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Reloading & Hand Loading Safety

Reloading can be a safe and enjoyable hobby as long as you obey some simple rules. Just as you follow basic gun handling rules to make the hobby safer, you must so the same with reloading.

Never mix or substitute components.

Every lot of powder, primers, bullets, brass, and any other components can differ significantly. Different manufacturer's components differ substantially. For example, never substitute Winchester brand primers for Federal, and expect the same results. One primer may be fine with your load, but another brand may cause extreme pressures with the same load. Don't substitute magnum primers for standard primers for the same reason. Just because two brands of powder have similar characteristics, that does not mean they are interchangeable or mixable. Every time you finish with a lot of a component, you will have to back off the load slightly and start over, checking for overpressure signs, just as you did when you first worked the load up. You are in essence working up a brand new load.

Always wear eye protection.

You hopefully wear ear & eye protection while shooting, and you should do the same while loading. You don't need the ear protection (hopefully) while loading, but eye protection is an absolute.  Besides the obvious protection against an accidentally detonated component, you are protecting against flying particles (i.e. a piece of brass that jammed and shot out from the press). This is a press, and presses can generate some large forces. You are also working with hazardous components, mostly lead. You will be less inclined to wipe your eyes with your lead stained hands if you have glasses on.

Never eat, smoke or drink while working.

Just as your hands can introduce lead into the body by rubbing your eyes, food can do the same. Nothing is worse than getting a lead shaving in your tuna sandwich. The smoking part should be obvious. You are working with flammables and explosives! If you must take a food, smoke or drink break, wash your hands thoroughly to remove any contamination and take your break away from your workbench.

Block out all distractions.

While working, block any distractions. This means TV, radio, wife/husband, kids, dog/cat, pesky neighbors, and so on. It only takes one second of lost attention to produce a dangerous load. While loading, you must give 100% of your attention to what you are doing.

Keep your workbench clean.

Keep a tidy workspace. This will make things go much smoother. You are less likely to run into problems. It is not hard to have your scale give you a false reading because it is pushed up against a stack of papers that should not be there. Immediately clean up any spills. Use a dust brush and pan instead of a vacuum because of fire/explosion hazards.

Keep all components in their original container, and stored properly.

Do not store primers, powders, or other components in anything but their original containers.  You need the container for proper identification. The factory containers are designed for long term storage, and is the safest and best way to keep the components. Always read the warning labels, and follow the recommended storage method (usually in a cool dry place).

Keep good records.

Don't rely on memory, or a scribbled on post-it note for your records. Keep a good notebook, and track all lot numbers, brands, depths, weights, or any other data you would need to look at to go back and trace a problem, or reproduce a load.

Keep out of the reach of children and pets.

You don't want unsupervised children, or irresponsible adults near your equipment or components. It is easy for them to, at best, change your settings or spill something, or at worst, start a fire or mix your components up causing you to make a dangerous load. Don't rule out teenagers. Many young adults have a fascination with fire, and would just love to get a hold of a pound of gunpowder.

Never guess.

If you are in doubt of something, don't guess. Stop and get help. Call the manufacturer for assistance. Most good component producers have a technical staff that is eager to help. They don't want anyone to get hurt with their product. 

Establish a good routine, and follow it exactly.

You will hopefully develop a method where you will have your own little production line. Once you find a good routine, stick with it. You will less likely have errors if you follow it.

Always check for overpressure signs while shooting your loads.

If a load seems strange, stop shooting it. Look for primer flattening or flow back. Also, case bulging, or difficulty with extraction. These are good indicators that your loads are too hot.  Stop shooting them immediately and step your loads down. If recoil is severe (more so than with similar factory loads), then stop shooting them. A chronograph is a nice way to keep track of velocity. If the shots are significantly faster than what you were working for, you may
have overpressure loads.

You can have low pressure loads too. If you get a mild pop instead of the usual BANG, then stop shooting them, and check your barrel for a stuck bullet. Never try to shoot out a bullet. It will ruin your barrel or gun, and possibly cause severe injury to the shooter or bystanders!  This does not always happen from a load with no powder.

Following these basic rules will help you load safely, and get the most from your hobby. By no means is this a complete list.  Read loading manuals, and keep an eye out for any others cautions. Above all, use common sense and good judgment.

YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE SAFE OPERATION & STORAGE OF YOUR FIREARMS!

Basic Handling Cautions

ALWAYS HANDLE ANY FIREARM AS IF IT WERE LOADED. 
ALWAYS CHECK THAT ANY FIREARM HANDED TO YOU IS UNLOADED. 
ALWAYS CHECK & CLEAR ANY GUN BEFORE HANDING IT TO SOMEONE ELSE. 
NEVER POINT A WEAPON AT ANYTHING YOU DO NOT INTEND TO DESTROY.
NEVER LEAN OR PROP A LOADED FIREARM AGAINST A FENCE, WALL, TREE, ETC. Accidental discharge may occur should the weapon fall. 
TEACH CHILDREN AND OTHERS IN YOUR HOUSEHOLD A HEALTHY RESPECT FOR FIREARMS.

It is your responsibility to teach or get qualified instruction in safe handling and use of firearms for your household. Practice close supervision and stress safety. 

Range Cautions

BE CERTAIN THAT THE BACKSTOP IS ADEQUATE to stop and contain bullets.
Ricochets or bullets that pass through the backstop can travel considerable distance and cause property damage, injury, or death. 
ASSIGN A KNOWLEDGEABLE AND RESPONSIBLE PERSON TO TAKE CHARGE OF SAFETY when a group is firing. Obey the commands of the Range Safety Officer at all times. 
KEEP ALL FIREARMS POINTED TOWARDS THE BACKSTOP while loading, firing, and unloading. 
NEVER GO DOWNRANGE AT ANY TIME WHILE LOADED FIREARMS ARE ON THE FIRING LINE. 

Loading Cautions

BE CERTAIN YOU HAVE THE CORRECT AMMUNITION FOR YOUR FIREARM.
Many cartridges are similar enough to chamber in various weapons not designed for them. Mismatching ammo to the weapon will almost certainly cause property damage, injury, or death. The correct cartridge designation is stamped on the barrel or receiver of most weapons available in the U.S. 

USE ONLY QUALITY AMMUNITION. New factory manufactured, military surplus, or properly hand loaded ammunition will perform safely and effectively. Old, corroded, or poorly manufactured or reloaded ammunition is dangerous. 

BE SURE THAT THE BARREL BORE, CHAMBER AND ACTION OF YOUR FIREARM IS CLEAN AND CLEAR OF OBSTRUCTIONS. Dirt, water, or other obstructions in the bore may cause the barrel to burst if a round is fired. Clean a wet or fouled weapon immediately. 

NEVER ATTEMPT TO CHAMBER OR FIRE DIRTY OR DAMAGED AMMUNITION. Properly discard damaged and wipe any dirty ammo clean and dry.

Shooting Cautions

AVOID ALCOHOL AND DRUGS. Medications, illegal drugs, and/or alcohol impair vision and judgment making weapons handling unsafe. 
WEAR EAR PROTECTION AT TARGET PRACTICE AND ON THE RANGE.
Hearing loss is inevitable from repeated exposure to gunfire. 
WEAR SHOOTING GLASSES AT TARGET PRACTICE AND ON THE RANGE. 
NEVER PUT YOUR FINGER INTO THE TRIGGER GUARD UNTIL ON TARGET AND READY TO FIRE. 
BE ABSOLUTELY SURE OF YOUR TARGET AND WHAT IS BEHIND IT. 
KNOW THAT BULLETS WILL RICOCHET OFF OF ROCKS, WATER, AND HARD LEVEL SURFACES. These projectiles may travel considerable distance and cause property damage, injury, or death. 

Malfunctions

IF YOUR FIREARM FAILS TO FIRE point muzzle in safe direction, wait 30 seconds, clear magazine and chamber. Inspect the primer of the last round in chamber. If the indent left from the firing pin is shallow or off center as compared to previously fired rounds, have the weapon checked by a gunsmith. If the firing pin indent appears normal, assume faulty ammo. 

IF THE REPORT OF YOUR FIREARM IS MUFFLED OR UNUSUAL DISCONTINUE FIRING AT ONCE. Point muzzle in safe direction, wait 30 seconds clear magazine and chamber.

Check bore for obstructions such as a stuck bullet. If bore is not clear, DO NOT ATTEMPT TO FIRE, have a gunsmith correct the problem. 

DO NOT ATTEMPT TO USE A MALFUNCTIONING FIREARM. Take it to a qualified gunsmith for repair. 
______________________________________________________

OTHER SAFETY RULES

The following gun safety rules should also be observed when using or storing a gun:

1. Be sure the gun is safe to operate. Just like other tools, guns need regular maintenance to remain operable. Regular cleaning and proper storage are a part of the gun's general upkeep. If there is any question concerning a gun's condition, a knowledgeable gunsmith should look at it.

2. Know how to use the gun safely. Before handling a gun, learn how it operates. Know its basic parts, how to safely open and close the action, and how to remove ammunition from chambers and/or magazines. Nothing can ever replace safe gun handling. Don't rely on a gun's safety mechanism. Like any mechanical device, it can fail. Use it, but don't let it be a substitute for safe gun handling and observance of the three fundamental rules of gun safety. A defective mechanism could result in an accident. Never pull the trigger on a gun when the safety is in the "ON" position, or when the safety is located anywhere between the "ON" and the "OFF" positions. If the safety mechanism is defective, the gun could fire without any trigger contact when the safety is moved to the "OFF" position at a later time. Don’t play with the safety by changing its position constantly . . . leave the safety in the "ON" position until absolutely ready to fire.

3. Use only the correct ammunition for the gun. Only BBs, pellets, cartridges, or shells designed for a particular gun can be fired safely in that gun. Most guns have the ammunition type stamped on the barrel. Ammunition can be identified by information printed on the box and sometimes stamped on the cartridge. Do not shoot the gun unless the proper ammunition is used.

4. Know the target and what is beyond Be absolutely sure that the target has been identified beyond any doubt. Equally important, be aware of the area beyond the target. This means observing the prospective area of fire before shooting. Never fire in a direction in which there are people or any other potential for mishap. When practicing, be sure that there is a safe backstop. Always think first. Shoot second.

5. Wear eye and ear protection as appropriate . Gunshots are loud and the noise can cause hearing damage. Guns can also emit debris and hot gas that could cause eye injury. For these reasons, safety glasses and ear protection are strongly recommended.

6. Never use alcohol or drugs before or while shooting. Alcohol, as well as any other substance likely to impair normal mental or physical bodily functions, must not be used before or while handling or shooting guns. Remember that even over-the-counter (non-prescription) medications can impair judgment and cause undesirable physical side effects, such as loss of coordination, vision difficulties, tremors, and drowsiness, which could contribute to an accident.

7. Store guns so they are not accessible to unauthorized persons. Many factors must be considered when deciding where and how to store guns. A person's particular situation will be a major part of the consideration. Remember that safe and secure storage requires that unauthorized individuals (especially children) be denied access to guns. Dozens of gun storage devices are available on the market today: gun cabinets, gun safes, wall racks, hard and soft gun cases, strongboxes, etc. In addition, various types of locking devices which attach directly to the gun, such as trigger locks, are available. However, these mechanical locking devices, just like the mechanical safeties built into guns, can fail and should not be used as a substitute for safe gun handling and the observance of all gun safety rules. Ammunition, as a general rule, should be stored separately from guns. It is preferable to keep the ammunition in the manufacturers' original boxes. Ammunition should be stored in a cool, dry area and in a manner so that it is not accessible to unauthorized persons.

8. Beware that certain types of guns and many shooting activities require additional safety precautions.

9. Learn the Mechanical and Handling Characteristics of the Firearm You Are Using. Not all guns are alike.  They have different mechanical characteristics that dictate how you should carry and handle them.  Anyone who plans to use a firearm should first become totally familiar with the type of firearm it is and the safe handling procedures for loading, unloading, carrying, shooting and storing it.

10. Before you even unpack your new firearm, read the instruction manual from cover to cover and familiarize yourself with the different component parts of the gun.  Then read, understand and follow the ten commandments of safety.

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