The reasons are many; economics, personal satisfaction and performance are the big three. I started handloading in 1970 as a way to cheaply shoot more and it grew from there to a pursuit of better performance in my own guns. As time passed I picked up rifles that were chambered for cartridges that no longer were manufactured, breathing life into some fine old guns that without handloading would have never seen the field again. I suspect many of you reading this have similar stories.
The pace of technology has picked up to the point where it is almost impossible to keep up with the innovations in ammunition and components. Take bullets for example: when I started handloading there were (not counting cast lead slugs or products from ammunition companies that offered a limited number of their bullets for sale) four major manufacturers of component bullets in this country and a handful of small, private bullet makers.
The bullet choices before the shooter in those days boiled down to 1) spitzer; 2) round nose; 3) partition and 4) varmint and the handloader had to “make do” with what was available. In a classic example of demand driving supply, we now have a vast array of component bullets, whose technological advances have given us velocity-specific projectiles for an array of shooting from precision target and varmint applications to game of all sizes.
Lead, long the core material of choice for bullets, has now been challenged by other alloys or combinations of alloys to give us a nearly infinite choice in projectile types and applications. Instead of having, as we did in the old days, a “deer” bullet, we now have a choice of coated, boat tail, hollow point, solid copper, interlock, premium, fusion, bonded, hot core, high, medium and low velocity, polymer tipped, bronze tipped, silver tipped; the list goes on and on. Wonderfully confusing, I admit, but wonderful none the less.
The rebirth of short, fat cartridges and mega-capacity magnum chamberings has fed the fire. Powders are being used now in ammunition manufacture that can produce higher velocity and lower pressure than what we have assumed would always be the standard in cases of like capacity. In my experience the release to the public of these new powder innovations has been slow, not that our standby and well know powder types are inadequate, but I think we all would like to experiment with some of these new propellants that are making some factory ammunition “better than ever”.
We all have been worried about the prices of components and their availability; not too long ago we suffered through a shortage on primers, cases and powders of certain types and whether these shortages were real or manufactured remains to be seen. With the current political situation that began in November of 2008 many people that had before never dreamed of owning a firearm became gun owners and many shooters that had never considered handloading got into the program.
These are good things from my point of view; even with all the other insanity that has come out of Washington since the last presidential election I really don’t believe that those in power would now dare to make a serious effort to tear down our firearms rights, given the recent court decisions on the second amendment and the attention 100 million firearms owners could bring to political campaigns. However, vigilance is the key to freedom and we all need to keep an eye on the politicians, who seem to want to do stupid things when they get bored.
Little changes in manufacturing regulation can have big impacts on our pastime and thank heaven for the NRA, the NSSF, the GOA and other groups for keeping an eye on things in Washington. If you are into shooting and handloading then you need to get engaged in the political process; never in our history has our involvement been more important.
If you want to lose your mind, try to categorize and list all the new innovations in component bullets in the past couple of years. I could write pages on each manufacturer and their products and I apologize now for leaving anyone out but it would take a volume to list all the new available component slugs out there. Here are some of my favorites.
SPEER has made available the new DeepCurl flat-base soft-point hunting bullet at an affordable price in seven calibers and 12 weights. These are good, reliable hunting bullets that won’t break the bank. The Speer website has also been redesigned and is worth a visit. Go to www.speer-bullets.com to see their complete line of products.
BARNES has become one of my favorite bullet makers and the reason is that they make great bullets. The Buster bullet is made for big game hunting applications where penetration is the goal. Heavy for caliber, these jacketed lead bullets would have been called “solids” in the old days. They have been getting some good reviews on heavy game. The Barnes Tipped TSX bullets are simply wonderful; I’ve been using the .243” 80-grain TTSX in my 6mm Remington rifles and accuracy has been great with low pressure and high velocity. The traditional TSX is still a favorite; if your rifle will shoot them I really can’t see a reason to shoot anything else!
FEDERAL has their fine Trophy Bonded Bearclaw bullets available in eight calibers and seven weights; the Bearclaw started the specialty bullet market and when they appeared in loaded Federal ammo they really took off. I used one of their TB bullets to kill my caribou a few years back and its performance was all anyone could ask for in a hunting bullet.
I recently asked Federal about the possibility of making the new Heavyweight fine shot available to handloaders and even though there are no plans to do that at this point, there have been several requests for this and it could happen in the future. That would be great news for handloaders who have to use non-toxic shot for their hunting. I used the Federal Heavyweight #7 20-gauge turkey load to kill a gobbler at 51 yards this past spring and was very, very impressed. So was the gobbler!
We now have some of the best handloading component powder ever available to the shooting market at our fingertips. Hopefully some of the “super secret” powders used in the new short magnum factory ammunition will be available to us for home use. The powder companies are always working to improve their products and the powder we buy today is worlds ahead of what I was using in the 1980’s.
ALLIANT Right up the road in Radford, Virginia the good folks at Alliant are still making powder. It has never been a secret that their #2400 powder is my favorite for the .357 Magnum and I’ve been using it for over 30 years. Clean burning with consistent velocity and a stable pressure curve, it is the powder of choice for the .44 and .357 magnum handgun handloader.
According to Alliant their new Extra-Lite shotgun powder allows a lower load charge for dropping from 1 1/8 ounce to 7/8 ounce loads while delivering clean, complete combustion and reduced recoil. The new Power Pro series of powders are a new series of spherical powders made to cover the entire spectrum of handgun and rifle calibers, designed for specific calibers and are as close to duplication of factory loads for pressure and velocity as we have been able to come.
HODGDON AND IMR powders have been around a long time and have given millions of shooters the performance and reliability we all demand. I started my handloading with IMR powders in the .308 and .22-250 in the early 1970’s and still today turn to IMR as a “first choice” in load development. Since I began shooting a .300 Winchester Magnum as my go-to long range rifle IMR 7828 has been my powder of choice with bullets of 165 grains and heavier. With the introduction of IMR 8208 XBR, which may be the most stable powder when talking about consistent velocity over a wide range of ambient temperatures, varmint hunters and bench rest shooters have a powder that has proven itself in the sands of the mid east as well as the fields of the US.
started handloading, as did many of my friends, with the old AmmoCrafter kit and a Rockchucker press. This year, based on the popularity of their pistol bullet feeding kit, RCBS introduced two rifle versions, for .30 and .22 caliber. The kits fit on most standard progressive presses and will increase your loading rate by 50% or more.
For the loader that is interested in laying down the .223 or 7.62 fodder this might just be what the doctor ordered. There are so many RCBS products that make handloading easy that it would take a book to list them all, but thankfully the internet to the rescue, get on their site listed below and give them a look for all your handloading needs.
HORNADY is a name long associated with quality component bullets but they also make some darn good handloading dies, presses and accessories. I have used many Hornady products over the years and have always found them to be top quality and easy to use.
I really like the auto charge powder measure, so simple that even I can use it with confidence and precise enough for the most persnickety handloader. What a great piece of hardware; it makes us wonder how we ever got along with manual measuring! Hornady is always working on something new for the shooter and handloader; these folks really care about our shooting success and it shows in their dedication to listening to what shooters say. Now, if I could just get them to come out with a .25 rimfire load, the world would be perfect!
All of the great companies mentioned here can be found on the internet along with a host of others we don’t have space to mention. Give these folks a look when you are in the market for handloading tools or components, you won’t be disappointed. Tell them Walt sent you!
This article appeared in the Gun Digest the Magazine 2011 Shooters Guide.