The novel, as well as the feature film “The Road” is disturbing in a number of ways. It paints a very dark post-apocalyptic painting with seemingly no hope for the main characters. While the lead character is armed with a .38-caliber revolver, he has almost run out of ammunition and is down to his last two cartridges. He uses one of these fending off an attacker and spends the duration of the film trying to decide how to best use his one last shot. While the novel is a work of fiction, the reality is ammunition is all that separates a firearm from being a blunt instrument. Even the most prepared person or group must face the eventuality of their ammunition stockpile ultimately becoming depleted. Some will think they have clever solutions to replenish their supply, but these may not pan out as planned. However, there is an obvious solution readily available, handloading.
Handloading, or reloading, will give you the ability to manufacture ammunition on a small scale using spent cartridge cases, powder, primers and projectiles. Handloading ammunition has been an important skill in many places around the world during dark times. Hunters and farmers reloaded ammunition during economic hard times to put food on the table. Partisans and guerrilla forces reloaded spent cartridges to stay in the fight when no resupply was available. Handloading ammunition, using a Lee Loader, was even taught to US Special Forces snipers to allow them to break down captured 7.62x54mmR ammunition, and reuse the components to load 7.62x51mm ammunition in an emergency. It is a simple and well proven skill to have. These same methods from the early years will be the very focus of our project.
Some people have reservations about reloading. Many look at it as part science and part voodoo. Or, that you need a dedicated room with piles of expensive specialized equipment to perform a task requiring expert knowledge. Now it would be hubris to believe that a few hundred pages can be distilled into one article. Yet the process isn’t so complex that one can’t easily learn the basics. If people are cross-training gardening with first aid then why not add reloading too?
Not only that but reloading doesn’t have to be expensive and it doesn’t need to require a huge investment in elaborate equipment. You can actually acquire basic tools to allow you to reload ammunition for just a small outlay of your hard earned money. Lee Precision offers two reloading kits which are very simple, inexpensive and portable. The advantage of a small portable kit is you can easily take it with you.
The first offering from Lee Precision is also their least expensive and most compact. Called the Lee Loader Kit, it is a truly flexible product in that it’s small, self-contained and easy to use. It’s an entire reloading bench for a specific cartridge with six simple components along with instructions. The kit includes tools to remove and replace primers, sizing die, ability to crimp and a powder scoop. There is also a set of simple instructions to learn. Price for a complete kit for one caliber is just $40.98. It doesn’t get any more straight-forward or economical than this. Plus, the design goes back for decades, so it’s a proven performer. It’s interesting to note our Editor learned how to reload using a Lee Loader in .303 British back in 1981.
Using the Lee Loader is easy. After reviewing the instructions start by grabbing the Decapping Chamber and Rod and find a flat level spot to work on. Place the D-Chamber with the larger opening up and drop the used case into the opening. The Rod is sized to a specific caliber and slides tightly inside the case. It has a pointed tip to deprime. Now use a small hammer and tap on the knurled end to free the spent primer. Next, the case is placed inside the Body and Sizing Die. Place the die, with casehead facing up, onto a flat surface and tap the case flush with the die. The case has now been neck-sized; the other end of the die can be used to apply a bullet crimp if needed.
We are now half-way done with the process of reloading the case. Grab the Priming Tool for the next few steps. One side of the head has what appears to be a washer. Place a live primer in the center hole. The Die, with case inserted, is placed on top of the priming tool and the Priming rod goes into the die with the dimpled end toward the primer. Just gently tap the rod until the primer is seated. The die goes back on the D-Chamber with the tool still inside, so you can tap the case free. Once the Rod has been removed, the powder scoop is used to measure a charge of suitable propellant. Carefully consult the instructions and included powder data. The top of the die acts as a funnel, so just pour it in.
Before the bullet seating process begins, start by raising the top half of the die so as to not over seat the bullet. If the die was previously preset for a particular load then you're good. Otherwise, it will take a little time to find the right depth. The bullet is then dropped in the top of the die. Next, the “handle” end of the Priming Tool is inserted into the top of the die until it rests on the bullet. It’s easy to notice that the handle is notched out to be a proper seating head for spitzer bullets. Tap away until the tool is flush with the top of the die and you’re done. You have now loaded one live cartridge. This small kit weighs just 1.1 pounds and will fit in a jacket pocket. The downside to the Lee Loader is it does not full-length resize bottleneck rifle cartridge cases. This makes it unsuitable for use with semi-automatic rifles, but it works well for bolt-action rifles, pistols and revolvers.
If you want a little more flexibility then consider the Lee Breech Lock Hand Press kit. A nice step up in performance, it allows use of traditional die sets and is built around a simple hand press. Again, this kit is light and functional. The foundation is an aluminum C-style hand press. The shape allows for an easy grip at various angles and it has a long enough arm to full-length resize even long magnum cases. There are no unnecessary parts to this press design and it weighs in at less than two pounds. The movement of the arm is smooth and easy.
What about loading with a hand press? Does it have enough leverage? Imperial Sizing Wax is the secret to the whole operation. It takes very little to lube cases providing smooth operation, and it has a long shelf-life. Just put some on a cloth and wipe down the case, then store the cloth for later reuse. When lubing don’t forget the case mouth, especially if you’re using collet style dies like Lee Precision.
Other than the press being hand-held, operation is the same as for a standard bench mounted press. The Lee Breech Lock Hand Press uses standard reloading dies, so you can use Lee or dies from other manufacturers. Lee dies are great for the price, and they have a wide selection of calibers to choose from. The Deluxe Die Set contains six pieces including the crimp die and shell holder. Being able to easily swap dies allows you to load a wide variety of pistol and rifle calibers with it.
Operation is straight-forward. Install the resizing die and correct shell holder, then slide a lubed case into the shell holder. Pressing the arm forward will push the case up into the die both resizing and depriming it. Included with the press is a priming tool which allows easy priming of cases. Next you need to add a proper charge of powder which is easily accomplished using the little powder scoop that is included in the Lee Deluxe Die Set. The scoop is based on volume and labeled on the handle. All of the Lee Deluxe Die sets include a scoop commonly needed for the particular cartridge. You just fill the scoop and scrape off the excess.
For added flexibility when it comes to measuring powder charges consider acquiring a Lee Powder Measure Kit. It provides a useful slide rule chart with 149 selections of pistol and rifle powders from various makers with 15 scoops. It also includes 8 black powder listings. Everything you need in one place for less than $15 retail. These are the same type of scoops as provided in their die and Lee Loader sets.
Seating the bullet is simple and should never need adjustment once the depth is set. Just place the case and bullet on the holder and send the ram home. Lee dies can be adjusted with the simple twist of two fingers. It’s much easier than other companies who require multiple tools to make changes. The last stage is crimping the bullet. Few companies include a Crimp Die, so more props for Lee. The only thing that needs to be adjusted is the lock ring for depth to control the amount of crimp on the bullet. This insurance policy prevents bullets from moving and binding actions, or worse. Price of the Lee Breech Lock Hand Press kit is just $78 without dies, and it only weighs 2.5 pounds.
Can you load reliable and accurate ammunition using the Lee Loader and Lee Breech Lock Hand Press kit? Why yes you can. You will not break any speed records, but both kits will produce good quality ammunition if you do your part. This will give you the ability to reload your spent cartridge cases and keep you in loaded ammunition. Patience and attention to detail are the best tools to have above all. Do it right and be consistent every time to ensure reliability.
To build an easily portable loading kit I suggest using a small tool or tackle box. A tool box makes it easy to store and transport if necessary. It should have a small hammer, kinetic bullet puller, dowel rods and an extra funnel. The extra hammer is always useful and the bullet puller will allow you to pull down cartridges of different calibers to collect the bullets and powder. My kit has two cloths, one treated with brass cleaner and a dry one. The kit should avoid unnecessary bulk. Even a file can act as a case trimmer. Then all you need is a supply of powder, primers and bullets.
These Lee kits are not for everyone. Yet these simple tools will continue to feed your firearms long after others have run empty. For many it would be wise to try and control fate for as long as possible. Take any advantage you can.
Lee Precision, Inc.