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When I began to handload, about ten years ago, like most who get involved in this segment of the shooting sports, my main idea was to save myself some money. Also like most handloaders, I soon discovered that loading my own was a fun and rewarding pastime in it's own right. Working up loads which are the most accurate IN YOUR GUN, working up special loads for practice or defense, experimenting with new bullet shapes or types, all of these things are part of the joy of reloading. On the primary reason which tempts most shooters into becoming handloaders, I can only say that I shoot for less than a quarter of what I used to spend. .38/.357 costs me three of four dollars a box, or even a little less depending on which bullets and powder I use. The savings can get even higher with premium loads. Most "defense" loads are put together using high pressure, and premium bullets, like semi jacketed hollow points. These loads are more expensive than the standard loads, but the handloader can buy all of the components to put these loads together himself. In order to enjoy all of these advantages you must first acquire a reloader, commonly referred to as a "press"; you must also get a set of dies for each caliber you wish to load.
    One affliction which seems to strike all handloaders at one time or another is the "power disease". Once infected, a handloader will scour the load books for the combination that will propel the heaviest bullet at the highest velocity. A variant of this sickness will see the victim using mid weight bullets to achieve the highest foot pound energy level possible in a given cartridge. After the infection passes, there is often a permanent scarring left in the form of several boxes of reloads which will never be fired. I have this type of scarring myself. In the back of my ammunition cabinet are about six boxes of handloaded .44 ammunition. I used 240 grain bullets, and loaded them up to some unmentionable velocity. My brother and I went down to the range with these super .44 cartridges to see what they could do. What they did was make the gun buck to a frightening degree. They also rustled all of the paper targets sitting on the shooting bench, lit up the range like a flashbulb, and made our heads hurt and ring even through our hearing protectors. This brings a whole new meaning to the tired old phrase "the power of the press" After about three cylinders full, we'd had enough. The rest of the day was spent firing .22's, and light loaded .38's. Reinfection of "power disease" is not uncommon.
The Press
    I have a Dillon Square Deal B, progressive reloader. The Square deal is a great machine and I would recommend it with the following reservations. The most obvious drawback of this machine is it's inability to reload rifle rounds. The size of the press does not allow these longer rounds to be loaded, making this a pistol only machine. The other problem with the Square Deal is that it uses unique dies, and a unique holder for them. This means that only the Dillon square Deal dies will work, and you are limited to the calibers which Dillon produces dies for this machine in. It also means that if you already have dies for a number of calibers, you will not be able to use them in this machine. Having mentioned the drawbacks of the machine, I will now say that I love mine. It is fast, it did not cost very much (for a progressive), and it is easy to set up and use. For those who do not know what a progressive machine is, or for that matter what a die is, I will explain the reloading process.
    Simply put, when you reload a cartridge, you are reversing all of the changes that took place when the cartridge was fired. A fired cartridge has had it's primer ignited, it's powder all burned up, it's bullet pushed out, and it's case stretched and bulged. There are measures and cutters for charging with powder and getting the case back to it's original size, but the main tools used are a press, and a set of dies. The dies are metal (usually carbide) cylinders which do the work, while the press holds the dies and provides the force. On my press the first die resizes the case, as the stretched and bulged case is forced through it by the press. This is also the stage at which the old primer is punched out. The next stage puts in a new primer, and drops a set measure of powder, which can be adjusted according to the load wanted. The third stage flares the case mouth slightly so that I may rest a bullet in it. The fourth stage seats the bullet and crimps the case mouth around it. On a single station press, you must perform each of these operations separately on every case, before changing dies and going on to the next stage. A progressive press will move a cartridge through all four stages like a carousel.
    With my progressive I can load up a box of shells in a couple of minutes. The primers are loaded into a magazine, and the powder into a reservoir. The powder measure is set by a screw adjustable bar inside of the measure itself. All of the dies are adjustable for variations in bullet seating depth, case length etc. It is a very nice system. I can not remember the last time I actually had to buy a box of pistol ammunition; it has been years at least. I also like to custom tailor things like ultra light loads for practice, or special high pressure/heavy bullet loads for my carbines (the so called rifle cartridges in pistol cases). I will not give load data here, but will put it in the listings of my cartridge section.
    Any one who plans on reloading, should not really depend on some one like me to provide load data any way. One of the most important tools, especially for the novice reloader, is a load book. These are lists of combinations of bullets, powders, and charges for the handloader. They are put out by the bullet and powder makers, and many are free, though the best ones will cost you. Some of the better ones are not in the form of books at all, but are binders which can be updated as new powders and bullets are introduced, or new loads are worked up. Even the more expensive books are cheap compared to the cost of painstakingly working up your own loads, or blowing up your gun (or yourself). The books are compiled using test barrels, and also test equipment like pressure gauges and chronographs, which the hobbyist will not generally have access to, though with chronograph prices coming into the sub $200 range, I will probably have one by the end of this summer. Other sources include articles in gun magazines where reviewers are often handloaders. There is also some reloading information, including load data, on web sites. The addition of a chronograph will greatly increase my ability to work up loads of my own. Knowing the bullet weight and muzzle velocity of a load allows you to generate ballistic tables to gauge performance at various distances. It also give a good idea of what the maximum range and practical range of an individual load might be.
    The best powder to start out with is probably Hercules Bullseye. It is a very fast burning powder and was designed for the .45 A.C.P. and similar, short pistol rounds. It is at it's best in shorter barrels, and is very economical to use. My favorite line of powders is the Vihtavouri line. Their load book shows some amazing possibilities for some of the auto pistol rounds. my favorite defense round for the 9mm uses one of their powders to launch a 147 grain hollow point at 1152 fps. this is definitely knocking on the door of the .357 round. My Berreta pistol in 40 S&W can fire a reload which will propel a 155 grain bullet at 1309 fps. This is not only knocking on the .357s' door, but opening it up and coming on in. A 40 S&W round with a 180 grain bullet can achieve 1211 fps. These loads are right at the same power and performance level as the .357 magnum. Of course we are talking about comparing reloads to factory ammo, and the .357 has some handloads of its' own. The 158 grain bullet (handloaded---NOT FACTORY LOADED) can be brought up to 1509 fps. The 180 grain bullet, which is my favorite in this caliber, can be charged up to give 1283 fps. The .44 magnum loads which are sitting on my shelf and will certainly never be fired again pushed a 240 grain bullet out the muzzle at 1499 fps. The classic .45 is limited, in normal loads to 961 fps with the traditional 230 grain bullet. This is still better than any thing the factory comes out with, but it can do better. there are so called +P rounds for the .45 A.C.P., but they must be used with caution. A +P round should be fired in a gun with a fully supported chamber, and should not be use constantly unless the gun is resprung, to keep it from bashing itself to pieces. The .45 Super round, also requires certain modifications be performed, and absolutely requires a fully supported chamber, even though the brass itself is much stronger at the base.
    One final note on all of these supercharged rounds. They should only be fired in modern, well made firearms. Do not buy an old, cheap or off brand revolver or automatic, and then expect to be able to stuff hot loads into it. Even some well made and highly regarded pistols may not be pushed past the SAAMI specs. In particular I am referring to the Glock. This is a fine series of pistols, but these guns, particularly the 40 S&W, and the .45, can not be hotloaded. I have personally hotloaded for the 9mm and have had no problem, but the .40, and .45, have definitely blown cases in the Glock. This may be because of the polygon rifling which Glock uses, or more likely a combination of this rifling and the belled shape of the chamber. Whatever the reason, if you want to hotload for the Glock you must get a new barrel with a fully supported chamber.