The objective of this page is to bring out new and age-old, time-tested means of continuing to shoot even after ammunition and
the usual reloading components are unavailable for any one of a number of reasons beyond the shooter’s control.
The following is for information purposes only. Dealing with firearms and ammunition is inherently dangerous and proper
precautions should be taken. The following methods should be considered only as a last resort, in a survival situation. Neither the
publisher nor the author are responsible for how the information is used.
On Field Expediency and Experimentation
Shooting a firearm—essentially causing an explosion inside a tube for the purpose of propelling a projectile at high speed down
range—is inherently dangerous. Since 700 A.D. experience with gun powder and firearms of all kinds, metallurgy and other
technologies has enabled us to perfect the art of shooting and expand its methodology. And 1300 years of refinement constitutes
a vast compendium of knowledge ripe for field expediency and retrogressive technique, the groundwork for experimentation
already firmly laid.
The experimenter is advised first to learn firearms history, already proven techniques and to stay well within established
parameters. While experimentation is called into being by curiosity, field expediency is often born out of logistical and circum-
stantial necessity. That said, it is always better to experiment under controlled conditions before field expediency becomes a
Most of what follows is the result of experimentation under controlled conditions—with the luxury of not having to do any of it
out of necessity. On the other hand, everything that follows has been proven and is recorded here in anticipation of worst case
necessities imagined by the author.
The overall objective is to safely push the boundaries of what can be accomplished with a firearm. What, for example, might one
do if he finds himself with say an old Mauser K98, a couple of shotgun shells and some spent 8mm shell casings? Can we reload
smokeless casings with black powder? Can a center fire cartridge system be muzzle-loaded? Are there field expedient alternatives
to lead bullets? What common household items can be used to reload cartridges when nothing else is available? How hard is it to
reload components like primers via field expedient methods?
This page will attempt to answer these and other questions.
Retrogressive methodology is the act of returning to a means or method that has been used before but is either out of date or is
not being used widely at the time. One example would be to reload a cartridge with black powder that was designed for more
modern smokeless powder.
Retrogressive methods are generally used in field expediency for the simple reason that there is no advantage to the method unless
necessity has made it so. If for whatever reason the supply of ammunition is interrupted then one can easily retrogress to making
black powder out of natural ingredients and resort to field expedient replacements for projectiles and primers, using spent shell
casings from previous shooting.
Such necessity often requires a return or retrogression to earlier, lower-tech means.
Note: In considering the principle of retrogression, it may be concluded that a new term is in order: retrolution. Above, the
concept is introduced as the concept of “retrogressiveness.” The retrogressive or “Retro” is one who possesses the full range of
human skills, from primitive skills to highly technical, modern skills; one who is able to function at all societal levels at once or
individually, as circumstances dictate. Retrogression is the most highly evolved and adaptive skill of all, requiring vast
understanding of the underlying principles of survival and independent living. Retros are the Renaissance persons of this century
and are capable of thriving at any or all levels or “stages” of human development.
One of the ultimate achievements in skill acquisition is the ability to make do with what is available, above all, the ability to see and
implement new uses for items taken for granted and that otherwise may have seemed useless.
Once such a topic is discussed in open discourse and the idea is published, there is likely to be a reaction by and a call to action of
persons with the proper sensibilities for a movement of sorts, a revolution towards devolution, if you will. Such a movement is
perhaps best called “retrolution,” as it should not be a revolution against anything tangible, but against a species of ignorance. The
movement would be one that cherishes the old skills, returns to and nurtures the old ways, while at the same time sustains the
benefits of modern knowledge and technology, finally merging the two into a practical, useable compendium of knowledge that
would allow the possessor not only to survive any catastrophe but to thrive in its midst.
Such a development may prove to be the ultimate evolutionary step of humanity. When one has the skill and ability to put to use
any and all objects in his environment for the purpose providing for his own basic needs, then he is truly capable of surviving
The following are some questions asked frequently in consideration of alternative methods and certainly in case of the necessity
for field expediency. Otherwise, to the casual shooter they pose mere curiosities, the answers to which expand one's knowledge
of firearms technology and extend the realm of possibility in the shooting art.
Can smokeless casings be reloaded with black powder?
Yes. Any modern cartridge can be reloaded with black powder or any black powder substitute. Black powder typically does not
produce the kind of pressure that will damage a modern firearm. That said, someone out there is bound to find a way to do it; so,
the cautionary note is proceed with caution, follow the rules of reloading and range safety.
In general, modern cases can be reprimed, loaded to the top with black powder and compressed during bullet seating without
adverse consequences. The reloader will simply have to settle for typical black powder velocities of 1800 feet per second or less,
depending on load and firearm.
Can modern primers be reloaded?
Yes. See how to do it here: Reloading Boxer Primers
Can a center fire cartridge system be muzzle-loaded?
You bet! It can be done. Read about it here: The Retro Rifle
Are there field expedient alternatives to lead bullets?
Yes there are alternatives--all of them dangerous to use without high levels of skill, knowledge and precaution. Virtually anything
smaller than the rifle/pistol bore can be saboted (covered in a sheaf called a sabot), paper-patched (essentially, a paper sabot) or
used as an insert in a leadcore or bullet slug of proper diameter.
There are a few practical precautionary steps to take to insure safety. One of them is to run the payload (the field expedient
projectile and its guilding) through a sizing die of proper diameter. Another method is to simply muzzle load the projectile over a
primed, charged case. See The Retro Rifle above.
Coming soon: Recipes for field expedient projectiles
What common household items can be used to reload cartridges when nothing else is available?
Black Powder Substitute: see also
Potassium Nitrate – 45 grams
Sugar -- 5 grams
Charcoal -- 9 grams
Kitchen matches (self-striking) to reload primers. See Reloading Boxer Primers above
Coming soon to Universal Shooter:
Are there calibers that are interchangeable?
The answer is 'yes,' with this clarification: the term 'caliber' describes the diameter of the projectile (bullet) used and any two
bullets of the same caliber are essentially interchangeable between cartridges of the same caliber. 300 Winchester Magnum, .308
Winchester, .30-06, 300 RUM, 30 Remington and 300 AAC are all .308 caliber (or 7.62mm). 7.62x39 Russian and .303 British
(both essentially .310-312 caliber) are close enough in some cases to be interchangeable and are certainly interchangeable after
having been proofed in a .308 sizing die.
The anectodal proof is in the practice. The Vietminh were able to dismantle British, French and American ammunition and use the
powder and projectiles to reload AK-47 brass. Such ingenuity and field expedient methodology allowed them to resupply even
when Chinese and Russian supplies dwindled. Many a Mosin Nagant sniper rifle and Viet Cong AK fired a NATO bullet from a
reloaded Russian or Chinese case.
What components from one cartridge can be used to load another?
Answer: all of them, with the possible exception of brass.
Bullets: Near-caliber and same caliber bullets can be safely interchanged between cartridges in most cases. Under-sized bullets can
be saboted (i.e. Accelerators; http://www.eabco.com/remington-accelerator-sabots.html ) or paper patched. Safety Tip: while
most commercial sabots and accelerators of proper caliber are safe, any combination that results from paper patching or other
field expedient means should be run through a resizing die before being loaded into a cartridge case.
Powder: By and large, powders are interchangeable--with this caveat: slower burning powders (so-called 'Magnum Powders')
generally depend on full-case loads to control pressure. When reusing magnum powders, some attention should be afforded filling
the case. Tip: if you have dismantled a belted or magnum cartridge with the intention of using it to reload a smaller cartridge case,
make an attempt to identify the powder and find a load for it in one of the load manuals or on-line. If there is any doubt, use
Primers: There are four basic types of boxer primers--small pistol primers, large pistol primers, small rifle primers and large rifle
primers, with 'standard' and 'magnum' variations of each. De-capping (or 'De-Priming') live primers is very dangerous but it can
be done by following a few basic rules:
1) use a Universal De-Capping Die, with a slim, non-sizing decapping pin. This does two things: it allows hot gas from an ignited
primer to escape the brass case and it provides an expansion chamber for those gases in the die body to protect the user.
2) bring the de-capping pin into contact with the primer hole gently and proceed slowly and carefully, making the pull of the press
arm a slow, seamless motion.
3) inspect all de-capped live primers before reusing.
Brass: Brass can be re-used provided it is compatible on a 'parent case' basis. Three of the most prominent 'parent cases' are the
.375 H&H case, the .30-06 and .308 Winchester--each the parent case for a number of other cartridges. [See "The Search for
Better Ballistics" by S. A. Roach]
There is also the rare example of cross-overs like the 22-250 Remington and .308 Winchester. The parent case for 22-250
Remington is the 250-3000 Savage but, with a two-stage die set and a quick trim, the .308 Winchester case can be suitably
altered and re-sized for use as a 22-250 case.
What kind of gun is easiest to make from scratch?
The easy answer that first comes to mind is a gun with these general characteristics: 1) muzzle-loaded smooth bore, 2) medium
to large bore (for no other reason than the nature of available materials like pipe, etc. and not necessarily as a matter of choice)
and 3) a mechanism operating on low pressure--either fast-burning powder or black powder.
Presumably, one can make any fire arms he has the tools and skills to make. Things begin to get complicated when contemplating
rifling, breech-loading and so forth--ergo, the smooth bore muzzle loader. Field expedient method is limited only by a lack of
imagination, skill and knowledge.
Safety tip: anytime you have designed and fabricated what you think is a working firearm, test it strapped down on a rest while
standing behind cover, from a safe distance, using a remote device--i.e. a lanyard, long fuse. Furthermore, do not presume that
the first test is the proof the device is safe. Fire it remotely several times to insure it is safe before shoulder or hand firing.
What are some gun powder alternatives?
Topping the list of course is home-made black powder. See these alternatives: Black Powder Substitute
How hard is it to make a homemade bullet mold?
The process is not difficult, though it is time-consuming. See how at "Making Bullets" on The Black Powder Page.
The heart of the procedure is a simple device called a 'sizing die.' It is necessary for the safety of the experimenter/reloader/
survivalist. There are two basic methods of procurement--making the re-sizing die yourself or obtaining one of proper caliber
from a retailer.
As usual, doing it yourself will require more equipment. Any field expedient method will require the use of a micrometer or
caliper. Because your life may depend on it, the first thing you need to be able to do is to determine the diameter of a bullet or drill
bit used to make a die.
You can learn everything you need to proceed from a bullet, bore slug or a recovered projectile about the bore that fired it or
that which will fire it. Find a suitable micrometer or caliper at:
See Also: The Reloading Page
Make your own:
To make your own re-sizing die you will need the following:
1) a micrometer
2) a drill and a bit of proper diameter
3) a piece of metal (or other material) at least as thick as the length projectile you hope to make and several Brinell hardnesses
harder than lead (i.e. pig-iron, leaf spring, aluminium, soap stone--among others)
Use the micrometer to verify the diameter of drill bits, bullets used as exemplars, molded bullets and so forth. Mic the drill bit that
will make the swaging hole. It will need to be approximately .003 to .03 under the outer diameter of the molded lead bullet to
swage a raw bullet to the exact size of the bore or to make a home made mold; and it will need to be the exact diameter of a
commercial mold up to .001 over, to resize a raw bullet to the proper diameter.
This is largely determined by the alloy used to pour the bullets. Raw, pure lead (as from wheel weights) will typically throw a
.308 bullet at about .309 to .312. Depending on what the bore actually slugs with raw lead, you may want to re-size to .309 rather
than .308. Only a good micrometer can make that distinction between two drill bits. Tip: the trick is to let the lead cure for 24-72
hours before resizing. Pure lead cures (cools) at a different rate and recedes to a different diameter (from the same mold) than
alloys; so, to be sure of final diameter let it cool completely.
The material you use for swaging (making the resizer) needs to be as thick as the length of the bullet to prevent 'curling'. As
the bullet leaves the swager, it will curl slightly due to any non-concentricity or off center of the swaging arm. The swaging arm
needs to be slightly undersize and of a substance as soft or softer than the sizing die to prevent changing the concentricity and
diameter of the swage channel.
Make the resizer by drilling a hole through the sizing material. Use an aluminum peen or a piece of wooden dowel to drive
raw projectiles through the resizer. If you already have a sizing die with a ram arm slightly smaller than your resizing plug, you
can use it to flush the raw bullet through the resizer.
Stay tuned for new recipes.