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Reloading Reasons
Tom Wylie explains why reloading is such a good idea

The world of the dedicated wildfowler or waterfowl hunter can be neatly split into two, those who reload and those who are about to, for no dedicated fowler would settle for second rate performance from themselves or their equipment, would they?  

So why Reload? 

This is the question that I get asked most and this article is an attempt to answer it. To start off I would like to re-word the question to… What are the advantages of reloading? The quick answer is that reloading provides the fowler with the opportunity to tailor his loads to his particular hunting venue, while not being subject to the constraints of availability. The shells he produces can be ballistically superior to the manufacturers’ products, and at reduced cost. However, I have to admit, the major reason I reload is simply a love of the science of shotgun ballistics, however I would expect to be in a minority in that respect. 

A more general answer to the question of the advantages falls neatly into three categories. These categories are not independent of each other as their borders merge dependant upon the reloaders’ attitudes and their individual goals for reloading. 

The categories, in no particular order, are: 

1.     Availability

2.     Cost

3.     Performance 

Let tackle them in this order. 

1)                 Availability 

This is the easiest advantage to understand, for if the cartridge you require is not commercially available then you have to either,

a) Talk to a manufacturer and hope they can accommodate your request, probably at significant cost

b) Become the manufacturer.

This is not as rare a reason as it would first appear. If you have ever owned an old black powder shotgun or a big bore shotgun, 10 bore or greater, then you will appreciate how hard it is to find commercial ammunition for them.   To illustrate this point I would like to remind readers that, recently, in a Home Office Directive on firearms legislation, all 4, 8, and 10/73 or 10/67 shotguns, that are not of recent manufacture, were made exempt for mandatory inclusion on a shotgun certificate, the only stipulation being that they were not to be fired again. The reason for removing these bores and chamber sizes  from mandatory inclusion on the certificate is simple, there is no  cartridge manufacturer producing significant amounts of ammunition designed for these guns within the UK, hence these guns are now not classed as a significant danger to the general public. Currently the only "large bore" ammunition that is available in significant quantity in the UK is for the 10/89, hence the 10/89 was NOT made exempt from mandatory inclusion on a shotgun certificate.  However the 10/89 cartridges that are available are of differing performance and so  expensive that the requirement to become a reloader is nearly accepted as a secondary implication of owning the modern ten.

The last issue on availability is one that does not concern the commercial availability of the cartridges but but rather your ability to get the cartridges. Have you ever lived somewhere remote?  I have, and a 200 mile trek to the nearest dealer is not a trip taken lightly if all you require is 1 box of AAA for foxes, especially as to order them you have to:

1 put in an order  and possibly wait up to 4 weeks and

2 if you are unfortunate, buy a case (250 cartridges) at a time.

Is this an extreme example? I think not.  I presently know of somebody living in the Grampians who with 2 weeks to the start of the fowling season still cannot get a case of their favorite 12/76 load of 3.6mm steel and when the cartridges arrive at the dealers they have to undertake a 2 hour round trip to get them. You could argue the same for availability of reloading components, except that you tend to buy the reloading components in bulk and if push comes to shove you can always cannibalize other cartridges to make what you require. Believe me necessity is the mother of invention. Have you ever seen fox killed instantly at 20 yards with a combination of steel bearings from a wheel race, buffered in flour, the powder capped with 4 circles drilled out of a commercial cork fishing net float, in a recently fired pheasant cartridge?   I have, but just once, and to emphasize one point, - this was a necessary instant kill in the lambing season in which the handloaded cartridge was designed, tested and executed to be at least ballistically equivalent, if not greater, than the corresponding 'commercial' cartridge. 

2) Cost 

If the decision to reload is a question of finance, then you will nearly always be able to make cartridges, of equal performance to a commercial HUNTING cartridge, at a cheaper cost. Why? The answer is simple; you do not have to pay for the overheads, wages, distribution and advertising of the commercial manufactures and also when compared to clay cartridges the margins on hunting cartridges are greater. 

So what is the difference in cost,; what can I save?

In addressing this issue it would appear sensible to look at the two extremes of commercial non-toxic cartridges available in the UK, namely steel and Hevishot and to work up the reloaded cost for an equivalent to these cartridges. I will additionally address the cost with reference to the two most frequently used wildfowling bores, that is the 12 and 10 bore. Whilst some may like me to consider Lead I feel that there is no mileage in doing so, as in my opinion, it is only a matter of time until its demise, for all shotgun hunting, in the UK. 

The following estimate is based on the current prices of reloading components and that each hull is used 3 times.  It also shows the amounts of reloads you would have to produce to cover the cost of Basic Reloading Kit. I have estimated the cost of basic reloading kit, press, scales etc to be £200.

All saving are calculated against the current price of the commercial shells, per box, at my local dealers. 

For a 36g, 12/76 Steel load it totals 18p per round, or a saving of approximately £2.20 per box and you would need to load 90 boxes before the equipment pays for itself. 

For a 49g, 10/89 Steel load it totals 53p per round, or a saving of approximately £12 per box and you would need to load 17 boxes before the equipment pays for itself. 

For a 40g, 12/76 Hevishot load it totals £1.40 per round, or a saving of approximately £35 per box and you would need to load 6 boxes before the equipment pays for itself. 

For a 52g, 10/89 Hevishot load it totals £1.90 per round, or a saving of approximately £40 per box and you would need to load 5 boxes before the equipment pays for itself. 

As you can see for the more exotic non-toxic shot, or large bore gun, you can recoup the cost of your basic reloading gear within a season and from then on save a considerable sum of money and always have the cartridges you require available. 

3) Performance 

Commercial mass produced cartridges are just that, mass-produced. As such, these cartridges must cater for a set of generalized hunting conditions and quarry, be that wildfowling, pheasant shooting, rabbiting etc. These cartridges are the jack-of-all-trades and whilst they are sufficient to do the job correctly, they are the master of no situation. If you are hunting a specific environment your commercial cartridge choice may well be impairing the your ability to kill the quarry instantly in this specific circumstance.

Homeloading allows you to step outside the strict guidelines that govern the commercial manufactures, such as speed and momentum for steel, and in so doing will allow you to produce ballistically superior cartridges. Dependant upon your aims for reloading, these cartridges have the ability to be produced to tighter tolerances with advanced components that enhance not only the ballistics capability of the cartridge but will also the increase your barrel’s protection against the new hard non-toxic shot. 

The major differences in ballistic performance arise because of the inclusion of a number of techniques that are not found the vast majority of the commercial cartridges. Some of these techniques are; 

1 The inclusion of a buffering compound

2 The inclusion of shot support in the form of a felt or cork wad beneath the shot in the wad cup.

3 An increase in muzzle velocity and momentum for steel beyond the CIP Limits, putting the performance back into your 12/89 loads

4 The ability to reload certain shot types that are not available within the UK.

5 The ability to chose the powder and primer that best suit the weather conditions you shoot in. 

All the above can improve cartridge performance and if I expanded upon them all I would increase the size of this article to a book. Therefore I will expand on the first one only, buffering. 

Buffering is a mechanism that puts a granulated material in-between the spaces of the shot pellets in the wad or cartridge. Buffered cartridges are few and far between, (insert full stop and start new sentence) They are mainly made in the USA and are used by turkey hunters who require tight patterning premium loads at extended range. Any wildfowler or waterfowler can see the similarity of these requirements with our own pass shooting requirements, yet a buffered load for wildfowling, in the UK, is extremely hard to come by. This absence is hard to comprehend, especially since the development of buffered loads by Winchester, played a significant part in the USA waterfowl Nilo tests, 30 years ago, which are the experimental basis for many of the computer models and theories that are used today. 

In short, buffering can increase your pattern density by 5-20%, dependant upon the shot type and buffer you use. It is also thought that buffer will only have a beneficial effect upon “soft” shot. This is not my experience as a buffered “hard” shot e.g. steel will also pattern tighter, but only about 5-7%, but even 5% could make the difference between a load being acceptable and unacceptable under the CONSEP criteria. 

I will leave a detailed analysis of subject of buffering for a later article, but remember all the above stated enhancements will produce a more consistent cartridge and hence reduce the variability in your hunting, many of these modifications only being available to the reloader.   


As a final summary I would say beware of reloading; for if you strive for the perfect pet load it will consume your time, spend your cash, demand your day, invade your thoughts and haunt your dreams…. 

For as every homeloader knows... 

Shoulder a good gun and you may feel the difference

Fire a good gun and you may hear the difference

Pattern a good gun and you may see the difference

Homeload for ANY gun and you WILL MAKE the difference

Viva la Difference 

Tom Wylie Copyright 2002 

I would like acknowledge the help of my reviewer, Glenda thank you very much.

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