Common Sense: The reloader's most important tool
by Mike Haas, 3/7/2004
Copyright ©1995-2004 Mike Haas
Easy link to this article: http://ammoguide.com/?article=cs040307
Few would question that each shooter who puts powder to case needs to have
a basic understanding of the factors involved. Procedures, safety concerns,
technical knowledge, reference material and experience will all come together
and have a direct impact on the success of one's reloading efforts. But
Common Sense, that valuable commodity which can't be purchased from any
store, is the most important tool one can have at the bench.
While we have no weighty political concepts to develop, borrowing from
the first paragraph of Thomas Paine's famous pamphlet on government Common Sense will serve to get us
"...[A] long habit of not thinking a thing wrong,
Attention to detail and adherence
to procedure is important, but Common Sense comes into play when the
unexpected looms its ugly head!
gives it a superficial appearance of being right..."
Perhaps the best way to illustrate the importance of Common Sense is to
show what can happen in its absence. This true story involves a
Rangemaster in California (exact location withheld) - someone, believe
it or not, charged with monitoring the activities of other shooters!
Years ago, our hero was having accuracy issues with his own, new AR-15 rifle.
While his new rifle should have been much more suspect than the factory
.223 ammunition he was using, it was a reasonable decision to examine
the rounds. What was not reasonable, however, was the decision to weigh
individual powder charges and make assumptions about factory-assembled
ammunition. What was even less reasonable was to mix the powder from
several boxes together and subsequently recharge all cases with the
average charge of that mix dispersed throughout. This valiant attempt
at consistency brought catastrophic failure of ammunition and firearm on
first shot - a split receiver and pieces were all that remained of his
new rifle. Fortunately, no physical injury resulted.
Well, it all seemed to make sense to our Rangemaster. The ammunition was from the same maker
in the same kind of box. It was the same bullet at the same velocity
and even had the same part number. The only discernable difference
between rounds was that the powder charge varied significantly among
them. Surely that was a manufacturing problem, right? Wrong!
Without experience in commercial manufacturing techniques, our
Rangemaster did not know that ammo makers commonly switch internal
components, such as powder type, between different lot numbers of
the same product. This is done for various manufacturing reasons,
such as availability from different sources, but makers work hard
to insure their ammunition performs consistently externally, lot
to lot, despite the use of different components internally.
The (near) fatal flaw was in assuming that because everything
looked the same, it was the same. Thomas Paine strikes again.
Common Sense tells the prudent reloader not to make such
assumptions regarding internal components of any kind.
Many powders look sufficiently similar as to be indistinguishable
and manuals frequently caution against powder identification
based on any visual means, as the results of a mix-up are likely
to be dramatic. If you leave powder in an unmarked container
(like a measure) and later can't positively identify it as to
type, Common Sense suggests you discard it, regardless of quantity.
For the tight budget, this can appear a cruel penalty, but sure to
prove far less expensive than a mistake. Thomas Paine would probably
declare it in bold scribe - always promptly store powder in its
original container immediately after use.
Sometimes, thankfully, we are treated to no more than humor when we
leave Common Sense behind. An acquaintance had finished his first
bedding job - a bolt-action rifle the barrel of which he chose to
free-float. Concerned with moisture and grime in the air gap that
traversed the length of stock and barrel, he came up with the idea
of filling the cavity with wax. He even cleaned the edge flush with
the stock. It actually looked pretty good, that is, until that
weekend when he took his first couple shots. Shooting from an
uncovered rest under that summer Pennsylvania sun, barrels tend
to get hot and stay there awhile. Unfortunately, the wax didn't
and created problems elsewhere in the action as it ran (not to
mention creating a legacy of mirth).
Common Sense can also be used to prevent the unexpected. It dictates
close attention to the operation of your equipment, regardless of
complexity, as it processes your ammunition components. Don't assume
your powder measure remains consistent through an entire load session.
Rather, manually check it's charges periodically to catch any drift or
non-linearity as the weight of the powder store above it decreases (if
a change is seen, "top off" the measure more often).
Common Sense is an excellent trouble-preventive. As a young lad, I
would closely watch the elders I went shooting with. One friend who
often accompanied us was religious about checking his bore for obstruction
before taking that first shot each trip. "That's a good idea that everyone should
really do," I thought. One time, his cleaning rod actually
encountered an object on its normally effortless journey through his
.30-06 barrel! Imagine the look on both of our faces as be pushed out
a full-length No. 2 pencil!
One area that exhibits a virtual vacuum of Common Sense is in that of
the "Accidental Discharge" (AD). For such an event to occur, a series
of safety violations and incorrect handling procedures have normally
already taken place, during any one of which a small amount of Common Sense
would likely have prevailed. One story that repeatedly comes to
mind was related first person in the pages of a popular shooting magazine.
It involved a law enforcement officer dealing with his normally cocked-and-locked
.45 handgun while engaged in the confines of a small water closet.
As so often precipitates such incidents, the first mistake was that the
safety was inadvertently left off. Then the officer did something that,
by his own admission, defied explanation. He decided to hang his .45,
by the trigger guard, on a nail stuck in the wall. You may be able to
envision the outcome already - when the mass of his .45 fell and pushed
the trigger against the nail, it fired! But that's just the start of
The subsequent recoil caused the handgun to erratically bounce back
and forth, the trigger guard against the nail, initiating another
round to fire. Then another. And another. For the entire magazine
capacity, this was a true .45 auto - gone full auto, that is, as it
cycled against that nail to the terror of the owner. Again, no
injuries resulted, but I think we can bet that the officer never
made that mistake again!
Common Sense will help you stay out of trouble. A reloading manual
may make you aware that with some handgun rounds, such a small amount
of fast-burning powder is required that relatively large amounts of
case volume remain unused. It may explain that this presents the
danger of throwing a double charge, i.e., inadvertently putting two
powder charges in the same case. Of course, twice the correct charge
of powder is likely to ruin the gun that fires it and possibly harm
Many books will tell you what double-charges are and why they are to
be avoided, but few will tell you how to make sure that you don't
throw them. Common Sense will tell you that some kind of personal
system is needed that helps insure you don't make this mistake. It
will also help you determine strict procedures to keep charged and
uncharged cases physically separate as well as a visual check of
powder levels before bullet seating.
Common Sense is more than being careful. It is an overall approach
to reloading and shooting that involves caution, alertness, thoughtfulness
and attention to detail. Applying it in ample quantity can greatly
increase one's enjoyment of the shooting sports.