If you reload, your ultimate pursuit might be absolute control over your handloads … just don’t fall too far down the rabbit hole.

Why go to the trouble of reloading ammunition?

  • A common thread among serious reloader is the ability to control the parameter of ammunition.
  • Some people ask why? give the excellent bullet choices and the tight tolerances of today’s factory ammunition.
  • Reloading, however, allows us to tailor each round to its job.
  • Additionally, it leads to a better understanding of ammo and the experimentation can make you a better rifleman.

“The control — and possible obsession — over our ammunition gives us another small facet of the shooting equation, and it makes things fun.”

If there’s one common thread among serious reloaders, it’s the ability, or more accurately — the need — to control the parameters of our ammunition. Many people ask me why I reload my ammunition, whether for target use or for the largest game animals on earth, when modern factory ammunition is so good. And, while they might have a good point, my response is simple: I prefer the control I have in every aspect of the ammunition. We reloaders are control freaks. There’s no denying it.

Handloading gives the shooter complete control over his or her ammunition.
Handloading gives the shooter complete control over his or her ammunition.

Factory ammunition is better than it has ever been, and I even own a couple of rifles that will shoot factory ammunition better than any of my handloads. We have excellent bullet choices, and the tolerances have become very tight.

However, in the same manner that I carefully choose a rifle/cartridge/scope combination, I like to tailor the ammunition to the job at hand. Yes, there are times where a factory load might get the job done in an equally effective manner, and there are times where I do opt to use factory ammunition, but I much prefer to handload whenever possible.

Indulging In The Obsession

Reloading ammunition has undoubtedly led to a better understanding of how ammunition works, and the resulting experimentation has made me a better rifleman. It has also led to an unquenchable thirst for knowledge in the field of terminal ballistics. I’m a bullet hound, and I will eagerly root through the entrails of an animal in pursuit of my bullet. However, sometimes all of this control can pull you down the rabbit hole.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though I do see some handloaders become argumentative regarding this technique or that, and that’s more than likely just our human traits rearing their ugly heads. Let us not lose sight of the prize — especially in the hunting world — and that is to effectively kill an animal with the first shot, and put the second and third in the same spot if needed.

While this 100-yard target doesn’t exactly represent hair-splitting accuracy, it will certainly suffice for big game hunting.
While this 100-yard target doesn’t exactly represent hair-splitting accuracy, it will certainly suffice for big game hunting.

How you get there is up to you, and that’s one of the individual beauties of creating ammunition. A rifle/shooter combination that will put three shots into a group measuring 1.5 MOA will certainly get the job done in the hunting world — big game, anyhow — and perhaps he or she is content to stop right there.

Then there are those who absolutely will not stop until they get the rifle to print sub-MOA, preferably ½ MOA or less. I might or might not be guilty of holding a life membership to that organization, but that’s not the point. The control — and possible obsession — over our ammunition gives us another small facet of the shooting equation, and it makes things fun.

I recently saw an Internet video in which the narrator condemned neck-sizing ammunition. Now, I’ve used neck-sized ammunition as a last-ditch effort to get troublesome rifles to shoot for a couple decades now, but the orator had a valid point in that the difficulty in chambering a round precluded the process.

That got me to thinking about how to obtain accuracy without those issues, and I came back to the Redding Custom Competition shell holders. These little gems, along with the Redding Instant Comparator, allow us to match the overall datum line of our ammunition to the chamber of our rifle, all the while full-length resizing the cases. This gives us ammunition that will match the chamber length of a particular rifle, yet feed like factory ammo. Accuracy undoubtedly will improve, and the issue is resolved.

Bushing dies are also a recent development that will fit right in with reloading OCD; they definitely increase brass life, and in my experiences they help improve accuracy as well. Simply measuring the outside diameter of a loaded cartridge — using a singular brand of brass, and assuming that it’s all rather uniform — the correlative bushing will, when inserted into the resizing die, stretch and shrink the brass as little as possible, thus extending the overall life of the case.

Dies are important for any reloading pursuit. The author recommends getting the best reloading dies you can afford after purchasing a solid press.
Dies are important for any reloading pursuit. The author recommends getting the best reloading dies you can afford after purchasing a solid press.

These are just two examples of modern reloading gear dramatically affecting the capability of our ammunition, and it brings me to another thought: Reloading, like golf and fishing, can suffer from “gadget-itis.” You’ll read — even within the confines of this column — about a good many pieces of gear that can, and often will, make life a bit easier, but that’s in no way intended to infer the idea that all of it is absolutely necessary.

The Bare Minimum

I clearly remember, in the not too distant past, having to make do with what gear I could afford. I scooped powder into a balance beam scale with either a plastic scoop repurposed from some other application, or with a homemade design, saving spare change for the best dies I could buy. Some items are not that expensive at all, and some others cost more but offer a great value.

Were I to advise a new reloader about where to spend the most and what to avoid, I would say that a rock-solid press should come first, and then the best dies I could afford. There are many choices, but I really like the Redding UltraMag press — a simple but beastly one-hole single stage press — and even their basic die sets will give results that will turn heads. Add in a means of measuring powder and even bullets (a reliable balance beam scale will always be a part of your bench) and a means of trimming your cases, and you can make ammunition with the best of them. It doesn’t require a major financial investment — however, when I look at what I’ve spent over the years, I question that statement — but it does require a special level of dedication and attention to detail.

Going All In

To become one of the Control Freaks, you’ll have to delve deep into the wealth of knowledge that has been printed in between the covers of the numerous reloading manuals. There are many books written on the subject, including my own efforts, but they are merely stepping-stones on the path of knowledge.

A balance beam scale will be an integral part of your bench, no matter how many gadgets are developed. Gravity doesn’t wear out.
A balance beam scale will be an integral part of your bench, no matter how many gadgets are developed. Gravity doesn’t wear out.

One thing is for certain: The basic technique of reloading metallic cases hasn’t changed in almost a century. Philip B. Sharpe’s Complete Guide to Handloading (the much more famous reloading Philip) has been in print since 1937, yet the processes described therein are still sound. Read, ask questions, make friends with other handloaders, compare notes, and follow the processes outlined by reliable sources.

As your knowledge base grows, you’ll be able to decipher which gadgets will actually make a difference in your life and which are the pet rocks of the reloading industry. And, as my dad always told me, “There are no shortcuts.” We’re all doing it the same way, if we’re doing it right.

Learn about headspace. Experiment with seating depth to see for yourself what effect it has on things. Consult the powder companies about their new developments. My favorite loads might not work in your rifle; reloading can be a highly rifle-specific science. I’ve seen some reloading recipes printed on internet forums that are downright dangerous, so please take everything you read with a grain of salt, and consult as many different sources as you can.

If you’re an old hand at reloading ammunition, you’ll be able to relate to these concepts. And if you’re new to the reloading game, spend some time with the veterans.

I’ll see you guys somewhere down the rabbit hole.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


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