Monday, June 16, 2014

My Earliest Reloading

My grandfather was a crusty, opinionated man. I don’t think there are words in English to describe him, or how I felt about him. One thing is certain. He did not treat me like a child. I was always “old enough to know better.”

When I was about 10 year old, he taught me to reload shotgun shells. Once he was sure I was doing it correctly, I was allowed to reload unsupervised. I was meticulous, and loaded box after box. My grandfather used those shells in competition, trusting me to have done them right. As an aside, he trusted them in his guns, and as anyone who reloads knows, that is the point at which you really trust someone.

I would sit at the table at the bottom of the basement stairs. A bucket of old hulls on one side, a half full box of loaded shells on the table. There were boxes of primers, and a large cylindrical can of flake gunpowder nearby. A MEC reloading press was bolted to an old table before me. Powder on one side, shot on the other.

The presses changed a couple of times over the years, and every summer I got a refresher course. One thing I clearly remember was, early on, having to set the wad to a certain compression. The ram on that press had a spring, and as each wad cup was pressed in on top of the powder, it had to be pulled down until that spring was compressed to a certain mark on the frame. On each shell, at that point, I would hook my toes under the crosspiece of the workbench and pull down with both arms, watching carefully to see that I had gotten to the right point on the frame.

I would do a couple of boxes a night, maybe a case over the course of each vacation. Eventually, the powder must have changed, and the need to compress the wads went away. He got a new turret press, where one hull went on and one finished shell came off with each pull of the handle, and the hulls rotated, being deprimed, shaped, primed, powder, wad, shot, and finally crimped, each in their turn.

He passed away at 85, the last of my grandparents. I went back to New Hampshire for the funeral. My uncle took all the guns. I took a couple of cases of his handloaded shells. I shot them, mostly at sporting clays. I have one box left. I have not been able to bring myself to shoot it. It sits on a shelf with the rest of the shotgun ammo, getting a little older all the time.


Anonymous said...

You should keep 'em.


Goober said...

It's good that he trusted you. It probably meant a lot to you that he did.

But recognize that the "risks" inherent with reloading are greatly reduced with shotshells.

The pressures are WAY lower, and the failure modes much more forgiving than in rifles.

As for wad pressure - I load what I cal "mini-mags" for my 20 gauge now because everybody stopped making 1 1/8 ounce loads in 2 3/4 hulls for the 20 gauge. If you want an ounce and a eighth now, you have to go 3" magnum. I don't know why this is the case - why di everybody stop loading these rounds fo shotguns? But it doesn't matter:

My shotgun doesn't DO three inch magnum.

So I load my own ounce and an eighth loads now. To get everything crammed in there, it takes 85 pounds of wad pressure.

Load a box of those, and it's like an hour at the gym!

Old NFO said...

I'd keep them, not only for the memories, but the memory of the responsibility freely given...