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Product review: Annealing Made Perfect (AMP)

The process of annealing brass has interested me from very early on in my reloading journey. There seemed to be some mystique around it, and only the most hardcore of reloaders really did it. I must confess that I was clearly never hardcore enough and am only now, many years on, beginning to anneal myself. For this reason I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to write an article right from the start of my annealing journey so that those who are interested can learn with me as I go.

Why anneal brass?

To start with, for those who have no idea what I’m talking about, in layman’s terms brass is a soft metal, each time we work a brass case (that may be sizing it, expansion as it is fired, or contraction as it cools and is ejected) the brass becomes more and more “work hardened”. Without trying to oversimplify it too much annealing is the process of heating the brass case neck to a very specific temperature in order to “soften it” back to its natural state.

There are a few benefits of this, firstly it means we can try and achieve a more consistent neck tension, by ensuring we have a consistent start point between reloads. This in turn affects pressures and ultimately potentially affects accuracy. It also extends the life of the case due to the fact that as cases become more and more work hardened they eventually become brittle and split.

It is important to note here that we only want to anneal the case neck and shoulder, we do not want to be softening the case body or base – doing so could be dangerous.

Brass uniformity – how much of a difference is there?

"Annealing Made Perfect" - a pretty bold claim. Does it live up to the name?
“Annealing Made Perfect” – a pretty bold claim. Does it live up to the name?

How is brass annealed?

There are a couple of main ways brass is annealed by reloaders, One of the most common ways is by using a temperature sensitive product which is painted on the inside of the case neck, the case neck is the rotated through a flame (most commonly a gas blowtorch) or cases are partially submerged in a water bath leaving the necks exposed and blowtorched, until the temperature sensitive paint shows the case has reached optimum temperature. There are a few different methods and machines available that follow this basic process which for many reloaders works OK, or at least they believe it to. But there are a number of variables with this process to consider. Firstly ambient temperature and gas levels will both affect the temperature of the flame.  Distance from the flame, angle of flame, time spent in the flame, case calibre, brass thickness, brass type and brand will all have an impact. This many variables, combined with having to use an open flame blowtorch in the house are really what prevented me from getting into annealing sooner.

Then a couple of years ago I came across a product “Annealing Made Perfect”, which I didn’t realise at the time was made in New Zealand. What the guys at AMP were doing seemed to be quite different to the above process and while I wasn’t an early adopter I started keeping more and more of an eye on the reviews and coverage of the guys at “AMP” while I continued to expand my knowledge of annealing and reloading in general.

The process that the AMP machine uses differs in that it uses a magnetic field to pass the brass through in order to create heat, because this magnetic field is electronically controlled it gives the potential for far greater temperature and time control as well as greater consistency and repeatability than the common method of using a gas flame. This method has allowed the guys at AMP to test many combinations of calibre, brass type, brand, thickness, etc., to create an extensive database and various programs within their machine for each type of brass. You are not reliant on using temperature sensitive paint and adjusting everything to get it just right, you now have the ability of selecting the right program and pushing the start button.

AMP machine with pilots and shellholder.
AMP machine with pilots and shellholder.

Another really great service that the guys at AMP offer, and, in fact, recommend, is you send them samples of your own brass and they will test it in their laboratory to identify its unique properties and they will let you know the perfect settings. This service is completely free, and is intended to get you, the customer, the best achievable result. This type of service to me really signals the values of the company and their intent to work with the reloading community rather than just selling them a product.

They have also included a USB port on the side of the machine, and computer link cable in an effort to future proof the machine, in the event of any updates AMP will provide these to be downloaded onto the machine, ensuring your unit is not going to be redundant in a year’s time.

Getting started with the AMP machine

I have recently been lucky enough to get my grubby little hands on an AMP machine to do some testing with, while as said above I haven’t had any experience with the blowtorch methods of annealing and therefore can’t compare the two, I am able to compare annealed vs un-annealed loads.

The first thing I noticed when I opened the box was the thought that has gone into it all, the machine was very well packed, as were the accessories. The user manual was incredibly simple, even for those of us who never read user manuals (Lots of step by step pictures). Realistically, it is so simple that it could even be compressed into one page.

Setting up the machine took all of 2 minutes, literally to take it out of the box, screw in the little rubber feet, plug in the power cord, and you’re ready to start annealing.

A quick check on the Annealing Made Perfect website settings section, selecting my calibre and brass brand from the dropdown list, and I was told what pilot number, and setting number to use.

You'll be ready to anneal in a matter of minutes - it doesn't get easier than that!
You’ll be ready to anneal in a matter of minutes – it doesn’t get easier than that!

The Pilots are semi calibre specific (many calibres may use the same pilot i.e .243/7mm-o8/308 use the same pilot, but it will depend on what calibres you load as to what pilots you will need), and they simply screw into the top of the machine to hold the brass at the optimum height.

The machine has 3 buttons on the front, a “+” button, a “–“ button and a “start” button. Simply press the “+” or “-“ button until the LCD screen shows the correct setting for your brass, place a case into your shell holder (the shell holder is used to handle the hot brass), drop the brass into the hole on the top of the machine and press the start button.

The start button will glow red for a short time (depending on brass and setting this time will vary, but likely to be around 3-4 seconds), and you’re done, pull the brass out using the shell holder being careful not to burn yourself on the extremely hot case and drop it into a metal tray or container.

The start button glows red while the operation is underway.
The start button glows red while the operation is underway.

It really couldn’t be more simple and the part I like the most about this machine is it repeatability. With other methods I have seen, people tend to set up their machines for a single calibre. They were often reluctant to change, as doing so would mean a lot of setup to try and recreate the same results next time. It also meant people would do big batch runs of brass as the setup involved and lack of repeatability meant that small runs became an annoyance. With the AMP machine you could literally anneal one piece of brass, then a week later anneal another and the results would be the same. This seemed like a definite benefit to me as it allows me to anneal between each reload, and not have to save large number of brass up each time to get very consistent results.

Are there any downsides?

I will highlight that the two potential issues that some people may find with this machine-

The first is that it anneals one piece of brass at a time, and unlike some other systems which use an automated hopper type setup you have to manually insert and remove each piece of brass. Personally this isn’t a problem for me as I am annealing my brass after each shoot, so I am only doing 30ish pieces at a time. This is taking me less than 10 minutes in front of the TV to do and personally the benefits of this system over others outweigh this slight negative. But for those people who want to stockpile their brass and anneal it in a large batch AMP are currently working on a robotic system and case feeder to insert the brass and remove it, so you can set it and do something else, The system is not currently available, but there are videos on their Facebook page showing progress so far and I can’t imagine it will be too long until we see these out for delivery. The new robotic unit will fit existing AMP Machines.

The other thing I have seen people comment on is the “Thermal Cut Out”. Again for my application I don’t see any real problem here but I know that it comes up a little from time to time, so I thought I should address it. The machine is naturally going to get hot – its purpose is to produce heat after all! AMP have done a great job of addressing this and the machine is built with a number of internal fans (these fans are very quiet and for the most part do the job, with the outside of the machine remaining cool to the touch).

AMP have also built into the software a thermal cut out which monitors the internal temperature of the machine and if it reaches high levels it will place the unit into a cooldown mode where it will essentially stop annealing brass and run the fans until the temperature is reduced. Depending on the program / cartridge you are running AMP indicate this may be between 50-200 cases. The most I have put through nonstop in one hit was around a hundred 6.5 Creedmoor cases running program 53 and I did not reach this cut out, in fact the unit still felt very cool to the touch and the air being blown from the fans also felt cool. Once again I now anneal my brass after each shoot, so after my initial annealing of my existing brass stockpiles I won’t be doing any overly large batch runs so this isn’t a problem for me at all, in fact its quite comforting to know that the machine has this protection feature built in.


Testing the annealed cases

Now I guess you are all wondering, does it work? Well again I’m not a scientist by any means, so I urge you to do your own research in general, but I will say that I recently did a test comparing both annealed (through the AMP machine) and un-annealed loads in a newly broken in 308 build. The loads were essentially the same however there were TWO variables that potentially both impacted the test.

  1. One set of loads was Annealed and one was Not Annealed.
  2. The set that was Annealed were the 10 cases I had with most uniform neck wall thickness, and the set that was not annealed was the next most uniform 10 cases.

Both sets were selected from brass which had around 10 firings through them and were the 20 most uniform (neck wall thickness) cases of 150 measured.

This is the annealed group. One cold bore shot and then 9 in the same hole. 9mm case for scale.
This is the annealed group. One cold bore shot and then 9 in the same hole. 9mm case for scale.

Measuring both sets of loads through a Magnetospeed Chronograph, the Standard Deviation of the 10 loads which were Not Annealed was 16.4. The Standard Deviation of the Annealed set was 9.4. The groupings of both sets at 100m was very good (one ragged hole, excluding a cold bore shot with each set) and I could not in fairness distinguish between sets, except for a single flyer on the Not Annealed set which while I don’t believe it was the result of shooter error, I can’t rule that out.

How important the Standard Deviation reduction is depends on you and what you are doing with the load. Both sets (Annealed an Non Annealed) would have happily taken down game out a long way, but for ringing steel or punching paper or shooting out at distance the reduction in SD (and ultimately grouping size/vertical dispersion) could well be worth it.

Overall, this is a great piece of kit. I plan to continue to update this article as I go and the machine is tested with as many calibres, brands and environments as I can. In the meantime, in New Zealand machines can be purchased from Serious Shooters in Auckland, and international purchasers can see their local stockists on the AMP website

[Editor’s note: If you enjoyed reading this article from Chris (or any of his others), you may like to follow Chris on Facebook]


What do I need to start reloading? Part 2: Equipment

Hopefully you’ve read part one in this two-part series, and figured out you could not only save a lot of money by reloading, but produce match-grade ammo at the same time. In this article we’re going to look at some of the basic pieces of equipment you will need to make your own ammunition.


So, when will you be reloading? For most shooters it will be in the garage or the gun room, with something on the telly or radio, cranking through a 20 or 100 rounds at a time. However, this has not always been the case (and for some, it still isn’t). Manufacturers used to put a lot of effort into creating reloading kits like the shotshell one in the video below, that you could use on the range, or wherever.

They’re not that common these days, but you do get handheld metallic cartridge reloading tools which will do exactly what your bench mounted press will do. Sometimes you will see these at competitions or when someone is working up a load on the range, or if they simply don’t have much room for a massive setup at home. Still, by far the most common types of reloading setups you will find will be single-stage or progressive reloading presses, which are bench-mounted. These are what we will concentrate on.

The manual

Don’t skimp. Buy at least one reloading manual. There is plenty of stuff online, sure. But you should always have an authoritative source of reloading info on hand. It’s a great tool to compare the internet forum wisdom to as well. ADI does publish a good selection of data on their website, and some other powder and component manufacturers do too.

I personally quite like the Lyman reloading manual, and have it alongside a few others on my bench as well.

The press

You will most likely start out with a single stage press. That is, it is designed to do one operation at a time. So, you decap and resize all your brass in one step, you then trim the cases as needed, prime them and fill with powder, before changing the die in the press to a bullet seating die, and seating your projectiles. There are extra steps you can take, and limitless variations on the process, depending on your load, tools, preferences, etc., but this is essentially what you do.

If you are a high volume shooter (or plan to be in the near future), you might start with a progressive press. This is a press that has several stations, into which you load all of your components, and each time you pull the handle, you get a complete, loaded round. There’s a bit more to it than that, but that’s the guts of it.

In between these two options you have a “turret” press, which gives you more flexibility than a single-stage, but much less “process automation” than the progressive.

You'll start noticing some colour schemes among dies and presses on a particular reloaders. My bench is mostly red and green.
You’ll start noticing some colour schemes among dies and presses on a particular reloaders. My bench is mostly red and green.

Single stage press

There are many fine manufacturers of single-stage presses, and they are not all equal. You can get top-end presses from Forster, Lyman, Redding, and more, which are all very precise. You can even get arbor presses that take you into a next level world of precision and measurability, for bench rest and F-Class type shooters. However, most first-time reloaders will make their press choice based on their budget, and upgrade to one of the above setups as they expand their reloading bench beyond the basics.

For those looking at the cheaper end of the single stage press spectrum, you will land on a Lee press as a matter of course. They are affordable, and sturdy units and will last you a lifetime if you don’t ever feel the need to upgrade to a higher-end press. For a basic Lee press, you are looking between $80 and $200, depending on the style that floats your boat, and also depending on where you buy it.

Hot off the press #dadjokes #hornady #norma #lee

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If you intend to only load for rifle, and only a few calibres, then a single-stage press should be sufficient for your needs. You may want a turret press or even a second press, so you can have one for sizing and one for seating. For a good press line up, check out Workshop Innovations.

If you want to load for shotgun, Google “Lee Load All”. I don’t know many people that load for scatter guns, as the ammo is pretty cheap. But, you can save some $$$, and customise your loads as you like.

Progressive press

As mentioned before, a progressive press spits out one loaded round for every pull of the handle, with minimal intervention in between (some models require you to place the projectile, or whatever). Of course you don’t skip your brass prep stage, as you do all of this beforehand. But, once you are setup with all of your components ready to feed in, you are good to go and can churn out dozens, or even hundreds, of rounds in an hour.

For this reason, a progressive is almost essential if you want to take up reloading for pistol. Given the sheer volume of ammo expended in most matches, you won’t want to be doing this on a single stage press. There are those who are proponents of loading rifle on progressives too, and again, high-volume shooters would find this the way to go. For example, a 3-Gun shooter may buy their shotgun ammo, and load their huge amount of pistol and rifle ammo on the same press, by changing the tool heads, etc. There are also plenty of tools and attachments to get your progressive churning out match-grade, super consistent, ultra concentric rifle ammo – depending on how far you want to take it.

A progressive ProChucker 5 by RCBS. Image credit; RCBS
A progressive ProChucker 5 by RCBS. Image credit; RCBS

If you’re looking on the cheaper end of the scale, you will again encounter Lee as the basic of basics. The Lee Pro 1000 is probably the cheapest progressive I have seen (at time of writing, $489 from Reloaders Supplies). It has its place in the market, but if you’re going to invest the money in a high-volume reloading setup, you may as well do it once and do it properly.

If you’ve looked at progressives before, you’ve seen the big blue machines. Yes, Dillon dominate the progressive market, but there are green, red and other colour progressives out there too. Being so prolific, many people have put a lot of time and effort into creating add-ons and betterments for Dillons, and you will find an endless array of optional extras. Every progressive machine I’ve ever seen has a huge range of optional extras, so make sure you find out exactly what you need before you purchase, as the base price on the machine is often only the beginning.

If you don’t know where to start, check out these Dillon setup “builders” which take you through all you need for your new blue machine.

Dies and shellholders

Dies and shellholders are calibre specific, so they won’t usually be included with the press you buy. In order to use your press, you will need a shellholder for your intended calibre (this is what you seat the case in). These are about $10 – $15, or you can buy a set of them for multiple calibres to save some money in the long run. Depending on your die set, a shellholder may be included.

For starting out loading rifle, you will need a minimum of two dies. One to full length size your cases, and another to seat the projectile. Lee produces a basic set of RGB (Really Good Buy) dies that consists of simply these two dies, and they have them for most common calibres at a very cheap price, usually less than $50, depending on where you go. The quality of these dies is great, so don’t be fooled by the price. They will, however, not have some of the extras other die sets have, such as shellholders, neck-sizing dies, crimp dies, etc. Your more highly specced die sets will probably run you around $80 – $160, depending on what flavour of die you want.

Lee produces a range of die sets, from the more costly/comprehensive to the simple and affordable.
Lee produces a range of die sets, from the more costly/comprehensive to the simple and affordable.

The great thing about dies and presses, is that they are almost all compatible and have common thread dimensions. Most FLS (full length sizing) and seating dies will do a great job, so my advice would be to get what is available for your cartridge and in your price range. If you want to start getting into precision seating dies with micrometers, etc., then you’re probably not even reading this article, as that is more advanced than the basics of getting started in reloading.

Neck sizing is something you will hear about when researching dies and reloading. I really like the Lee collet dies, as they do not require any case lube, and they size over a mandrel, instead of use a pull-through sizing button, which induces excessive stresses on the neck and can push imperfections around in the brass. If you want to load for hunting only, or if you’re tight on cash, skip the NS (neck-size) step for now. If you want to get really accurate ammo for a specific rifle, either invest in a die set that has a NS die included, or buy a separate one. Reloaders Supplies in Onehunga usually has a good stock of the Lee collet dies, or could order one in for you if needed.

Case lubricant

When you are using a FLS or most NS dies, make sure you are using case lube or some kind of powder. I find graphite powder great for neck sizing when not using a mandrel-type die, and it doesn’t react with gun powder. Lanolin spray on lube is apparently the bees knees for case lube, but I’ve not personally tried it. Watch this interview with the 6.5 Guys and they’ll convince you of its merits.

Some common case lubes - you do also get lube pads and lanolin spray.
Some common case lubes – you do also get lube pads and lanolin spray.

Case trimming and measuring

When you reload your spent cases, you will need to ensure that they have not stretched beyond maximum tolerances for that cartridge. You can get a cartridge specific case gauge, or you could get a multi-calibre case gauge. Again, showing my preference for red reloading equipment, I quite like the Lee case trimmer and lock stud. When combined with a (different type of) shellholder and a cause gauge guide, it will measure and trim your cases in one easy step. I use these with an electric screwdriver to speed up my case prep.

Case measuring tools are essential for safe ammo.
Case measuring tools are essential for safe ammo.

Once you’ve trimmed your cases to size, you’ll want to chamfer the edges for uniformity of escaping gasses, as well as ease of bullet seating, and easy chambering. Don’t forget to clean out the primer pocket too.

A vernier caliper is a great tool for checking trim length, as you can use it again for COAL length (tip to tail, not to ogive to base) and other measurements. You can get these with normal scales, like a ruler, or with a digital or dial readout.

Priming tool

Simple decision here, you can either get a hand priming tool or a tool that mounts to your press. It’s really user preference. Do you like the feel of seating the primer exactly by hand? Do you want to prime your cases while you watch the rugby? Or do you want to have a mechanical stop on your primer-seating depth, and prefer to do all your stages in one go at the reloading bench?

A few options for your powder measure - a thrower, dipper and a trickler.
A few options for your powder measure – a thrower, dipper and a trickler.

Powder measure or scale

Your simplest way to measure powder is by volume. A powder thrower will “throw” a relatively consistent volume of powder each time you pull the handle. Great for loading pistol, hunting rounds or high-volume stuff. Don’t forget you will need to weight it to start. and check the weight every now and again, to make sure you are throwing the right amount.

Your most accurate way to measure powder is by weight. You can use a simple (yet effective) balance beam scale, or you can use a handy-dandy digital one. Both can be had relatively inexpensively. If you want to get into super-accurate reloading for precision shooting, you’re going to want to drop some serious cash on lab-grade equipment. Usually a powder trickler/meter and scale combo can be bought.

Ammo case

You’ll need something to store all of your shiny, reloaded ammo in! Any old gun store will have MTM or Plano boxes for you to keep your freshly rolled ammo. However, if you’re planning on doing a lot of reloading, or loading for multiple guns and chamberings, it may be more economical or easy to use TAC-PAC clear ammunition boxes. They are cheap, stackable, and come in a multitude of sizes.

What about a starter kit?

Excellent question! As you can see from the above, there is a lot of variety out there. If you want to customise your setup with bits and pieces from different manufacturers, or based on the recommendations of friends (or people who write stuff on the internet), you may want to go and buy each thing individually.

However, if you really are budget conscious, or if you just want enough to get started because you don’t really know your left from your right yet, anyway, then you should probably get a starter kit. A Lee Anniversary kit will set you back $249 – $259 if you know where to shop. Or $399 if you don’t. You can get high-end kits closer to $800 or a grand, like the Lyman T-Mag II Expert Reloading Kit Deluxe from Workshop Innovations for $939.95 at the time of writing.

If you get the Lee, the press itself will last you for ages, and you will probably upgrade the accessories as you go. If you go for the more expensive kits, you may find it will be quite a while before you spend anything else on reloading gear (yeah, right…).

With any kit, remember there will still be things you need to purchase, so factor that into how much you spend. Ask at the store or check online to see what else you will need. You will need a case gauge (unless a universal one is supplied) and you will need dies and shellholders for all the cartridges you intend to start reloading with. My recommendation is to start with a single chambering, because you will have a lot to learn. It also means you won’t have to shell out too much on reloading consumables as well, at the start.

Extras you don’t need now, but will want in the future

  • Loading trays and die trays (I prefer to keep my dies in their boxes with silica gel packets anyway)
  • Universal decapping die
  • Ultrasonic cleaner or media tumbler (or both! I hear wet tumbling with stainless media is a dream)
  • Primer pocket uniforming tool
  • Run out gauge
  • Micrometers for bullet seating depth adjustments
  • COAL gauges for optimising depth relative to lands
  • A second press
  • A much larger bench – maybe even a reloading room
  • A million extras for progressives, I’m not going to list them all here


Brass uniformity – how much of a difference is there?

Brass uniformity affects a few things – but how much of a difference can you expect from brand to brand? If you have highly consistent brass you’ll notice similar life spans across your reloads, as they stretch at the same rate. You’ll have near identical case capacities, the result of uniform wall thicknesses. There’s a whole lot more to case uniformity, but what I want to focus on is the amazing difference from brand to brand.

Five lots of 10 brass - which came out tops?
Five lots of 10 brass – which came out tops?

Here’s a quote from an article on .233 brass at 6mmBR:

From a reloading standpoint, the important thing to note is the rather substantial variance in case capacity from one brand of brass to another–as much as 2.6 grains! So, you cannot assume that a particular “pet load” will work if you change brass brands–you’ll have to do new testing.

Two-point-six grains – that may not seem like much, but for the little .223 case, it’s a fair amount. Bear in mind, the brass compared in that article is mostly higher-end stuff.

Our brass uniformity test

I’ve just started loading for 7mm-08, and as I undertook loading for an OCW test, I thought I should start with the most uniform brass possible, so that the results of various powder charges are more meaningful.

I had 5 brands of once-fired brass, that I’d put through my Mossberg 100 ATR. I didn’t have a huge quantity of each, so I just took a random sample of 10 of each. The brands ranged from budget to middle of the road. We looked at Prvi Partizan (PPU), Highland, Remington, Winchester and Hornady.

Unlike the .223 test at 6mmBR, I noticed 17.44 gr difference in average weight from the highest to the lowest. This is probably a result of both looking at a larger case and also looking at wider variety of brass quality.


The heaviest brass was PPU, coming in at 181.79 gr on average. Highland (produced by PPU) interestingly came in quite different on average at 171.67 gr. The more middle-end manufacturers (we weren’t looking at the likes of Norma or Lapua here), came in more similar: Remington at 168.07 gr, Winchester at 164.35 gr, and; Hornady at 165.69 gr.

Winchester and then Hornady came in the lightest, which would hint at more internal case capacity, but you couldn’t say that for sure without testing H2O capacity, which I didn’t get into. I did the entire test using a digital scale and digital calipers, to identify overall uniformity.

Simple tools for a simple test.
Simple tools for a simple test.


Winchester had the lowest standard deviation in weight (0.48 gr), and the least difference between highest and lowest (1.60 gr). The highest was surprisingly Hornady at 1.33 gr standard deviation and a difference of 4.90 gr between highest and lowest. The S.D. for Remington, PPU and Highland were as follows; 0.74 gr, and 1.07 gr and, 1.05 gr. Respectively, the differences between highest and lowest were; 2.40 gr, 3.40 gr and 3.30 gr.


After one firing, most brands didn’t have much of an increase in overall length. All eamsurements below in millimetres.

Brand  Standard Deviation Difference High-to-low
Remington 0.02 0.07
Highland 0.03 0.08
Winchester 0.03 0.12
Hornady 0.03 0.10
PPU 0.05 0.16

Neck diameters and wall thickness:

All brands except Hornady and PPU had extremely uniform outside diameters for their necks (0.00 mm S.D. and high-to-low differences of 0.01 and 0.02 mm). Hornady and PPU both had 0.01 mm S.D.s and high-to-low differences of 0.02 mm.

The inside diameter showed a bit more variation, as a product of both brass thickness and softness.

Brand  Standard Deviation Difference High-to-low
Winchester 0.01 0.02
Hornady 0.01 0.02
PPU 0.01 0.05
Remington 0.02 0.06
Highland 0.03 0.08

Which brass did I choose?

All of these brands had similar factory loads, with 139 gr or 140 gr projectiles. The differences in the once-fired brass was quite illuminating. Also interesting, but not deal breaking, was that Remington and Winchester both had a single silver primer out of a box of 20 cartridges, when the other 19 were brass-coloured. After this series of tests I decided to stick with Winchester brass for my 7mm-08, as it was the most uniform in every category except length, where it came middle of the pack.

One of these things is not like the others #Winchester #7mm-08 #factoryammo

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It’s important to note that these were small samples, and that brass in other calibres may vary quite differently from what we saw with the 7mm-08. There are also a whole bunch of brands we didn’t consider.

However, if you’re looking at lower priced ammo to generate good quality brass for reloading in 7mm-08, my money would be on Winchester – I even bought another pack of Super X today.


Do I need a universal decapping die?

If you’re just getting into reloading, or perhaps you’ve decided to look at reloading a second calibre, you may have come across a decapping die and wondered if there should be one on your reloading bench. Well… maybe. Full length sizing dies (the ones you probably will start with) and neck sizing dies will deprime your brass as you size the case. But there are a few situations where you may want a decapping die.

Cleaning or tumbling brass

Very quickly, there are two reasons to clean your brass with either an ultrasonic cleaner or a media tumbler. Firstly, this adds another step to your reload process, but it does mean your primer pockets will get a clean (more likely with an ultrasonic cleaner), as well as the inside of the case, reducing powder residue build up at the neck. Secondly, cleaning the gunk off the outside of your case will keep your sizing dies in better condition for longer.

First go with the ultrasonic cleaner turned out some nice brass – almost like new!

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So, how do you decap without actually sizing the case? Well, it’s obvious now, but a universal decapping die is the answer to that question. Because the die body is oversized, it will not contact the walls or neck of the case, meaning you don’t have to apply any lubrication and the case shape won’t be changed.

It’s a quick process and I can deprime hundreds of 9mm cases in an hour. Chuck that lot in the cleaner, deprime some more, and start resizing the cleaned cases once they’re dry. It just becomes part of your routine.

Keeping your case shape

Sometimes you want to do something different with your brass. For example, if you slug your old 303 SMLE and find it’s got an oversize bore (surprise surprise), you may want to load it with oversize cast lead projectiles, with a .314 or even .316 diameter if you’re really trying to save an old mate.

In cases like these (no pun intended), you may not even want to resize your brass. You could simply trim your brass to length and flare the case mouth if necessary (that’s another die you’ll need), or it may fit just fine. There’s nothing to say you have to rezise a case again to shoot it, which is the basic principle behind neck sizing. If it’s fired in the same rifle it should chamber easily.

I’m sure there are other scenarios where you might want to keep case shape, but that’s the first that springs to mind. Otherwise, if you’re a cartridge collector, wildcatter, or ammunition hobbyist of some sort, I’m sure you already have a decapping die on hand. You could even be using one of these dies if you want to use spent cases to make jewelry or art, or if you want to modify a case to be a case-length gauge. All sorts of things you can do…

Types of decapping die

I’m sure there are many out there, but the two that I have tried have been Lyman and Lee. The Lyman is a one-piece hardened steel decapping rod, which they claim is “virtually unbreakable” and is suited to all calibres between .22 and .45, excluding .378 and .460 Weatherby. They even say it’s suitable for crimped in military primers (I haven’t tried).

The Lyman die's use case seems pretty clear!
The Lyman die’s use case seems pretty clear!

The Lee universal decapping die is based on a collet design, and if the decapping rod is subjected to too much force/resistance, it will simply slide up and you can reset it with a couple of spanners. Both designs work fine and neither die is too expensive. The Lee universal decapping die is available from Gunworks for $30 and if you can’t find the Lyman die at a local store, you can order directly from their website.

The Lee is spartan in presentation, but clever in its implementation.
The Lee is spartan in presentation, but clever in its implementation.

Other things you will need

You will need a case holder for all the different rounds you intend to decap. This sounds obvious, but, for example, if you’ve decided to get a head start and begin cleaning cases you’ll be reloading in the future, you may not have thought to buy a case holder yet. Thankfully these only cost about $13 or $15, and you’ll need one anyway. Or, you can get a bunch of various common sizes in one of the Lee case holder sets (make sure they’re not for the autoprime).

Of course you’ll need a press and a bench, etc, etc, but you knew that already.


What do I need to start reloading? Part 1: Materials

Good question – glad you asked! There’s a lot of stuff you could buy if you wanted to start reloading, but actually only a few essential things to start your first load and get hooked with the reloading addiction. This is a quick list of the bits and pieces you’ll need to get going.

Beware – any loads mentioned in this article are my own, and are not to be taken as gospel! Use a reloading manual or manufacturer’s instructions to find the right load for your firearm and application.

Oh, and here’s the difference between handloading and reloading if you were wondering!

Why reload?

Okay, before we get straight into the list – why reload? Ammunition is expensive. Each time you pull the trigger on a rifle, you’re sending $2 – $5 downrange, depending on your calibre and ammo preference. My 6.5×55 reloads cost $1.27 to shoot, roughly. But it’s not just about cheap and cheerful. I could cut that almost in half if I bought cheap projectiles. No, that’s $1.27 for ammo that I would call “match grade”. The results speak for themselves – see below:


#oneraggedhole #tikkaT3 #SMK

A photo posted by The Gun Rack (@gunracknz) on

Aside from being economical, reloading allows you to fine tune your ammunition depending on your rifle and intended application. I have two identical loads for my Tikka T3, one for target shooting and one for hunting – the only difference is the projectile and COAL (cartridge overall length).

There’s a lot you can do with reloading, so take the time and get stuck in – you’ll save some money, improve your accuracy/performance, and develop what is really a whole new hobby.

If you’re going to sight in and hunt once a year, then no worries, a pack of factory ammo will last you plenty of trips!

What are the essentials?

Obviously you need a firearm to shoot the ammo in! You also need safety glasses for while your reload (primers are explosives!). You need yourself, a solid reloading bench, some basic maths skills, and a whole bunch of other really obvious stuff. But, I’ll be splitting what you need into materials and tools. This is part one on materials.

Even if you aren't reloading yet - start saving your brass now!
Even if you aren’t reloading yet – start saving your brass now!


This is what makes reloading economical. You can reuse your brass many times over, which turns into a considerable saving. If you neck size and reload for one rifle only, reusing your brass will also increase accuracy. Where to get brass? You can buy it online, or from stores such as Reloaders Supplies or Serious Shooters. Or, what I do is buy ammo, shoot it, and reuse the brass.

I shoot and reload PPU or Sellier & Bellot for cheap plinking ammo (.303, 7.62×39, etc.). For my 7mm-08 and .308 I use a mixture of Hornady, Remington and Winchester. For my “match” 6.5×55 ammo, I shoot and reload Norma ammo. Lapua is also a good candidate. For 9mm pistol rounds I use whatever I have at hand.

Using brass from factory ammo also means you have a base line to start with, figuring out what your gun does and doesn’t like.

Cost example:

ADI 300 Blackout brass x 100 – $69 from Reloaders Supplies. That’s 69 cents each, and anecdotally you’ll be getting around 10 loads per, so call it 7 cents per round.

Federal American Eagle loaded 300 BLK ammo x 20 – $55 from Serious Shooters. That’s $2.75 per round if that was that. But if you plan on getting another 9 loads (at least) out of the brass, then call it 27.5 cents per round (including your first, loaded shot). It’s not as cheap, but you do get that first shot, and you get to experiment with different weight projectiles without buying a bunch of different types.


Projectiles (bullets) are likely to be your biggest expense if you’re aiming to make quality ammo. My most expensive pills are about $1.03 each, depending where you buy em. There are plenty more expensive out there. Plenty! But if you shoot a cheap/common/small calibre, like .223, you’ll be able to pick up bullets for much, much cheaper. Have a look at your usual stores and you’ll see what I mean.

Different projectiles will enable you to experiment with your firearm and produce application-specific ammunition.
Different projectiles will enable you to experiment with your firearm and produce application-specific ammunition.

You can get cheaper still with cast lead or plated projectiles, but these come with their own challenges and idiosyncrasies. Stick with copper jacketed bullets as you start out and life will be simpler.

Make sure you choose a projectile specific to your needs. Manufacturer websites are pretty clear, otherwise, read up on your calibre in Nathan Foster’s knowledge base, or ask your local gun store staff. A good example is, Sierra Matchkings (SMK) are super accurate, but dicey performers on game. Hornady ELD-X is great on game, and pretty accurate to boot. Prvi Partisan .31 calibre lead-tipped projectiles are actually great for effective wounding on game, but certainly not match accurate.

Cost example:

Prvi Partisan 6.5mm (.264) 139 gr projectiles x 100 – $60 from Gunworks. That’s 60 cents per round.

Berger VLD Target 6.5 mm (.264) 140 gr x 100 – $106.95 from Workshop Innovations. Looking at $1.07 per round. As you can see, there is a vast difference, but these two projectiles are for vastly different applications.

For comparison, a bag of 500 ADI 22 calibre 62 gr projectiles would set you back $100. That’s 20 cents a round for cheap AR-15 plinking ammo.


Powder is a big expense up front, but lasts for ages. It’s good to have a few varieties on hand for different loads and applications, but once you find one that you definitely will use a lot, buy in bulk to save even more money. Also, buying in bulk eliminates the variance you can get between batches of powder, as you’ll be working from the same batch for longer.

As I’ve said before, I’m a big fan of ADI powder. ADI (based in Australia) produces a bunch of powders for other brands, so if you find Americans talking about Varget, it’s fine because you can buy ADI AR2208, which is the same thing. But, where it becomes awesome is ADI powders are sold in 500 gram containers for around the same price of an American or European brand 1 pound container, which is about 454 grams. Immediate savings!

Different powder for different uses, but ADI is always a safe bet. Buy in bulk to make your reloading $ go further!
Different powder for different uses, but ADI is always a safe bet. Buy in bulk to make your reloading $ go further!

There are many good powder brands, and if you will end up reloading for multiple calibres, try and find loads that like the same powder to save on cost even more. My 6.5×55, .303, .308 and 7mm-08 are all fed a steady diet of 2208. Funnily enough, they’re all similar charge weights as well. This leads to multiple efficiencies.

You should definitely get yourself a reloading manual, but if you do decide to stick to ADI, they provide some awesome reloading data on their website.

Cost example:

ADI AR2208 500 g – $65 from Broncos. I use around 40 grains for most loads with this powder, so let’s call it 34 cents per round. If you bought the 4 kg container, your cost per round would drop to 30 cents.

IMR 4198 1 lb – $69 from Reloaders. I use 26.5 grains of this for my 7.62×39 loads. That’s 264 rounds, so 26 cents per round.


The things that go bang! I won’t spend too much time on primers except to say that they are actually different. It’s good to experiment, but when you start loading in volume, try and stick to one type of primer, otherwise you should realistically back off your load and work up again as the reaction inside the chamber will be different. Better yet, buy in bulk. I have found all of my loads requiring a large rifle primer tend to like Federal Gold Medal match primers. So I buy boxes of 1000 at a time.

Again, not only are you saving more dollar dollar bills y’all, but you’re keeping consistent by staying in the same batch of primers. Primers are quite cheap, so buying in bulk is not such a big deal.

Cost example:

Winchester Large Rifle primers x 100 – $12.99 from Gun City.

Federal Premium Gold Medal Large Rifle primers x 1000 – $90.95 from Workshop Innovations.

Primers are another area where buying in bulk saves a little bit of cash, but also improves consistency.
Primers are another area where buying in bulk saves a little bit of cash, but also improves consistency.

What will my first lot of materials cost me?

Let’s use the common 308 as an example. Using the ADI Powders load data and some prices from NZ shops, let’s figure out the minimum you would have to spend to load your first 100 rounds, as well as how economical you can get by buying in bulk.

Supplier Item Quantity Cost Cost per round
Reloaders Suppliers Sierra 30 cal 155 gr HPBT Match 100 $78.00 $0.78
Broncos ADI AR2208 powder 500 g $65.00 $0.37
Broncos ADI AR2208 powder 4 kg $465.00 $0.33
Gun City Winchester 308 Win brass 50 $69.99 $1.40
Gun City Winchester 308 Win brass (10 x) 50 $69.99 $0.14
Workshop Innovations Federal GM210M LR Primers 100 $9.95 $0.10
Workshop Innovations Federal GM210M LR Primers 1000 $90.95 $0.09
Cost per round for first 100 only (will have left over powder) $2.65
Cost per round with bulk buying and 10 loads from each case $1.34
Cost per round of equivalent factory load low end manufacturer $3.00
Cost per round of equivalent factory load high end manufacturer $3.40


As you can see, depending on the life of your brass, you can half the cost of your ammo and produce some excellent results. Especially when you consider that you can set your seating depth and a host of other things that will increase your accuracy from a given load.

Having said that, there’s more to getting started than bullets and brass. The cost of reloading equipment will factor into your decision to start loading your own ammo or not. Make sure to check back for Part Two in this series, in which we will look at the easiest equipment to get started with.


Bullet selection for hunting this roar

For many young girls and guys around the country, this roar will be their first opportunity to hunt – or at least to hunt some of the more prized species New Zealand has to offer in their prime coats and colours. While a shooter may be proficient with their weapon of choice, this does not automatically make them a good hunter.

Aside from the bushcraft, fitness and stalking involved – not to mention antler-induced-excitement behind the trigger – a serious consideration is the choice of ammunition. Fortunately for those shooting a more common calibre, there is plenty of off-the-shelf ammo that will do the trick. If you don’t intend to shoot much aside from sighting in and hunting, then buying ammo makes much more sense than reloading.

Bullet choice in New Zealand

Some common hunting calibres in New Zealand include .308, .303, .223, 6.5×55, 7mm-08, .243, .270, .260 and .30-06. To a limited extent the old Russian military calibres see some use (7.62×39 on goats or yearlings at close range or 7.62x54R if you’re running around with a sporterised Mosin-Nagant). And .300 BLK is becoming quite popular for goat culling or in short-range (but fancy) bush guns.

If you’re buying ammo for more common calibres like .308 or 7mm-08, your store owner’s recommendation will likely be good enough. Remington Core-LOKT and Winchester Power-Point are popular choices, and Hornady Whitetail does very well in most modern bolt actions too. However, for reloaders who have been chasing accuracy, bullet choice can change the game completely.

Some of the more common 7mm-08 hunting choices.
Some of the more common 7mm-08 hunting choices.

For example, with my 6.5×55 a 142 gr SMK or 140 gr AMAX does a beautiful group at 100 yards. In fact, my new favourite is Norma-Sierra 144 gr – it’s a factory load, but I can’t seem to beat it with the projectiles I have on hand. However, all of these loads have hit-and-miss performance on game. The AMAX less so, but certainly the SMKs are not meant for hunting. They have erratic terminal performance, sometimes yawing and producing massive wounds, sometimes producing pinhole wounds that can lead to inhumane kills and extended tracking of wounded animals.

But isn’t the Sierra Match King a hollow point? Yes it is, however the HP in this projectile is not designed for expansion on game. This hollow section in the bullet is to keep weight to the rear of the bullet, stabilizing it in flight and making it a more accurate round.

The SMK looks great on paper but does not produce consistent wounds.
The SMK looks great on paper but does not produce consistent wounds.

Factors like this need to be considered carefully, especially in calibres with higher sectional density, which can lead to deep penetration, but poor expansion if bullet choice is incorrect. This can be prominent in the 6mm and 7mm calibres.

If you’re about to start working up your hunting load for this year’s roar and do some quick sighting in, there are a few ways you can narrow down your bullet selection. You could start by checking out the forums or facebook pages and seeing what others with your rifle/calibre have been using. Or you could start by doing some research on sites like Nathan Foster’s Terminal Ballistics, or checking out the projectile manufacturer’s website. If you are the type to learn better by doing rather than reading, try a sampler pack from Gunworks to get a few different projectiles through your rifle and find its sweet spot.