Reloading: Handloading slugs to increase hunting range, decrease costs

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A selection of shotgun slugs ready for the reloading bench. (Photo: Wikiwand)

Shotguns have always been known as uncommonly versatile weapons. Loaded with varying sizes of birdshot, a good shotgun can be used to harvest everything from dove to turkey. Load the same gun with buckshot and it is a potent home defense weapon. Load it with slugs and it can take down all manner of large game.

Slug loads have come a long way in terms of performance during the past few decades. While our fathers and grandfathers essentially had round ball and Foster style loads to send down what were almost always the same guns they used for birds and rabbits, the modern slug hunter has the luxury to choose from a variety of high tech offerings. Using a modern sabot slug load that breaks the 2000 f/s mark and a rifled barrel gun, hunters can now reliably down game at ranges exceeding 100 yards.

This performance, however, is not without a cost and, in this case, the cost can get expensive. Modern, high performance slug loads can exceed $20 for a box of 5. Such a high price is not conducive to the type of regular practice required to make a hunter into a good and ethical hunter. The solution to this problem, as you may have guessed, is handloading. A handloader can manufacture practice slugs at a fraction of the cost of most factory ammunition allowing for plenty of inexpensive range time.

The following guide explains how to load your own slugs using common Winchester AA hulls and the same equipment used to manufacture shot loads.

Part I: Required supplies and equipment

Basic reloading supplies for handloading shotgun slugs. (Photo: Jason Wimbiscus)

Equipment and components needed for basic slug reloading include (from left to right) a shotshell reloading press such as the Lee Load-All, powder, powder funnel, a scale, powder trickler, and powder dipper, slugs, and Winchester AA shotshell hulls. 209 shotshell primers are also required, but not pictured.

Homecast slug, left, Gualandi slug, right. (Photo: Jason Wimbiscus)

Pictured above are two slugs that can be loaded using a standard fold crimp. On the left is a 1 oz. slug cast at home using a Lee mold. It is placed in a Winchester AA wad prior to loading. On the left is a 1-1/8 oz slug offered by the Italian manufacturer Gualandi. It is made from a hardened lead alloy and features an affixed gas seal. You can buy Gualandi slugs at MidwayUSA.  Both slugs can be fired through rifled and smooth bores.

Detail of slug base. (Photo: Jason Wimbiscus)

Pictured above is the base of the Lee slug. The spoke through the center of the hollow base compresses into the wad when the round is fired, locking the two components together. The base of the wad expands under pressure and engages the rifling of a rifled bore.

Part II: Loading procedure

Step 1: Size and de-cap the hull

Detail of Lee Load All in practice. (Photo: Jason Wimbiscus)

Unless already primed hulls are purchased, the hull will need to be de-capped and resized. Place the hull in the resizing station of the press and lower the ram. Apply pressure until the spent primer is removed.

Step 2: Re-prime the hull

Shotshell primer during handloading process. (Photo: Jason Wimbiscus)

Place the primer into the priming station as pictured above.

Setting the primer procedure. (Photo: Jason Wimbiscus)

Place the hull over the primer and lower the ram until the new primer has been seated.

Step 3: Open the crimp

Widening Winchester AA hull. (Photo: Jason Wimbiscus)

It is unlikely that the crimp will have opened up enough during the previous firing to allow the insertion of the slug. I have found that a powder funnel makes a good tool for widening the mouth of the hull. Simply insert the funnel, apply pressure, and gently rotate to open the crimp to a width that will accept the slug.

The photo above shows the mouth of the hull widened to accept a slug.

A powder funnel definitely comes in handy here. (Photo: Jason Wimbiscus)

Charge the hull using the powder funnel if necessary.

Step 4: Charge the hull

Detail of sometimes laborious process of loading the slug into the hull. (Photo: Jason Wimbiscus)

Start the slug into the hull. This may take considerable force. If necessary, jiggle the slug to work it past the crimp.

(Photo: Jason Wimbiscus)

Using the wad seating station, compress the slug onto the powder. The tip of the slug should be even with the bottom of the crimp.

This article details standard crimps, though specialty crimps may be required for some shotshells. (Photo: Jason Wimbiscus)

Place the shell in the appropriate crimp starting station and lower the ram.

Step 7: Complete the crimp

(Photo: Jason Wimbiscus)

Place the shell in the final crimping station and lower the ram.

(Photo: Jason Wimbiscus)

The slug load is now complete.

Notes

The above procedure may need slight modification depending upon the make and model of your reloading equipment. Most manuals recommend that loading recipes be followed precisely without substituting components such as primers and hulls. Those who substitute do so at their own risk and should reduce starting loads by 5 to 10 percent and watch for signs of excess pressure.

If loading a slug with a pointed tip, make sure the tip is below the crimp. Protruding tips in the tube magazines common to many shotguns can result in a chain fire in the magazine.

Slug loading is more of an art than a science. Expect to ruin a few shells while you fine-tune your technique. For this reason, use inexpensive components while you get your feet under you.

Safety: Jason Wimbiscus is a dedicated and experienced handloader with many years of experience.   Handloading is both a science and an art without much room for error.  We caution anyone attempting to recreate the activities described in this article.