Mothers, tell your children not to do what I have done…

I’d forgotten all about this experiment in going too cheap until I set the reloading shack back up and began sorting through some old brass. The most embarrassing part is how many of these it seems I actually loaded…

The idea was to see how lightly it was practical to load .44 Special. Most of the time I use ammo for noisemakers and varmint control, I don’t need elephant loads. Most of the time. So I started underloading cartridges until I ended up with 5 grains of Bullseye behind 240 grain cast whatever. And that’s when things got messy…


That grainy stuff is unburned powder. The charge was so small, and the cases so large, that you could never be sure how much of the powder would actually burn. You could be sure your hands would be covered with unburned flakes, though…


…and it kinda had an effect on practical accuracy.

Intellectually I knew not to do this – in fact oldtimers, much more advanced handloaders than I ever was, used to publish articles on filler material to pack the powder against the primers. I don’t recall any details except for warnings to approach that subject with caution bordering on a determination to just never do it, and I don’t remember why. But I do know I won’t be doing this again.

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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17 Responses to Mothers, tell your children not to do what I have done…

  1. Anonymous says:

    Trail boss powder is the answer to that problem Joel.

  2. Mike says:

    Yes, BE is nasty, especially loaded lite. I shoot a lot of .45acp target loads with 3.7gr BE under 185 LSWC bullets. Always come home with black specks all over. However it shoots so good in the two pistols I have set up for lite loads I just put up with the nasty. Hope you find something better.

  3. Ratus says:

    The biggest problem that I remember reading about light/small charges of powder in large revolver cases (basically any that started as a black powder cartridge) is possiblity of a detonation of the powder, instead of the normal controlled deflagration/burning.

  4. Steve Diaz says:

    If the price of Trail Boss upsets you like it does me (note that the quoted price is for 8 oz) cream of wheat is a good filler.

  5. B says:

    Ratus is correct. Detonation sucks. Trust me, I learned the hard way.

    I find that using oatmeal as a filler works well. Slightly overfill and it compresses well.

    YMMV

  6. Jason1911 says:

    I’ve always used cotton balls when I did not have any of the green foam they use for fake flowers. It does not take much cotton to just keep the powder down by the primer. You could also just load the bullets upside down. The beauty of loading your own.

  7. Detonation. Had it happen to me. It tends to actually be more destructive than an overload. Blew the topstrap AND three chambers off the cylinder on a S&W 25. I’ve been loading .44 Special for over 30 years…Bullseye is not a great powder for it. Get yourself a pound of Unique and you’ll be set. Just for trivia, I usually use 6.0 gr. of Unq. with a 240 lead SWCHP and it’s pleasant and accurate.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Compare the price of Trail Boss to the destruction of a firearm or the loss of fingers or an eye.

  9. matismf says:

    Yeah, Anonymous. But if Joel does that, then we can get Laddie bitching about how stupid his owner is!

  10. Anonymous says:

    True, Matismf. But we must remember that in the land of the ( snake ) blind the one eyed Man is king

  11. Tsgt Joe says:

    I used to live near a couple of reloading companies who would give credit for brass returned but moving away from metro Detroit, it was more economical to just buy online or find sales but I never stopped collecting my range brass. Yesterdays inventory of my brass revealed 10k+ of 9mm, 2.5k of .45, 2k+ of .38, 2k of .40 and 1, not 1k but 1 of colt .45. 9mm has gone from @.18 cents to .30 cents for range ammo. I think if I can amortise the cost of some loading equipment over 10k of 9mm I can keep the cost under .20 cents a round.
    Do you or your readers have suggestions about how to get started reloading at a reasonable price?

  12. Regarding getting into reloading – the temptation is to cheap out and get the one of the Lee kits. They’ll work, but if you try reloading, like it, and decide youre going to make a hobby out of it you will want to get rid of that Lee stuff pretty quick. Go get yourself an RCBS Master kit like this (https://amzn.to/3fvvA4R). It’s expensive upfront but it is literally gear that will last a lifetime and that you will probably not ever need to upgrade (although a digital scale is a nice thing to have). Don’t be tempted to go with Lee or Hornady. Both will work, but RCBS is so ubiquitous that it makes good logistical sense to use their gear. As for amortizing costs, assuming that new FMJ ball ammo is .25/per, and you’ve been saving your brass, your reload cost is four cents of powder, ten cents of bullet, and three cents a primer. Save eight cents per round. Load 5,000 rounds and you’ve broken even. However, go with something more outrageous like .44 Mag which is around .50/rd. and with a more expensive bullet, youd still be looking at about .35/per..which comes out to 2666 rounds to break even. Shoot a big boomer like a 7mm Mag or a .338 Win and you get the cost down even faster. Whatever you do, don’t cheap out on the gear…get the RCBS or, if you wanna go Gucci, get the Redding.

  13. Joel says:

    Yeah, I can confirm what CZ says. I’ve been reloading off and on for more than 40 years and still use the same style single-stage press, powder dumper, etc. I did when I got started. Don’t think I’ve ever used a Hornady press so I have no opinion but the RCBS is far superior to the Lee Loader most beginners start out with. If you get into it you will want to replace that balance scale with a digital one, there’s no comparison. But other than that the RCBS stuff is as good as it comes and it’s what everybody who stays interested in one-at-a-time benchtop loading ends up with.

  14. Tsgt Joe says:

    CZ, Joel, you guys must have been reading my mind. I was looking at Lee stuff. Thanks for the advice and direction. By the way, both of you are on my daily read list.

  15. Beaner49 says:

    Tsgt Joe,
    One thing to consider is whether a progressive press or a single stage press would be a good choice for your needs.
    For many years I used a single stage turret press for all my reloading but then i was only loading for deer, hog and load development shooting. So not a lot of rounds going down range per year. Then i started going on prairie dog shoots and started to need a least 500 rounds for each of two different rifles . The straw that broke the camels back is when i started IDPA shooting .
    Now my advice to people just getting into reloading is if you are shooting 5000 rounds a year then a progressive press is worth the additional money in timed saved. Less than that a single stage or a turret press will do just fine , just takes a bit longer.
    As far as equipment goes RCBS, REDDING or Hornady all make good stuff. Save the Lee equipment for low volume reloading.
    As for progressive presses there are two main choices Dillon or Hornady. I have the Hornady because the footprint of the shell plate is so much bigger than the shell plate of the Dillon and that makes a huge difference when you have to correct a mistake in the process. Much easier to get your fingers in there to remove/replace a case.
    Happy shooting.

  16. Tsgt Joe says:

    Beaner 49, thanks for the advice. I do shoot about 4000 centerfire of various pistol calibers a year. while a progressive press is tempting I think I will go with a single stage for now as I have no skills in this area. Who knows, if I can keep the costs down I might go back to rifle shooting.

  17. Anonymous says:

    I have been using 5 grains of titegroup under a 240 gr keith style bullet in .44 for 10 years at least. I always thought titegroup is what bullseye should have been. Never had an issue, and it feels pretty close to the equivalent factory made rounds.

To the stake with the heretic!