Practical Bug Out Reloading

With about $300 to $400 invested in reloading equipment, all those hundreds or even thousands of once fired brass casings can be reloaded for a tremendous savings over buying factory new ammunition.

Editor’s Note: This post is another entry in the Prepper Writing Contest from Matt “Papa Bear” Wooddell. If you have information for Preppers that you would like to share and possibly win a $300 Amazon Gift Card to purchase your own prepping supplies, enter today.

Things had not gone exactly as planned for Louis, Julia, and their three-year-old twins Melissa and Victor. For a couple of years, they had been budgeting for supplies, learning survival skills, and even made bug out plan full of contingencies. The plan was simple but all the details were meticulously addressed by the couple, throw a few pre-packed bags into the car and drive the 90 miles to Julia’s grandparents farm.

Louis didn’t have thousands of dollars to spend on the best AR-15 that money could buy. Besides budget constraints, they were illegal to own in his home state anyway. So, Louis lovingly maintained his .357 revolver. After using his revolver to “clear the road” while getting out of town, the shook up the family quietly made the rest of the drive to Julia’s family farm.

That was until high water was blocking the road only 20 miles from their destination. Because of their maps and pre-planning, Louis and Julia knew the way around the water, along the two-lane country roads, and through the little towns to their destination. Inside, Louis was emotional after firing his weapon. He played the cool-headed strong father that his family needed. He wasn’t real keen on getting off the highway and doubling the amount of time they would spend on the road. Even though they had done a “map recon” the road ahead was not so clear. Louis figured he had enough ammo to protect his family but he wished there was a way to resupply before heading on the road less traveled…..

Many people, when first joining the preparedness community initially focus on guns and ammo. They want nice, useful, and effective weaponry and enough ammunition to last for years and years before needing to purchase more. After a few years of prepping and a few years’ worth of trips to the rifle range, those once fired brass rifle and pistol cartridges can really pile up, assuming they are collected after shooting.

With about $300 to $400 invested in reloading equipment, all those hundreds or even thousands of once fired brass casings can be reloaded for a tremendous savings over buying factory new ammunition. Sometimes the savings can be as drastic as 80% of the price of purchasing new ammo! Most preppers on a budget can really appreciate that amount of savings. So, many people will buy a single stage reloading press and keep the equipment at their primary residence, where it makes sense to store it, and cut the cost of their preps by reloading. But can reloading equipment be worthwhile to bring on a bug out?

Bugging out with reloading capacity

When most people consider reloading equipment, their thoughts are of single stage reloading presses or progressive reloaders. This equipment is a great addition to anyone’s preps. But this stuff is heavy and bulky. Also, progressive loaders are best set up in the most efficient manner and left in place, not toted around in a suitcase or ruck sack. A single stage press can be more easily mobile than a progressive loader but is still not practical to pack along, even on a vehicle bug out or for an INCH kit when space and weight are limiting factors.

That leaves a cartridge loader set for consideration as a practical way to include reloading in a bug out plan. Even though cartridge loaders and cartridge loader kits have limitations, they can be very effective tools to maintain an ammunition supply in a survival or grid down scenario. In the following discussion, these three reloading set ups will be examined for their strengths and weaknesses as related to bug out applications and some of the limitations of the different equipment will be addressed with recommendations to improve their practicality.

When most people consider reloading equipment, their thoughts are of single stage reloading presses or progressive reloaders.

The Cartridge Loader

Most people begin reloading with a single stage press. It may not be the fastest method. It may not be the cheapest option either. However, the single stage press produces the consistent, accurate, and high quality ammunition that makes people want to start and continue in reloading. The single stage press is less mechanically complicated and less expensive than the progressive loader. It is easier to maintain consistency and precision with a single stage press than it is with a cartridge loader. For these reasons, the overwhelming choice for beginning reloaders is the single stage press.

A single stage press makes a perfect set up for reloading to cut cost and maintain ammo supply at a home base. Some people will choose to buy a progressive loader after using a single stage press for a period. If the single stage press is replaced with a progressive loader in the home set up, it is a great idea to cache the single stage press that is no longer being used at a bug out location. Additionally, learning to reload and reload well on a single stage press will help the hand-loader get the best performance out of a cartridge loader. Because of size and weight considerations, the cartridge loader is the practical and effective equipment choice for reloading on the run.

Lee Precision 9-mm Luger Loader – Reload 9mm on the run.

Cartridge loader sets, similar to the Lee Classic Loader for example, have been in use since the proliferation of the metallic cartridge. Often, these were sold along with a new firearm just as safety locks are sold with new guns today. In the 1870’s it was likely that the local general store may not have ammo for a person’s new firearm, so the cartridge loader allowed the owner to keep firing his / her weapon after all the cases were spent. The principles of using the antique cartridge loaders and the modern ones are basically the same. The body of the cartridge loader, like the Lee Classic Loader, is assembled in different ways and struck with a dead blow or non-marring mallet to perform the different reloading tasks of depriming, forming, and bullet seating. These little kits are caliber specific, like a set of dies, and come with a little powder dipper. To get the best performance out of these kits and make them a viable bug out option, their limitations must be understood and minimized.

The Lee Classic Loader comes with the tools needed to perform the reloading steps of depriming, sizing, priming, and bullet seating. It also includes a powder dipper. However, there are a few extra things that will help with reloading ammunition on the move.

A case mouth deburring tool is small, inexpensive, and useful for cartridge prep. Also, a dial caliper is needed to check cartridge case length and overall cartridge length. Additionally, a hard-plastic case for the dial caliper is necessary to protect it from damage. Finally, the issue of measuring powder must be addressed. A receiver failure during bug out would be unacceptable.

The included powder measure is not acceptable as is, and was never intended to be a standalone powder measuring device for bug out reloading. There are many companies that will make custom powder dippers to exact specification and unless a scale is carried around this is a necessary purchase to add to this reloading kit. Even with the best custom powder dipper, some variation in powder charge from load to load is to be expected. To help minimize the variations, test the powder measure at home before adding it to the kit.

Scoop the powder gently the same way each time so that more powder by weight is not compacted into the scooper. Level it by either tapping or by scraping across the top but do it consistently. Then, weigh the results on a scale to get an average weight and learn the best and most consistent technique. With powder charges, consistency is important!

It is also necessary to add some case lubricant to the kit. Finally, the kit needs a nonmarring or dead blow mallet to power the loading tool. The overachiever could add a cylinder type case length gauge to the kit as well. This reloading set up fits in a small toiletry bag with plenty of room to spare. Add some powder, primers, and bullets for a complete mobile reloading station capable of maintaining and extending a person’s ammunition supply.

There are limitations to this mobile reloading kit. Most notably, it is powered by a hammer which makes lots of noise. A bug out may not always include active evasion but it rarely includes active attention seeking either. For the rural settings, the noise of a hammer banging away carries a long distance over an open area. And if sheltering in an abandoned building in an urban setting, the banging noise will likewise give away one’s location.

This kit is used in the interim to maintain the ammunition supply. It can be enhanced greatly by the addition of a few extra reloading tools cached at the bug out location. A triple beam balance powder scale and a powder trickler are inexpensive and would greatly improve the accuracy and consistency of ammunition loaded with the kit if these were placed ahead of time at the bug out destination. A hand priming tool would be convenient and easy to use.

Additionally, a case trimmer and a cylinder type cartridge minimum / maximum case length gauge could go a long way to increase the number of times a cartridge could be reloaded in an extended bug out. A few extra tools in cache will greatly improve the reloading ability. Of course, if a reloader had a progressive loader set up at home as a primary reloading means, the older and no longer used single stage press could also be left at the bug out destination. With these extra larger tools left at the bug out location and some components in cache, the survivalist can greatly extend his / her ammo supply.

In conclusion, many people do not consider reloading on a bug out to be viable because of the size and weight of traditionally considered reloading equipment. However, when packing for a vehicle bug out or putting together an extensive INCH kit, there is a great opportunity to include reloading equipment. By thinking outside of normal applications for reloading equipment, the resourceful prepper can benefit greatly from adding reloading to his / her tool kit. Aside from saving money in good times, reloading can stretch and extend the ammunition supply in an extended survival scenario. Aside from just stockpiling more and more ammo, give these reloading set ups some serious thought and consider how including reloading can benefit preparedness.

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  1. Ahhhh boy.

    Ok, first of all I do a LOT of reloading, using a good old RCBS “rock crusher”, a Lyman’s single stage, and a Blue Dillon 650 auto. I have been doing so for a long long time, and have become very proficient in doing so. Have personally done 800+ 45-ACP on the Dillon in one hours’ time (of course that was with everything set up, no mistakes, and everything going to plan), Safety was of course the prime concern, so it took another hour to inspect and verify all loads. The Rock-Crusher is for the BIG stuff, so it’s rather slow, but very accurate. The Single Stage is just for the fun stuff of course.

    With that said, I cannot for the life of me believe that anyone would consider reloading while on the run to a Bug-Out, even if in a vehicle. With the added weight, components needed (Bullets, Powder, Primers, Lube, Cleaning Gear for the cases, ECT.), time and noise, all alone the time to pick up your brass (if using a semi-auto pistol/rifle) when defending yourself in a shootout.

    Sorry to the author, but would one not be better off loading another 1000 rounds, or more, of ammo into that BOV? How much time and how many supplies will it take to reload 1000 rounds on the run? Time you could be using to keep on the move.

    I do agree 1000% on reloading, obviously. I strongly believe that reloading should be left to the reloading-bench, set up something at the BOL if you want, but again while moving on the run, trying to make time, sorry, to many other things to be doing, trying to getting ahead of the masses.

    Of course I feel the same way about hauling fishing gear to stop by the local lake to fish for the night’s dinner while on the run, you had best be moving and not stagnating in one place to long becoming a target. Fishing gear at the BOL, sure, but NOT while on the run, take that time to put miles behind yourself.

    Just my 2¢ worth

    1. Have you been in a true “Bug out situation” where there is no law and order and you have to drive through groups of looters to get out of town? There will be “down time” maybe at night or some place along your route. Today is the time to practice for the down time reloading on the go. NRP your are speculating as if to say “that will not work” before the event because you do not have the foresight to think that a future event may be different than your present pampered sterilized reloading environment. In a true SHITF if one can reload just 6 357’s at a stop over at parking area on I95 north out of Florida then you are 6 more loaded shells that you had before you pulled over at the parking area plus you may have to shoot your way out of the parking area. This is just food for thought.

  2. I must say that I’ve had some really enjoyable hours making my own cast lead bullets and using a Lee Loader while in the field. Having said that, I would constrain its use to a purely survival situation where manufactured or reloaded ammo (from a multistage loader) was otherwise unavailable. Trying to use a Lee Loader while sitting around a campfire is a serious challenge. You are somewhat more likely to set your pants on fire than to obtain an accurate load. Just my opinion… 🙂 But, good article!

    1. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU Bolofia for the “a purely survival situation” comment. It seems to me most replies to the above article do not want to think out side of the box. I have a Lee Loader and it can be used on a big rock or a stump with extra hands holding it still IF AND I MEAN “IF” YOU WANT TO DO IT BAD ENOUGH. The big question is just how bad is it going to get in a TRUE SHITF grab before all you reloaders are forced to think out side of the BOX on reloading. I think the above article is GREEAAAT as TONY would say.

      1. In fact THAT IS DAVE CANTABERRY reloading that shotgun shell in the above picture on top of the tree stump. I don’t know who wrote the above article but up the good work because we all need these discussions and increased survival awareness.

  3. As mentioned, picking up brass while bugging out is a losing proposition. The exception might be in a revolver. And spending the time to reload while bugging out is usually not the best use of one’s time. The traveling process is likely to be fraught with dangers, and you can only carry so much food and water. One should be focused on making as much progress to your destination as is practical, stopping only to take care of necessities and for sleeping. Now once you reach your destination, that is a whole new ball game, and reloading is likely to be an important matter.

    Concerning the hammer noise, how about a mallet with plastic, wood or hard rubber face?

    1. The bottom line, JOHN, is do you have the “WANT TO” to survive in a true SHITF no law and order with looters gone crazy past your front door knowing that you are going to be next (plus they have more molitov cocktails than you) and it is just a matter of time. While Bugging OUT in this situation there will be down time because you are going to rest sooner or later and those tiny little reloading kits will get the job done maybe not to your “at home” standards but it can be done. Better more helpful suggestions from all you experienced reloaders would to be how to organize reloading when the first down time is forced to happen particularly on how to get EVERYONE involved in reloading at the rest site. Google survival reloading or go to youtube survival reloading. BOYS we are not talking PERFECTION here we are talking SURVIVAL under the worst conditions. Pushing out a shotgun primer with a 16 penny nail and flatting it out for reuse using ground up wooden match heads as the powder is a start. Then grinding 60 wooden match heads as the powder charge using cardboard to separate powder from small nails or small rocks from side of the road or stream and then seal using candle paraffin over cardboard to finish off. (go to youtube on this) You BOYS are pampered and spoiled with your fancy dancey reloading equipment. You do not have the “WANT TO” when surviving “with out of the box” thinking. You would help us (survivalist)unknowledgeable reloaders better by offering to apply your knowledge to worst case scenario real world terror bugging out and besides your neighbors know about your fancy reloading equipment and they are coming to take it in a SHITF real world grab and they have more bullets and molitive cocktails than you. Just food for thought. Go to youtube and Dave Cantaberry can show you how survival shotgun reloading is done.

      1. Of course the “pocket” reloading kits will do a fine job, equal in quality to many “home” rigs. I have nothing against them, and in my day, had a bunch of them in all kinds of esoteric calibers I was not willing to invest in a bench setup for. I’m not saying NOT to have them, I’m saying that planning on reloading while “bugging out” (to a known, fixed, location) is not optimal.

        If you’ve got a place to go which should be safe and has supplies, then getting there as quickly as practical should be your goal. You probably won’t be hunting, since that is time consuming and alerts predators in the area, both 4 legged and 2 legged. and hopefully you have the supplies necessary for the trip. Hunting would be the primary scenario when picking up your brass might be practical. Defense, unless “one-on-one” and in a static location, is generally not friendly to reclaiming your brass. It takes time and the sounds of the conflict may be attracting others, so you don’t really want to stay in the area for even a second longer than you have to.

        Again, you want to cover the distance as quickly as practical, so “rest” stops won’t be long enough to reload the brass you probably don’t have any way. Of course, sleep is necessary, and hopefully you have at least one person on guard while the others sleep, and they could reload if needed.

        Now if you DON’T have a specific destination, then it’s a whole other ball game. In that case, reloading “on the run” becomes somewhat more important, as you can’t carry all the ammo you may need, and you don’t have a place with more cached and/or reloading tools and supplies. And speed is no longer important or even desirable.

        1. I do believe that Dave Cantaberry who is reloading that shotgun shell on top of that stump in the above picture could also show us how to reload it in the back of RV a fleet van or back of a SUV when traveling down the road. This assumes that it is a group that is bugging out together. It might work out this way. One young person is cutting out round cardboard circles for spacers. Another adult is knocking out used primers (which can be used again-see youtube demo and testing). Another adult is tapping primers back into the shotgun shell and another is refilling powder or ground up match heads. Another is putting those home made cardboard spacers in. I think a team effort may work in this survival mode. In fact Dave C. also is the one who ground up 60 match heads for powder in a shotgun shell and tested it. He only showed the end result of the hit target. It may not be deep penetration on a human being but it would take birds down. It is sad that with all this refilling knowledge that responds to this article cannot get their heads out of first world luxury and apply their refilling knowledge to 3rd world bugout survivalism. I think it is because there is a lack of “WANT TO”. Food for thought. I congradulate The Prepper J. for the thoroughness of their survival articles. I have dumped most of my other survivalist web sources because most are nothing more than either social media blah blah blah or funzy wonzy survivalist play time and most survival video (but not all) creators are seeking a YOUTUBE ACADAMY AWARDS when their big fat noses fill up the camera screen more than their survival subjects. Food for thought. Bring it on BOYS.

          1. OOOOOOOPS My bad. Last sentence should read “Bring it on BOYS and GIRLS”. HMMMMMMMMM or can we men even use the word “GIRLS” anymore?

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