Reloading Ammunition with a Lee Precision Breech Lock Challenger Single Stage Press

Reloading Ammunition with a Lee Precision Breech Lock Challenger Single Stage Press

For reloaders on a budget, or who want to exercise the maximum degree of control over every cartridge processed, Single Stage presses are a great choice.

In this article, we’ll be discussing Lee Precision’s Breech Lock Challenger Press.  I’ll just take a moment to mention that although this press features removable breech lock bushings, I won’t be focusing on those as they represent the exception, rather than the rule in single stage presses.


As a single stage press, the breech lock challenger performs a single operation on one case at a time.  For simplicity’s sake, I’ll be describing the process of reloading a single cartridge from start to finish, using a four-die set of reloading dies so you get an idea of how the press works.  In reality, the operator would typically work on 25-50 cartridges, one operation at a time.

The operator begins by installing the resizing and depriming die in the press.  With the die in place, an empty casing is inserted into the shell holder, and run up into the die.  This serves to remove the spent primer and restore the casing to it’s original dimensions.

As the user transitions to the down-stroke, they pause for a moment drop a primer into the priming tool.  As the down-stroke is completed, the new primer is seated into the base of the casing.

Next the operator removes the resizing and depriming die, and installs the powder-through expanding die.  With this die in place, the casing ram is raised, and the case mouth flared, making it easier to seat a bullet later.  Using a powder dipper, the operator pours a pre-measured scoop of propellant into the opening at the top of the die, funneling it into the casing.

Now the operator lowers the ram, and removes the powder-through expanding die.  In it’s a place, the user will install a bullet seating die.

With the seating die installed, the operator drops a bullet into the case mouth and raises the ram.  Although the bullet will never be completely straight as it enters, the die automatically realigns it so that it exits perfectly vertical.  Just as important, the bullet has also been seated to the correct depth, with the case mouth just touching the bullet’s crimp groove.

At this point the operator will remove the bullet seating die, and thread a factory crimp die into the press.  As the ram is once again raised, the press applies a nice, concentric crimp to the case mouth, ensuring the bullet is held securely in place, and will feed well in semi-autos.

The operator has now completed loading one cartridge.


That likely seemed like a lot of work compared to the other presses we’ve discussed in previous articles, and it is, but it’s important to remember that ordinarily you would load 50 cartridges at a time rather than one.  Obviously the single stage press is nowhere near as fast, or efficient as a turret or progressive design.  That said, they do have some advantages over their speedier cousins.

While turret and progressive presses generally use automated powder measures that are difficult to monitor, single stage reloaders have complete control over the powder charging process.  You can dedicate as much time as you like to obtaining the perfect charge– a critical factor in long range or competition shooting.  Additionally, if you miss a step or run out of components while using a single stage press, you know right away.  By contrast, with a turret or progressive, you could potentially load dozens of cartridges improperly before detecting the problem.  Progressive presses can also require a substantial amount of time to configure and tune, which obviously isn’t a factor with single stage presses.  Since each process is performed one at a time, setup is minimal, completely eliminating caliber change headaches, which can be very challenging with progressives depending on make, model and configuration.  Lastly, single stage presses are highly portable and compact.  Many single stage loaders will go so far as to bring their equipment with them to the range, and load onsite– try doing that with a progressive.  Conversely reloaders with limited space, such as those living in apartments, cottages, or trailers will appreciate the ability to pack up and put away their equipment when not in use– a major asset when bench space is at a premium.

While single stage presses are never going to break any production records, the fact of the matter is that skilled reloaders can often still churn out 50-100 precision-grade rounds in an hour using a single stage press.  Some of Lee Precision’s earliest single stage designs we used to set records that still hold strong to this day; for competition shooters willing to sacrifice speed for extra accuracy, single stage presses are often the only way to go.

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