Skip to main content

Should You Stay Single?

Should You Stay Single?

Deciding the progressive vs. single-stage press question.

Traditionally, shooters — especially competitive shooters who shoot thousands of rounds a year — use progressive presses for the high-volume ammo production advantage, but rifle guys shy away from such presses for their perceived lack of consistency. In theory, single-stage presses provide an advantage when loading for accuracy.

In some cases, that's a mistaken perception. There are situations in which progressive presses are not only suitable for loading accurate rifle ammo, they are superior. Yes, progressive presses have more moving parts, have a certain amount of flexibility built in to allow the press to operate without binding up, use metered rather than weighed powder charges and so on.


On the other hand, in a quality progressive press, cases are oriented the same going into the last die as they were going into the first, as were the cartridges loaded before them. That's an advantage single-stage presses can't offer.


I used to make a tiny mark on the rim of my cases so I could orient them into the series of dies I mounted in my single-stage press as I loaded. A progressive press does that for you.

Obviously the greatest advantage a progressive offers is high-volume reloading. A serious loader can easily take an hour to load 20 rounds on his single-stage press. Once set up, a handloader using a progressive press can crank out several hundred rounds in an hour.


So when shouldn't you use a progressive press? I never use one to build high-performance hunting ammo, for several reasons. First, I'm usually not producing more than perhaps 50 rounds of a given caliber/bullet combination, and setup time on the progressive doesn't justify it. Also, I weigh powder charges for my hunting ammo.


Also, although capable, progressive presses are not optimum for loading top-performing hunting rounds such as the .300 Weatherby Magnum. Cases are long, powder charges are large and loading can simply be a sensitive process.

Personally, I don't typically load most long-action cartridges on my progressive, whether they be .270 Winchester or .30-378 Weatherby. I feel those are best left to a quality single stage.

Specialty loading, such as when loading paper-patched bullets or building fodder for blackpowder cartridge rifles, is also best left to the single-stage press where conscious attention to every minute aspect of each step can be given.

On the other hand, I can think of nothing more satisfying than cranking out three or four hundred .308 Winchester rounds for my Springfield M1A rifle. And if I had to load all my .223 ammo on a single-stage press I'd give up shooting ARs.

Short-action cartridges are easy to handle and manipulate through progressive presses, and as far as I can tell, as long as I use a ball, flake or short-cut extruded powder that meters well there is no loss of accuracy.

Recently I've been having an affair with a lovely Remington Model 8 in .30 Remington caliber, which is obsolete. It's hard to even find empty cases. Luckily it uses standard .30-30 projectiles, dies are available from Hornady and RCBS, and interestingly it uses the same shell holder/plate as the 6.8 SPC. I've managed to round up 200 cases, and with iron sights that rifle averages 21/2-inch groups at 100 yards with the ammo I merrily crank out of my Hornady L-N-L progressive press.

For a few years I shot fairly extensively in Cowboy Action matches, and my rifle/handgun caliber of choice was .44-40 Winchester. Now, there is no source of ammo cheap enough to keep a college kid supplied with .44-40 ammo at the matches, so I loaded large quantities of cast bullets in that and .45-70 Gov't (for the long range single-shot and lever-action events) on my progressive. Most classic lever-action calibers such as the .30-30, 38-55, .444 Marlin, .45-70 and so on are prime for loading on a progressive press.

I use both single-stage and progressive presses to load varmint ammunition. Good varmint rifles are typically capable of excellent accuracy, but at least for western shooters who may go through a couple of hundred rounds per day over a long weekend hunt, loading each cartridge lovingly on a single-stage press is out of the question.

I use a single-stage press while developing loads for a new rifle. It's more suitable to loading batches of 10 rounds or so with different powder charges, different bullet types and seating depths and so on. However, once I find a load the rifle likes, I will transition to the progressive press. Again, I try to select powders that meter well to keep charges consistent, and I'll do an accuracy check with the ammo loaded on the progressive just to confirm that its performance is up to par.

Competition? That depends on the type of shooting involved. For matches that call for a finite number of rounds in a situation requiring superb accuracy, such as most High Power shooting, F-Class competition and so on across the board to blackpowder cartridge rifle silhouette, a single-stage press is called for, as well as some pretty involved case prep and so on.

For 3-Gun and other action-type shooting, however, a progressive press can be a shooter's best friend. Bullet placement at speed is what wins the day, and the best way to attain that ability is through lots of practice. Lots of practice takes lots of ammo.

Bottom line? Serious shooters with a broad diversity of interests need both types of press. Luckily, options are many and quality typically pretty good, especially among single-stage presses. Hornady, Lyman, RCBS, Redding, Forester and so on all offer excellent options.

Progressive presses, being machines of mechanical genius (or diabolical bent), should be chosen carefully. Brands I trust are Hornady (L-N-L AP press), Dillon (particularly the 550B) and RCBS. Not only do these company's machines last and perform well, customer service is impeccable. For those of us addicted to producing large quantities of ammo to support our range habits, that's important.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Delta 5 - Daniel Defense

Delta 5 - Daniel Defense's New Precision Bolt Action Rifle

Those looking to explore precision rifle shooting without going broke will be well served by Daniel Defense's new Delta 5.

Tactical Solutions Introduces New X-Ring Takedown SBR Rifle

Tactical Solutions Introduces New X-Ring Takedown SBR Rifle

Keith Feeley of Tactical Solutions sat down with Michael Bane at SHOT Show 2018 to talk about the new X-Ring Takedown SBR .22LR rifle.

Ruger Launches New American Rifle Predator in 6.5 Grendel

Ruger Launches New American Rifle Predator in 6.5 Grendel

OSG's Lynn Burkhead and Ruger's Matt WIlson kick off SHOT Show 2018 by taking a look at the Ruger Predator.

Mossberg Patriot Predator 6.5 PRC Rifle Review

Mossberg Patriot Predator 6.5 PRC Rifle Review

RifleShooter Magazine editor Scott Rupp breaks down all the features of the Mossberg Patriot Predator rifle chambered in 6.5 PRC.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

The road to the famous Remington 700 rifle was paved with classics like the models 725 and 30s.Before the Remington 700 Historical

Before the Remington 700

Payton Miller - August 20, 2020

The road to the famous Remington 700 rifle was paved with classics like the models 725 and 30s.

The new Hammerli TAC R1 22 C, an AR-15 style .22 rimfire rifle, is the first product in the company's new Defense line.Hammerli TAC R1 22 C Review Reviews

Hammerli TAC R1 22 C Review

James Tarr - August 12, 2020

The new Hammerli TAC R1 22 C, an AR-15 style .22 rimfire rifle, is the first product in the...

Practical rifle marksmanship depends on following these five fundamentals.5 Fundamentals of Rifle Marksmanship Shooting Tips

5 Fundamentals of Rifle Marksmanship

Jospeh von Benedikt - August 13, 2020

Practical rifle marksmanship depends on following these five fundamentals.

For decades, things were quiet on the .22 centerfire front. Starting in 2017, shooters were offered not one but two hot new centerfire .22 cartridges. First out of the gate was the .22 Nosler, followed by the Federal .224 Valkrie..22 Nosler vs .224 Valkyrie Ammo

.22 Nosler vs .224 Valkyrie

Brad Fitzpatrick - May 02, 2019

For decades, things were quiet on the .22 centerfire front. Starting in 2017, shooters were...

See More Trending Articles

More Ammo

The .300 BLK offers more versatility in terms of rifle selection, but in terms of energy the .30-30 bests the .300 BLK by a wide margin..30-30 Win. vs .300 BLK Ammo

.30-30 Win. vs .300 BLK

Brad Fitzpatrick - December 24, 2019

The .300 BLK offers more versatility in terms of rifle selection, but in terms of energy the...

The well-known bullet maker, Berger Bullets, is now loading some terrific deer ammunition.Berger Bullets Classic Hunter Ammo Ammo

Berger Bullets Classic Hunter Ammo

J. Scott Rupp - December 13, 2019

The well-known bullet maker, Berger Bullets, is now loading some terrific deer ammunition.

Despite their similarities, the 6.5 PRC and 6.5 RPM are opposites in some regards. For example, the PRC requires a magnum bolt face but fits in a short action whereas the RPM utilizes a standard-diameter bolt but demands a long action.6.5 PRC vs 6.5 RPM β€” What You Need to Know Ammo

6.5 PRC vs 6.5 RPM β€” What You Need to Know

Brad Fitzpatrick - June 18, 2020

Despite their similarities, the 6.5 PRC and 6.5 RPM are opposites in some regards. For...

Looking for an AR-15 cartridge to shoot rather than the 5.56 NATO? If so, the .300 AAC Blackout is a viable option, especially for hunting medium size game..300 AAC Blackout Cartridge: Perfect for AR-15s Ammo

.300 AAC Blackout Cartridge: Perfect for AR-15s

David Fortier - March 18, 2020

Looking for an AR-15 cartridge to shoot rather than the 5.56 NATO? If so, the .300 AAC...

See More Ammo

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the RifleShooter App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All RifleShooter subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now