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Beginner's Guide to Shotshell Reloading

by Jason Wimbiscus

Handloading 102: Intro to Shotshell Reloading

In a recent article, I outlined the required tools and basic steps involved in handloading metallic cartridges (both rifle and handgun ammo). Continuing in that vein, what follows is an overview of shotshell handloading. While principals of shotshell handloading are similar to that of metallic cartridge handloading, the procedural differences between the two are enough to warrant a separate guide.

Required Tools and Materials

Perhaps the most notable difference between metallic and shotshell handloading is how the press operates. Rather than changing dies (or rotating a turret of dies) to perform a new function, the shotshell is moved from one station to the next to perform the functions required to produce a complete round.

Reloading gear and tools
Required tools and materials for shotshell reloading include (numbered as shown in photo): (1) a shotshell press, (2) a powder scale, (3) gunpowder, (4) shot, (5) primers, (6) wads, and (7) shotshell hulls.

Step 1: Consult a Load Data Manual

Before even purchasing reloading components, a reputable data manual should be consulted. This will indicate the type of hull, primer, powder, and wad required to produce a given load, as well as the weight of the powder charge and shot payload.

Reloading Data Manual
It is inadvisable to substitute any components in a given load recipe for two reasons. First, minor variations in manufacturing techniques between the different component makers can result in a poor fit that may make it difficult or impossible to properly crimp the shell closed. Second, substituting one brand of component for another may result in dangerous variations in chamber pressures when the round is fired. This is especially true of primers.

With a virtually endless selection of shotshell recipes available, there is little reason to play a game of mix and match with components. 

Step 2: Install Powder and Shot Bushings in the Press

A typical shotshell reloading press distributes powder charges and shot payloads by way of bushings installed just under the powder and shot hoppers. Each bushing supplied with the press corresponds to a specific weight of powder and shot.

With the press securely affixed to a workbench, install the shot and powder bushings as outlined in the press’ user manual.

Reloading Installing bushings

Reloading Installed bushings

Step 3: Fill the Powder and Shot Hoppers

The press pictured in this article holds shot and powder in a single partitioned hopper (some presses have a separate hopper for each material). Fill each side of the hopper appropriately and secure the lid in place. In this example, Alliant Green Dot powder and size 8 lead shot are being used. A fine combo for clay targets and small game birds.

Note: If using unfired, factory primed, empty hulls, skip to Step 6.

Reloading Fill Hoppers

Step 4: Resize and Deprime the Hull

With the resizing ring slipped over the hull as pictured below, place the shell in the depriming station and lower the handle. This action forces out the used primer and sized the metal base of the hull back into spec. 

Note: Not all presses will incorporate a resizing ring. As always, consult appropriate user manuals before operating any make/model of reloading press. 

Reloading Deprimeresize 

Step 5: Reprime the Hull

Place a primer in the priming station anvil side up as pictured below.

Reloading Reprime1
Next, place the hull over the primer and depress the handle. This action will extract the shell from the sizing ring and secure the fresh primer in place.
Reloading reprime2

Reloading Reprime 3

Step 6: Add Powder

Place the hull in the charging station and depress the handle to lower the powder/shot spout into the mouth of the shell.

Reloading charge
Next, move the powder/shot lever above the charging station to the right, dispensing a charge of powder into the hull. The particulars of this step will vary depending upon the make and model of press being used.
Reloading Charge 2

Note: The first charge thrown by the press should be checked on a scale to verify that the weight being dispensed through the bushing is equal to what the manual indicates. 

Step 7: Install the Wad

With the hull still in the charging station, place a wad on the guide as pictured below. Depress the handle to force the wad into the hull.
Reloading Add Wad

Step 8: Add Shot

With the hull still in the charging station, depress the handle to lower the powder/shot spout into the mouth of the shell. Move the lever above the charging station to the left to dispense shot into the hull.
Reloading Add Shot

Reloading shot added

Step 9: Start the Crimp

Place the hull in the crimp starting station and fully depress the handle to begin the process of crimping it closed. This press has two crimp starters. One for an 8-point crimp (front) and one for a 6-point crimp (rear). Since the hull being used in this example had an 8-point crimp before its initial firing, the 8-point crimp starter is employed.
Reloading Start Crimp

Reloading Started Crimp

Step 10: Finish the Crimp

Place the shell in the final crimping station and fully depress the handle to close the crimp. Keep pressure on the handle for a few seconds to ensure a secure crimp.
Reloading Finish crimp

Step 11: Examine the Finished Round

The completed round should be examined for proper fit. If the crimp did not fully close or is convex, it is likely that too much shot, powder, or both was used. If the crimp is concave, it is indicative of too little shot, powder or both. In either case, the shotshell should be disassembled and the components recycled.

Reloading Shell complete


Buckshot and slug loads can also be assembled at home, though the process for making such rounds differs somewhat from the process of making a target or small game load.

Large shot (like buckshot) will not feed properly though the press’ shot bushing. As such, the shot must be added to the shell manually. The rest of the steps will be identical to those required for building a birdshot shot load.

Loading slugs has more in common with metallic cartridge handloading than it does with traditional shotshell reloading. The press will be used to resize, deprime, prime, and crimp the shell, but charging, installing the wad, and loading slug into the shell will be done manually. Some slug load recipes will require crimping to be completed with a special roll crimping tool.

As with metallic handloading, there is a learning curve to shotshell handloading. Be prepared to crumple a few hulls and botch a few crimps as a novice. With a little practice, however, it won’t be long until you’re churning out premium ammunition at a breathtaking pace.