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I have owned an SAI M1A for several years, shot it not too often, bought ammo off the shelf. I've fired most everything from .22s to Tank Guns. But I never got close to the bullet making end of things, until now. I got a good deal on a Hornady Auto Progressive (AP) Press, but bare bones. Bought dies, bullets, powder, scales, a book or two, found this forum and tuned-in often. (Thanks for all the good advice here and to those that shared it.) Being a fairly good technical guy, I thought it would be fairly quick & easy to crank out some hand loads and blow less expensive holes in targets. I was wrong.

Here's the first few of many lessons learned: (1)Go slowly, study a lot before you do anything. I thought I knew the details and I had just scratched the surface. Wonder I didn't hurt myself or damage the rifle. (2) Calibrate any instruments you're using, or get stuff you know you can trust. Being just a little bit off makes a big difference when you're dealing in 1000's/inch (thousandths of an inch) or 10s/grain (tenths of a grain). (3)Makes sure you understand the language, abbreviations, and acronyms and other terms more experienced reloaders may use. (4)Never rush to get something done, make sure you have more than enough time if you have to back-up, regroup and make sure you get it right. (5)Case Preparation is very important, time consuming and maybe the least fun, but don't ignore any portion of it. If you have more than one kind of brass separate it and work on one kind at a time.

Remove old primers, clean, resize, check headspace and case length, trim cases if needed, chamfer. Can't say enough about proper cleaning and case resizing (lube is important). Headspace and case trim length are even more critical. There are many case trim tools available in a great range of prices. Investigate the different types, try more than one if you can afford it. Find the kind that best suits your budget and the number of reloads you plan to do. After Lee and Lyman, I settled on an antique Redding, modified it a bit and made a new blade. Works pretty darn well, maybe a Wilson someday. There are good discussions about case trimming and tools on this Forum. Dress or bevel (chamfer) the case mouth both inside and out with a proper tool to ensure no burrs on the outside and easier bullet seating on the inside. A run-around with a green kitchen scouring pad (3M makes'em) adds a good finishing touch. Don't ignore the primer pocket. It may be small and it takes more time, but do it anyway.

When it is time to start building the new ones, make sure you follow a known and proven recipe. As a beginner there is no room for making it up as you go. (6)Seat the primer below the plane of the case end. If it wiggles standing pointy part up on a good level and hard surface the primer is sticking out of the case a tiny bit, but way too far. The M1A bolt closing on a protruding primer can cause a premature firing of the cartridge before the bolt lugs lock in place. (I learned about that on this forum).
(7)Measure your powder carefully. Calibrate and practice with the scale to make sure it measures consistently. If you use an automatic powder drop on a rotating or progressive press check its drop rate carefully. Load several cases and weigh the powder to check for consistency. Once you think you have it set just right, drop powder in 10 cases, pour all 10 together and weigh again, divide by 10. If the average weight is not within a minor fraction of your target weight the powder drop is not working consistently. You may need to take it apart and clean it, polish it or otherwise try to make it work better. Sometimes I take things apart to see how they work and make sure they are clean and ready to go. If later it doesn't work right I have an idea of why. Load your first cartridges (with powder) on low side and gradually work up to a more powerful load. (8)Now for the part we all want to get to: At first seat the bullet a little longer out of the case mouth as you adjust the die downward to your maximum overall length (2.810 for MIA as in the Hornaday Manual). It’s a lot easier to adjust down than it is to try to adjust back up. (9) Check your rounds for proper neck tension. The bullet shouldn't twist or wiggle in the case mouth. If it feels like there is any play at all it isn't right. The sizing die usually squeezes the neck to give enough pressure to hold the bullet without crimping. Check this forum for a lot more talk on "Crimps" and feeding the M1A. Give your creations one final rubdown with a soft clean cloth, paying attention to anything inconsistent from one round to the next, burrs or any thing out of the ordinary. Put them in a re-cycled ammo box, make your own box, put them in a Zip-Lock Bag or container of your choice. Label them with the type of brass; number of times the brass has been fired/reloaded; brand/type(#) & weight in grains of powder; brand, type and weight of bullet; date assembled and any notes you may want to remember about this reloading session.

Little things you learn as you go may seem obvious to some folks that have been at it longer, but may be worth sharing. At first I would take each case from pan #1, lube it up and resize it, wipe it off and put into pan #2. Then I learned to sit on the stool, lube all the spent cases from #1, put them in #2, resize them, back to #1, wipe them off, back to #2. Check headspace and case length, at first all of them, once you're satisfied that your adjustments are correct check 1 in 10 or what ever makes you happy. Doing a batch of 100, just this simple change saved several minutes.

At his point your cases should be de-primed, cleaned, re-sized, headspaced and trimmed to length. Now I clean them again to remove any of the lube or other contaminates. A well shaken bath of super hot water with dishwashing detergent (Dawn) and followed by a rinse of the same hot water and a good air drying has worked OK for me. (A pine 1x4 with 100 finish nails makes a good drying rack. Gently drop the wet hot cases head up over the nails, dry in a few minutes.)

Just a thought on equipment: The Hornady AP with its attached Case Feeder works just as it it's supposed to once adjusted and everything lined up properly. You can dump a bunch of cases in the top and it drops and feeds them to the press and you don't have to touch them until five stations later when they drop in the little red box. But like a lot of things that work well, it has its limitations. I put a Lee Primer Punch Die in one station and crank around all the spent cases knocking out the old primers in little time. Resizing sometimes takes a little "Ummph". I found using the resizing die, now with the decapping pin removed in RCBS Rock Chucker on a good heavy bench, focuses the energy exerted on the case better than resizing on the Hornaday AP. Once all the heavy work is done the AP with case feeder makes the powder dropping and bullet seating (and maybe someday a taper crimp die) work like a charm. All said the AP works as it is supposed to. I can abuse the Rock Chucker all I want and don't think I'll ever hurt it.

On more thing I want to add and this may seem like a commercial endorsement but I feel like it made enough difference to mention. The Wilson Fixed Headspace and Case Length Gauge solved several aggravations from calipers with do-dads screwed on the arms that never gave the same readings twice. I would recommend it as one of the first things someone new to reloading for the M1A purchase. The Wilson Gauge provides a clear visual reference for Headspace and Case Trim Length. There may be more sophisticated measuring devices for high-tech tuning, but this gauge works right now for me.

Now for the final comment: If you end up with some reloads you don't trust, dig a hole and bury them. Don't risk getting them mixed up with new ammo, or other you may have around. The cost of primer, powder, and lead is not worth the risk of injury to yourself, your rifle, or to a bystander.

Comments, agreements, disagreements, your own experiences, are all welcome. My feelings don't get hurt easily. Most of the time I'm like Eyore, I'm just glad you noticed.
 

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Now for the final comment: If you end up with some reloads you don't trust, dig a hole and bury them. Don't risk getting them mixed up with new ammo, or other you may have around. The cost of primer, powder, and lead is not worth the risk of injury to yourself, your rifle, or to a bystander.
I completely agree safety first but bad reloads can be taken apart and the components salvaged. If the powder in unknown, disperse it on your lawn.

A bullet puller (kinetic or collet) and stuck case remover will get used eventually.
 

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Good basics except seating the bullet. I set the die high enough not to touch or crimp the brass. Use the seating screw adjustment to set your cartridge length. Screwing down the die may inadvertently touch the brass mouth and crimp it. An excess crimp can cause a brass bulge.
 

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I have a big tub under my press that the primers fall into. It's where I dump bad brass and bad rounds or screw ups.

Now and then I sort it and recycle those bad rounds (use a puller hammer )and fix any brass that can be

I made a 9mm major . Load from the net and foolishly loaded 200 up for a match. When I hit the chrono it was over 1700 f's 124gr. Not good. Spent the next few evenings in front of Netflix with a rcbs bullet puller and a dumbell. Never throw away a round you made. I even use the powder if I'm sure of the type.
 

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Little things you learn as you go may seem obvious to some folks that have been at it longer, but may be worth sharing.


Now for the final comment: If you end up with some reloads you don't trust, dig a hole and bury them. Don't risk getting them mixed up with new ammo, or other you may have around. The cost of primer, powder, and lead is not worth the risk of injury to yourself, your rifle, or to a bystander.

Comments, agreements, disagreements, your own experiences, are all welcome.
I'll share this; NEVER bury ammunition to dispose of it. As odd as it may sound, burning ammunition is the proper method of disposal, primarily for old ammunition of unknown age or condition. I heartily agree, don't use any reloads (or any ammo) that you don't trust, but if it is known to be new, or doubts about it being properly loaded, you can do what joesig says below: disassemble the rounds and reuse the brass and sometimes bullets (if not damaged). Never pour the powder back into a container of other powder, even if you loaded it yourself, you may accidentally mix powders, and this would contaminate the entire container. These are all NRA recommendations taught in instructor classes.
I completely agree safety first but bad reloads can be taken apart and the components salvaged. If the powder in unknown, disperse it on your lawn.
 
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Discussion Starter #7
Thanks for the feedback and additional comments. I did mis-state the part about screwing down the seating die. I was probably thinking adjustment screw but said to turn down the die. Digging a hole for questionable reloads was a way of saying to someone a little unfamiliar with the finer points of reloading to merely dispose of those rounds rather than fiddle with them. Some of the first ones I built and then got concerned about I didn't want to take them apart, and I sure didn't want to get them mixed up with better ones. Now I would feel OK pulling the bullets and recycling the other parts. I'm learning more with each round of reloading and I appreciate all the info I've gotten here. I want to encourage Newbie reloaders like me to try the skill, not to expect perfections at first and to know there are people on this forum ready to help and advise. Thanks again. Hope my time at the keyboard helped someone.
 

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Do not bury bad ammo!!

I'll share this; NEVER bury ammunition to dispose of it. As odd as it may sound, burning ammunition is the proper method of disposal, primarily for old ammunition of unknown age or condition. I heartily agree, don't use any reloads (or any ammo) that you don't trust, but if it is known to be new, or doubts about it being properly loaded, you can do what joesig says below: disassemble the rounds and reuse the brass and sometimes bullets (if not damaged). Never pour the powder back into a container of other powder, even if you loaded it yourself, you may accidentally mix powders, and this would contaminate the entire container. These are all NRA recommendations taught in instructor classes.
I wholeheartedly agree - and allow me to repeat my lead-off statement: DO.NOT.BURY.BAD/UNUSABLE/UNTRUSTWORTHY. AMMO - ever!!

Even if you have no intent to salvage components (and I bow to no one in my "pinch-penny" desire to save and re-use every last bit possible, but even I will admit that there are some instances where there's just no using some stuff...), do NOT bury fully-assembled cartridges - NO exceptions*. Instead: Disassemble as fully as possible, including removing the primer(s). Do a controlled, gradual, open-air burn of the removed powder, a small amount at a time - it's the only really safe way to dispose of it (Keep in mind, modern "smokeless" gun propellant powders are not generally water-soluble, and many cannot safely be ground into powder, then dumped down a drain or into ordinary land-fill-disposal trash.) Soak live primers in old engine oil or warm water to "kill" them, or fire the primers in the otherwise-empty cases if possible to do so safely; then (and only then) de-prime the cases. If you cannot salvage the now-inert cases for re-use, partially-crush them before selling or giving them to the local scrap dealer for recycling. If you can't re-use the bullets, maybe someone else can; if nothing else, that same local scrap-dealer will take 'em off your hands, you might even get a buck or two for 'em. The same dealer will take care of the dead primers for you.

A safe and responsible alternative to this is to take the cartridges to the local cop-shop or (possibly) the local firehouse, for proper disposal by incineration.

I'm not really any particular sort of "environmentalist" - but I say, let's not go burying stuff that should be disposed of in a much more responsible manner. GI5

(*There are a number of reasons for this; no need to detail them all. One is sufficient: Direct burial of ammo creates unnecessary and possibly-dangerous underground contamination. 'Nuff said...)
 

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Good job!

The point about labeling each box of ammo is important so you don't scratch your head and ask "What's in this box?"

Please use a set of check weights every time you put powder in a case.

Use load from published sources only. Internet load data can be a good starting point or confirmation, but start with at least 1 reloading manual. Hornady's is great for us because it has a separate section specifically for .308 Service Rifles.

You can get Hodgdon, IMR and Winchester load data from the Hodgdon website. Accurate and Vihta Vuori have really good load data online. Alliant's site just gives you fixed "recipes".

Most bullet manufacturers will give you load data or at least very helpful pointers if you call them.

When comparing load data form different sources, remember that not all bullets are created equal. Just because it's a 200 grain lead semi-wadcutter does NOT mean that it is the same shape/length/etc as the data you are looking at. Also, pay attention to any info given about COAL, barrel length, and primer used. That a data all matters as much as the velocity shown.

Here are some useful sites:

www.exteriorballistics.com/reloadbasics/index.cfm

http://www.6mmbr.com/index.html

http://www.alliantpowder.com/resources/alliant-issue/files/html5/index.html

http://www.handloadersbench.com

http://reloadersnest.com/forum/default.asp
 
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Sounds like you have got a good grasp on the reloading process. Now you have to take the next step and ditch the red and start drinkin' the Blue Kool-Aid!
 

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The point about labeling each box of ammo is important so you don't scratch your head and ask "What's in this box?"
I keep a spiral-wound notebook on my bench. EVERY single round, or load group of up to 100 rounds, gets an entry. I list:
1-type of brass, and how many times fired
2-how the case was sized (full, neck, small base, etc)
3-type of primer
4-bullet make, weight and style (Sierra, Hornady, spitzer, hpbt, match, etc)
5- powder type (H4895, Varget, etc) and load weight in grains
6-C.O.L., as well as case length
7-date loaded
8- anything special or unusual about the load lot ("These for bolt gun ONLY", or " these rounds for long-range match", subsonic, etc)

The box these loads go in get a label with the same data. After they are fired, I also make any necessary comments in the notebook, next to the entry for that load group. I do this for every caliber I load for (.38Spl/.357 Mag, 9mm, 10mm, .40S&W, 300BLK, .308Win, 7.62x51 and 7.62x54R)

This info allows me to compare different loads, and from case measurements I can tell if I might need to back off a load, or when I might expect to have to trim the case, etc. It might be a bit anal-compulsive, but, hey, that's me in a nutshell.
 
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I've never used soap and water to clean cases. Just the tumbler. Primer pocket prep is most important to me. I use a powder throw for charges but check almost every throw with scales. I also like to visually check charges before seating bullets.
 
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