Ammunition

The Most Reliable Way to Load Ammo

long range rifle shooting when you load ammo

I began to load ammo more than 40 years ago. The issue was simple, economy.

I had a finite budget and wished to practice as often as possible on that budget.

There were side benefits I discovered, such as consistency, accuracy and versatility.

I have hunted with my handloads, fired the majority of practice sessions with handloads, and even carried these loads in my personal-defense firearms.

Some say handloads are second-class to factory ammunition, but mine are not — they are clearly superior to most.

Federal Match and Hornady Hunter are superb loadings and maybe I don’t always equal them when I load ammo, but sometimes I do.

I would not give houseroom to some of the poorly-crafted loads I have tested, but then, if you don’t load your own, this may be all you have at present.

In many cases, it is a good idea to grab a box of factory ammunition if you need a few rounds of a certain type.

However, if, like myself, you are dedicated to a few calibers — .45 ACP, .45 Colt, .357 Magnum and .308 Winchester are mine — or you shoot in competition, you need a good supply of loads.

Long range rifle and load ammo
A good supply of handloaded ammunition is essential for rifle training.

Factory Ammo vs. Handloads

I cannot knock factory ammunition. In 1916, Winchester landed a military contract that specified the ammunition be limited to one misfire per 100,000 cartridges.

The standard is higher today, but there are issues with some ammunition.

When you control every step of the loading process and you know what you are doing, you may produce exceptionally reliable ammunition.

I may inspect each cartridge case and discard the ones that are worn.

When the cartridges are fired, they stretch and eventually they must be trimmed with a case trimmer.

When the primer pockets stretch, they are no longer useful. This isn’t as great a problem with handgun cartridges, but does come up with Magnum revolvers.

When you load ammo, be certain to inspect, discard or trim cases to a uniform length as necessary.

As long as you do not allow the primer or powder to be contaminated, your ammunition will be faultless as far as reliability goes.

After loading, if the cartridge is intended for serious use, such as hunting in inclement weather, a tiny dab of fingernail polish may be used to seal the primer.

Some factory ammunition is primer-sealed, some isn’t. You may seal yours on demand.

ammo loader
The RockChucker is a credible choice.

Factory ammunition is remarkably consistent in the best examples. Just the same, manufacture demands certain tolerance for mass quantities.

A loading may have a plus or minus velocity of 30 to 50 fps. I think the single lowest standard deviation I have experienced with any loading is with Hornady 444 Marlin 265-grain loads.

The standard deviation was seven feet per second among five shots. That is not the usual, but a high recommendation for Hornady Custom ammunition.

A handloader may engage in fairly high-volume loading and get very good results.

If you want the ultimate accuracy, you may actually weigh each powder charge.

I do this sometimes with rifle cartridges and enjoy excellent results.

Sure, it is time consuming and modern equipment is very precise, but weighing each charge often pays off big dividends at longer rifle range.

Even with handguns it is sometimes worthwhile to weigh each charge.

My son and I once spent a pleasant evening carefully loading a box of .38 Special ammunition, weighing each charge by hand.

The load was a fairly stiff charge of #2400 under a hard-cast Keith-style SWC.

The 1912 Smith and Wesson Military and Police with six-inch barrel put five of these loads into 11/16 inch at 20 yards — the best factory load was a good 2.5 inches.

This was quite an experiment, with little practical value, sure, but my son and I learned a lot about loading that night and day in 1990.

cartridges on a scale
These cartridge cases are prepped and ready to load.

Loading for Accuracy

Those that chase after benchrest accuracy like to use the same lot of powder and buy in large quantities.

In this time of shortage, I’m sure those that have purchased in quantity are sitting pretty compared to some of us, but then some of us like to experiment, trade guns and calibers, and such things.

For the most part, canister-grade powders we use in handloading are very consistent.

Over the years, burning rates of some powders have changed, other have not.

Bullseye, as an example, has been remarkably consistent for decades.

Handloaders may change the powder charge and bullet, and experiment to come up with sweet spots in accuracy.

Some rifles, as an example, may have a tight chamber and exhibit higher velocity with a given load, but may also produce more pressure.

You may carefully load a modest-pressure load that delivers excellent overall velocity in some rifles.

Velocity may be varied. Some firearms actually perform better with loads near the top end.

Others like middle of the road loadings.

Loading for Consistency

While firearms are generally accurate, they may be maximized when you load ammo that is specific to them.

Controlling every detail from primer, powder and cartridge case to the bullet makes for excellent accuracy potential.

You may maximize performance or reduce felt recoil. Consistency is very important.

As an example, there have been times when factory loads I relied on were discontinued.

Relying on loads from specialty makers hurts when ammunition is in short supply.

When issued the 9mm, I once obtained the GECO Bat and later Cor-Bon ammunition. Both are out of production.

There have been times when a loading specified for a certain velocity would meet that criteria, but then later lots were more pedestrian.

When you load your own ammunition you will have consistency.

ammo loading powder
Powder selection is important.

Conclusion: Load Ammo Reliably

Handloading is a good education concerning how ammunition works, ammunition pressure curves, bullet selection and accuracy.

Handloads may use Nosler bullets in Remington cases with Winchester powder.

Handloading isn’t a chore or a necessary evil, but an enjoyable pastime.

Handloading produces excellent results when done properly.

Have you ever tried to load ammo? Tell us how it went in the comments below!

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.


Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Handloader
Rifle Magazine
Handguns
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns



Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (15)

  1. What safe storage measures do y’all find necessary to store reloading supplies in your home? Any special precautions or hard-earned lessons learned? I used to make black powder rockets outta sulfur, saltpeter, and charcoal way back in the day, but have never reloaded cartridges..

  2. The above comments are very interesting and I have additional ones to add.
    Number one a 209 primer is a shotgun primer. It does not fit any rifle or handgun cartridge.
    Number two if you are interested in starting handloading get a reloading manual from Lyman or a company similar to them. It gives all the info you need to get started. It also gives reloading data tables for almost all cartridges including what duplicates a factory load and what the suggested most accurate load is. This info can give one an idea of what powder and bullets to buy instead of blindly buying many different ones. Warning here in that different cartridges have different powder needs so if you load for different calibers you will probably need to buy a different powder for each one. The least expensive way to get into reloading is with a Lyman 310 tong tool. Small size is for .223 and the like. Large size is for larger cartridges such as .270. You must buy dies for each caliber. The problem with the dies for the tong tool is that they do not fit the Rock Crusher, Lyman Orange Crusher, etc.
    Reloading can become a great hobby as well as a money saver over the long term. .338 Win Mag ammo that i bought for less than $30.00 a box around 2003-2005 that now cost in excess of $50.00 i can reload for 75 cents per cartridge reusing saved casings.
    I was very lucky when i started reloading as my best friend had been doing for some time so he helped me get started. That was in 1970.

  3. For those asking about getting into handloading. I would recommend the RCBS rock chucker kit. It comes with everything you need to get started. Read the book! Youtube is great, but having a book (or five) is absolutely necessary.
    The only thing i might say on the RCBS kit is pick up an electronic scale. That definitely speeds things up. (I still use the beam scale to check the electronic scale though)
    As for components… well, they are scarce. Especially primers. No way to fix that except time. I know some of the major manufacturers are booked out a year or more. Once panic buying and hoarding ammo slows, components will come back.

  4. How does one get started in reloading? After reading numerous articles it is clear that the learning curve is fairly steep and for the novice potentially dangerous. I have yet to see a one stop shopping kit to purchase and am boggled at the number of extra accouterments required such as dies, case cleaners, etc. Also I am at a loss as to where to buy primers and powder. I am certain that current conditions have caused shortages of all reloading supplies as well as the ammo itself.

  5. I want some indoor practice ammo, or components in .38 special, that use 209 primers.
    Speer used to make plastic cases & bullets. That is what I want to order.

  6. Several months ago, I purchased a Glock 37, not comprehending the difference between ACP and GAP. Actually, I purchased two of them, so now have an “extra” one. I have learned that GAP ammo is even scarcer than ACP, so I’m considering getting into reloading. I am a total rookie in this area, knowing little to nothing about it. What challenges will I face if I start reloading the GAP ammo?? I also realize it will be difficult to sell my “extra” Glock 37, so guess I’d better learn how to fire them both, one in each hand just like in the movies!! LOL I’d appreciate any advice and/or direction you may provide. God bless the U.S.A.!!

  7. Where hand loading really shines is in shooting obsolete or near-obsolete cartridges. I hand load 6.5×55, 7×57, 7.62x54R, 7.7X58, .303, and 8×57 just to keep my old military rifle collection shooting. Would cost a small fortune if I had to rely on Norma or S&B ammo, and that would be if I could find some in stock. Once fired MIL 30.06 cases when they can be found are the best for turning into 7.7×58. They all, along with .308 and 30.06, get stoked with Acc 2520, which is very close to IMR 4064.

  8. Good article. I have been a hand loader for several years. I would like to point out that the RCBS press shown is the Summit not a Rock Chucker as the caption says. Keep loading, it’s so rewarding when you take that big buck with a round you loaded!

  9. I have hand-loaded for many years, I loaded for my son, to test and find the most accurate load for each of his rifles, as a junior he set 4 national records at 500 yds., he also set 4 national records with a .22 rim-fire. He set many other national record scores that he did not get do to different reasons. I hold 10 national records my self, with a number that I did not receive for one reason or another.

  10. I have been loading for several years now. As the article notes, I found certain brands that I prefer and have prefected into what I feel gives me the best, overall shooting experience. I like to load each time the same so I get a consistent shot each time.

    But, as the article points out, at this time, with things being in short supply,, I have had to resort to “take what I can get”. Thaw doesn’t mean I can’t load what I get. It just means I have to use what I have until I can go back to what I prefer.

    Loading doesn’t really mean it’s cheaper, although it can be, but provides me with accurate, consistent shot groups. It provides me with comfort knowing that, if I have to shoot, I know know exactly where I am putting my rounds. And an added benefit of I actually enjoy making them myself.

    The initial layout is the most expense. Loading isn’t maybe for everyone, but, (when done properly), anyone can do it.

  11. Very good article sir. Your resume, and knowledge are impeccable. The article brought back memories when I was a young kid reloading in the cellar of my childhood friends home. If you would, please recommend a great “all-in-one” set up for reloading 9mm, .45 cal. pistols, and 7mm rem mag, 5.56 rifles. I’ve been out of the reloading business for 50 years but haven’t lost the interest, or willingness to start again. With the rising cost of ammo prices, I’ve seriously been thinking of reloading again. And I do know that the reloading equipment of today is much better than the stuff we used 50 years ago. But basically the same process. Thank you, Jerome

  12. Modern factory ammo is great. But, handloads can be “tuned” to a specific gun. Handloads can be “tuned down” to allow new shooters to shoot “real guns”. P.S. – I can go handload some ammo while I am in the doghouse with the wife.

  13. Handloading offers you to pursue all sorts of experiments! For example, many handloaders try to push the upper end of the performance envelope. But my goal was to minimize recoil from my wife’s 9mm semiauto pistol to make shooting more comfortable AND to make quick followup shots more accurate. So, I kept reducing the powder load until the pistol wouldn’t cycle, then bumped the powder 1 grain to guarantee reliability. Result: A happier wife makes for a happier life!
    I highly recommend handloaders invest in a chronograph to clock their loads. I like to experiment with different powder loads for a variety of bullet weights (e.g., 115 grain, 124 grain, etc.). Graph velocities against powder load for each bullet weight to see how you can make a heavier bullet faster than a lighter bullet, etc. Fascinating, educational, and fun for novice and experienced shooters alike!

  14. Great column Bob. Hand loading seems like a dead art to those of us who are unable to find one or more of the components these days. I haven’t been able to find small rifle or pistol primers for many months, and neither has my supplier. Any ideas?

  15. I started handloading a few years ago. Like Mr. Campbell, for economy. I had aquired a caliber i could in no way afford to shoot with factory ammo, the .458 SOCOM. Within a year i had expanded to several cartridges including .223, .308, 9mm, .44 mag/spc, 10mm and 30.06. I had quickly realized i could produce taylored ammunition for hunting better than almost anything i could buy and i could keep myself in practice ammunition quite ecomonically as well.
    I am lucky, my father has handloaded for probably 40+ years and is a wealth of knowledge, tips and tricks. Even though we live half way across the country from each other, each time we see each other you can bet we have cases, ammo and stories to share.
    I sure hope things settle down and we can get components again.

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