Looking for Proficiency?

In the spring of 2001 I attended an excellent shooting course conducted by the 19th Special Forces Group in the Utah National Guard.  It was 15 days of intense shooting with the best possible curriculum and instructors. I learned a lot but the one lesson I most remember about the course wasn’t part of the curriculum. 

At one stage we were required to place 15 rounds in a 10” circle at 15 meters with the M9 Beretta.  Due to unlimited ammo and excellent coaching, we were all able to accomplish this difficult task, however, during this exercise I noticed that a select few had groups within 4”.  I questioned each of them and learned that they all had at least one of two things in common. They either worked for a police department that offered unlimited ammo or they were reloaders.  It was obvious that more ammo was essential to improve proficiency and since I had no desire to become a police officer, my choice was to start reloading my own ammunition.

Almost every reloader I spoke with told me that they started with a single-stage press before advancing to a multi-stage press and recommended everyone else start the same way.  I have never been one to follow the crowd or do things just because it’s the way it’s always been done so I decided to skip the first expense and buy what I would eventually need to produce the  quantity of ammo I would need to increase my proficiency. I started researching progressive presses.

My next question was about quality.  While quality in pistol ammo may be negligible under most circumstances, it’s essential in distance rifle shooting and I needed to do quite a bit of that.  During my search I spoke with a teammate with plenty of shooting and reloading experience. Walt told me about an experience he had while participating in Sniper competitions.  For one event he could not locate enough of his preferred commercial ammunition to compete. Since he had a Dillon 550B that he used to load practice ammo he called them and asked what he needed to do to ensure enough consistency to produce match grade ammo.  Their answer was, “Nothing. The 550B was designed to generate the consistency needed to produce match grade ammo all the time.” Walt told me he loaded what he needed and had one of his best performances.

So, I bought a Dillon 550B and the components necessary to load my first 100 rounds.  Skipping the single-stage press step increased my learning curve slightly because I had to learn all the stages at once but – in hindsight – nothing says you can’t perform single-stage operations with a multi-stage press.  Yes, I made mistakes because I didn’t have a local mentor. I just studied enough to ensure that my mistakes wouldn’t be fatal or catastrophic. I still figured that the machine paid for itself by the end of the first year based on the number of rounds I produced with it and what they would have cost me at retail.  Then again, we reloaders like to say, reloading doesn’t save you any money; it just lets you shoot more.

In summary, no, Dillon has never offered me or even asked for me to promote their products but I now have a Dillon 1050 that stands next to my 550B. I have long since lost count of how many rounds I’ve loaded over the years but I’m certain it’s measured in hundreds of thousands.  Meanwhile, reloading has allowed me to turn some excellent training into excellent proficiency.