Tactical Military Arms

Ammo: Reloads or Factory?

It used to be that if I wanted ammo for my .280 Ackley Improved, I needed to shoot .280 Remington in order to fireform it and then reload it. Now, Nosler Custom offers .280 Ackley ammo - and the stuff is darn accurate!

It used to be that if I wanted ammo for my .280 Ackley Improved, I needed to shoot .280 Remington in order to fireform it and then reload it. Now, Nosler Custom offers .280 Ackley ammo – and the stuff is darn accurate!

Writing this basic primer on reloading recently forced me to think critically about my own exploits into handloading.

I don’t reload as much as I used to, thanks to limited free time, but equally at fault is the fact that factory ammo has become so good. This is especially true when it comes to match-grade ammo.

One benefit of reloading precision rifle ammunition is the ability to customize loads for your rifle. Benchrest shooters are renown for this level of exactness. They’ll weigh out cases and bullets and discard any component that doesn’t fall within their self-imposed tolerances.

I don’t take it to this level. For one thing, I’m not a benchrest shooter. I enjoy banging steel or shooting IDPA targets at long range. At six football fields distant, I celebrate when I shoot a respectable MOA-sized group.

For handgunning, I still like to reload the .44 magnum. My favorite handgun load for deer is a genuine 250- or 300-grain “Keith-style” lead bullet design. These suckers kill big game today just like they did in the good ‘ol days for Elmer.

I can buy ammo loaded with the little sledgehammers — and I just might if time gets any tighter — but for now I’ve got an accurate recipe and the dies are all set up just right. So, go ahead and make my day.

Meanwhile, my .280 Ackley Improved requires .280 Remington ammo be shot for fireforming, after which it is then reloaded at Ackley levels. Having done my fair share of this, it’s refreshing that I can buy Nosler Custom .280 AI ammo that just happens to be extremely accurate in my gun.

For defensive handgunning, much shooting can and should be done to improve proficiency. An easy-going target load cranked out on a progressive press would make this endeavor more affordable. Unfortunately, reloading components — just like AR-15s and Glocks — are in short supply.

So for now I’m scrounging factory handgun ammo just like everyone else.

Which has inspired this thought: Factory ammo has gotten so good in recent years that a case could be made that it eclipses the benefits of handloading.

What do you think? Leave a comment below and tell me your thoughts.


Reloading Ultimate Collection

Whether you choose to reload because it’s a more cost-effective alternative, or you’re interested in creating custom ammunition, it’s important to know what you’re doing. Done incorrectly, handloading can be risky, but with the appropriate tools, equipment, and techniques, it can be a more than viable alternative to purchasing manufactured ammunition. With the Reloading Ultimate Collection, discover the best practices for reloading ammo for rifles, handguns, and shotguns.

49 thoughts on “Ammo: Reloads or Factory?

  1. Chick

    I must say, that I have seen both good and bad with factory loaded ammo. A lot comes down to the rifle. In my Remington 7mm Ultramag, Remington factory Core Lokts, will group less than 3/4″ at 100 yards. Problem is the $55 price per box. Then again, this is not a rifle you want to shoot a lot, anyway. the load is so hot, at 3425 fps, that the barrel will shoot out, if not allowed to cool, or shot too much. Load testing on this caliber, can be hard on the barrel and your wallet, so, it might be easier on some, to just use factory ammo.

  2. bocam48

    I started reloading in the 1980’s with a Lee Load All, purely out of financial necessity. As time went on, I would buy and store components when I saw a good deal. Equipment can be costly, but if you reload for a long time, you’ll recover your costs, depending on how you value your leisure time. I’ve reloaded .38. ,.357 Mag, .357 Max, .45 ACP, 9mm, .308 Win, .223 Rem and 12 gauge.

    Some of my loads performed better than factory loads. In fact, you could not buy commercial .357 Maximum rounds. Still, for most informal shooting purposes, the ammunition did not account for the variations in my performance. I reloaded mostly for cost savings and the pure fun of the process.

    For the last two years, my casual shooting needs have mostly been met by factory ammunition. When per round costs are within 10 or 20 cents of my own costs, I’ll buy commercial. But everything changed in the last six months. Factory ammunition and reloading components are scarce or quickly snapped up, even online. Prices are unacceptably inflated even for .22 rimfire calibers. If I want to shoot now, I have to reload.

  3. JohnInKY

    In today’s “Obama scare” frenzy, I find it is either reload, or don’t shoot, since NOBODY has any ammo, not even .22LR! Luckly I stocked up on a lot of stuff PRIOR to the election……

  4. Chuck32571

    While the quality of factory loaded ammunition has improved over the years so has cost. The recent craze of hording has not only hampered our purchasing of factory ammo, but also has hit the reloading component supplies as well. The AR’s .224 bullet for example, is hard to find and when you do prices are jacked up to over triple the normal cost. Powder and primers have become critical as well.
    I still reload all my center fire ammunition for Bullseye
    Matches where factory ammo is just to hot for one handed shooting.
    Handloading your own will never cease to be the prime source of of avid shooters ammunition.

  5. Grabiron

    Go varmint shooting and use up 1,000 plus rounds of 22-250, 243, 204 and 223 ammo, what’s the cost? With prices jumping up everyday I can have 4 times the ammo as the factory loads.If you don’t shoot but a few hundred rounds per year then by all means buy the factory. (I am not going to compare imported steel case ammo as it doesn’t even come close to the quality of what I reload)Since I buy bulk on everything from primers to brass and bullets I haven’t been affected by the ‘hoarders’or the shortage of ammunition. My family members and friends I reload for have no shortage and are not affected by the huge spikes in ammo prices. I reload well over 2,000 rounds of different platforms per year. No empty shelves at my ammo supplier! No complaints about inconsistent ammo either.

  6. jimb1972

    As good as factory ammo has gotten it is still not as good as a load worked up for one particular rifle. I guess it all depends on if you want the best accuracy or good enough accuracy.

  7. RealityCheck4U

    I reload for bench, works best.
    I reload for pistol. At todays prices $25 for a box of 45 on sale kills me since I can reload for the price of powder and primer and my own cast bullets. Since I shoot 300 rounds a weekend,I am not spending $150.00 for ammo.

    1. RealityCheck4U

      Gotta say $3.00 for a reloaded box of 45 is only costing me time.. But I find it a relaxing hobby. My Dillon cranks out some fine ammo..

      I also have to mention I use Factory made rifle ammo to establish a benchmark which I challenge to do better.

  8. Grabiron

    If you only shoot a limited number of times or with only a few guns then factory ammo fills the bill, however go varmint shooting and go through one thousand rounds in several rifles and count up over twenty dollars (sometimes much more) per box and it is quite expensive. Unless you are Romney wealthy reloading gives great enjoyment not only for the shooting experience but it rewards you with greater knowledge and appreciation for the understanding of ballistics, weaponry and shooting skills. I reload on average two thousand rounds a year for no less than 12 different platforms. Admittedly, I am retired and have the time to involve myself in this great pastime. Those that I have helped reload or reload for all admit that their final recipe for their weapon is nothing short of excellent and it helps their accuracy at a minimal cost.

  9. gunbear1950

    I will always reload because I enjoy it. Very relaxing. Commercial ammunition getting harder and harder to find in my area right now. Even places like cabelas limiting to 10 boxes now, if they have what you’re looking for, and a lot of the gun shops running low or out. Government buying most of popular handgun calibers and some rifle calibers. Reloading is the only way to put together any quantities right now. Can’t shoot without ammunition, and I like to shoot.

  10. mingaa

    Reloading has always made sense. In the current environment it makes a LOT of sense. A well set up reloaded will have control of the type of ammo on hand and when it is available. Currently the cost savings is the widest spread in many years!

    Until I can walk into a shop and be certain that I can buy 147 9mm rounds that just exceed the minor power factor, 40 S&W that just makes the major power factor, hot jhp rounds for .21 a round and accurate .223 for the same ( not counting my labor) – reloading makes a LOT of sense. I but 22LR and 12 gauge. The rest I make to my specs with (IMHO) great results!

  11. azduane

    I agree with a couple of the submitters in that casting my own bullets and reloading can save quite a bit of money especially for my handguns – 44 and 45. But, I do not reload as much for all my rifles because I can get very good accuracy from commercial ammunition. I do still keep components around and reload and shoot for practice and cost savings.

  12. terry gray

    All factory ammo is, is re-loading done on a bigger scale.
    We can make the same loads as defensive ammunition at a much reduced price. You can just about re-load a box of ammunition for half the price as factory. This alone works for me. My re-loading gear paid for it’s self years ago.

  13. terry gray

    The cost factor way out weighs the factory availability. All of the panicked masses are buying up everything they can. I can load most of ammunition needs with what I have stored over time.
    Casting handgun bullets is also an alternative that many hand loaders over look.Copper cups for gas checks are not real cheap any more for the hot loads but, they still allow loading of magnum rounds. I feel there is always time for re-loading. Instead of sitting in front of the idiot box as many do, get out the supplies and get busy. Practice as much as possible as shooting requires tons of it. Muscle memory and other skills need constant work so the skill level stays up.

  14. jddrouin

    Unfortunately, factory ammo just isn’t that good … the factories (to my admitted incomplete knowledge) measure powder based on volume, not weight, and a large number of analyses show that can vary by as much as 10%. Plus, bullet selection is based entirely on commercial considerations.

    That may meet a lot of shooters needs, but …

    1. gunslinger454

      Actually factory ammo is pretty darn good these days, especially the premium stuff from Black Hills, Hornady, Corbon, Buffalo Bore & others. They also have access to components that we as handloaders just don’t. That’s why in many cases handloaders can’t safely match the muzzle velocity of many factory loads; they use special blended powders that require a great deal of time & expensive equipment to develop, and just aren’t available to us.

      The only advantages to handloading come first & foremost in cost. You can shoot more for the same amount of money spent. Beyond that you can also shoot cartridges that are no longer commercially available, and you can tune a load to your specific rifle possibly achieving better accuracy.

      One thing you should NEVER do is use handloaded ammo for self-defense! That can come back to bite in a bad way!!!

      1. Chick

        I guess you have had issues with your reloads misfiring or not performing. I have been reloading for 30 years and have never had a metallic cartridge misfire. On the other hand, in that same time period, I have had 3 factory load misfires. The bottom line here, is that you can have a misfire regardless of who loads it, but I trust mine more than anyone elses.

      2. bisonium

        I agree with you about not reloading your own defensive ammo, but I think you are giving the factory ammo too much credit. I LOVE Black Hills ammo, or at least I did until I started checking it. This is supposed to be MATCH grade ammo and you pay a premium for it. My most recent case of .308 175gr was an interesting revelation. Have you ever checked the “match” ammo for bullet runout? Go grab yourself a Hornady Concentricity Tool and check your ammo. 80% of my “match” ammo was had bullet runout of greater than .002. Some were SIGNIFICANTLY wacked. Now I check ALL my rifle ammo for runout and don’t trust that just because it came from Black Hills it’s going to be perfect. If you are trying to squeeze long range accuracy out of every shot, EVERYTHING matters and factory ammo doesn’t simply cut it or replace the tolerances of hand loading your own ammo.

  15. hubcap

    If you count STRICTLY and ONLY the financial part of reloading, reloading USUALLY won’t make sense. Many of us however, just as in any other hobby, enjoy the challenges, advantages, and satisfactions of rolling our own and that makes it worthwhile.

    1. gunslinger454

      I strongly disagree. Most people don’t actually save a lot of money reloading, but that’s generally because that (like me) they shoot more! By reloading my own ammo I can shoot anywhere from 3-5 times as much for the same amount of money spent even if I were buying the least expensive ammo available. There are exceptions to that of course. Some imported ammo is cheap enough that it doesn’t really make a lot of sense to reload for those specific cartridges (5.54x39mm for example), but overall you will get to shoot more if you reload!

    2. Evocati

      You can reload .338 LM for less than half the cost of a box of 20 Rounds (those’ll run ya $130/box if not more). You’re statement is conditionally true and probably only true for small rounds. I can reload my Match grade .308 ammo for half the cost as well.

  16. bradshaw@pa.net

    I’d say that it depends on the individual rifle and if you can get better accuracy than with factory loads. Plus, there are a lot of different bullets that are not loaded for all calibers. But, if your rifle fires factory rounds in the bullet your want, then I would agree that you need not reload. In four of my six rifles, I get better accuracy with handloads I’ve developed.

  17. lyonspo@sccoast.net

    In terms of pistols, the biggest advance since the 1911 design have been in the form of ammunition advances. The ammo that I shot as a kid in the 70s is not even close to the effectiveness of the advanced ammo out today. In terms of defensive ammo, you just don’t get the same results with walmart brand target ammo as you can with Hornady Defensive ammo. Wouldn’t most reloads be closer to the target ammo

    1. bisonium

      You can’t put Hornady defensive loads like Critical Defense or Critical Duty in the same category as Walmart target ammo. What makes them more effective is the advances in ballistics and terminal performance, specifically in the bullet. Target ammo won’t have hollow point, much less technology like FlexTip.

      So hand loading can give you the best of both worlds. Want cheap plinking or USPSA ammo? You buy lead / molly round nose. Your tolerances don’t have to be exact from shot to shot and using a progressive press cranks the target ammo out in a jiffy.

      Want bench rest accuracy and performance? You buy premium components and hand load to the EXACT grain by measuring every grain on every case MANUALLY. You double check case length, neck sizing and headspacing with micrometers and you load every round on a single stage nice and easy. It’s not about quantity at this point, it’s about quality. And that quality, in the handes of a competent hand loader, will ALWAYS exceed the quality of ANY factory load by the mere fact that no assembly line operation can have the exact tolerances of hand loading.