that is not listed for use in a given cartridge in this manual or another manual, then do not use it! In other words, if the powder is not listed, then it is not suitable for use in that cartridge.

The single biggest danger in using the incorrect type of powder is loading a powder that burns too fast for the cartridge. Excessively fast burning powders, especially when combined with heavier bullets in large cartridges, can cause serious injury or death. ALWAYS take care and double check both the amount and type of powder that you are loading into your ammunition.

And NEVER mix powder types!

Correct Cartridge Case Length

Each time you fire a piece of brass and resize it, it grows in length. Eventually, the case becomes too long to fit in the chamber. When this happens, the end of the case neck has nowhere to go when you chamber a round and it actually crimps into the bullet itself thereby creating an excessively tight seal. This situation can cause gas pressures to skyrocket to dangerous levels, and serious injury or death could result.

Therefore, ALWAYS measure the length of your cases after each firing and resizing to be sure they are not exceeding the maximum case length measurement given for that specific cartridge. If the cases do grow beyond the specified length, it will be necessary to trim them back to avoid the dangerous crimping situation.

Keeping Components in their Original Containers

Keeping all reloading components – bullets, cartridges, powders, etc. – in their original containers is an extremely important habit to get into. The consequences of loosing track of powder types and bullet calibers can be disastrous, and serious injury or death could result. For example, the difference between 7mm (.284”) caliber and 270 (actually .277”) is only 0.007”. One cannot recognize this difference with the naked eye and it would therefore be an easy mistake to inadvertently load 7mm bullets into a .270 cartridge. If you were to make such an unfortunate mistake and chamber and fire this round, you could easily create a chamber pressure that far exceeds those the rifle was designed for and serious injury or death could result.

Keep Small Children Away From Your Loading Area and Equipment/Supplies

A reloading bench is a disaster waiting to happen for youngsters. Aside from the frustration caused by tipping over delicate scales, or spilling powder, there are a number of serious safety concerns for children. The brass shavings from trimming cases, if rubbed into the eyes, could cause painful and permanent eye damage. None of the materials or supplies used around a reloading bench are safe for ingestion, and if a young child were to swallow such items, serious injury or death could result. Dangers also await a child who gets a a finger caught in the linkage of a press.

The importance of keeping specific powders, cartridge cases and bullets separated is discussed above; yet, small children can easily get such components mixed up despite the reloader’s best organizational efforts.

Keep a close eye on children around the loading bench. Better yet, keep small children away from the area entirely and away from all equipment and supplies.

Never Decap Live Primers

On occasion, you may feel you have a need to remove a live primer from a casing. Resist this temptation, as there is NEVER a good reason to decap a live primer. Serious injury or death could result. NEVER remove live primers with a decaping die. Instead, fire the primed brass from the rifle outdoors in a safe manner, then decap the expended primer.

Always Clean Up After Each Reloading Session

Inevitably, powder, primers, and other debris will collect on the floor around your work area and it can be a safety hazard to leave such items strewn about. It is therefore important to clean up your work area after each reloading session and you should ALWAYS use a broom to collect accumulated debris. Shop vacs or other vacuum cleaners can produce sparks which could possibly ignite powder. Also, if unspent primers are sucked into a vacuum and collide with other fast-moving parts, they could easily ignite.

Safety always comes back to the use of common sense. The best way to stay safe when you’re dealing with a potentially dangerous activity involving supplies like gun powder and bullets is to know what you’re doing. ALWAYS know why you are doing what you’re doing. If you ever find yourself in doubt, stop, research the question, and then proceed only when you can do so with confidence.


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