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Handloading For Prepper’s
Over the last several years, the American shooting public has been introduced to scarcity on a scale that hasn’t been seen since the Second World War. With feelings running high against a dictatorial presidency and the threat of war throughout the Middle East, the Ukraine and in the South China Sea, demand has outpaced production for the first time in many people’s lives.
For preppers and survivalist, these conditions were no great surprise. These were symptoms to be expected as a system, they perceive as precariously balanced, begins to sway under its own weight. If the system is fragile enough to be threatened by a simple increase in demand, what would happen if there was suddenly no electricity or motorized transport? For people interested in keeping their guns working far into the future, with no more industry to feed a steady supply of components and finished goods, the answer is preparation.
Shea’s article on five guns for prepping offers reasonable choices for people who might find themselves cut off from civilization. The subject as assigned was very limiting, but his ideas were sound, especially when they are considered from a maintenance and handloading perspective. He chose the .22 Long Rifle, the.38 Special, a .223 Remington, a .308 Winchester and a 12 gauge shotgun. All of these are easy to handload and there is a duplication between propellants that makes powder selection an easier process. They also lend them themselves to a number of niche performance areas that other cartridges would be hard pressed to duplicate when paired with his firearms choices. Overall, his battery of firearms is very close to what I would have chosen as well, excepting the .38 Special revolver.
There is no solution for the .22 rimfire rifle in what survivalists call, The End Of The World As We Know It. Once the rimfires are all fired, those guns will be silent until civilization and production capabilities return. There may be some pseudo-witchdoctor-gunsmith that can make fulminate of mercury into rimfire priming, but for the rest of us when the cartridges are gone so are the guns. The only real solution is to buy .22LR whenever you encounter it and squirrel it away a few hundred or a few thousand at a time. The firearms-class they represent are too useful to ignore and cannot be readily replaced. Buy them when you can. Don’t be greedy. Leave some for the next guy, too.
The Bare Necessities
If you are an absolute beginner handloading, there are a few tools that are must have items. The less expensive items work well enough and, although typically less imprecise, the crudest options will keep a gun shooting long after it otherwise would have become an expensive club.
The Lee Loader
I started with one of these and frankly I’m surprised my slightly over-protective mother let me. Armed with the right powder, the right primer and a mallet, Lee Loaders are all you need to reload ammunition. They work fine. So well in fact that they were found in Afghanistan being used by insurgents to reload their rifles. This video shows why they are the first choice in hard conditions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UeEl9wZyabc
Available for most popular cartridges, they would be the cheapest and most portable option for survivalists and preppers.
Lee’s dipper system works on known powder volume. In a Lee Loader, a dipper is pared to limited load data sheet of powders that are appropriate to a set bullet weight and powder charge. This system works, but to say that there are performance limits is an understatement. A simple balance scale will give you more load options and help you wring the most performance out of your limited arsenal.
A simple C press for the metallic cartridges will work fine. Again, you don’t need to break the bank to keep your guns shooting. It just needs to be durable. O-Frames like the RCBS Rockchucker seem to be a universal standard.
For the shotgun, there are several simple presses that work very well. The Mech Jr 600, with its all metal construction looks more bomb-proof and durable compared to its similarly priced competitors.
Two is One and One is None. Buy two shell holders each for the .308, .223 and .38 Special. These are three very popular shell holders and will work with many more cartridges.
Western Powders has a guide for people who are interested in handloading. You can download a copy of “Getting Started” here: Getting Started
For the prepper, the four centerfire cartridges described in Shea’s article can be loaded with just two powders. If you are not going to be a hobbyist loading many types of cartridges, this simple fact will make powder selection a simple task.
Based on Shea’s calibers, I would use Ramshot Competition to feed the shotgun and .38 Special and Ramshot Tac in the .308 Winchester and .223 Remington. These are not the only options, of course, any number of medium-burning rifle powders and shotgun powders would work for this combination, but these two fill the bill nicely. As an addition, I would add Accurate 5744, Accurate #2 and Accurate #5 to my prepper’s bench for use in specialized loads that will be covered later.
Bullets, Pellets, and Slugs
Molds will keep you going as long as you can find lead to melt. I have several friends who have a knee-jerk aversion to lead bullets but the plain truth is that bullets started out as lead and if society collapses into chaos, the last rounds fired by humankind will most likely be handmade lead bullets.
For shotguns, Lee makes a nifty gang mold that casts 18 buckshot pellets per mold. They need to be cut from their sprues with a sidecutter, but the production value is very high compared to single cavity molds. They also make affordable slug molds that use standard wads and shotshells with no special crimp required. They are an ideal slug for the prepper’s arsenal.
Good gas-checked lead rifle bullets can do a tremendous amount of work for the handloader. In reduced configurations they can easily hunt small and medium game and would very practical uses in suppressed rifles operating subsonic loads. Because of the potential for suppression, I would look to molds that cast bullets that were as heavy as could be stabilized in my rifle. If you can’t have velocity, choose mass.
For jacketed bullets, I would seek to standardize my bullet and powder combinations to limit re-zeroing my rifle as each new box came up for use. Bulk bullet sales are common, but the quality waivers from sub-MOA to barn door. If you choose to buy bullets in bulk it is important to have a firm idea of what you intend them to do. Buying scarred up pull-downs will work fine but the accuracy will not typically put meat on the table. Especially in the case of Shea’s hunting/sniping .308 Win., making an investment in good quality hunting bullets seems worthwhile.
Here are our Recommended Loads:
.308 Win. Bolt-action Ruger Scout Rifle
.223/5.56 NATO loads for an AR-15
12 Gauge Shotgun Loads
Click here for complete Ramshot Shotgun Guide: Accurate shotshell
Click here for the Lee reloading data using their slug mold: Key Slug data