Once I got the USPSA bug my round count per month went up dramatically so it was inevitable that I would start reloading. The question then was: where to start? Conventional wisdom says to start off with a single-stage press and learn the subtleties of reloading before moving into a progressive press. This is certainly not a bad idea but life is short and I was lucky enough to get right into the big leagues.
After months of ammo shortages our local sensei offered to let several of us use his Dillon Super 1050 to load a bunch of 9mm one weekend if we would get our own 1) bullets, 2) powder, 3) primers and 4) prepped cases. I said, “sure” and started collecting money and placing orders. CZ Custom was our bullet source for 115gr FMJ bullets, Powder Valley sold us the TiteGroup powder and I bought a bunch of Wolf primers on eBay. This was fall of 2009 and reloading components were still tough to come by but we eventually got everything and scheduled a weekend for the reloading party. I spent many hours washing, drying and cleaning brass so that we were ready for our scheduled 6k rounds (2k each for three guys). We headed to Glyn’s house and that’s when the fun began. Over the course of that weekend I learned an enormous amount about reloading in general and the characteristics of the 1050 in particular. I was hooked.
After burning through those 2k rounds in short order I realized I needed to come up with my own solution. Glyn’s generosity was admirable but if I wanted to tune my own 9mm load I really needed my own setup. I began the process that so many of us follow: search the Internet and drink from the fire hose. In hindsight I should have stuck to Brian Enos’ forums since not only is that the best source of information on USPSA shooting in general but the reloading forums there are superb. I owe a lot to the excellent information shared there.
I toyed with the idea of a Lee Loadmaster since it is a progressive, auto-indexing press that would allow me to really crank out the rounds and it was very cheap. I think the press with set up for one caliber (dies included) was around $250. I think there were other items needed like a powder measure perhaps but I don’t remember with certainty.
At this point my friend Bruce, who has been reloading for decades, shook his head and said that if I bought a Dillon press I would never regret it. Remarkably I listened to his advice and began bracing myself for the wallet-draining that was to come.
Dillon Precision has been the leader in progressive presses for a long time and there are many reasons why. The foremost is that they are utterly dedicated to their customers. It doesn’t hurt that they have the best engineered presses on the market either. Their Square Deal presses are a low-cost solution that allow entry into progressive reloading with minimal cost. The downside there is that they use non-standard dies and they are limited to pistol cartridges only. I wanted to reload not only 9mm but also .45acp and .233, so that was not an option.
Dillon’s three main offerings are the 550, XL650 and the Super 1050. The 550 is a 4-stage press with manual indexing. My sense is that this press was designed for the medium-volume reloader whose interest was primarily in a very precisely loaded round. It is an excellent press but would not suit my needs since I was interested in high-volume. The Super 1050 is the top-of-the-line, 8-stage, auto-indexing press already mentioned. It is Dillon’s most sophisticated offering. It is also very expensive. A single caliber setup can cost $2k, depending on options. One drawback to the 1050 is that it is considered a commercial press which means that Dillon doesn’t give it their “no B.S. warranty”. In other words, as things break on the press Dillon expects the customer to pay for parts and/or repair. For a true commercial reloader this is reasonable but for my purposes I wanted the comfort of knowing that whatever goes wrong they will cover. This left me with the XL650 as the obvious choice.
The Dillon XL650 is a 5-stage, fully progressive press with a removable toolhead and optional case feeding system. The basic press is around $540 with the case feeder adding another $250. The press comes with one caliber kit, matching primer feed system and dies. This means that for around $1k you can start reloading your cartridge of choice. If you want to quickly switch calibers then you will want to purchase not only the necessary caliber kits and dies but also additional toolheads. This allows for the permanent mounting of the dies, powder feed, etc. right in the respective toolheads for each caliber.
I decided to get setups for 9mm, .45 and .233. In addition to the toolhead items, the case feeder requires a different collator plate for each caliber. Once all three calibers have been set up I can now switch from one to the other in about 20 minutes. All dies and adjustments remain untouched. This is a huge time saver considering how long it would take to remove, install and adjust dies in a single tool head.
Having used Glyn’s 1050 with a Mr. Bullet Feeder it wasn’t long before I yearned for the same setup. I eventually added a Mr. Bullet Feeder to my system, allowing for one-handed operation. Given that the bullet feeder requires a station and the fact that I wanted to use the powder check die (seeing a pistol go kaboom is an eye-opening experience) I got hold of an RCBS seat/crimp die for station five. I have found this to be an ideal setup for 9mm. I can produce 250 rounds (one full bin) in about 10-12 minutes without breaking a sweat.
There is an awful lot to reloading and safety cannot be shortchanged. Never reload without eye protection and never, EVER have more than one powder type in your reloading area. I’m not kidding.
This post is meant to give the reader an overview of my reloading experience and to hopefully share a bit of what I have learned. If you are considering reloading get hold of a reloading manual and read the whole thing. If you can, get yourself a mentor or three. Kevin, Bruce and Glyn have helped me tremendously.
If you are considering a Dillon press, do yourself a favor and talk to Brian Enos. I bought mine through him and he was a wealth of knowledge and helped me get precisely the setup I needed and wanted. You won’t be sorry.