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.
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!
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.
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.
Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooters Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.
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