Reloading 12 ga Shotshells – On the Cheap! (Part 1)

12 gauge Shotshell Hulls

Shotshell reloading isn’t quite like reloading metallic cartridges.  With shotshells using smokeless powder, you don’t deal with “starting” loads and “do not exceed” or “maximum” loads.  Modern shotshell loads use “recipes” that call for a specific powder charge, a specific wad, and a specific charge of a certain type of shot (or slug) in a specific hull.  Deviating from published recipes is absolutely not recommended.  Only the most experienced shotshell reloaders should even consider deviating from published data.

To reload shotshells, you need one of the following:

  1. A press. There are many types, from the $50-class Lee Load-All II, to the $1000-class MEC loaders.  As the price goes up, so do the quality level, ease of use, and/or production speed.  Of course, used presses can be found quite easily. Some of the more interesting shotshell presses were Texans, Hollywoods, and Herters.
  2. A Lee Loader. This is a set of hand tools that allow shot shells to be reloaded, with the use of a mallet.  Lee has discontinued the shotshell versions of their “Classic Loader” line of tools, but they can be found on online auction sites, at garage sales, and as part of estate sales, regularly.
  3. Custom tools. These are often reminiscent of the Lee Loader.  It isn’t, necessarily, that people are copying the Lee Loader; but that the same approach is being taken for the task:  Making and using only the most basic tools necessary to get the job done.

In addition, you need:

  • Powder. -Whatever it may be, that is called for in the recipe you are following.
  • Primers. -Many experts say that shotshells primers do not affect the loads in the same way metallic cartridge can be.  So, primer choice usually doesn’t have to match the recipe.
  • Wads. -You need something to contain the shot or slug.  Use what the recipe calls for.
  • Shot or slugs. -None of the above items do any good, if they don’t have lead to launch.  Again, find a recipe for the shot or slug you want to use.
  • A scale, or powder measure. -You need a way to measure out the powder and shot charges (if using shot).

This isn’t meant to be a tutorial on how to reload shotshells with improvised equipment, but rather, a breakdown of how I did it.

Some things we need to consider, while making or scrounging up our tools:

    • Shotshells can generally be loaded as many as 4-5 times, without being sized.  That’s a good thing, and greatly simplifies our requirements.
    • Some base wads have the primer protruding above the lowestExposed primer
part of the wad.  If your hulls are like this (shown right), you need a primer seating tool that has clearance for the primer.
  • Crimping shot shells needs to be done quickly.  Allowing the plastic to “set” partially crimped can cause shells to have a loose crimp.  So, a method of crimping quickly needs to be devised.  Otherwise, you’ll have to use over-shot cards, like Duelist1954, in the link below.

My first venture into making/collecting the tools to reload 12 ga shells ended up taking similar path to Duelist1954 on Youtube.  You can see his method in this video: Shotshell Reloading Without a Press.  Our methods do differ, and Duelist1954′s approach was geared toward black powder, where I am dealing only with smokeless powder.


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