Tips to Optimize Progressive Rifle Loading

If you’ve loaded rifle ammunition with a single-stage, you know just how long this process can take. Separate sizing, priming, charging (sometimes weighing each load), seating, and crimping can really take a long time. In some cases, this extra time and effort is worth it (long-range competition shooting for example). It’s also possible to crank out highly accurate ammunition in a hurry on a progressive press. I do a lot of this kind of “precision rifle loading” on my progressives. While this is a great way to load, you also need to keep some things in mind to ensure you get the workflow and results you want. Let’s examine some of these considerations!

308 Winchester ammunition loaded on a Hornady Lock-N-Load AP 5-station progressive reloading press: FAST!
308 Winchester ammunition (7.62x51mm military) loaded on a Hornady Lock-N-Load AP 5-station progressive reloading press: FAST!

Proper Brass Prep

Just like a good paint job requires good prep work, great rifle ammunition requires good brass prep. In order to make sure your rifle loading goes smoothly, make sure to perform the following brass prep steps:

  1. Clean the brass (tumble, ultrasonic, etc)
  2. Inspect brass for cracks, deep dents, etc
  3. For military brass: de-prime, ream/swage primer pockets, size with small-base sizer die (small base usually optional)
  4. Measure brass length- if too long, size and then trim
  5. Final inspection before loading

Cleaning primer pockets may be something you’ll consider (I don’t clean primer pockets except for rare cases or match ammo).

High-Performance Lube

If you are full-length sizing you’ll want to ensure that you use a high-performance lube like Imperial Sizing Wax. That will make your sizing smooth, reduce effort, and also minimize the risk of a stuck case. Pre-sizing on a single-stage or turret press can also make progressive loading more pleasurable (you can then omit the sizing die on your press).

The Right Press and Press Setup

Rifle reloading can involve more force and stress compared to pistol loading due to the large contact area in sizing dies. Rifle loading is typically more precision oriented as well. For these reasons, look for a heavy duty well-built press that will stand up to rifle loading. You’ll also want to make sure your powder measure will have the proper capacity (~25 grains for .223, ~50 grains for 308).

Finally, figure out how you’ll want to load ammunition and what quantities you’ll be loading. If you are bulk reloading, ensure you have enough stations for sizing, charging, powder check, bullet feed, bullet seat, and optionally bullet crimp. Below you can see a Hornady Lock-N-Load AP setup to load 308 Winchester in bulk.

Bullet Seating Die

Want accurate rifle ammunition? One important consideration is bullet concentricity. In order to minimize bullet runout, look for dies that ensure concentric bullet alignment. The Hornady rifle seating die and the Redding competition seating dies offer great bullet alignment and concentricity due to the sliding collar design (bullet stays aligned while cartridge travels upward). These dies also make tipped bullets a thing of the past!

Smooth and Steady Pace

Since you’re loading rifle ammunition on a progressive, you’re already saving a load of time, so there’s no need to rush things! Attention to detail is super-important for safety and for good results. Always keep an eye on powder level (goes down FAST) and what’s happening at each station. It’s a lot of fun to see rifle ammunition pile up in the completed cartridge bin.

So there you have it, a few basic considerations for productive and accurate rifle ammunition loading. Have fun with it!

Here are some additional resources on Ultimate Reloader:

AR-MPR- RCBS Rifle Bullet Feeder Overview

AR-MPR- RCBS Rifle Bullet Feeder Overview Part II

AR-MPR – RCBS Rifle Bullet Feeder on Pro-2000 Loading 223

AR-MPR – Hornady Lock-N-Load AP Loading 223

RCBS Rifle Bullet Feeder on RCBS Pro-2000 – Some Notes

AR-308 – RCBS Pro-2000 and 30 cal RCBS Rifle Bullet Feeder

AR-308 – Loading 308 with the Hornady Lock-N-Load AP


Have a tip to share? Please leave a comment!


9 thoughts on “Tips to Optimize Progressive Rifle Loading”

  1. Hey,

    Just wondering if you could do a spot on reloading 9mm. I’ve just started reloading it, and I have noticed when I seat the bullet the bullet bulges the case out. I tried turning the sizing die out out then the finished product won’t fit in the case gauge. So I’m wondering if you have any tips on reloading 9mm.

    Troy from Nova Scotia, canada

    1. Go online and order a Lee Carbide Factory Crimp Die….this die will iron out the finished round and crimp it at the same time. If you look at facory rounds…there always is some noticable bullet bulging on these factroy round though sometimes it is slight. I run through thousands of rounds of 9mm and 40 S&W….it is very rare that I experience a failure to feed round.

      The finished ammo when ran thru the Lee die looks…well…finished. Sometines it is better to just order the Lee Precision Deluxe Four Die Pistol Dies money wise though the price of the single die is very very reasonable.

      Hsve fun with reloading….it is a hobby but is enjoyable.

      1. I use the Lee Factory Crimp Die for all of my pistol and rifle reloading and they are great. I prefer to crimp after seating so there is no risk of crimping while the bullet is still seating. As a note, I was having trouble with my .40 S&W hanging up after a few rounds and the chamber became dirty. I tend to crimp as light as I can to minimize working the brass and the hangup turned out to be under crimping. Giving a little more solved the problem.

  2. I see you have made some more up grades to your bench. I would like to see how and why you have made this up grades, would you do a video on your bench on who and why you made the changes.

  3. new to reloading. but what i dont get is on a progressive press. I have shot my brass do i decap then tumble it.then put in the press and resize it then take it out trim and put it back in the press. I will be loading 308

    1. I normally tumble before sizing. Sometimes I will deprime with a universal decapping die then tumble so I don’t have to scrape the pocket later. My impression of tumbling is to clean the brass to protect the sizing die. The sizing die contacts the case full length and is subject to scratching which will mess it up. A carbide die doesn’t scratch but can carry dirt that will scratch the rest of the cases passed through it.

  4. I do my sizing when I do the rest of the case prep, like trimming, chamfering & de-burring, followed by tumbling. Means station #1 is really only a place holder on my AP press. But I also did the case prep when components were scarce and I still wanted to keep myself busy.

  5. I also are wondering about your reloading bench. I am currently remodelilng mine with a 3/4 & 1/2 sheet of plywood, and will top that off with two layers of 3/4″ maple. I am inletting the heavy duty “T” track on the front edge and setting the second one back the same distance as my Ultramount bolt holes. What I was looking at on your most recent post on the rifle reloading, is the aluminum plate you have your Hornady AP mounted to. How thick is it and what is the width? And do you have a second block under the AP to give a little more height? My bench is currently made for sitting height for reloading, and with the Ultramount will make it a standing bench. Thanks for the info.

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