By Mike Keleher
Like most of you, I have been watching the Corona Virus inspired run on guns and ammunition for a few weeks now and am offering up my less than academic but oh so practical observation…here we go again. Remember the run on guns and ammo when Hillary and then Obama were running for president? You couldn’t find .22 lr for the next two years.
I was shocked to see Democrat Illinois Gov. Pritzker list gun stores as essential and exempt from Corona closure, and this week was glad to see it widened across the nation.
Seeing long lines of buyers spaced 6 feet apart outside gun stores is still difficult to watch. Droves of people who did not have guns and ammo on hand, are hoping to make a last minute firearm purchase or limited to two boxes of ammunition. Many of these people show up with no idea what an Illinois FOID is -they just want to be able to protect themselves and their families in the risky times ahead. Background checks have doubled and tripled the mandated wait times and ammo has flown out the doors as soon as it hits the shelves. I saw one Facebook post claiming something like 50,000 gun purchases were made in three weeks in Illinois and shudder to think how the much maligned FOID section in Springfield is keeping up.
(Has anyone but me though the ISP could buy a few more clerical workers with the millions of dollars generated by FOID and Concealed Carry license fees instead of investing in a new phone system which features enhanced waiting period music?)
We are suffering through government mandated stay at home orders in luxury with full electricity, water, heat and nearly unlimited digital entertainment during this bizarre situation and the public has voted on what they deem essential to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness- food, toilet paper, guns and ammo. Politicians did not make the list.
So I am waiting and watching the pursuit of toilet paper and bullets with particular interest, and I thought to myself as I often do in periods of Global Pandemic or running out of Tiger King episodes to watch “Hmmmm, what would the Viet Cong do?” Guerrilla tactics on the edge of societal break up-seems reasonable to me!
Well the short answer is if you can’t buy ammunition and others are lined up for the trickle that is coming in, why not make your own ammunition?
The obvious answers like cost of getting set up and a rather important learning curve can keep a lot of people from reloading their own ammunition. However, there is a uber cheap reloading kit that can get you cranking out shells…slowly…but with excellent results in no time, and reloading components, bullets, powder and primers are not bought up as quickly as pre-loaded commercial ammunition.
I went deep into my reloading shelves and hauled out a couple of the unique Lee Classic Loader kits I have owned for decades. Packaged in a cheery bright red box about the size of a paperback book, each Lee Classic Loader has the simple tools and instructions to reload one caliber of ammo, one cartridge at a time.
You will need some bullets, some powder, a mallet and some primers. That’s it. Instructions tell you how to use the pieces in the kit, and a two sided card shows you the lengths of your cartridge, what type of primer to use (large or small) and lists a bunch of powders you can use for each listed bullet weight. It is all shown and described to you at the Teach Yourself Simple level.
My favorite part, is a yellow plastic dipper included in the kit. You make one scoop with the dipper of any of the powders listed on the card, and pour it in to your prepared case. That is so damn easy! This may horrify serious competition reloaders who often weigh each individual powder charge, but this one scoop thing works. It has been working for 60 years on the market, and in fact, ammo loaded via Lee Classic Loaders held world records for accuracy for seven years.
Last winter, I got some 69 gr Nosler bullets to reload into some .223 cases to work up some longer distance coyote loads. As a fluke, I loaded some with a traditional RCBS single stage reloader and weighing each powder charge and I also loaded a box up with my old Lee Classic Loader. Range testing stunned me. Those hand loaded with the Lee loader held groups just as tight as those loaded on “better” gear and in some cases the Lee rounds had better groups.
The one draw back to the Lee kit is it is not very fast-but neither is loading rifle rounds on a single stage press. It takes me about a half an hour to load a box of 20 rifle shells with the Lee-perfect for some stay at home order entertainment!
I have a couple of Dillon progressive reloaders and would much rather crank out a couple hundred rounds of pistol ammo per hour than tap, tap, tapping with the Lee, but in the end, that small red box of parts just flat works. You can reload rounds on the tailgate of a pick up or in camp if you want to-try that with a full reloading press!
The loading process is quite simple and explained in the Lee instructions with photos probably taken back in the 1960s-the kit has remained unchanged. I use a piece of wood as my loading surface and a plastic mallet to load the rounds. Neither the piece of wood or mallet have changed since the 1970’s when I first used a Lee Loader kit to build some .223 and .44 Mag cartridges.
First you place a cartridge in the black hollow metal base and use a mallet to tap the rod with a spike to knock the primer out of the expended cartridge. Viola Deprimed.
Next, drive the brass case into the shiny combo sizer/powder and bullet funnel. Driving the brass into the device provides an overall re-sizing to factory specs in one step. Full length sized.
Then you set the base of the brass over the primer base and a single primer and insert a different rod with concave base inside the brass and tap it once or twice to seat the primer. You will feel and hear the primer seat correctly. Primed.
After that, get one scoop of powder and pour it inside the combo sizer into your now primed brass case. Then drop a bullet on top and tap it down into the case with the primer seat/bullet seat device…and that is it. You now have a loaded cartridge. Could it be any easier?
It certainly could not be any cheaper. In the first hour, the kit will have paid for itself. I looked up the Lee Classic Loader kits online and they run from $28 to $40 depending upon retailer. Midway and Natchez Shooting Supply are still offering them at $28. They are also available online from Amazon, Cabelas and Lee Precision.
Finding primers will be the hard part in the near future. Much like the other recent ammo runs, people who would buy up a couple of boxes are nabbing up 1000 round and 5000 round lots. But even a single box of 100 primers will get you five boxes of loaded rifle ammo.
Lee sells these kits for rifle cartridges in .223, .308, .30-06, .30-30, .243, .270, .303, .45-70 and 7.62×54 Russian. Pistol rounds can be created with kits in 9mm. .38, .357 mag, .45 ACP and .45 Long Colt.
A lot of gun owners don’t reload thinking it is too expensive and detailed to be worthwhile. With long term Corona predictions and ammo demands not likely to be able to keep up with production, why not get a Lee kit, some bullets, powder and primers. Who knows what is coming to our shores the later this year?