To purchase the products highlighted in this article, click on the links below:
- Breech Lock Challenger Reloading Kit: $119.95
- Match Monster 30 Caliber 168 Grain Boat Tail Hollow Point 500 Count: $119.99
- Varmint Nightmare 22 Caliber .224 Diameter 55 Grain Soft Point 500 Count: $41.67
To enter the Midsouth Shooters’ GunsAmerica Giveaway contest, click on the link below:
Without fail, when I’m at the range, picking up spent brass like a squirrel coming off the Jenny Craig Diet, people always ask me if I reload. The very next comment, again without fail, is something like “I’ve always wanted to do that. How much does it cost to get started?”
Reloading is one of those things that a lot of people are interested in doing, but there’s a learning curve and getting the gear you need to start can be pricey. With that in mind, we got to chatting with the folks at Midsouth Shooters Supply. The topic of discussion was whether you could get started reloading your own ammunition for less than $200.
With that goal in mind, I decided to check out the Lee Breech Lock Challenger Kit. As the name implies, it’s a collection of gear, that in theory, will allow you to get started reloading without buying extra stuff. The kit itself sells for about $120 at Midsouth Shooter Supply, but you’ll need a couple of other caliber-specific components. Let’s plow forward and see what you really can do for a couple hundred bucks.
As I started to unpack and digest all the stuff included, I was surprised at the variety of tools that come in the box. Without getting into all the gory detail (yet) the contents of the kit allow you to:
- Perform case operations like depriming, resizing, belling, and crimping.
- Weigh powder charges or anything else for that matter.
- Dispense a bunch of powder charges of the same weight.
- Trim cartridge cases back to proper length.
- Chamfer and deburr cartridge case mouths.
- Insert new primers into conditioned cases.
- Remove primer pocket crimps (sort of – more on that later.)
All considered, just about everything you need to reload rifle or pistol calibers is in the box. There are three things not included, and most of those are the caliber specific stuff that can’t really be included anyway since the Lee folks don’t know which caliber you’ll be reloading. Those components are:
- A die set for resizing, belling the case mouth, seating bullets, and crimping. That’s a caliber specific thing, so you’ll have to buy your own.
- The dies for the case cutters. The kit includes two different case trimming tools, so you’ll need to buy either the Quick Trim case trimming die or the case length gauge and pilot depending on which trimmer you want to use.
The only tool that I think you need that’s not included is a caliper. While the caliber-specific Lee cutting tools automatically trim the case to the correct length, you’ll still want a set of calipers to measure overall case length when you seat a bullet.
Let’s take a quick tour of the process using the included gear.
The press itself is light but plenty sturdy for sizing rifle cases. After mounting it to a bench using three bolts, the first thing I did was assemble 100 rounds of .308 Winchester. Even during the resizing step, which requires a bit of force, the press worked fine. One thing I did notice was that this press wouldn’t “cam over” when it reaches the end of its travel. Instead, the lever comes to a hard stop. For this reason, you need to pay attention to make sure you complete each stroke to a full stop at the very end.
The powder scale is a classic beam style with what feels like an aluminum base. Most of the beam itself is plastic. A steel ball drops into a series of pockets to measure the ten-grain increments while a plastic slide sets single and tenths grains. I compared accuracy with a higher end digital scale I have, and it was perfectly acceptable.
The powder dispenser is also mostly plastic. Using a couple of screws, you can mount it to a small board if you need it to be portable or directly to a bench. While the whole assembly feels very lightweight, it did an admirable job of dispensing consistent charge weights. Just don’t rush or abuse it and you’ll be fine.
As mentioned earlier the kit includes two case trimming tools. I would bypass the hand tool and just get trim dies for the Quick Trim tool. This nifty little hand crank attaches to the press and will allow you to trim a lot more cases in a lot less time.
The small chamfer tool does a serviceable job on the inside of case mouths. The documentation says that you can also use it to remove the crimp from primer pockets in a jam. I tried this with many of the .308 cases I reloaded, and you can do it, but it’s not something you’ll want to use for high volume. That’s OK, the whole experiment here is whether you can really reload decent ammunition with nothing more than the Lee Breech Lock Challenger Kit. You can, but if you are going to do volume then upgrade the primer pocket tool.
I made two different batches of ammo with the Lee kit. First I loaded a pile of .308 using once-fired brass and Midsouth’s Match Monster Bullets. These are 168-grain open tip projectiles. The open tip is a manufacturing carry over – these bullets aren’t intended to expand, they’re just supposed to fly straight and impact where you expect them to.
I also loaded a batch of .223 Remington again using once-fired brass. For these, I checked out Midsouth’s Varmint Nightmare bullets. These affordable packs are a new offering from the folks at Midsouth. They buy mass quantities of bullets from name brand manufacturers to get a cheap bulk package price. Then they divide the lot into smaller quantities so you and I can buy rational quantities but still at good prices. This particular bullet is a jacketed soft point with a flat base.
To finish the complete reloading cycle, I scheduled a range day to shoot up all my new reloads. For the .308 I used a Windham Weaponry R20FFTM-308 that I have in for an upcoming review. I set up targets at 100 yards and fired five-shot groups. There are a million variables that can impact accuracy, so I’m not making any outrageous claims here. I just wanted to see if I could load reasonably consistent ammunition with this low-cost kit. The result? Averaging my five-shot groups, I ended up with a group diameter of 1.88 inches.
For the .223 I used the Armalite M-15 LTC that we recently reviewed here. I chose this one because the rifle proved itself to be exceptionally accurate. With my Midsouth Varmint Nightmare Softpoint reloads I also measured five-shot groups fired at 100 yards. The result was an average of 1.63 inches.
Let’s be clear. This is a low-cost entry-level reloading kit, so it’s not going to be built like components costing three times more. While the parts are light and may not stand up to hard use for the next century, it’ll get the job done. I view the purpose of this package as getting you started. Over time, you always have the option to upgrade various components if you like.
MIDSOUTH SHOOTERS’ GUNSAMERICA GIVEAWAY
Midsouth Shooters is a great resource for products like the above pieces at great prices. The company is offering you the chance to win one of the items covered in this and future GunsAmerica articles on Midsouth’s products. Just click the link, and gain tons of entries right up until the giveaway scheduled for 11-23-16. In addition, you can receive a free copy of the 240-page Reloading and Shooting Supply catalog from Midsouth Shooters! For more than 45 years, Midsouth Shooters has provided reloaders and shooters top-quality supplies and great prices. Click on the link and sign up to receive your free copy. See why so many shooters across the country shop at Midsouth Shooters.
To enter the Midsouth Shooters’ GunsAmerica Giveaway contest, click this link: