Ten keen young shooters took part in an introduction to wildfowling day hosted recently by Preston and District Wildfowlers and supported by BASC.
Loading your own
Home loading your own shotgun cartridges is not as difficult as you may think, provided you follow tried and tested procedures.
By BASC wildfowling advisor Chris Wright, and an experienced home loader and a member of the BASC Wildfowling Liaison Committee William Wykes.
Evolution of home loading
It’s safe to say that ‘home loading’ is far from a new venture carried out by the modern sportsman or hunter of today. In fact, loading a firearm or other object with a charge and projectile has been going on for a very long time. The process, however, has evolved tremendously.
It is believed that, as far back as the 10th Century, people in China were using bamboo tubes containing gunpowder as ‘fire lances’. Evolution continued for quite some time before man started to put a projectile-launching contraption to his shoulder.
The basic concept today is very much the same as it was, yet the advancements over hundreds of years in technology and materials have taken home loading to a whole new level.
The advantages of home loading
In the context of modern-day shooting – specifically wildfowling – there are various benefits to loading your own lead-free cartridges.
Customisation is surely near the top of the list; home loading enables you to create a bespoke load suited to the nature of your shooting, your quarry, and the guns you use.
This is, of course, good news for those who own gauges for which commercial ammunition is hard to come by. Home loading allows us to keep using the 8 bores and 10 bores and even the sub-gauges with new, super-dense, tungsten-based shot types.
Performance is a real boon, too; many ‘fowlers will attest to the greater consistency of home loads when compared to mass-produced factory ammunition, citing better patterns and the ability to increase velocities.
Cost? Well, it depends on the gauge and the loads you are producing, but loading your own lead-free cartridges can be the more cost-effective option. You are not restricted to what ammunition your local gun shop stocks, either.
The personal satisfaction from bringing home birds for the table that you have shot with cartridges of your own making also shouldn’t be overlooked. Home loading is an enjoyable hobby that can be done in the closed season.
Tools and materials
Depending on your budget and/or how many cartridges you expect to use in a season, you may not need to buy a cartridge reloading press. Instead, using accurate scales and a roll turnover tool to finish a cartridge off (as opposed to crimping) might suffice. As you enhance your knowledge and experience as a home loader you can always upgrade to a purpose-built press – and there are many to choose from.
The advantages of a press include resizing stations and the ability to fold-crimp rather than roll-turn your cartridges. The overall reloading process is quicker, too. However, the most important cog in the machine is an up-to-date reloading manual. A reputable manual will give you all the information you need to start your reloading adventure. Many include step-by-step instructions of proper reloading procedures, but also advice on what loads are best suited to your requirements.
Many of the published manuals are from the US but use a selection of the same components and give a mixed array of load recipes for every circumstance.
These components include:
- Shot. This is available in various sizes and materials such as steel, bismuth or tungsten.
- Powder. An individual can purchase/store up to 15kg of smokeless powder without a licence (this is for nitro powder ONLY). You will need the appropriate licence to acquire/store black powder.
- Wads. Depending on your gun and chosen shot material, the wads you require will vary; a reputable gunsmith, gun shop or the BASC firearms team are all good points of contact.
- Primers. Making sure that you select the correct primer(s) to conform with the reputable loading data is very important. The wrong primer can make a big difference to the pressure levels from a specific load. For heavy or magnum loads, especially those used for shooting ducks and geese, hotter primers are generally best, as they have a slower and more progressive burn.
- Cartridge cases. For relatively active shooters, sourcing once-fired cartridges is not normally an issue. If the empties have already been fired through your gun and you intend on firing the ‘home-loads’ through the same gun, re-sizing the case(s) should not be required.
- Over-shot cards and wad fillers. If you intend to use hand tools and a roll turnover (RTO) tool, you will need a card disc to place over the shot column. An over-shot card is not required with a fold crimp. Filler wads are usually cork or felt discs that sit underneath the shot column in the wad to alter the shot height in the cartridge, allowing for a proper crimp.
At the bench
Once you have obtained all the tools and materials required, you can set aside some time to get the ball rolling on your journey as a home loader. It is important that you follow the instructions from the loading manuals and/or advice from someone with experience. Do not deviate from published load data, don’t substitute one component for another and double-check everything. If something doesn’t feel or look right, seek advice.
In an ideal world you will have an experienced home loader at the end of the phone or sat by your side for guidance, but I know many people who have used online groups and forums to talk to likeminded people who are only too happy to keep them on the right track. Do be careful when watching videos online, though; there are plenty of good videos out there but there are also plenty of bad ones…
Testing home loaded rounds
Once you have made a batch or various batches of variants, pattern testing your handiwork is a vital next step. Tailor your load and choke tube combination to your shooting style to get the best possible results from your own cartridges. If things don’t look as good as you hoped, then go back and make changes. For example, if your BB steel pattern looks sparse at your intended range, drop down a pellet size and try the next load with Bs to increase the pattern density. Loading your own will give you complete control.
Loading manuals will give approximate velocities for each load recipe but it is recommended to chronograph your loads to give you a real time indication of what they are doing once fired from your gun. This ensures your shot has the necessary velocity/lethality to bring down your intended quarry, in turn providing the confidence that you will be shooting humanely.
Remember, if you are struggling, reach out to someone who knows what they are doing.
Finally, please be careful but enjoy the process and hopefully the results from the season ahead.
We are here to help
If you have any questions or concerns or don’t quite know where to start – whether it’s wildfowling, home loading, or any other related query – please, contact your regional team or use this form to message a specific department. You can also call our reception on 01244 573 000 to be connected to a relevant department or individual.