If you’re anything like me, you’ll look for ways to save some money on you’re shooting hobbies so you can do more of it, more of the time. One thing that I’ve done to save some dough for years now is reloading. I’ve been reloading centerfire cartridges since about 1990 and shotgun for the last 2 years. I had decided to reload shot shells when I started really getting into skeet and sporting clays, burning through 200 to 300 rounds per week. Even with the Kmart 100 round specials, it really starts to add up. Just as important as the cost savings is that fact you can work up lighter loads for your shotgun sport of choice, saving your shoulder in the process. So, once I decided to pull the trigger on shotgun reloading gear, I set to work doing some research online to see what I needed and what I wanted to get.
If you’re setting out to look for reloading equipment yourself, you’re basically going to find reloaders from Hornady, RCBS, MEC, Dillion, Lee and Spolar. They vary from single-stage reloaders, to progressive reloaders. The single stage is one that you have to move a single shell from station to station until it is finished before loading another shell. Progressive presses allow you to load multiple shells, with each being at a different station, and also a different stage of the reloading process, thus being able to load multiple shells at once. That’s really the major difference in single stage versus progressive presses. Obviously you can knock out shells faster with a progressive, but the cost of entry for a progressive press is much higher. When I went on my search 2 years ago, I really had a limited budget and wanted to get started reloading as soon as possible, leaving me without many choices. It didn’t take very long online before I ran into the Lee Load-All II.
The Reloading Press: Lee Load-All II
What hit me first was the price of the Lee….about $60…wait, that can’t be right?….how can they?…..it must be a piece of….Really? Yes, seriously… do the search on Google shopper. It’s about $60 including shipping. The price certainly had me. As for reviews on various blogs, I got the typical split you’ll find on almost anything of lovers and haters of the Load-All II. From there, it got simple for me….spend $60, and if I hate it, the worst thing that would happen is that I’d loose some money selling it on eBay. It couldn’t be all that bad. So I bought one.
The loader arrives in a cardboard box, disassembled, with everything you need to start reloading shortof, lead, hulls, wads and powder. The base, and upper parts of the unit are plastic with a metal u-shaped handle, metal rods that connect the handle and upper unit to the base, and a metal square shaft and spring, that the upper section slides up and down on to perform the various operations of the reloading sequence. It also comes with a metal shell resizing ring, which has to be manually placed on the shell. The powder and lead bushings are plastic. Lee provides a table to match the powder bushings to the type and charge of powder you’re going to use. So, I bought the Lee for 12 gauge. I then bought the conversion kit to reload 20 gauge, which can be had for about $26 online including shipping. One other “add on” I purchased was the primer feeder. This is the one piece I haven’t had success with. I primarily use Remington primers and I couldn’t get them to feed consistently. The primers would get stuck in the shoot on the way to the primer arm, and this was happening regularly. So, I can’t recommend the primer feeder.
Reloading with the Lee Load-All II
All in all, reloading with the Load-All is simple…it’s not fast, but it’s simple. With that, here’s my first gripe…the smallest shot bushing is for 7/8 ounces of shot. I use 3/4 ounces in both my 12 gauge (yes, 3/4 ounce loads in a 12….and it patterns like a 7/8 ounce load) and 20 gauge for skeet. If your not in the market for 3/4 ounce loads, it won’t be an issue for you. I resolved it by making my own bushing. I bought two pieces of PVC pipe, one that would fit snugly into the other, with the larger of the two roughly the same size of the bushing seat on the reloader. I then cut the larger PVC to length and sanded the exterior until it fit into the bushing seat. I then tested the load with that. For the pipe I used, it dropped too much lead, so I cut the smaller diameter PVC to about half of the length of the larger piece that I had already fitted in the press. Then I pushed that into the fitted, larger piece. I then tested it by butting it in the press and dropping lead and weighing it. It was still dropping too much lead, so I needed to make the smaller diameter PVC shorter. I hammered it out with a wooden dowel and cut it again, repeating the test, weigh, dowel, cut etc. until I got the lead drop to 3/4 oz.
The other gripe I have is crimping. I use Remington hulls for 20 and 12 gauge, and for both I’ve found that I have to hold down on the final crimp for about 5 seconds for a secure crimp. The other thing I’ve found is that you get more consistent starting crimps if you make sure that the shell is aligned with the crimp fingers which are internal to the upper part of the press known as the die. If you buy a Lee Load-All II or are using one now, pay attention to that. Once you find the position that works best stick with it, and you’re pre-crimping will be consistent without having any bent hulls or improper crimps.
To start reloading, you obviously have to put in the proper shot bushing and powder bushing. Use the Lee powder table for reference on what powder bushing to use. Now, load your powder. Don’t load your shot yet as you may need to change bushings if you’re not getting the correct weight of powder to drop. Once you get the powder right, add your lead and test one of the lead drops to make sure it functioning properly and dropping the right weight. Here’s another tip: As the powder and are housed in the same unit (the’re divided, but one part of the upper), you need to cover one or the other if your changing shot size or the type of powder you’re using, just get a piece of cardboard or a small piece of thin wood to cover one side while you’re emptying the other. All you have to do is remove the top part of the press from the rest of the unit. It will pull off when you stretch the handle off of the two pins that hold the top down.
Now, you have your powder and shot straightened out, so it’s time to reload. I’ve set up a quick demo to show you what reloading is like with the Lee Load-All.
The Final Word – The Lee Load-All II
Since my purchase of the Lee Load-All II, I’ve also acquired an MEC Grabber. When I go out to the range, I’m at least going through four rounds of skeet, which means my minimum shell count per session is 100. Times that by a few rounds per week, and you have 200 – 300 shells per week. I don’t have enough time to spend reloading shells on a single stage given the amount of shooting I do, so I bought a progressive. Does the Lee Load-All II work? Yes….Does it work well? Yes, for me it does. I use it to reload hunting rounds and skeet rounds for my 20 gauge, which I don’t shoot too often. Hunting rounds is where this press shines. You can swap powder and/or lead in lead in less than 5 minutes, when you have a load worked out and know what bushings to use. You can also swap gauges, with the gauge conversion kits, and have you’re new load ready to run in under 10 minutes. I’ve spent the most set-up time just getting the right powder bushing for my load. Everything else is a matter of a few screws and putting on the conversion die carrier, wad guide and shell holder for the final crimp. This press is the easiest to convert gauges with out of any single stage that I know of, and at $26 per gauge, you can be turning out 12, 16 and 20 gauge shells in no time. All this considered, I would recommend the Lee Load-All II for those not looking to mass produce ammo, or for the serious reloader that would like an easy solution to work up new test loads or who uses their progressive presses for skeet, trap or clays and would like something to work up hunting loads. For $60, you can have a reloading solution in you choice of gauge ready to go after about 30 minutes of receiving it. It’s not too shabby a proposition.