Precision From Redding Reloading

Redding’s Benchrest roots bring handloaders accuracy and glitch-free performance on hunts and at long range.

Precision From Redding Reloading

Redding-Hunter Corp. began life in a chicken coup, where shortly after the end of WWII, Burr Bement designed and produced a powder scale for handloaders. It remained obscure for some time, even after it had grown into a bona fide business 10 minutes away, in Cortland, New York. Richard Beebe, a bright young engineer, had grown up in the area. Beebe was balancing a career and a Benchrest shooting habit in Rochester when he decided to move closer to home. Employed just a few miles from Bement’s shop, he was unaware of it until a colleague mentioned it. A visit inspired Beebe to go back to Rochester and work two jobs to raise cash for a down payment. Two years later, in 1974, he bought the business.

I found the Redding digs soon thereafter and met Richard Beebe. The 6.5 Redding — a .308 hull necked down with a 30-degree shoulder — was the first wildcat to earn a die set for my $15 Herter’s press. In a rising tide of 6.5s, it’s still one of my favorites. I soon barreled a Remington 78 to .270 Redding.

Beebe attended the first SHOT show in 1978, and Redding hasn’t missed one since. The company is now represented at SHOT by Executive VP Robin Sharpless. An industry veteran, Sharpless had moved from New Jersey to a New York farm when Beebe phoned him to discuss ways Redding might grow. “I was just 22 miles away,” he recalled.

Hired in the wake of that meeting, and now 14 years in with the company, Sharpless has watched it prosper. “We don’t attend the IWA Show to market in Europe, but we have many customers there, and in far-flung countries, Africa to New Zealand,” he said. “We mind what shooters are doing, as well as what they’re buying, so we’re always innovating and have consistently nudged our product line in the right direction. We’re nimble enough to profit from fast market swings.”

Assembling cartridges at home dates to blackpowder days, but the handloading industry didn’t get its legs until after WWII. Initially, shooters loaded smokeless cartridges to save money on hunting ammo, feed a wildcatting habit or shrink Benchrest groups. In 1959, four years before Federal Cartridge began operations, and five before Hornady offered its bullets in Frontier loads, Shooter’s Bible listed 272 rifle loads for 30 cartridges by Dominion, Remington and Winchester. By recent count, Hornady alone lists 245 loads for 94 rounds!

In my youth, handloading was mostly done one cartridge at a time for bolt-action rifles. In fact, handloads were discouraged in levers, pumps and autoloaders, as they lacked the strength and camming power of popular twin-lug bolt-actions. Dirty cartridges, or those slightly out of dimension, could hamper feeding. Frisky handloads might stick cases in chambers.

Then bolt-action service rifles were replaced by autos. The M1 Garand of 1936 was our first, but its stellar performance in the hands of U.S. troops during WWII and its later National Match credentials did little to make this rifle popular with hunters. The M14 in .308 (7.62x51 NATO) was a superb infantry arm, too, but had a short run before giving way to the M16 in .223 (5.56x45 NATO ) during the ’60s. ARs have since become MSRs — modern sporting rifles. Cartridges like the 6.5 Grendel and Hornady’s 6mm ARC extend their reach. Who would have thought a rifle disparaged as Mattel in the ’60s would be 1,000-yard capable now? In a wide range of chamberings and configurations, it still has tactical appeal.

Meanwhile, pistol shooters fueled a new market in bench hardware that spewed loaded rounds at near-factory rates, feeding autoloaders that might cycle hundreds of cartridges in a weekend match.

Already shedding its niche label as a shop for Benchrest and bull’s-eye competitors, Redding was quick to recognize the surging interest in AR-15s and similar arms in uniform. At the same time, it was courting hunters who used rifles and cartridges that would never have appeared at a match.

“Top-flight competitors still comprise a big slice of our customer base,” Sharpless said. “But the line between target shooters and hunters has blurred. Hunters have become enamored of long-range plate shooting and aware of details that affect accurate reach. The role of uniform, precisely loaded ammunition at long range is hard to overstate. Redding was in that space early, and we’ve built on our background.”

Now 65, Sharpless remembers when hunters wore plaid, not camo. “I got my first hunting license at age 10, with a Stevens .410,” he recalled. “Some top-selling cartridges now weren’t available then, or even by the end of the 20th century!”

The 6.5 Creedmoor is one example. Introduced in 2009, it boasts light recoil, flat flight, accurate factory loads. Any short-action rifle could be chambered to it, and soon, most were. In Ruger’s RPR and other affordable rifles developed for distance, it has helped shooters of ordinary means and ability whack steel at four-figure yardage. “We now sell about as many 6.5 Creedmoor die sets as .223s,” Robin said    

Target shooting has come to include PRS and F-Class rifle events, and other extreme-range tests. Redding supplies out-yonder enthusiasts with die sets that ensure precise sizing and on-axis seating, also seating depth adjustment to .001. That seater won’t permit a crimp, but as Robin pointed out, long-range bullets lack cannelures. “Besides, in most bottle-neck rifle hulls, crimping isn’t necessary to prevent bullet creep. And it’s one more variable in loading procedure. For best accuracy, your task is to limit variables. Competitors craving a crimp use our taper-crimp dies. They’re standard in National Match three-die sets,” he said.

He added that target shooting at “normal” ranges has evolved, too. New games draw competitors who want more action and a faster pace than what’s offered in bull’s-eye events. Tuned for competition, tactical rifles and pistols resemble their forebears only in profile. “Match-ready ARs nip groups we once thought possible only with bolt rifles! Competitors insist on ammo that taps this accuracy and, of course, cycles without fault in rapid-fire stages. They’ll buy top-shelf handloading tools and components. Without both, they’re not competitive.”

While match rules and venues have changed, Sharpless insisted shooters are every bit as serious as champions on yesteryear’s bull’s-eye circuits. “And they mind details. They have a wealth of ballistic data in their smartphones. They consider barometric pressure and spin drift — variables even ace marksmen didn’t consider a few decades ago. Also cartridge specs. Our newest product is a slant-bed concentricity gauge. It assists handloaders chasing incrementally better accuracy, but also law officers and soldiers and other shooters using factory loads. The gauge can help cull ammo that’s slightly out of spec.”

According to Sharpless, Redding serves two main groups: reloaders and handloaders. Reloaders, he suggests, are young shooters who wish to save money on ammunition. Handloaders are older, veteran shooters for whom performance trumps cost. “Those working definitions are pretty rough,” he admitted. “But we’ve had encouraging results designing products with them in mind.”

Assembling ammunition at home, Robin said, can help any shooter economize, tap a cartridge’s ballistic zip and match a load to a firearm for best accuracy. “It can also add components — mostly bullets — unavailable in factory loads. And it’s fun!” he said.

For shooters with disparate needs, Redding offers die sets in three categories: Standard, Premium and Competition. Premium sets have standard sizing dies but carbide expander buttons and micrometer seating stems. “They’re popular with reloaders and handloaders,” Sharpless told me. “They offer a useful combination of features, with a substantial cost savings over Competition sets.”

Brisk demand for self-defense pistols by first-time gun-owners has brought Redding many new customers. “Our top-selling handgun die sets are, predictably, for the .45 ACP and 9mm,” Robin said, “but we also ship many for the .40 S&W, less common on competitive circuits. We reason that most .40s are in LE holsters and at bedsides.”

Dies for straight-wall pistol cartridges and for rifle rounds the likes of Winchester’s .350 Legend (suitable for AR-15s and now legal for deer hunting in some areas once limited to shotguns) come in sets of three. Robin explained: “A sizing die squeezes a bottleneck case after the expander button has slipped through the neck. The return stroke brings the button up through the sized neck to give it proper inside diameter. A ‘straight’ case won’t accept a mouth-size expander deep inside. So one die in a three-die set flares the mouth from the front. A Redding die shapes the case in several ways during one cycle. It puts a radius on the case mouth; its parallel section expands the brass; and unlike dies that only bell the mouth, it can be adjusted to leave a taper where you want the bu­llet’s heel.”

What about crimping? “A roll crimp,” said Sharpless, “holds the bullet against forceful feeding and the jar of recoil, but requires the bullet have a crimp groove or cannelure. Taper crimp, applied when seating or by a separate die, can be used on un-cannelured bullets. Straight cases that headspace on the case mouth must not be roll-crimped.”

I’ve found Redding hardware easy to use. “Even our sophisticated tools are handloader-friendly,” Robin nodded. “Our future depends on it!”

COVID-caused economic tremors didn’t shake demand for Redding products. “In fact,” Sharpless told me, “our business grew faster! At one point, we had a 22-week backlog on orders. The wait is now shorter; but factory ammunition is still in short supply, and expensive. Handloading remains attractive to any shooter who needs ammo.”

The Redding factory has grown by 40 percent during Robin’s tenure. “We have a bigger payroll, and we’ve recently added a great deal to our CNC capacity.” He sees a bright future for Redding-Hunter Corp. (It’s still registered as such, though mostly goes by Redding Reloading). He credits Richard Beebe, who is still engineering new Redding products at age 81. “We refine as well as design. And we’re in a business that’s shown steady growth through difficult economic times and political headwinds. Optimism has the upper hand at Redding!”                                                                                                             


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