Sunday, August 18, 2013

Basic reloading, part one: Why reload?

This is a question everybody has to answer for themselves, but the reasons generally boil down to one of a few.

·        Economy
·        Precision
·        Weird or obsolete calibers
·        Ammunition availability

Occasionally, when the bug bites very hard indeed, it’s all at once.
Regarding the idea that reloading saves money, the concept seems to be a fallacy for most people.  Perhaps if a person shot only a certain amount of ammunition a year, and desired to shoot no more than that, reloading would certainly be a way to save money.   The reality is many people begin with that notion, but soon find themselves simply shooting more for the same amount of money.  When the hand loading demon sinks its claws in deep, the loading process can become every bit as important as the shooting it allows, and money will flow.

Reloading makes sense for people that wish to shoot a lot, and are willing to trade time for money.   Hours spent at the reloading bench are traded against dollars spent at the ammo store.  For the casual shooter or hunter who goes through only a few boxes a year, gearing up to reload makes little sense.  They might as well buy their ammunition ready to go.

For those who shoot a lot, be it in competition or just personal enjoyment and interest, reloading can make a ton of sense.  The largest expense in ammunition is often the brass case, and it’s perfectly reusable given a little time and skill.  For someone who measures their ammo use in the thousands of rounds per year, a fully stocked reloading bench can pay for itself quite nicely.

Mostly though….. Reloaders don’t save money…. They just shoot more.
In terms of precision, dedicated hand loaders have everything in their favor.  While an ammunition company might produce a million rounds of perfectly created ammo in any given caliber, the thing they can’t do is tailor the load to one specific firearm.  Given that almost every firearm has very distinct and noticeable preferences to what it will shoot well with, hand loaders have the ability to carefully match a load to the gun.  A rifle that shoots reasonably well with an average factory load may turn into a long range tack driver given a load matched to its idiosyncrasies.  Competition shooters have known this since the first rifleman experimented with different powder charges in his Kentucky Long Rifle.  In the author’s own experience, many a lightweight ‘deer’ rifle can deliver match grade accuracy, even if only for a few rounds till it heats up.

The road to precision is a long one, and along the way a Hand Loader will gain an in-depth knowledge of his rifle and its ammunition.  When all a shooter demands is average deer hunting accuracy out to a few hundred yards, any decent factory ammunition will usually do.  As soon as ‘Better’ is the goal instead of ‘Good Enough’, there is no end to how far it might go.

The slight difference of a few tenths of a grain in powder charge might shrink a group in half.   A turn on the sizing die might shrink it yet again, or not.  A rifle may be average with 150 grain bullets, while nothing short of astounding with 165 grain bullets.   These are just a few of the variables handloaders have open to them in their toolbox of reloading tricks and trials.

In the realm of obsolete and hard to find calibers, handloading may be the only way to bring a fine old firearm back to life.  To a person desiring range time with a historic Sharps Rifle chambered in 50-90, a round that disappeared from the shelves generations ago, handloading may be the only answer.  It’s true there are a few suppliers for many of the vintage calibers one may run across, but their output is low and their wares very, very expensive.  It can easily cost over $5 per round, and for some obscure European big game cartridges the cost may be over $20 per Bang.

To an experienced reloader, a Holland and Holland double rifle in .450 Nitro is no more challenging to feed than a typical 30-30 or .243.  The cases might be a bit harder to find, as will be the dies, but once those are acquired the load process is no different really.  Many, many a very fine weapon has breathed new life at the hands of someone willing to stuff their own cartridges.

In terms of availability of ammunition, the occasional political gyration can deeply affect the market.   Taken as a whole, ammunition suppliers worldwide usually run at or near capacity.  Only a small blip in the public’s buying habits can have a huge impact on supply.

A temporary shortage of only a few months can result in quite a few disappointed shooters.  To make it worse, it’s a situation that feeds upon itself.  Once someone experiences an inability to get the ammunition they want, they’ll almost certainly buy more than usual when it does become available again.   In that way it’s no different than any other consumer commodity, like toilet paper or light bulbs.

When ammo supplies run thin on the market, most handloaders are in better shape to weather the event, as they can build their own when they wish.  That is, If they have the supply of components.  It’s for this reason most reloaders buy their bullets, powder, and primers in amounts large enough to insure their bench is well stocked.  Adding to this trend is economy of scale, where buying in bulk can seriously lower unit prices considerably.

To a Master Handloader, someone who has been building ammunition for years across many platforms, all these reasons may pale behind the main calling.  That is simply…. Being able to exercise the skills and knowledge gained with experience.  The joy and satisfaction from touching off one’s own hand rolled ammo and seeing it perform to perfection carries a reward all its own, far beyond any mere savings in pennies per round.  


drjim said...

Very well put.

I'm just getting started with reloading for my Garand, and hopefully will be able to keep it well fed.

Roger said...

I've been reloading for about 40 years. What you said is accurate.
Reloaders don't save money, they shoot more - - and they shoot better. They key to good shooting is to practice practice practice. (How do you get to the Met?) The current cost of factory ammo (if you can find it) is astronomical and the quality of most of it is poor.
Gun show reloads, steel cased ammo & cheesy furrin brass cased stuff causes the majority of the problems I see on the firing line every day. The ammo that reloaders bring to the line is as a rule trouble free. I only wish I could find some more primers & propellants as my current stocks are running thin.
Keep up the good work & congrats on joining the ranks of taxpayers again.

Anonymous said...

One other reason for reloading that you didn't specifically address: When you reload, no pencil pushing bureaucrat can cut off your ammunition supplies.

It makes you independent - at least until you run out of supplies. No government, no occupying military, no local law enforcement can stop you from getting enough ammo for one last firefight, hunt, range session, self defense situation, or whatever.

This keeps the politicians nervous, and the cops polite (well, more polite than otherwise).

GunRights4US said...

I routinely make better stuff than I can buy.

Anonymous said...

We missed you! You cover subjects very well. Please come back.

Theother Ryan said...

"One other reason for reloading that you didn't specifically address: When you reload, no pencil pushing bureaucrat can cut off your ammunition supplies.

It makes you independent - at least until you run out of supplies."

That is where I think reloading can often be overemphasized in terms of self sufficiency. Aside from the odd chemist or black powder diehard nobody is making their own powder, cases or primers. So in that regard it is sort of like the people who roll their own cigarettes with papers, tobacco and filters from the smoke shop. They save cash but are equally reliant on the same system as the guy a block over who smokes marb reds. Both have a supply that is good till they run out be it a weeks worth of stuff or 6 months worth.

We could argue a handloader has an edge on stocking up due to the economics of reloading but at the end of the day if he has the stuff to load 5k rounds of .223 he is no better off than a guy with 5k rounds of .223 in the basement.

Looking at the last crisis reloading stuff got snapped up in a hurry.

That being said I do plan to get into it to be able to shoot more.