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Wildcatting:Perfection is Possible!

When it comes to the matter of making the best reloads for your rifle, it is likely to divide shooters’ opinions, or at very least engage in a heated debate on what’s best. Trouble is, nothing is, only the kit you use at the time becomes the best to concoct that magic load that out-shoots the best factory load for your rifle. That’s the art of reloading in a nutshell, the ability to achieve a superior product for your rifle when compared to over the counter offerings, and what makes us hand loaders go a little bit insane, striving for the ultimate cartridge.

Step up

We all have preferences whether that is brand loyalty or just something that has always worked in the past. Don’t be scared to try something different and maybe step up the game for not that much extra money for a damn good gain. I love reloading and to me all the intricate permutations of bullet, Perfection isPossible! Bruce Potts considers the use of hand or standard dies for precision reloading and Wildcat cartridges powder, primer, case, seating depth etc, make for a good afternoon’s exercise, instead of watching the TV.

The choice of reloading dies to produce your own ammunition is the first and probably most important point to explore when first attempting hand loading. The industry standard, 7/8x14 TPI die is the most obvious choice, as it will fit all standard reloading presses offering this form, or an adaptor to suit. However, since delving into the world of wildcats, and quasibenchresting, the use of hand dies gives you the freedom to load in the field and perhaps more importantly, hand-load your product for maximum performance and consistency. I use most type of dies, but I really like the way hand dies turn out precision reloads, without being tied to a desk.

What the!

So, what are they compared to the more common, bench-mounted press 7/8x14 TPI variety? The difference between hand and your standard-types is the former have no threaded section around their circumference to fit into a conventional reloading press. Meaning the whole reloading processes; resizing, de-capping, bullet seating or body sizing is done with the die supported using a small arbor press to exert pressure, or simply in your hand.

The hardest part of the process is full-length re-sizing, which is not possible on an arbor press, as it can’t exert a lot of pressure. However, neck sizing only is, which for wildcat-type loads, is better. But their advantage is precise feedback and 100% control, plus they are easy to carry and set up near anywhere!

Hand or screw top?

Hand dies are the domain of serious shooters, who like to have all that feedback and control to their cartridge prep and often reload whilst out in the field. When used with an arbor press, they offer greater flexibility and allow de-priming, neck sizing and bullet seater ad hoc whilst out shooting. I use them frequently because I set up a loading table when out long-range varminting or testing new wildcats. Here, I can load on site a small quantity at a time, to ascertain the accuracy or velocity, which negates the problem of loading at home then travelling to the shoot, only to find the 100 rounds you made did not do the job! I use both hand and standard (screw-in) dies and are capable of producing superbly accurate cartridges. The standards (7/8x14 screw-ins) are widely used and if choosing a full length set, which allow full-length case re-sizing back to its original dimensions, allows smooth functioning. So, for rifles requiring a full length die, then threaded is the way to go.

By far the most common dies are those that thread directly into the top of the reloading press via a 7/8-14 thread pitch. RCBS, Hornady, Redding, Lyman, Forster and Lee are the most common and offer all the required functions. The sizer/de-capper uses a hardened steel body with a threaded section at the base, a lock ring and de-capping rod with pin and expander ball. This removes the spent primer and resizes the fired case, either full-length or neck-only, dependent on the requirement. The seater has a calibre-specific centre rod that allows precise bullet placement as to depth into the case mouth/neck.


For most custom projects, I would certainly go for a neck bushing die set, which offers different diameter inserts. This is because after having a custom barrel fitted, and possibly one with a tight neck chamber for the calibre, these types of dies only size the neck portion of the case. The remainder of the case is fire-formed to fit the chamber and only a reduction in neck dimension is needed to restore it back to normal and achieve proper neck tension to grip the bullet. You can therefore match the bush to the exact size you require. Most standard dies enlarge the case too much with the expander ball and so some form of adjustment is beneficial.

In my view; hand dies and an arbor press gives me an excellent feel to the job, which is why I use them! They offer a tactile feel to the whole process of reloading and if a case feels sticky or has a loose primer pocket or tight bullet seating, you get direct feedback through the press’s operating handle.

Self sufficient

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By design, an Arbor press is simple and consists of a base with a single, vertical post, which a moveable arm is clamped at any height, pressure is provided by a small, lever-operated ram. Which pushed directly on to the base of the case for de-capping and/or resizing duties or onto the die itself for other chores. In essence, it’s a lever attached to a fixed point. The base supports and takes the load and also provides a flat surface for the hand die to sit, so nothing needs bolting down or screwing in!

It’s very simple but gives a very high degree of feel and therefore precision. You can feel a tight or loose neck, any resistance so you can set that loaded cartridge aside that might cause a flier and if neck-sizing, feel any resistance and stop before ruining the case.


I have a Sinclair arbor press and use Wilson, Neil Jones and Newlon hand dies that offer supreme quality and close tolerance to produce as accurate reloads as you can make. The K and M Arbor press, from 1967Spud or Norman Clark, is also a superb example of the genre that can be customised to take a force measurement attachment and dial gauge to achieve consistent reloads.

For my wildcats, I use blank dies, usually Wilson or Newlon, which are reamed out with the chamber reamer and then a replacement bush section is machined for altering neck dimensions. The seater die has a calibrespecific stem and the addition of a micrometre heads add precise seating depths that are also reproducible. You can also only partially re-size the neck section, as this leaves the bottom portion un-sized. Therefore, the sized portion grips the bullet with the correct neck tension and the rear allows the case to centre in the chamber, again achieving better concentricity to the bore.

Get a grip

Neck tension too is very important, not only for a correct grip on the bullet, so that it does not slip in the case, but also in giving some degree of initial pressure build up behind its base for consistent ignition. Ordinarily, you would have a couple of thou (2/1000”) neck tension exerted; a .243 calibre with tight 0.263” neck chamber. This means 20/1000” touching the chambers sides, so neck turn to 0.261” on a loaded case for 1/1000” a side of clearance. So, when necking down a fired case you need a 0.259” neck bush to give you a 2/1000” neck tension for your 0.261” loaded round.

However, sometimes I like to increase this to 3 or 4/1000” if the rifle is to be rough handled on a trip aboard and so ensure integrity of the cartridge. Also, with sub-sonic rounds I have found, especially with .308 Win and the larger .338 BR, an increased neck tension is beneficial. It allows the small charge of powder, often with a magnum primer, to ignite properly, irrespective of how it lays in the case.


If you are using a smaller calibre, or neck sizing your cases only, then Arbor presses make a lot of sense, as it’s probably possible to make a round that is near perfect for your rifle and task required! Standard dies are still excellent and perfect for re-sizing cases or forming wildcats.


Norman Clark 01788 579651 Gunsmith Reloading supplies, precision reload kit
1967 Spud 01263 739923 Reloading supplies K and M
www.brownells.co.uk Dies, presses, bushes