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Article 9 – 2020 (October)

person aiming shotgun at target range

Russell Mark

Australian Shooter Magazine – Question and Answers

Article 9 – 2020 (October)

Question: I have recently taken up clay target shooting after a few years of rifle shooting. I find that I can make cheaper and more accurate ammunition for my rifle by reloading.  Looking at the cost of setting up to load shot shells by hand, I doubt that I could save any money.  Is it your experience that better patterns can be achieved by careful trial and error with reloads or is factory ammunition just as good for clay target shooting?

Chris Ewing, ACT


Answer: Sadly, twelve-gauge shotshell reloading is a dying art. I say sadly because in my mind it was part of the culture and history of our shotgun sport. I would think less than five percent of competition clay target shooters now reload 12-gauge ammunition. In some disciplines it would be half that percentage again. I have very fond memories of sitting behind a Mec 650 pumping out shot shells for hours and when I was finally given control of a Hydra-Mec (the hands-free hydraulic version) it was like being in command of the Star Ship Enterprise. I can remember having AC/DC pumping out “Shoot to Thrill” in the background as I meticulously color-coded each shot shell relative to its shot size in used twenty-five round boxes, never using the same box for a different velocity shell. My powder of choice was Winchester’s ball powder range (don’t hold me to this, but from my memory I used AA473 and AA452). The smell of opening a new can of powder was like heaven and the sound of crunching up a wad on top of the powder was like hell. I fitted the largest possible shot bottles on the press and would be mesmerized by how it all worked. Rhythm was everything. Nobody dared interrupting me when I was on a roll.

Back in the late 1970’s and early 80’s I would estimate at least half of the countries regular, serious clay target shooters reloaded at some stage. There was no shortage of re-usable plastic hulls and the price of shot, powder and primers was not excessive due to the great variety of importers vying for the reloading market. Gradually the rising price of lead and the added burden and cost of storing and importing gun powder has made the financial viability of reloading not so attractive. Coupled with the fact that very few hulls now are “reloader friendly” due to the plastic composition of their cases, reloading is just plain hard work with no real dollar value reward.

Unlike rifle reloads where you can be exact on every round, you don’t get the same consistency on a “five hundred rounds and hour” shot shell reloading press. Whilst I would argue that you may never miss a target because you were using reloaded shot shells as opposed to “factory” loaded rounds I would also have to admit that I never personally felt as confident with my own reloads that I put hours of sweat into. Clay shooting is a real mental test in many areas and if you believe you can then you probably will and alternatively if you have any doubts then you probably won’t. I found that opening a slab of brand-new glowing factory ammo eliminated one of the many doubts that could enter your mind when you need to hit the last five targets to win the tournament.

In Australia and indeed around the world there is still a healthy reloading market in the smaller sub-gauges, particularly in the Skeet shooting fraternity where often they have more trust in their reloads than they do in their wives and girlfriends. The cost of sub gauge ammunition has always been high as opposed to countries like the USA where the smaller gauges are very popular. It is simply a case of supply and demand, but this lack of supply has kept this market alive, but unless you are intending on shooting an awful lot of .410, 28 or 20 gauge shells the initial cost of setting up the infrastructure will mean it could take years to reap any real financial reward.

You are correct in your initial statement about not really saving any money if its twelve-gauge shot shells you are thinking about reloading especially if you start factoring your time into first of all reloading and secondly your time at the range acting like a seagull scavenging through thousands of empty hulls to hopefully find a few reloadable ones.

If it’s therapy you’re after the serenity and pride of a properly set up reloading room is hard to beat.

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