How To

The Advantages of Handloading

Sierra Hunter round-nose bullets

I am the first to admit that factory ammunition has improved considerably during the past three decades. Consistency, accuracy, and performance are better than ever. This is largely due to the pressure put on factories by handloaders. Today, a handloader can produce more accurate ammunition than the factory.

Sierra Hunter round-nose bullets
This round-nose bullet is designed for close range knock down.

The improvement in factory ammunition is often labeled ‘Premium.’ That can mean expensive. Not that this ammunition is not worth the tariff, but few of us can afford an afternoon of shooting even the least expensive factory fodder.

There is another side to handloading that folks not associated with the process may not understand. Handloading can truly be enjoyable. It is rewarding to assemble ammunition that produces excellent performance. I regard cleaning my rifles as a chore, but a necessary one. The same may be said for many things in life. However, handloading is among my favorite pastimes.

The varmint shooter once stood alone in the demands placed on ammunition. Today, competition shooters and shooters in the 3-gun sports demand truckloads of ammunition that is accurate and affordable. Frankly, the average big-game hunter seldom realizes the differences in accuracy among loads, and he does not need the same accuracy. That is not say he does not want it, if he can have it!

two .308 Win. cartridges loaded with different bullets
Generally, exposed lead is good for expansion. That is why bullet in the top cartridge is most often preferred by hunters.

I think, slowly but surely, big-game hunters are looking to varmint shooters for tips on accuracy. The term ‘bean field rifle’ brought new meaning to long-range deer hunting. In the past few decades, I have seen reloading change considerably. Modern tools are more accurate than ever, and there are better ways of assembling cartridges. In this article, I have attempted to put together a basis for procedure that will benefit any shooter in putting together accurate, reliable ammunition.

There is more to the task than accuracy. The ammunition must be reliable. Few of us use single-shot rifles, and there are limits imposed by magazine dimensions. Ammunition must feed, chamber, fire, and eject properly and smoothly. The advent of semi-auto rifles accurate enough for true efficiency in the field adds another dimension to the handloading scene.

I think we have all experimented in assembling handloads with bullets seated so far out in the case they just touched the lands, and these loads can be very accurate. However, in doing so, they may also fail to feed from the magazine. The cartridge must first be reliable. While we may burn up a good bit of ammunition in practice and experimentation, I think a straightforward route to accuracy is possible. The ‘magic’ load, that one loading that maximizes a rifle’s potential, is a reality but not in the way envisioned by many shooters.

Magazine loaded with .308 Winchester ammunition
These loads are intended for the M1 Garand. Function is more important than top accuracy in the beginning.

It is true that a certain loading will often show better accuracy in one rifle than the other. That being said, the most accurate combinations I have found are often good performers in a number of rifles. In other words, the single most accurate combination yet tested in my personal Howa 1500 will often prove accurate in a variety of rifles. I have yet to work up a true accuracy load in one rifle that turned out to be a dog in others. As a side note, I have found the Howa 1500 to be among the most generous of all rifles in this regard, but then this is a modern rifle with years of experience reflected in design and execution.

Sure, handloading is about experimentation and personal preference, but it is possible to work up to a suitable load in a relatively short time—with a minimum of disappointment along the way. I think barrel break-in or shooting-in with a particular load and careful practice will produce better results than handloaders realize. A promising load may be abandoned too early if the first group or two doesn’t give outstanding results.

Some feel that a good bullet is the foundation of accuracy; others believe the powder choice is most important. They are both important, but the cartridge case should receive its share of attention too. The brass cartridge case is what makes all of this worthwhile. It is the single most expensive part of the loaded cartridge and the only reusable part. So, a certain amount of care should be given the brass case.

What component do you think is most important when reloading — brass cartridge case, powder, or bullet? Share your answer in the comment section.


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Comments (12)

  1. Dale, I did not mean to confuse or upset anybody. My comment is not original, something I have read in the gun rags for decades about reloading. You may be able to load 100 rounds for what you would pay for 30 rounds in factory ammo. Then while you have 100 rounds on stock and you go to the range, poof there goes most of them. So back to the reloading bench for more ammo. You asked about the cost savings. First, if you are looking for premium hunting ammo you can save the most. For example, I shoot 30-06 and I shoot 257 Weatherby for most deer hunting. I can buy a box of Rem or Win 30-06 for under $20 and the win Ballistic Silvertip for about $35. No finer round for regular deer out to say 400 yards. But if I want a similar round in the 257 Weatherby, I will need to buy a Nosler Accutips for about $80.00. More than double. $35 vs $80 just because of Wby being not so common.

    Loading both guns with the same powder, bullet and primer is as follows and show where I save a chunk of money every year, because I AM NOT going to stand out in the sun and fire off a bunch of ammo that costs $4 per shot.. :I am retired and have have plenty money but not yet senile. The 06 case 5c, pmr 4c, powder 20c, bullet 60—89 cents for a premium bullet that would be $17.78 instead of the store price of $35, about half. In the Wby, case 5c. primer 4c, bullet 60c, powder 26c or $.95 per round or $19.00 instead of $80 a 76$ plus savings. WOW, that works.

    Now if you reload more common thing 38/357 or 44/44 mag or 45 acp or other pistol calibers you can load them really cheap with lead bullets.
    Bullets for 357 for example in bulk should be 10 c, plus you primer 4c, then your case 5 c, and powder for a 38 or 357 would only be like 5 to 8 cents per. That make your ammo about 23 cents per round and it can be adjusted to your gun by changing powder levels.

    Last comment. 27c is cheap for a full power 38 or 357 load. However, you can get cheap import ammo. most with steel or aluminum cases for about $15.00 20.00 per box, not much more than you cost. If you choose to cast your own bullet, you can save a chunk of money. Do not do in indoors lead will kill your pets, make your kids slow and your wife will get dementia, so do not use it indoors. But once I have bought and paid for my mold I can cast a nice bullet for 3 cents, and if I want to shoot it really fast add gas check for 4 cents. Say pwdr 4c, primer 4c, case 5c and bullet 7c. Suddenly a really hot gas check 357 magnum now costs 20cents. That same level of power may not save much money as 357 in competitive stores and in many online outlets. Also, if you can buy the cheap import stuff like 9mm, 40sw, and 45 acp it is a cheap to buy as it is too shoot. So use it for plinking and target shooting and save our good ammo for actual carry or hunting.

    Now that I have completely confused you, one more example, well 2 more. First I have little buck shoot molds that measure as buckshot–#1 buck which is .30 caliber, 0 buck .330. and 00 buck which is 360. one for .433 balls and one that measures .454. I load these into very cheap double ball loads. The cost is about 1cent, so I can load a 38 special with 2 bullets/balls for excellent short range hunting or defense for 2c+4+4+5=15 cents. They will hit one ball below the other at 15 yards, and have power nearly ar 300 foot pounds but in two loads, In 357 they will cost another 2 cents for powder but be hotter. In 44 special and 44 mag, same concept as well as 45 colt. You can also load them into 45 qcp and shoot them in wheel guns.

    OK last example. 45-70. I cast a 340 grain lee mold with wheel weights. I estimate the cost as10c bullet, 4c primer, 5 c case and powder at 21 cents for a load hot enough to kill elephants. This cost total is 40 cents. These are $44 at Cabelas…mine would be $8.00.

    So, it depends on what you are reloading. IF you only shoot 9mm, do not bother. shoot the cheap stuff for target and the good stuff for bad guys. If you only deer hunt a week a year, just buy a common caliber like 30-30, 243, 308 or 30-06 and buy your ammo on sale. But if you really like to shoot and play around and make stuff, it is well worth your time and money. Take a course or find a buddy who has done it for years and still has both eyes to teach you. Never, ever be so stupid as to push numbers. If you max out your car you might het a ticket for $150. Ig you max out a rifle load you may get 60% of your head remove in one second. Be safe and enjoy.

    The general rule is you can load for about 40% of factory cost but as you have seen it varies by what you load.

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