How I do reloading 9MM ammo
OK, in reference to my previous post about ‘not blowing up your Glock‘ and because of the expense of buying ammo for new toys , I am now catching up my supply of 9MM ammo by keeping a close eye on discounted ammo sales at a local Gander Mountain sporting goods store and other local gun shops and reloading my own ammo. As an aside, I have begun a personal ‘boycott’ of the local Dicks’s sporting goods because they pulled their ‘scary looking’ AR-15’s in 2012 (and their prices aren’t that great either). Walmart hasn’t stocked any in a long time (they’re consistently sold out of 9mm) and ‘Cheaper Than Dirt’ online has stopped selling weapons entirely. Academy sporting goods supposedly still stocks AR’s, but you have to specifically ask to see one and they’ll only bring out one at a time. That’s kind of politically chickenshit, but at least they’re available “under the counter”. However, the store managers are supposedly taking down the personal information of any customer who buys more than 10 boxes of ‘assault weapon ammo’, so I’m not buying there for that infringement, and Gander Mountain beats their prices anyway.
It has been a number of years since I loaded any 9MM, preferring .357 magnum for sheer power over the 9MM round, and in light of the blown up Glock I referred to previously, I have reviewed the entire process of my own reloading as I outlined somewhat in that posting. Each hand loaded cartridge now goes through the following process:
I buy my once fired brass from a local gun range, where they sort and clean the brass, and bag it up in approximately 500 round bags, by weight, plus a few thrown in to cover the inevitable cases that must be discarded. This brass is polished again in my own tumbler for two or three hours until it is as ‘like new’ as possible. They have an excellent sorting machine, and I rarely find an oddball case in the mix, but have occasionally found a .380 case or two (that’s OK, I reload that also) or a 9MM Makarov case.
So, the process begins by carefully researching accurate, real information from the powder manufacturers for the particular weight, brand and caliber bullet I’m dealing with at the moment. Most of the powder manufacturing data will also include a vital bit of information, namely the “O.A.L.” the overall cartridge length. This is must have information for the tiny 9MM case, not only for the proper functioning of the rounds cambering correctly (without blowing up your Glock), but because pressing the bullet only .015″ too far into the case can DOUBLE the firing pressure of the load. And for a lot of pistols, that ain’t good.
There are a number of ‘reloading information sites’ on the web. I find these to range from pretty useful and reliable to the other extreme of ‘I’m not touching that idea’. If you use these sites, proceed with careful consideration and at your own risk.
So, after a thorough polishing session, the brass is ready for the very first step, namely inspecting the empty cases for defects of the neck (like a partial eject from somebody’s firearm which makes a heavy nick in the rim) or the case is split. If it’s merely a little out of round from being stepped on at the range, no problem, the sizing / decapping die will take care of that. (Sorry about the crappy quality of the pics for this post, it was just a phone camera). I wear nytrile gloves during the process because fingerprints will accelerate the brass going ‘dull’ in storage. And when using cast lead bullets, keeps the lead off my fingers.
Next it’s run through the sizing / decapping die and then size checked with a 9MM Lyman case gauge. At this step, I also clean out the primer pocket. If the cleaning tip doesn’t fit the primer pocket (which obviously wouldn’t allow the primer to seat properly) I’ll try fixing the problem with the reamer on the other end of the tool. If it still won’t allow the cleaning tip to easily fit in, I toss that case. You will run across that condition far more often than you may expect.
Checking with a sizing gauge at this point may seem too soon for some reloaders, but there’s a reason for this step. If the case doesn’t just fall into place at this point, the case may be ‘Glocked up’, being stretched at the base where a standard sizing die won’t reach. Glocks are notorious for stretching cases at that point because of their unsupported ‘6 o’clock’ open base design. If this step was ignored, or the gauge not even used as some reloaders don’t bother with, it will jam up in your barrel breach like driving a cork into a bottle. Bad situation during a competition run or a shootout with a bad guy. See the next picture for what that looks like:
This case had been run through the sizing / decapping die, but still won’t fit the gauge. It will have to be full length resized with a Lee ‘Bulge Buster’ kit which will cure this problem 9 out of 10 times. The kit will full length resize a loaded cartridge, but in that 1 out of 10 times when it won’t drop into the gauge after the process, I would rather catch it before the assembly even starts, like at this step. So, when I run across one of these, it is set aside in a bin for full length resizing in a batch, some time later. For that 1 in 10 that just won’t resize properly, I won’t waste any more time and materials, and toss the bad case. Also doing the gauge check at this stage will find the occasional oddball, like a missed .380 or 9MM Makarov which will fall down into the gauge as shown here:
A 9MM Makarov is actually marked on the headstamp of the case, as with “9mmM’, the extra ‘m’ indicating the specialized cartridge. Yep, that one got buy me and I wasted a primer on it instead of checking before the primer was installed. Pushing out a live primer is risky, because it may set it off or may damage the primer anvil, causing a misfire. So, that one is wasted.
To make a consistent quality of ammo, I check the powder charge and over all cartridge length on the first cartridge of each row of the cartridge box, meaning that critical part is checked 10 times out of 50 loads. I use a Lee beam scale for powder measuring because although it’s “slow” it is absolutely accurate. The only caveat is that it must be level for it to achieve that accuracy, thus the level bubble in the plastic case on the base.
Generally speaking, my Lee Precision turret press and dies will make a pretty consistent over all length with a tolerance of about .005″ of the ‘perfect’ setting. And the powder charge measure is within .01 or so of a grain of where it’s set. I have used a progressive press before, but I find the quality to be less than ‘my standards’, with messed up primer installs and the occasional split case getting by until after it’s assembled. I suppose if I closely inspected every case beforehand, I could weed out the split cases before they got that far. I prefer the slower method I use currently because with the increased inspection steps, my reloads are as about as close to ‘factory’ specs as can be done.
Next after the cartridge is assembled, another visual inspection then dropped into the case gauge again, which verifies the finished cartridge is up to specs.
If the finished reloaded cartridge just drops right into the gauge all nice and flush, it’s good to go. But even with this much nit-picking, every so often something will go a little sideways, like below where somehow the primer got stuffed into the pocket sideways. Whoops.
So, get out the bullet puller, tear it down, and start over. This primer can be pushed out with the sizing / decapper die carefully, with the bullet, the powder charge and case being salvageable.
With all this quality control and slow procedures, it takes me about 30 minutes or so to make 50 rounds of ammo. But, in my personal opinion, I make ammo with the idea being that one of these bullets may change the course of history depending on that quality or lack thereof. Or if nothing else, if misfired at a criminal invading my house, resulting in him winning the encounter. Imagine if Adolf Hitler had been killed in world war one. Perhaps the bullet intended for him by the opposing army had missed the mark because of a low powder charge or some other minor defect that escaped the factory inspection. If that bullet had killed him, how vastly different would world history be today?