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Reloading in Canada

Copyright 2020 - Stephen Redgwell

I reloaded my first cartridges in the mid 1970s. I didn't realize that my interest would increase to what it is today. I now have two rooms, five reloading presses, three bullet making presses, dozens of dies and piles of accessories. I credit a high school buddy with introducing me to the hobby. He came over to the house one afternoon long ago, and we made cartridges at the kitchen table.
There wasn't much stuff available back then. As much as we fuss about shortages in Canada today, it used to be worse. Sometimes, when I'm talking with friends or people at the club, I refer to my beginnings as the "dim times". There were more gun shops in the 1970s, but most were small, and they specialized. Some dealt with shotguns. Others were basically hock shops, selling used firearms and precious little else. Then there were those gems that stocked a lot of components, tools and accessories for reloaders...but they were the exception, not the rule.


A couple of long time businesses operated retail stores and offered mail order sales. Epps Sporting Goods, started in the 1930s in Clinton, ON, by a former motorcycle and bicycle repairman, Ellwood Epps. At one point he had three stores open – his original Clinton shop, another in Orillia and a third in North Bay. In the late 1970s though, he closed two of them, keeping only the Orillia store open. It still operates today, albeit it with new owners. Ellwood passed away in 2002.

Then there was SIR, which was short for Sidney I Robinson, the founder. that opened in Winnipeg in 1924. He had a retail store and started up mail orders as well. Most Canadians will remember their small, 51/2 by 8 catalogue. I kept a copy in my shooting bag. SIR was bought out by Cabelas in 2007. It wasn’t a hostile takeover, but many Canadians were upset that a big US company was going to own a Canadian icon.


It was the mail order department of these and other businesses where I spent a lot of dollars. But I wasn’t the only one. For many hunters and competitive shooters, the only way to get presses, dies, components and other things was to mail order them. The Internet and online shopping were years away.

If you're unfamiliar with the old fashioned method of mail ordering, here's a brief description. Paper catalogues were mailed out once or twice a year. Everyone waited impatiently for them to arrive. You pored over every page, looking for new products or things to put on your wish list. It was like Christmas, dreaming about the stuff that you wanted, but usually couldn't afford. If there was some extra money, you filled out the order form in the back, put a cheque or money order into an envelope, and mailed everything off.

Waiting for your stuff to arrive could be onerous. It took a week or so for your letter to reach their mail order department. Another week or two for the order to be filled. And finally, a week to ten days to get your stuff. Four to six weeks was the norm. And the wait could be longer in the early spring and late summer/early fall.

For reloaders who were lucky enough to live near a shop that carried the things they needed, there was often a wait too. Your favourite bullet or powder might be out of stock, or what you were after was a special order item. My first Rock Chucker took almost three months to arrive.

Things moved slower then, but times changed.

Progress Ain't Always Pretty

Before 1980, hunting and target shooting weren't really on the radar in Canada. To borrow from former US President George Bush, it was a kinder, gentler time. The public wasn't as fearful of firearms. There weren't many special interest groups attempting to paint firearms and their owners as evil. The government wasn't attempting to mine votes from urban Canadians – where those votes were concentrated – by creating more, and stricter legislation. The media didn't bombard the public with skewed or downright inaccurate information. In short, fewer people and institutions worked to generate irrational fears about hunting and shooting.

I do not remember anyone who looked at us with fear or suspicion. We went hunting in the fall with no problems. Trap and skeet shooters spent many pleasant afternoons busting clays. Many of us thinned the groundhog population in the neighbour’s oat fields. Army cadets took their rifles on a bus, or carried their rifles, uncased, through the local high schools. It's hard to believe now, but some of these institutions had rifle ranges in their basements.

After WWII, more people moved to the city. As a result, a fractured way of thinking has evolved. Hunting, and meat consumption generally, came under attack. Movies and television, intentionally or not, programmed many boomer kids about the horrors of guns. An increasing divide between city and country folk developed. That was sad.

These changes affected everyone in the shooting sports. When I started, you walked into the gun shop, shot the breeze with the clerk and got what you needed. Bullets, powder and primers weren't hidden behind the counter. Loaded ammunition wasn't either. Hardware stores carried a small selection of the most popular cartridges, a few rifles, targets and some hunting accessories. Canadian Tire had a much better sporting goods section.

There were no government issued identity cards for rifle or ammunition purchases. No one had to carry what you bought to the cashier in a lock bag.

Hiding stuff and locking things up came about slowly. Many of us didn't notice it at first.

Is Reloading Still Worth the Bother?

Absolutely. Despite what the ammunition companies tell you, handloads will shoot tighter than anything they offer. Factory cartridges are a “one size fits all” product. Handloaded ammunition however, will be tailored to exactly what your handgun or rifle needs to perform its best.

When I discovered reloading, it was like a whole new world had opened up for me. Being able to tailor loads made my old military surplus rifle more accurate. Groups shrunk from three or four inches, down to 2 inches. I discovered that the stories about old 303s being inaccurate weren't necessarily true.

What are some other reasons to handload? It’s not always easy to find ammunition for your rifle. As a general rule, 30-06, 308, 223, and a few others are usually available. The field begins to thin should you need magnum cartridges or some of the older fodder like 303 British, 303 Savage, 250 Savage, 257 Roberts or 25-06. Certainly, the list is longer than this.
There is also the satisfaction of doing it yourself. Tinkering with powder levels, trying different primers and using new bullets is great fun, and truly satisfying. Chase that bughole! Loading the cartridges that take a whitetail or a coyote still give me the warm fuzzies.

With the Internet, we have access to more sellers of equipment and components. We can look around and source things that previously were difficult or impossible to get. We can price shop to find the best bargains and the fastest delivery. And although I look back with fondness at my old catalogue days, I don’t think that I would part with my laptop when I’m searching for a bullet or powder that I want to try.

Since I started, no one was ever distressed over what I was doing. My family and non-shooting friends never condemned my activities. The police never banged on my door. I have never experienced any negatives. Reloading taught me patience and I enjoyed experimenting.

It has always been a fascinating hobby.