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Ammo battle: Factory vs handloads

Ammo battle: Factory vs handloads

All photo credits: Anthony Wright

When it comes to ammunition for your rifle(s) there's definitely a lot of choices. From ammunition on the shelf at your local sporting goods store to the opportunity to load your own, the spectrum is very broad. Here is my head to head comparison of each. 

Let's start off with factory ammunition

Factory ammunition

Pros

Cons

Readily available in most outdoor retail stores (most popular cartridges). Can be expensive for certain cartridges.
Popular bullet weight offerings covering plenty of barrel twist rates. Chances of inconsistent velocities and extreme spreads from shot to shot.
Many brands to choose from. SAAMI Specifications (no option to seat bullet out further or closer to the lands of the rifling).
Decent velocities, low chance of over pressure issues. Unknown powder temperature stability.
More affordable. May take a few boxes to find which brand works in your rifle.

Now, don't take this the wrong way; I'm not dogging factory ammo by any means. There are great offerings out there and, in fact, I currently use factory ammunition in my primary hunting rifle (6.5 PRC) since I'm able to buy a box and get a 1/2" group at 100 yards every time, which is great for off the shelf ammo. I believe that the performance you see downrange will somewhat reflect in the price on the box. For example, if you buy a cheap box of ammo, you may get mediocre results. Whereas, if you spend a little more, you more than likely will get better results.

Next up, handload/custom ammunition

Handloaded ammunition

Handloaded ammunition

Pros

Cons

Complete control over ingredients, i.e., brass, primer, powders, bullets. Making the cartridge a perfect fit to your rifle. Initially expensive to get started if using quality components.
Ability to gain more velocity to take advantage of the bullet's coefficient downrange. Takes time learning each step; preparing, loading, testing and adjusting the load.
Adjust bullet seating for fine-tuning of shot group and ability to "chase the lands" aka keep the bullet to rifling distance the same while the barrel starts to slowly wear out over time. Could run into increased barrel wear (typically only an issue if having to shoot a lot due to trouble finding the best concoction).
It's fun to learn and know more about the bullet in the chamber; how each component plays a part in a completed cartridge, which in turn speeds up the process of loading over time. Possibility of components (bullets, powder, brass, etc.) not being in stock when you need them.
Using high quality brass can be used for many iterations.  
Once you've found the perfect "recipe," you're able to hammer out identical loads to stock up.  

When I was handloading my own ammunition I really enjoyed it. I liked learning the process, knowing that I was the sole reason why they were or were not accurate. You have complete control on how picky you want your ammo to be, which, when you find the right combination, becomes very rewarding. There are now third-party companies that will come up with custom handloads for you, saving you the time and money investing in the equipment. Once they find the recipe that works for your gun, they will keep your load information on file, giving you the ability to order as you need. The only negatives are that it can be pricey and that you may need to send your rifle in for best results; however, if you get it completed in the offseason then it's no big deal. 

Factory vs handloads

Like I mentioned, I’ve done both options and am currently using factory ammunition from Hornady. Technology has come a long way in the factory ammo world, which, in turn, gives you, the consumer, better ammo on the shelf ready to go, providing you with repeatable results. However, I will likely do some handloading in the future for my varmint rifle since the bullet I've chosen to use isn't offered in box ammunition.

In conclusion

Anthony Wright - Rifles

Each one has its pluses and minuses just like anything. And if you're a person who just wants to grab and go, doesn't have the time or you don't want to deal with all the components and equipment, then factory ammo fits your needs and, in most cases, will be satisfactory. If you enjoy the handmade process, the ability to have control over each variable, want better than factory results or are having a hard time finding a factory load to work in your gun then maybe you should give handloading a try. Comment below on which cartridges you currently shoot and if you handload or use factory ammunition. I enjoy your feedback! As always, stay safe and hunt hard!

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6 Comments

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Gary H. - posted 6 days ago on 05-21-2020 02:09:31 pm
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I save a pile of money by shooting IMR 4064 in about 10 different calibers. I buy everything in bulk. I reload premium 30-06 shells for $18/box or less depending on if I find sales on bullets. They cloverleaf at 100 yards. Good enough for me. Kills animals d.e.a.d.

I reload to save money and I find it soothing to the mind.

Richard D. - posted 1 week ago on 05-20-2020 04:26:36 pm
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Great comparisons, AW. I’m an avid handloader and have been for over 30 years now. I started out in the late 80s with shotguns and advanced into metallic cartridges. For someone like me, it’s easier to handload simply because I’m well past the cost of the initial investment. However, I will be the first to admit that the process is getting even more expensive as technology advances. The price of components is always going up. Add in the hazmat charges for shipping if you can’t buy the necessary components locally, and factory ammo is a no-brainer for many shooters. I will also tell you that it’s hard to beat quality factory-loaded ammo, considering the high quality components manufacturers are using these days. I tell all of my hunting buddies that I can’t beat that quality, but what I can do is tune a specific handload to nearly any rifle as long as I’m able to shoot the particular rifle or handgun. There is a certain amount of pride that goes with finding a great shooting handload. My biggest reason for doing it is similar to what you mentioned...learning how different components, etc. affect a given load, plus I just enjoy it. Thanks for sharing and best of luck to you this coming season.

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Chad M. - posted 1 week ago on 05-20-2020 09:46:25 am
Missouri
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Loading your own ammo is like tying your own flies. It's just fun, and it deepens your involvement with the full hunting process. I more often load my ammo DOWN in velocity (not up) compared to factory ammo. Most factory ammo these days is loaded pretty hot, as velocity apparently sells to the masses. I find a more moderate velocity kills just as well, doesn't kick as much, and results in less meat damage. I don't care about sub-sub-sub-MOA groups, either. I just like making my own cartridges, and as long as they group good enough for hunting, I'm happy as a clam.

Seth D. - posted 1 week ago on 05-20-2020 05:52:54 am
Public Lands
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It is interesting to handload, but I kind of tire of it as it takes a lot of time out of my busy life.

Hornady ELD Match and ELD-X has been a good deal for me in the 6.5 CM and 300 Win. There are also some Federal Loads with Berger bullets in them that can be found at good prices.

I am glad you addressed the fact that handloading is more expensive. I am regularly asked if it is cheaper, and it isn't even close. Shooting is a hobby, and handloading is a separate hobby that can help to make shooting cheaper, but for most guys that only shoot 10-30 rounds a year it probably isn't worth it.

If you are a volume shooter, then you know that handloading when viewed as a commodity can help make things cheaper, but really it s about fine tuning the load as you said.

One of the coolest aspects of handloading is that you can go after a rifle built in an obscure caliber, and be able to feed that rifle. I love the little 6mm BR, and 6mm XC. Both of these are handloaders cartridges, as we don't live in Europe where you can buy match ammo for both cartridges cheap.

Seth D. - posted 1 week ago on 05-20-2020 05:52:34 am
Public Lands
goHUNT INSIDER

It is interesting to handload, but I kind of tire of it as it takes a lot of time out of my busy life.

Hornady ELD Match and ELD-X has been a good deal for me in the 6.5 CM and 300 Win. There are also some Federal Loads with Berger bullets in them that can be found at good prices.

I am glad you addressed the fact that handloading is more expensive. I am regularly asked if it is cheaper, and it isn't even close. Shooting is a hobby, and handloading is a separate hobby that can help to make shooting cheaper, but for most guys that only shoot 10-30 rounds a year it probably isn't worth it.

If you are a volume shooter, then you know that handloading when viewed as a commodity can help make things cheaper, but really it s about fine tuning the load as you said.

One of the coolest aspects of handloading is that you can go after a rifle built in an obscure caliber, and be able to feed that rifle. I love the little 6mm BR, and 6mm XC. Both of these are handloaders cartridges, as we don't live in Europe where you can buy match ammo for both cartridges cheap.

JAMES K. - posted 1 week ago on 05-20-2020 05:34:58 am
Millersburg, OH
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I handload all my ammo, I just really enjoy it, and find it very rewarding to harvest an animal with components I've assembled myself. Currently shooting a 280 ai and a 300 prc. Swift bullets have been the best I've used. Also loading 300 win mag for my nephew