Rule 5: Use proper ammunition.
Every firearm is designed to use a certain caliber or gauge of ammunition. Using the wrong ammunition, mixing ammunition, or improperly reloaded ammunition can cause serious personal injury or death. It only takes one cartridge or shotshell of the incorrect caliber or gauge, or one which has been improperly reloaded to destroy your firearm.
As a gun owner, it’s your responsibility to make sure the ammunition you use exactly matches your gun’s caliber or gauge. Refer to the instruction manual to find out the specific requirements of your firearm. Always read and heed the instructions on ammunition boxes.
Examine your shells and cartridges closely and use only the precise caliber or gauge for your specific firearm.
For example, suppose you accidentally loaded a 20 ga. shell into a 12 ga. shotgun. Because the 20 ga. shell is too small for the chamber, the 20 ga. shell could travel down the barrel and get lodged in the bore. If you then loaded a standard 12 ga. shell behind it and fire, the 12 ga. shot will slam into the lodged 20 ga. shell and may cause the barrel to explode right in your hands. This is commonly called a 12/20 burst, and it can kill you.
Check all ammunition before you load it to make sure it matches your gun’s requirements. Most cartridges and shells are head-stamped with its caliber or gauge for easy identification. Likewise, you’ll find the caliber or gauge of your firearm imprinted on the barrel.
Reloading requires extra diligence.
If you’re an ammunition reloader, you are responsible for personally assuring that the loads and components of your reloaded ammunition meet your gun’s factory-tested standards. Never use ammunition that has been reloaded by someone else.
Many shooters handload as a hobby or to save money on commercial, factory-made ammunition. However, it requires a thorough knowledge of reloading procedures and a deep respect for the explosive potential of gunpowder.
Firearms are designed, manufactured, and proof-tested to standards based on factory-loaded ammunition. Handloaded or reloaded ammunition that deviates, either intentionally or inadequately, from load or component recommendations, can be very dangerous. Reloaders must observe all possible safety precautions and practices related to the proper handling of explosives. Whether you’re a seasoned reloader or just starting out, you should study the subject, watch reloading demonstrations, and talk to experienced reloaders.
The first rule of reloading is to always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the components you’re using. They’ll tell you to follow specific guidelines, namely:
- Don’t mix or substitute powders or primers.
- Don’t use unknown or substandard components.
- Use only suitable components that have been factory tested by reputable ammunition, powder, and bullet manufacturers.
- Always be sure to use the manufacturer’s recommended recipe when reloading.
Not following these guidelines could result in severe damage to your firearm or yourself. Dangerously high pressure and explosions can result from an overcharge of powder, use of the wrong powder, incorrect shot selection, or other deviations from established reloading guidelines. Be very careful.
The process of reloading exposes you to environmentally hazardous materials. Lead is the most common substance in bullets and shot. It is essential to handle lead bullets and shot with extreme care. Work only in a well-ventilated area and always wash your hands after exposure and before eating. Never smoke while reloading.
Primers and powders are also highly toxic and flammable. After reloading, be sure to clean up all materials from your work area. Don’t leave primer or powder spills anywhere on the floor or benchtop. Dispose of all waste materials in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Finally, when reloading or handloading, concentrate on what you’re doing at all times. Do not be distracted by talking to others, listening to the radio, or watching TV. Never reload after or while consuming alcoholic beverages or drugs of any kind. You are working with extremely hazardous materials, and you can’t risk even a few seconds of distraction. Remember, if you reload, you are the ammunition manufacturer, and you are responsible for the performance and safety of your reloaded ammunition.