ShotShell Reloading Basic Instructions ~ VIDEO

Obsolete Arms and Ammo
By Bob Shell

Shotshell reloading press
A MEC 600 Jr Mark V Shot Shell Press is a great first press, you can see my old faithful MEC 600 on the right.
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Apache Junction, AZ –-( More on selection components

There are so many options out there for shot shell reloaders it would take a book the cover them all. Another problem is there are gadgets and gizmos coming out on a daily basis some useful some not.

One thing that we haven’t covered yet is shotshell reloading. While the mechanics are similar to metallic reloading there are some important differences. The equipment is different and you need a reloading machine that is made for shotgun ammo for best results.

I have been loading shotshells for quite a few years and the loader I use is a MEC 600 Jr Mark V Shot Shell Press. It is a good single stage machine that will last for years and isn’t real expensive. Like metallic reloading I advise a new reloader to start with a single stage press until you thoroughly understand what you are doing. Unless you do a lot of shooting such as trap or skeet the 600 JR will take care of your needs. There are other tools out there but I have always have good luck with Mec Products. They come in everything from 410 to 10 gauge. You can adjust them for the length of shell being loaded. Like any other press it should be securely mounted on a work table.

Different brands of shotgun hulls
Different brands of shotgun hulls need different wads

Next you need some empty hulls which should be all the same brand and type. The reason is there is a base, usually, some sort of cork and it is the same height in same brand shells. Different brands will cause you to have to use different wads to make up for the base difference. That can get pretty confusing using various wads for each brand.

If you need a good place to shop for shotgun accessories I would go to as they have everything that a shotgun reloader needs.

I would also suggest that you get a reloading manual and read it before tackling shotgun shells.

The inside of the shotgun shell determines the case capacity.
The inside of the shotgun shell determines the case capacity.

Once you have your hulls then you have to get the other necessary components. Once you have figured out what is the purpose of the ammo then you can proceed from there. Let’s say that you are making some dove loads and may shoot a little trap also. For a 12 gauge the shot weight may be 1 & 1/8 oz of shot generally 7 & ½ or # 8. Let us say that you have a couple of hundred red Winchester AA hulls for starters. Next you need a charge bar that will throw the proper amount of shot and powder. Mec makes quite a few bars plus an adjustable to cover various loads. They have charts to tell you which bar to use with the correct amount and type of powder. You can consult with a loading book as the proper wad also has to be chosen. There are several brands of wads but the important thing to look for is the proper height for the load used. That is important because an improper height will cause the load be too high or low. That will result in a poor crimp and probably shot leakage. Your finished product should look like a factory load.

Good Shot Shell Crimp
What a good shot shell crimp (Right) should look like.

When you get set up the first die decaps the case and sizes the brass. Then you move one station and prime. Next you move it another station where you put the drop tube down inside the shell. You move the charge bar which should give you the powder. Then insert the wad and use the tube to seat it against the powder. Next put the drop tube slightly in the case and move the charge bar the other way which will dispense the shot. Then you move to the crimp start station and push handle down the finish the crimp at the last station. If you have done everything right then you have a good round of ammo. Once you get the process down it is easy to do. Attention to detail is paramount when doing shotgun shells.

When selecting shot for shotgun shooting keep a couple of things in mind. Lead shot comes in various sizes from 00-buck to # 9 which is the finest size shot generally available. The larger the number the smaller the shot is. You can get more pellets of small size shot in a case then the larger but you give up some range as the small shot doesn’t travel as far. Depending on the game being hunted shot size is important. For instance for dove and quail 7 &1/2 or #8 shot usually works best. For pheasants # 5 or 6 is better as they are larger birds and may be further away. I use #6 on rabbits and squirrels because sometimes you have to shoot through some brush or at a fairly long distance. For ducks and geese you need steel shot to comply with federal laws. That requires different wads and charge bars.

Some states may require steel for migratory birds such as doves so check that out before loading. If you get caught with the wrong shot the fine can be expensive so a word to the wise.

Buckshot is seldom loaded though slugs are occasionally. I recently loaded some Lightfield slugs for a bear hunt in Canada and they performed quite well.

Assorted Shot Shell Wads
A Shot Shell Wad needs to be matched to the load for best results.

If you pick up spent or empty shotgun shells at the range be sure to inspect them and sort them out by brand and type. If you use two or three brands chances are you will need more then one wad even if you are only using one load. That might prove to be a headache. There is only one size primer that is currently being used generally referred to a 209 Primer.

Years ago Remington used a smaller one a size 57 and you might still run into hulls that take those. The problem is the # 57 is hard to find.

(L to R) 410 Gauge, 20 gauge and 12 gauge shot shell hulls.
(L to R) 410 Gauge, 20 gauge and 12 gauge shot shell hulls.

Shotguns operate at much lower pressures then rifles and modern handguns. Their barrels are thin to keep down the weight so they won’t take the pressures that other weapons will. It is very important not to overload them nor is there any reason to do so. When you load shotshells you are looking for a good to shot run from about 1150 to 1300 FPS  for best results. Faster loads tend to ruin the patterns which defeats the purpose of making them. Steel can go a little faster. You can put a large target with a 30” circle at 40 yards to check out your pattern and point of impact. You will learn a lot by doing that.

Reloading of any kind requires some thought regarding what components you are going to select. You have to decide what the load is going to be used for and how much money is available.

This quick primer on Shot Shell Reloading should give you an idea at what you are looking at when selecting components.

Reload Shoot More!

About Bob Shell
A Custom Reloader of Obsolete and Antique Ammo, Bob Shell, writes about the subject of Guns, Ammo, Shooting and Related Subjects. Visit:

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Mark David

It amazes how many articles I read on shotgun shell reloading and not one mentions one of the most important tools, a SCALE!! Bushing charts are only approximate and charge bars don’t always drop the correct weight.

Bobb Rosborough

If you are using a MEC shotshell reloader, you might find this video interesting:

k wood

how much would these reloader sell for?

Arlo Judd

I have an older MEC that I acquired over 50 years ago. It was before the plastic shells were made. However, I have acquired several plastic shells but have not attempted to load any. As I recall, this loader has a heater sleeve that would heat and melt the wax on the paper shells. Will this old machine crimp plastic shells as well or do I need a special attachment for this? Any help will be welcomed and appreciated.

Frank Drager

What should the wad pressure setting be? :Mec 700,Win AA hulls, 27.7 gr. Longshot Powder,11/4oz. no. 4 lead shot, CB1114-12 wads.Thank you for your information. Frank

Dylan Messer

what about over crimping? Would their be any problems with it? I have a Lee Load All 2 and cannot adjust it so on 4 of them it went down too far, should I redo them?


Yes, you can reopen the top of the crimp evenly all the way around, and then put it back in the pre crimp station, then back in the crimp station and pull down a little at a time and check the cripm as you go until it’s where you want it.

Tim Ferguson

Good article on getting started reloading shotshells. I would agree that MEC products seem to work for a fair price. I currently reload around 600-800 shotshells a month and use a Hornady 366. My only suggestion before commiting to buying a MEC or anything else is decide what will best fit your needs. If you are reloading to shoot trap or anything that will use a lot of shells look at your options and save your money to purchase the reloading press that works right the first time.

Chuck Bryant

Can a reloaded shotgun she’ll tip be dipped in wax on those shells with a poor crimp?

ronald jones

I have used a drop of hot melt glue with success. Best is to cull the hulls with torn edge.