3 Must-Haves For The Beginning Reloader

Written by Sierra Bullets Ballistic Technician Gary Prisendorf

3 Reloading Must-HavesWith the huge ammunition shortages over the last few years came a boom of new reloaders. People got tired of not being able to find the ammunition that they needed or if they were able to find it, prices had been over inflated to a point that was ridiculous.

We get a lot of phone calls from perspective new reloaders asking what equipment they should buy to get started. Many of them want to jump straight to a progressive reloading machine without knowing the first thing about reloading.

To me, this almost seems like handing a teenager the keys to a Lamborghini® on the day they pass their drivers test. Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with the progressive machines. They work great and can really speed up your loading process. But with that speed comes the chance that something will be missed or overlooked in the process.

When someone asks me what they should buy to get started, I always tell them to buy a good reloading manual and to read it cover to cover before attempting to reload.  Sierra’s 5th Edition reloading manual is an excellent choice.  The Sierra manual contains a lot of information that you just won’t find in other manuals out there.

I also tell them to talk with other reloaders and to have a fellow reloader help them to get started. Most hand loaders that I know are great people and are usually more than happy to help someone get started in a hobby that they enjoy.

The next thing I usually suggest is purchasing a good quality single stage press. Personally I started with an RCBS Rock Chucker® press about 30 years ago and that press is still going as strong as it ever has. I have literally loaded tens of thousands of rounds with that old press without any complaints at all.

Sure a single stage press is slower than the progressive machines, but I feel they give you more control of every step in the loading process.  You also will see what every step in the process is doing and have less risk of skipping a step that could possibly be dangerous to the shooter. The single stage press is a great learning tool and as you learn and get more confident with the entire reloading process, you may very well end up buying a progressive machine. But trust me, you will always have a use for a good quality single stage press on your loading bench.

A quality powder scale is also a must.  I feel that a good beam scale is probably best for the new reloader.  I own and use two digital scales, but in all honesty, my old Redding Model #2 beam scale is more accurate and when I am loading with my best precision in mind I always go with my Redding scales.

There are many things a new reloader is going to need to get started and we could have a six hour debate over what to buy or not to buy. But in my opinion, if you buy a good loading manual, a quality single stage press and a good set of beam scales, you will be on the right path to a rewarding new hobby.

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Brownell’s Rockcastle Pro Am 3-Gun Championship

Written by Sierra Bullets Media Relations Manager Carroll Pilant


The Brownell’s Rockcastle Pro Am 3-Gun Championship just finished up.  The matches took place August 21 – 23, 2015, at the Rockcastle Shooting Center at Park Mammoth Resort in Park City, Kentucky. This match is actually 2 separate matches. Amateur Division, was shot on Friday, August 21 and Saturday, August 22, with the awards on Saturday night. This division had  234 shooters. The Amateur match is similar, but less complicated stages than the Pro division. Both the Pro and the Am divisions have both Open and Tactical Optics divisions. Marc O’Malley won Am Open and Brandon Gibson won Tac Optics.

The Professional Division was shot on Friday, Saturday and Sunday with the awards on Sunday afternoon. The Pro division had 200 shooters. I think the attendance was down some from 2014. My squad only shot 3 stages the first day and the temperature was comfortable but humid. The second day we shot 4 stages with an early start. Temperatures were warmer and the humidity was still bad. Sunday morning, we only had one stage to shoot but the humidity seemed worse. Within minutes you were soaked, with sweat running in your eyes while you were trying to shoot. This match had a 100 second time out, which means if you do not have all your targets engaged at the end of 100 seconds, you are penalized with a failure to engage and neutralize for each target remaining. I even heard of some of the top shooters timing out on some stages. There were a lot of steel targets that you could use your choice of either a handgun or shotgun on. Paper targets only needed 1 A zone hit or 2 anywhere to score. Every shooter had his own preference and you would see a large variance of the ways it was shot just in one squad. There were even 2 walls (more like huge pallets) that you had to stand part way up on and shoot thru a port. One was with a rifle and the other with a shotgun and slugs. Another had a car which you started seated in (and had to remain in the car) and had to engage near and far targets from both sides of the vehicle. It wasn’t a big car and us fat boys had a hard time moving across the seat with a rifle.  In the Pro Open Division Taran Butler won with Greg Jordan winning Tac Optics. Congratulations to all the winners.

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Handgun Shooting Tips Part 2

Written by Sierra Bullets Ballistic Technician Paul Box

In my last blog we talked about different things to improve your handgun shooting. We talked about custom sights as well as grips, and mostly the never-ending need for practice.

Now, there are some things we can do with the sights to improve our sight picture without going all the way to custom sights. It’s called nail polish. A black front sight and rear sight as well, can make good sight alignment tough at best. One thing I have done for years is paint the front sight with nail polish.

Not the entire sight, but just enough to completely fill in the rear notch for a 6:00 o’clock hold. Nail polish comes in so many colors that it is an easy task to find a color that your eyes see better. I go one step farther and put two tiny dots on my rear sight. One on each corner on the top of the blade. I use white for this and blaze orange for the front.

Rear_Handgun_SiteMy eyes see these colors the best especially in low light conditions while hunting. If you want your front sight to be even brighter, lay down a coat of white first, then apply whatever color you have chosen. The white undercoat will make it even brighter.

The next thing we need to look at is how we grip the handgun. I like to get as high up on the backstrap as possible. The reason for this is that it will reduce the muzzle jump somewhat and also give more of a straight back recoil. For me, the better that I control the muzzle jump, the better my accuracy.

Another thing I want to mention is finger placement on the trigger. The most accepted way is to pull the trigger with the first joint of your trigger finger. I used this method for years, but never had the best luck with it. I have long fingers and for me, this wasn’t natural. All to often I would have shots go to the right for me. When I grip a handgun high on the backstrap and extend my finger thru the trigger guard, the most natural placement for me  was using the second joint on my trigger finger. This gave a more natural straight back pull. The point here is to experiment and try different things. It doesn’t  matter if it breaks all of the accepted rules or not. If your accuracy improves, that is the bottom line.

If you take up deer hunting with a handgun, I can promise you that your first one will be very satisfying experience. It won’t matter if it is a doe or a small buck, it will still be a trophy to you. And that first deer steak will be the best tasting one you have ever had.

Remember – practice, practice, practice.

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Ask A Bulletsmith – “What is your favorite ‘don’t know how you ever lived without it’ piece of reloading equipment?”

We asked a few handy Sierra Bullets bulletsmiths: “What is your favorite ‘don’t know how you ever lived without it’ piece of reloading equipment?”  Check out their answers below.  We would love to hear from you too, please share your response in the comments below.

Ballistic Technician
Carroll Pilant answered
Dillon 550 and 650 presses.”

Ballistic Technician Rich Machholz answered My universal decapping die is as handy as a pocket on a shirt.”

Ballistic Technician Philip Mahin answered “A comparator gauge to measure from the base of a case to the ogive of the bullet. This bypasses the tip of the bullet, so I can repeat the same seating depth the next time I visit a specific combination.”

Ballistic Technician Duane Siercks answered “I don’t know that you would actually call this equipment, but the item that comes to mind would be my reloading room. I had always had to squeeze everything into a corner or even an unheated shed. After we bought our current house, I built a garage and placed it so that I had a window looking down a 250 yard range. I built a dedicated room with heat and  A/C. It contains my reloading bench and a shooting bench. The shooting bench lets me slide open the window and shoot down the range. It is very handy to not have to load everything up to go to the range. It also makes load development a lot simpler and efficient. I don’t know how I ever got along without it.”

Ballistic Technician Paul Box answered “The Lee hand priming tool.”

Former Ballistic Technician Robert Treece answered “My homemade dental pick.  I use it to check incipient case head separations.  We all see the “bright ring” down close to the case head, that’s natural, but after several firings could be starting to split apart.  You could start by just straightening out a paper clip; flattening one end; sharpening and turning it 90 degrees, then bend if about 1/8″ long will even fit all the way down into .204″ cases.  On the other end, bend about 3/4″ to 90 degrees also, in the same direction as the pick.  That will give you a handle and also “points” in the direction of the pick as you scrape along the side wall from down inside at the bottom upward along the side wall.  If the pick hooks into a crevice–DON’T TRY TO SIZE THE CASE.  It will pull apart in your die. (PSST you won’t like that!)”  

Chief Ballistician Tommy Todd answered “A brass annealing machine.”

Production Toolsetter Brad Vansell answered Redding Ultramag single-stage reloading press for my rifle and my Dillon 650 for my pistol loading.”

Process Engineer David Palm answered “Homemade case lube.”

Plant Engineer Darren Leskiw answered “Beyond the normal equipment, I’d say my electronic scale.  Using the beam balance for the past 9 years was ok, but nowhere as easy as using an electronic scale.”

RCBS Rock ChuckerBallistician Gary Prisendorf answered RCBS Rockchucker Press, it’s built like a tank, and it will last me a lifetime.”

Production Manager Chris Hatfield answered RCBS single stage reloading press.”

Maintenance & Machine Shop Lead Craig Westermier answered RCBS Rock Chucker”

Production Resource Manager Dan Mahnken answered RCBS Rock Chucker! Buy one and it lasts a lifetime.”

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Reloading 101: Case Diagnostics

Written by Sierra Bullets Ballistic Technician Duane Siercks

I was handed a small sample of 223 cases the other day and was asked if I could comment on some marks and appearances that had been noticed as they were sorting through the cases. I will share what was observed and give you what would seem to be a cause for them. These were from an unknown source, so I have no way of knowing what type of firearm they were fired in or if they were factory loaded or reloaded ammunition.

1.) Lake City unknown year. 

Case #1 was seen to have a very rounded shoulder and split. Upon first look it was obvious that this round had been a victim of excess pressure. The firearm (perhaps an AR?) was apparently not in full battery, or there was possibly a headspace issue also. While taking a closer look, the primer was very flat and the outside radius of the primer cup had been lost. High pressure! Then I also noticed that there was an ejector mark on the case rim. This is most certainly an incident of excessive pressure.  This case is ruined and should be discarded.  See photo below.


Case 1: Left to right, bulge and split, flattened primer, and ejection marks.

2.) Lake City match 93 

Case #2 appears very normal. There was some question about marks seen on the primer. The primer is not overly flattened and is typical for a safe maximum load. There is a small amount of cratering seen here.


Case 2: Cratering around the firing pin hole.

This can be caused by a couple of situations. Cratering is often referred to as a sign of excess pressure. With safety in mind, this is probably something that should make one stop and really assess the situation. Being as there are no other signs of pressure seen with this case, I doubt that pressure was unsafe. That leads us to the next possibility. This can also be caused by the firing-pin hole in the bolt-face being a bit larger than the firing- pin, and allowing the primer to flow back into the firing-pin hole causing the crater seen here. This can happen even with less than max pressures, in fact it has been noted even at starting loads. Always question whether pressure is involved when you see a crater. In this situation, I lean toward a large firing-pin hole.  This case should be safe to reload.

3.) R-P .223 Remington   

Case #3 appears normal with one exception. There are two rings seen about one half inch below the base of the shoulder.


Two rings about one half inch below the base of the case shoulder.

These rings are around the circumference of the case, one being quite pronounced, and the other being noticeably less. As we do not know the origin of the firearm in which this case was fired, it does seem apparent that the chamber of the firearm possibly had a slight defect. It could have been that the reamer was damaged during the cutting of this chamber. I would suggest that the chamber did have a couple of grooves that imprinted onto the case upon firing. This firearm, while maybe not dangerous should be looked at by a competent gunsmith.  In all likelihood, this case is still safe to use.

4.) R-P .223 Remington   

Case #4 has no signs of excess pressure. There is a bulge in the case just ahead of the case head that some might be alarmed by.


Bulge in the case just ahead of the case head.

This bulge is more than likely caused by this case being fired in a firearm that had a chamber on the maximum side of S.A.A.M.I. specifications. There is actually no real issue with the case.  Note that the primer would indicate this load was relatively mild on pressure.


The primer would indicate this load was relatively mild on pressure.

If this case was reloaded and used in the same firearm numerous times there might be a concern about case head separation. If you were going to use this case to load in an AR, be sure to completely full-length re-size to avoid chambering difficulties.  This case would be safe to reload. 

5.) Lake City Match 85 

Case #5 appears very much like case #4. The bulge is not as pronounced as on the R-P case, and if fired in the same gun, may simply be because the Lake City case is slightly heavier walled.


Case bulge.

The primer again shows that there was no excess pressure involved. This could probably be termed as “normal”.  This case would be safe to reload.

6.) R-P .223 Remington Case

Case #6 shows some rings around the circumference that are very light and hardly noticeable.


Rings around the circumference of the case are very light and hardly noticeable.

This was fired in a different chamber than case #3, as the rings are in a different location and not as heavy. The primer looks good and there are no pressure issues with this case.  This case would be safe to reload.


The primer would indicate this load was normal.

It is very important to observe and inspect your cases before each reloading. After awhile it becomes second nature to notice the little things. Never get complacent as you become more familiar with the reloading process. If ever in doubt about a situation, call us at 1-800-223-8799.

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Personal Defense Ammo for a 1911

Written by Sierra Bullets Ballistic Technician Philip Mahin 

When it comes to the defense of my family or myself, I don’t mess around. I want to know exactly what I’m capable of and how my equipment will perform so I’m testing expansion with my bullets that could possibly be used in a defensive scenario. That includes pistols, shotguns and rifles but this and my next post will concentrate on two concealed firearms. My two concealable firearms of choice are my 1911 chambered in 45ACP as well as a backup Smith & Wesson 10 chambered in 38 Special.

Since my main carry is my 1911, I’ll begin with it. I will admit it is a heavy full size (all steel mind you) with a standard 5” barrel.  My brother tries to sell me a lighter version for easier carry, but I like the one I have. I’m comfortable with it and that goes a long way with me. There is no better feeling than knowing it is close and with the custom holster, it rides well on my hip and even hides easily. What I really wanted to convey with this post though is how the ammunition works.

The bullet is the key to success or failure of ammunition and how it performs is a crucial part of that equation. Impact velocity has a direct relation to how a bullet expands.  At 7 yards, that remaining velocity is going to be close enough to the muzzle velocity to not even worry about it.

Of the three rounds I’ll present here, two are factory ammunition and one is my reload. There are a number of reasons I’m carrying factory rounds not the least of them is legal liability but I liked the performance of them. In no particular order they are Winchester Rangers, Sig Sauer V-Crown, and Sierra’s #8805 230gr jacketed hollow point. I have put my best effort into giving them a reasonable expansion test but my home brew methods are a little unorthodox. My expansions tests uses recycled milk jugs, refilled with water and placed with their flat side touching. Because they are at least 4+ inches wide, I don’t have an exact measurement for penetration.  Also, because water is such a hard medium, my results are going to be a little different compared to actual ballistic gelatin testing.

Here are my results:

Winchester_Ranger_AmmoWinchester RangerThe Winchester Ranger ammo is the continuation of the older Black Talon line. After the black was removed from the bullet, the ammo was known as the T-Series and then went on to become a bonded version. I used the bonded version mainly because it was available and this is what I’ve tested here. The talons are not extended like they used to be but they can still be seen in the photo. This bullet started as a 230gr and now weighs in at 229.56 grains and measures .830” at the widest diameter. The jacket is still secured to the lead core. It went through at least 9” of water and settled in the third jug so I would call that a success. Unfortunately, either I didn’t record the velocity or it was lost in translation, but it wasn’t in my notes so I don’t have that to give. Another unfortunate fact is that I couldn’t find this ammo listed on Winchester’s website but the Platinum Tip looks very similar. In other words, the last remaining box of the T-Series I own is not for sale.

Elite_Performance_AmmoSig Sauer V-Crown:  The V-Crown is the new bullet line from Sig Sauer and as you can see, it looks like a flower when expanded but that is where the cute ended. To handle it, I can feel how sharp the edges of the jacket are. It started out as a 200gr and now weighs 199.64 grains and measures .790” at the widest diameter. The entire jacket is still secured to the lead core. It also went through at least 9” of water and settled in the third milk jug, so I would call that a success also. I do have an average velocity of 950fps from 5 recorded shots.  My notes also stated it gave a smaller, more uniform group than even my reloads.

Sierra_8805Sierra #8805 Reload:  My reload is using Sierra’s #8805 230gr jacketed hollow point.  I have used this load in my IDPA matches before. It is easy to hit moving targets out at 30 yards with it, but it is going significantly slower than the Sig. It is traveling at an average of 810fps from a recorded 5 shots but I only used 6 grains of Unique to find my accuracy with it. The bulk weighs 221.92 and the two fragments of jacket weigh 5.72 grains combined for a total of 227.64 grains. The remaining jacket is still secured to the lead core and it measures .760” at the widest diameter. It also went through at least 9” of water and settled in the third jug.  Despite the slight jacket loss that settled in the second jug, I would call this a success also.

My conclusion:

I’ll carry the Sig Sauer V-Crown on me. I like the way they perform as well as the velocity and accuracy they give me.  Being available factory made ammo gives me piece of mind on several levels.  It also doesn’t hurt that Sierra made the bullet for the ammunition.

My next post will have my report of my short barreled 38 Special. Some of the results will be shocking to say the least so I hope to see to you then for another conversation.

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Rocky Mountain High

Written by Sierra Bullets Ballistic Technician Rich Machholz
Photos courtesy of Danny Milan

Every year in June for the past 5 years I have been privileged to be invited to teach for a week at Trinidad State Junior College in their summer NRA program held in conjunction with their Gunsmithing classes.  This year was no exception other than being earlier than usual and for the first time I saw green grass from my home in Missouri across Kansas and on through eastern Colorado south all the way to Trinidad.  As unusual as that was it was even more unusual to see the Arkansas River filled bank to bank.

The previous two years have been plagued by forest fires.  The whole state smelled like a camp ground and a haze hung over the south eastern slope for days during 2013 and 14 but those days are gone for now and I don’t think anyone there regrets it.

This year my class was held the first week of June.  The weather is very pleasant in southern Colorado and Trinidad is at about 6000 feet above sea level so although it is warm in the daylight hours it cools off in the evenings and the lack of humidity is a welcome relief for a soggy Midwesterner.  But walking can be a chore for us flatlanders, especially for us lowland flatlanders that live under 1000 feet above sea level.  The Colorado air seems to be pretty thin at least for the first couple of days.

I pulled into town about 1 PM Sunday afternoon and headed towards campus.  I parked in the upper level lot on campus and to my surprise found the doors open so I proceeded to look up Tool Room Dave but instead found Danny Milan who, as it turned out was to be my assistant for the week.  I  got unloaded in record time due to Danny’s able assistance and for the first time in memory had my class room organized for the first day before the first day.  Danny is retired military, retired law enforcement and looking for a new challenge.  I have no doubt he will be successful and he was invaluable to me for my week in the hot seat.  My thanks to Donna Haddow for allowing me to have such an able assistant.

I knew my class was full so I was prepared for that but I had forgotten opening and welcoming remarks plus program instructor introduction and orientation were to be held in my room also and there were several other classes that were introduced as well so it was 9 AM before my class was assembled and greeted.

My class is titled Reloading A to Z and can be very fast paced.  We start with the very basics and progress from there.  Generally the first day is student introductions, basics and prep notes in the morning and the afternoon is more of that plus some equipment setup.
This years class consisted of 5 novice reloaders, 4 more with very limited experience and 3 very experienced old hands that were very helpful and eager to share their expertise with the less experienced class members and the balance was made up of reloaders with good working reloading knowledge and a desire to expand on that knowledge.   Five members of our class were also military veterans and my thanks goes out to each of them.  The youngest class member was Zack at 18 years of age and the oldest … well I’m not touching that one.  Let’s just say there were some mature adults present.

In the following three days we touched on everything from how a press works to precision die setup, how to select and measure components for the best performance and finally how to assemble them for the utmost accuracy including scope mounting 101.

To prove our prowess we met Friday morning at 8 AM sharp to arrange adequate transportation and took our guns and ammo 30 miles south to The Whittington Center near Raton New Mexico to show just how good we really are and I have to say that Clay Burchard proved his point very well with a 5 shot group at 200 yards that had all shots touching.

SAM_0908Clay was shooting a sporter weight 308 with Sierra 125 grain ProHunters #2120.  Not everyone had such great results but there was some pretty fancy shooting going on for sure.  We had paper targets from 25 yards to 200 yards on the actual sight-in range to just over 1000 yards on the surrounding ridges.

SAM_0918There were several ladder tests shot and evaluated and lots of scope zeroing and rezeroing but I can say that without exception the Whittington experience is a great way to end class.

SAM_0916If you have a spare week next June come join us for a Rocky Mountain high (no pun intended) at Trinidad State Junior College and Gunsmithing School in Trinidad Colorado.

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