Thursday, February 14, 2013

Lee Loader Review - How To Do Basic Level Survival Reloading

Lee Loader Review - How To Do Basic Level Survival Reloading

For those that are just getting started with reloading, a “round” of ammunition is composed of the case, typically called “brass” and usually made of reloadable brass, an appropriately sized and powered replaceable centerfire primer, the powder, and the bullet. The whole process of a detonating round is simple; the hammer in the gun hits the firing pin, which hits the primer which detonates a small explosion which ignites the powder. In turn the burning of the powder builds pressure inside the round in the chamber and pushes the bullet down the barrel.

Technically in a survival situation, the only thing required to reload a round is to just knock the primer out of the case, replace with a new primer, add powder, and seat a new projectile however additional steps deliver a higher quality, more accurate and consistent round.  There are various levels of reloading ammunition from very very basic to high volume, all of which do the exact same generally accepted steps of knocking out the primer, resizing the brass case, inserting a new primer, flaring the case to accept a bullet, adding powder, seating a bullet, and crimping the case to finish the round.  To do these steps correctly and safely we typically a recipe for the proper powder and bullet weight. steel forming dies, punches, some rather unique and interesting looking tools dedicated to reloading, and a fair amount of pressure applied via a reloading press.  Obviously someone figured out that you did not need to do one function at a time and the reloading progressive machine was created which mounts all the dies/stations on a turret and then will auto-feed cases, primers, and bullets so that all you need is a strong arm to pull a lever to produce a finished round.

Progressive Reloading machines can deliver a finished round every couple seconds. A single stage press does one function at a time in a more labor intensive, but more controlled fashion at a production rate of around two rounds a minute. In most cases the really super serious target shooters handload with high precision single stage presses for more control. The high volume shooters, as you would guess, favor the faster high volume Progressive reloaders.  The Lee Loader is basically a brilliantly redesigned pocket sized single-stage press which can produce stunningly accurate and consistent rounds, but at a fairly slow pace.

For basic survival level reloading the $30 Lee Loader is the only practical option for a packable pocket sized reloader and is available in a broad array of mainstream calibers. I of course choose my favorite survival caliber of the .38 Special/.357 Magnum to test out the Lee Loader’s abilities as a long-term bug out bag solution should I be driven away from my full sized reloading machines. The Lee Loader is also a cool reloading option for tailgate load development at the range and will allow you to develop just the right powder and projectile recipe; such as two loads I am re-developing with two OOO buckshot balls in a .38 Special case and  three OOO buckshot balls in a .357 case.

I have espoused many times my belief that the .38 Special/.357 Magnum round is “the” ultimate survival cartridge. The main reason is its flexibility. Let’s say in a survival situation, you stumble on a cache of 9mm, .40 S&W, and .380ACP rounds but need .38 Special round. The .38 Special and .357 round can accept any small or magnum handgun primer salvaged from nearly any handgun cartridge and if tested cautiously, can reuse nearly any reclaimed powder. So you can just knock out the primer and harvest the powder from those found rounds. 

At that point all you need is a lightweight Lee mold and you can re-cast any reclaimed lead and you have the ability to complete a round from salvage. No other round offers this flexibility. The flexibility is due to the longer length of the case which gives a lot of options on what powders it can use. Additionally the manual cycling non-semiauto rifles and pistols the round is shot from are not picky about delivering that perfect powerfactor window that will assure perfect cycling of a semi-automatic action. Heck, the size of the case even allows you to power your rounds with black powder packed in if needed. The size of the bullet also is a bit more miserly to cast a bullet vs the next best option of the .44 Magnum.  For these reasons, I wanted to have a .38 Special/.357 Magnum Lee Loader to toss into my SHTF bug out bag to feed my Ruger 77/357, Henry Big Boy, and my revolvers.

Lee has made a name for itself as a quality reloading tool company who delivers big on value. Where many other company’s base reloading progressive reloaders start at over $500-$1000, Lee’s is less than $200. Not only do they offer “the” value option for progressive reloaders, Lee also offers some unique reloading tools that no other manufacturers offer including a hand press and this pocket sized $30 Lee Loader.

From the outside, the Lee Loader is packaged with the looks of any of Lee’s red cased dies, but with everything you need in that little package to knock out the primer, resize the brass case, insert a new primer, flare the case to accept a bullet, add powder, seat a bullet, and crimp the case. It is all there in a durable all steel parkerized and chromed steel tool set which should last a lifetime or two of use.

How the Lee Loader works is a bit brilliant with several double sided tools. A main hard chromed double-ended sizer/crimper, a double sided de-primer/shell holder, combined priming base/flat base\bullet seater, a flaring tool, de-priming punch, priming/knockout rod, and powder scoop. Because the only difference between .38 special and .357 is case length, by just adjusting the bullet seating depth on the bullet seater and taking a little care not to over crimp the longer cased .357 rounds, the .38 Special Lee Loader can be used for both calibers. By combining and flipping the dual sided tools, you can accomplish the entire reloading process with a limited number of dies and tools.

Even though I am an experience reloader, my first round was like working through one of those tortuous story problems from my school days. The perfectly clear step-by-step illustrations helped me understand when to flip this and knock that out and put me into a pace where I could easily load two rounds per minute in a pretty efficient manner. I will agreed 120 rounds an hour is not burning it up, however I would rather have a slow reloading method I can take with me than a high speed reloader back at home. The way I look at it, in a survival situation you have nothing but time, so it will give you something to do.

Here is the process in detail of reloading a round with a Lee Loader.

Of note, making a round is like making a cake. You cannot just toss whatever amount of powder in the case and top it with whatever bullet weight and type you want and expect everything to go well. Most retailers sell what is in essence a recipe books for reloading with tried and tested recipes showing recommended minimum and maximum loads with this specific powder and this or that specific bullet. Disastrous consequences could occur if you just wing it.

I have standardized on a cast 158 grain semi-wadcutter based on a Lee casting mold and Hodgdon Clays powder which I can also use for 9mm, .38 Special and 12 Gauge loads.  There are literally a hundred powders that could be used, however being familiar with the Clays charge for a .38 special round is smart because it represents the lightest grained load of any pistol powder from my research and will give you a starting point for load development with mystery powders. Start at a low power and build up the charges safely. Obviously is a survival situation this testing situation may not be ideal and could potentially create an unsafe environment.

With the insanity that is the current political environment, everyone is now considering reloading and the Lee Loader is actually the lowest cost reloading option to start reloading on any tailgate, stump, rock, or work table. At a paltry $30, I think everyone should have one in each caliber firearm they own.

In the same situation that I would rather have my toolbox of tools versus a Leatherman if I was going to build something, I would rather have a nice big progressive reloading machine for high volume reloading than the Lee Loader. Thought slow, the Lee Loader does give you some great options in a package no other loader can match.

For me, the Lee Loader will see a use as I am goofing around with load development at the range  versus dragging out an entire loading press just to test a couple rounds. The loader will also be used for throwing together a couple extremely low velocity “gallery” rounds when needed for for pest removal around the house all without screwing up all my powder measure settings on my larger reloader. Most importantly with just the addition of a bullet mold and a Leatherman, the Lee Loader gives me the ability to scavenge nearly any pistol round to create round for my gun and that is what I call being prepared.

Lee Loader
Delivers de-priming, resizing the brass case, inserting a new primer, flaring the case to accept a bullet, adding powder, seating a bullet, and crimping the case to finish the round.

- Lee Loader
- Pictorial Instruction Manual
- Recipe card for some basic .38 Special Loads


Buy it at and support

Lee Precision


Unknown said...

While I have all the big loading tools in my gun room, I also have, and use quite often the Lee Loader at the range and as a back up when hunting out of state. One thing which was not mentioned in the blog was the amount of times one can reload a case which is just neck resized. Every caliber is different, so I am not saying you will get the same results, but I loaded my 7 X 57 twenty four times and the case is still good with no splits or lengthening of the case requiring trimming. Those of you who use Encores or New England Arms are probably aware that if you reload the base of the case will not be square after firing. No problem, I mark or always insert in the same orientation, for example if I am using Remington cases, I have the Remington name up so I can read it when I load the gun. Once the case if fire formed I always load it in the gun with the same orientation. Since the Lee Loader only neck resizes and the case is fire formed to the chamber you will get better accuracy out of break open guns than if you had fully resized the cases. One note of caution, You can pick up any type of brass at the range, and expect it to fit your chamber. Try it in your action, but don't force it. Lee Loader, loaded ammo works best in bolt action guns, and or other guns with consistent head space chambering.

Proxpaul said...

I think these kits are great. I wish they had a 300 win mag and some of the short mags.

Unknown said...

Own it in .223 and 30-06. Love everything about the .223. The 30-06 is great for limited quantities on the fly or load development. Had to buy a separated Lee factory crimper for the loads I expected to hit and get bumped around. Great products!

Unknown said...

Own it in .223 and 30-06. Love everything about the .223. The 30-06 is great for limited quantities on the fly or load development. Had to buy a separated Lee factory crimper for the loads I expected to hit and get bumped around. Great products!

Unknown said...

If Lee doesn't make one for 7x57 caliber, can I make one by buying a 7x57 die for any other caliber kit? Or all the dimensions for the other component are also relevant for thet particular caliber?


Unknown said...

You said you wanted this reloaded to use also with your Henry Big Boy.. when shooting a reload did you experience any problems or have any issues.
Our Henry Big Boy is what I am looking to use this with..

Marcus O'Dean said...

Please, please, please make a Lee Loader in 6.5 Creedmoor. I have a full bench mounted setup at home for .17 Hornet, .223 Rem.,6.5CM,.270 Win., .30-06 Sprg and .303 British and I have Lee Loaders for all except the .17 and the 6.5CM. I love all my Lee Gear and especially my Lee Loaders - they produce ammo that has zero runout and it often outshoots the fodder made with my bench mounted gear, which is 90 percent Lee.

Marcus O'Dean
Australian Sporting Shooter Magazine

Unknown said...

I am waiting for a Henry 38-55. Can you whip me up a Lee Loader for my caliber?

Doc said...

It's terrible that there aren't more caliber options. I still hunt with a 73 year old Savage 99 in .300 Savage; this kit would be perfect to take afield. Not even a 7mm Rem Mag available. Someone should do something about that.....

Archangel said...

These are a fantastic idea and I wish they still made them for every caliber I own as some have been discontinued or were never made.
I'd like to see someone remove a live primer from a case without setting it off!
One pound of powder (7000 grains) should load anywhere between 1000 and 2000 pistol rounds depending on the grains of powder needed per round.
And a case of 1000 primers should have the "prepper on the run" going for years.

Unknown said...

As others have mentioned, please make them in more calibers. I know that it is "old technology" but the lee loader is a staple in many of our reloading rooms. I honestly buy as many as I can find in the cartridges that I own. Lee loaders would be very well received in WSM cartridges and also the shotgun kits as well!