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Can You Start Reloading For Less Than $200? A Look at Lee Breech Lock Challenger Kit

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Can this basic Lee Breech Lock Challenger Reloading bundle get you started? Let's find out.

Can this basic Lee Breech Lock Challenger Reloading bundle get you started? Let’s find out.

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

The included press is the main feature. While it didn't have all the features one might desire, it worked fine.

The included press is the main feature. While it didn’t have all the features one might desire, it worked fine.

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.

When you assemble the parts, you have most everything you need to start reloading ammunition.

When you assemble the parts, you have most everything you need to start reloading ammunition.

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.

The hand priming tool included in the kit is excellent.

The hand priming tool included in the kit is excellent.

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.

I first loaded up a batch of .308 ammo using MIdsouth's Match Monster bullets.

I first loaded up a batch of .308 ammo using MIdsouth’s Match Monster bullets.

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.

The net-net…

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.

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{ 7 comments… add one }
  • Roger Smith October 14, 2016, 9:40 pm

    In my late teens after acquiring access to a 41 mag. and my first 100 rounds down range. Reloading was going to be a part of my life as shooting and owning firearms was. My first reloading gear was bought at a garage sale,and was well worn and very much incomplete. Self taught and without someone to oversee my foray into the roll your own with the spent brass that always remained after a shooting session . More and more I read the advertisement about the very low cost Lee gear that was starting to come out and not being blessed with a money tree in the back yard . Bought and exclusively used the new equipment,basically starting with the Lee hand press along with my already owned used garage sale die set. Admiring the quality of the Lee reloading equipment ,as improvement was needed I chose to stay with the Lee brand. Strongly urged by other reloaders to get on board using one of the big name brands, I was liking the quality and cost of Lee and kept with them. At 60 years old and many rounds fired. I am a very devout Lee reloading enthusiast to this day. Loading all calibers of handgun and rifle. Very much enjoying the art of reloading,be it for my 38 special to my very hungry Mac 45 ACP full auto. I feel as though I’ve grown with Lee Precision,as new products were introduced I purchased them and learned to use them and am very proud when asked, that I used and would recommend Lee reloading equipment. These days the very affordable kits they offer ,in my opinion ,are a great way to get into reloading ammunition . To save money,become a better shooter,and maybe some day be able to keep having Ammo when it becomes a memory of the past . I’d venture to say that after all the years that have passed, I thought it was shooting my arms that was the fun part,but recently I’ve come to realize that my power to reload my shooting fodder was maybe what I’ve been really enjoying the most. And of course playing with all of Lee’s reloading equipment. Cause you see ,you save so much more money that your able to buy all the new Lee gear,and still come out spending less money than if you’d have bought the so called big brand name equipment .

  • Pete in Arizona October 14, 2016, 3:11 pm

    All Lee equipment is a great value and I use it all the time along with my RCBS, Hornady, etc. I do have one suggestion to add on and that is a digital powder scale. One can be had for about $15 and it sooooooo much easier to use than a beam scale.
    Happy reloading.

  • Buzz October 14, 2016, 1:26 pm

    Good review of Lee equipment. I’ve been using Lee (and Dillon) for over 20 years and their equipment works great and is affordable. Read Richard Lee’s great book to understand his marketing philosophy; his combination of quality and affordability can’t be beat and encourages interested people to try and then stay in reloading. Thanks Lee!

  • Sgt. Pop October 14, 2016, 11:41 am

    This kit is a good one for budget conscious. However, don’t overlook local Gun Shows. I have outfitted both my sons for reloading this way. Last show I set up with, I picked up a NIB Rock Chucker, complete with everything needed with one 9mm die, large tumbler, bullets, new brass etc., as we were all loading up Sunday evening. Neighbor table pulled a tote (large plastic storage box) from under his table where he stored stuff he didn’t have room for on his tables, and had forgot he brought. Said he got it couple years ago, has to move to smaller home now and never used it. Exclaimed he didn’t want to haul it back home again, and to make an offer, I did, $200, and a week or so later used Midway catalogue to calculate how much it all was worth so I could sell it at the next show myself, and it figured out at $425. I had previously picked up my sons rigs by noticing them under the show tables where they were sitting out of the way to add to the table as other things sold, so don’t forget to gaze under the tables now and then at gun shows.

  • BJG October 14, 2016, 9:14 am

    Back in the Mid 1970’s I got an RCBS Rock Chucker and a set of “06” dies for $35.00 How things have changed.

  • BJG October 14, 2016, 9:12 am

    Back in the mid 1970’s I bought a RCBS Rock Chucker and a set of “06” dies for $35.00 How things have changed.

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