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. allendavis58

    I have one more loading that requires mention. It’s for my Hi-Power in 9 mm.
    It uses a 115 gr. JHP from Sierra (although the Hornady version seems to work just as good). I use 4.9 gr. of HP-38 powder for an average velocity of 1263 fps, as standard deviation of 11.04 and extreme spread of 33.26 fps. This is also an extremely accurate, extremely consistent loading that produces wonderful accuracy. Recoil is pleasant, but quite sharp and abrupt — no big deal.
    One might note that I seem to have a real liking for Hodgdon’s HP-38 powder. I do like it a lot in the 9 and the .45. It works for me. I’ve been told by many people that it’s actually identical to W-231. I know its a very fast-burning powder, almost as fast as the old standby Bullseye. In fact, I use it a lot in my .45 Colt SAA with 255 gr. Keith bullets for a gentle 750 fps and great accuracy.
    I should also add that I cast all my bullets in two distinct alloys. One is the classic #2 alloy, which is fairly hard and resists leading. My other casting does use a softer alloy, with a bit less antinomy and tin. These bullets WILL EXPAND from my Hi-Power or 1911 and still not lead the barrel.
    I don’t “hot-rod” any of my handguns. If I need more power, I simply go to a bigger or more powerful gun. After all, that’s why God and Elmer Keith invented the .41 Magnum!

  2. allendavis58

    I should add to my previous comment that I’ve began handloading in 1972 when I was 14. A neighbor introduced me with his RCBS Rock Chucker press. Since 1981, I’ve done all my loading on a Lee turret press, an excellent (and grossly under-rated machine). I wore out that press after 20 years of hard use and nearly 400,000 rounds. Since that press served me so well for so long, I bought another one just like it in 2004, although I struggled with buying the 4-station model, but was reluctant to have to buy a bunch of new turrets. I also decided I didn’t need the “progressive loading” features. I batch-load everything. I just like the turrets since I never have to adjust dies once they’re set properly.
    Also, on the loads I previously commented on, all were loaded in Winchester cases with standard Winchester primers.

  3. allendavis58

    I have a load for my 9mm Hi-Power using a 125 gr. LRN bullet using 4.0 gr. of HP-38 which consistently yields an average velocity of 1063 fps, with a standard deviation of ONLY 6.63 and extreme spread of ONLY 21.7 fps. And I can consistently shoot sub-1-inch groups at 25 yards with it. I routinely shoot an 18″ x 24″ steel plate target at 75 yards in fairly rapid fire, and I rarely miss. It is also 100% reliable. I wouldn’t hesitate to rely on this load for self defense. After all, I’ve NEVER seen factory ammo of ANY kind as good as this load.
    Likewise, I have a load for my 1911 using a 225 gr. LRN using 5.0 gr. of HP-38 that averages 851 fps, a standard deviation of 8.71 and extreme spread of only 30.2 fps. It also produces extremely small groups at 25 yards. I don’t think factory ammo could possibly match this load. And after 35,000+ rounds, I’ve only had one minor malfunction with this load, and it was after firing about 1,000 rounds in a single session, and the gun was dirty when I began. The round failed to fully chamber. All I had to do was bump the back of the slide and things went smoothly thereafter.
    While components are definitely much more expensive than they were 30 years ago, I can still shoot a lot more with home-rolled ammo than even bulk commercial ball ammo.
    It is tough to beat commercial 5.56 mm ammo, so I don’t load much for it since I don’t save enough money to justify handloading, but that steel-cased Russian 7.62×39 mm is impossible to beat except for a highly customized AK I have, and I use only American nickel-plated cases for it. I can shoot 6-7-inch groups at 600 yards with it.
    Overall, I still prefer handloads.

  4. micko77

    I reloaded on single-stage press only for about two years; it’s now reserved for rifle, seldom-loaded pistol calibers. My Dillon has had well over 600k .38/357’s through it. I cast a fair share, buy some cast bullets, some jacketed for the rare instances jackets are needed. I was fortunate to have stocked up on both powder and primers for my primary calibers, and have sufficient brass to go a few years minimum. I use factory ammo only for self-defense and the occasional shotgun deer slug, buckshot loads for the house guns; otherwise all reloads. One darn good reason for wheelguns; they’ll run what fits, from 500 fps. to 1500+, as appropriate to gun. Only centerfire rifle is a 30-30 single shot Topper that I have enough brass, powder and primers, as well as 110 gr. bullets for, molds for 170’s. Thank heaven for Unique!

  5. Kent

    In a cost-per-round comparison, hand loads win hands down over factory ammo, especially today in Obamaland, but in terms of total expenditure, it’s probably a wash, at least that’s been my experience.

    When I first started shooting seriously on a regular basis, my shooting time was limited by the cost of factory ammo. So, I started reloading. Reloading significantly reduced my cost-per-round, as intended, so I started shooting more, much more. In the final analysis, I was spending at least as much (probably more) money as I was when I was shooting only factory ammo.

    I look at it this way, the more I shoot, the better shot I (should) become, and that’s what it’s all about for me. That said, I’m all in for hand loading, big time.

  6. Mike Kerwood

    I`m the “Match Director”,for our local rifle range,in Alaska,where we shoot rifles matches every Sunday evening,in the Summer Season. We alternate between shooting 22 rimfire at 50 & 100 yards,and “Varmint For Score” at 200 yards. The 10 ring at our 200 yard target is .9″ or 9/10″ in diameter. If you don`t reload,you don`t stand a chance of ever winning. It takes 25 record rounds,to complete a 200 yd Rifle Match,and unlimited sighters.Factory Ammo will do 1 M.O.A. in a good rifle,and if that satisfies you,that`s great. But I `m the type who`s never satisfied,and always looking at ways to make smaller groups,not just one 5 shot group,but an “Average or Aggregate”. It helps come Hunting season,when that trophy animal is only going to give you one shot,and you`ve been shooting all summer & have the confidence to take the shot,Humanely,and the trophy home too.Factory Ammo has come a long way,but the smallest groups are always with “Handloads”,Mike Kerwood

  7. VinnieL

    Reload. Heck you can’t buy the stuff. I have reloaded since 1979. After becoming a very accurate shooter, it is the next step, being able to recycle used cases into new rounds especially when you can make them function as good or better than factory stuff. There is no reason to put full velocity loads through your firearms just to shoot paper targets. Makes the firearms last a lot longer doing it that way. I load .38 Spcl/.357, 9mm, 45 ACP, 45 AR, .45 Colt, 380, and .30 carbine now. Might get into .308 if I decide on the Springfield M-1A. I hope the people who are hoarding ammo and components lose their shirts on it when the supply catches up with the artificial demand.

  8. intruderdave

    It depends on many things, but cost is a big factor for me. I reload for the 45/70 and have a much wider range of bullet types and weights to choose from than you ever find from a manufacturer, especially with cast bullets. Load with a light bullet and powder charge for short range plinking or max out a monster slayer just in case. At around $1.50 per shot for commercial ammo, you save so much per-shot that it is easy to pay for the cost of reloading equipment and supplies from the cost savings in just a few hundred rounds!

  9. mukdentype99

    I originally got into relaoding due to the high price of ammo to feed my Jap Type 99s and Type 38s (I collect them heavily and regularly shoot and hunt with them). Norma of Sweden was the only commercial loader at about $40 per box in the 1990s! But,now Hornady makes a nice loading using Prvi Partisan brass that sells for $25-$30 per 20 rounds. However, loading the old Norma ammo peaked my interest. I got into it and I was hooked. I found that I am still able to get a quality customized round for what I would pay for standard factory loaded fodder. I now reload .30-06, .308 Win, .35 Rem, .270 Win and the dies and bullets for a few others. Contrary to what I have read here, there is still some components available. Cabelas has components in their stores. Powder and bullets most times. I find primers 1 out of every 4-5 visits. There is also components on the on-line gun auction sites (you know the ones), albeit, at inflated prices. You need to do some shopping. I still purchase factory loaded ammo when I find it because every box has a future as reloading brass. I constantly add to my component supplies in order to keep me and my family shooting, hunting and protecting ourselves long after the commercial ammo sources dry up or are cut off.

  10. rick smith

    Good the Nosler Ackley brass worked for you, it hasn’t for all loaders. SAAMI made some changes to the original design mainly in the shoulder area. Some loaders have reportede case head seperation on the first firing. The problem isn’t SAAMI or Nosler but some of the older chambers that were cut to different dimentions due to lack of any standard.
    Started loading in the early sixtys and still going strong. The problem I find with factory ammo is that one lot may work very well in your gun but buy a couple boxes next year and they may not be the same powder/priomer and your gun may not like them. You could burn through a lot of different manufactures rounds looking for one that your rifle likes. Except for 22LR/mag, none of my rifles or handguns shoot factory ammo.

  11. Ceapea

    I have loaded over 30k rounds, in seven calibers, since Aug of 2010. I shoot in several different competitions and could not shoot in any if it were not for reloading.

    1. allendavis58

      Welcome to the club!!! Make sure you keep detailed, accurate records for every batch and round you load and keep lots of notes as well.
      To assist your efforts, you should buy a chronograph and keep detailed records of your loading results as well. It will greatly assist you in building great loads.
      My records indicate I’ve loaded well over 1.3 million rounds since I began as a kid. However, many of those rounds went to my Dad, my three kids (ages 33 to 30) and many friends.
      I load for the .32 ACP, .380 ACP, 9mm Parabellum, .38 S&W, .38 Special, .357 Magnum, .41 Magnum, .44 Special, .44 Magnum, .45 Colt, 5.56mm NATO, 7.62x39mm, .30-30 Win., 8mm Mauser and the .45-70 Govt.
      Like you, I’d be sitting at home wishing I was at the range rather than being at the range and pushing lead downrange.

  12. rocquenroll

    This has rapidly become a moot question. There is no factory ammunition to be had, period. It’s been almost 4 months now since any common handgun ammo has been seen on the shelves of any local, or on-line reseller. That leaves one option only, reload your own. Now the trick becomes finding primers (there aren’t any) and powder (there isn’t any). The ammunition people that have resaponded to my numerous e-mails all claim to be building and shipping millions of rounds every day (Blazer/CCI and Remington both actually responded) but they claim that “the hoarders” are taking it all. I have an opinion on that; horders cannot hoard if nothing ever gets into a store, and that’s what’s happening, so I’m inclined to believe there is something else at work here. There is zero Alliant Bullseye powder, and not a single box of any small pistol primers to be found, and I jsut checked 6 local selleres, and 19 on-line sites.

    1. allendavis58

      Perhaps I’m lucky. Perhaps I was also smart.
      I began hoarding primers years ago, when they were still selling for $20 per thousand. They currently sell for $30-$40 per thousand when you do find them.
      When I began handloading back in the early 1970s, primers could be had for $10 per thousand!!!
      I saw the price trend, so I sacrificed a lot just to build a stockpile of primers. I was still buying them when they hit $30/thousand, saving my stockpile. I’m so glad I did.
      What I didn’t foresee was the high prices brass casings now command. Thankfully, I hoarded a butt-load of cases when they were either free or extremely cheap.
      Powder is also an issue, but not as bad. In the early 1970s, a pound of Bullseye or Unique went for less than $10/pound. heheheheheh. Look at the prices today.

      Scarcity of components is indeed an issue today, and they are much higher than they used to be. But they are out there.
      And yes, factory ammo is hard to find, and prices are through the roof. But components can be found if you look really hard. Just be prepared for sticker price shock.

      Handloading is still cheaper than factory stuff if you shop hard for components, and that isn’t always easy. Today;s factory ammo is tough to beat for accuracy, but I do it all the time. Homework, homework, homework and lots of research is all it takes.

  13. amccann0486

    Factory or home made that is the question. I look at it this way. I buy store bought fodder for back yard shooting but, I also reload to keep my skills up and my supplies up to date. With the way things are going there may likely come a day that ammo is even harder to get than it currently is. I reload several pistol and rifle loads. In reloading I have learned to identify most powder types, Bullet sizes and shell casings. I know that when ammo gets hard to get if all I own is a 223 I know I can take the bullet from a 22-250, easily press out the primer and use a little less of the powder to make one more 223 round. IF I HAD TO. Same thing goes for other ammo. If all I have is a 38 and empty shells, I can make them from 357 rounds. I know a lot (If not all of you) are saying this guy is insane. But, when push comes to shove. The knowledge is worth the effort.

  14. nmgene

    I can not afford factory ammo, so I have to reload. I quit shooting about a year ago and there is a great shortage of ammo and reloading supplies. I am slowly getting all of my brass reloaded. When we get rid of the fraud in the Whitehouse and the damocrats and rinos we will be able to buy at a reasonable price. Heck we might even be able to find a Job!!!!!!!!!!

  15. jleach

    I have been reloading for 58 years. I load for pistol, rifle and shotgun, plus I cast my own bullets. I love it. In fact I still have my original cartridge press I started with. It is an “H” design, called a Dunbar.

  16. will

    Well with no factory ammo to buy anywhere at any price .. my reloaded ammo is the way to go…keep checking but NO FACTORY ammo around… and i reload pistol and rifle and get good ammo for the buck too…….

  17. JackBohm

    I reload for .38Special and .357Magnum. I also cast my own bullets- Elmer Keith’s design with the Lyman 358429 Mold for .38s, and the Lyman 358477 mold for midrange .357s. It costs me a mere to $4 to $6 for a box of 50 rounds, including my electricity and bullet lube to do that. If I use factory bullets, It costs me around $10. I also reload assorted shotgun shells. Buckshot, Target loads, and field loads. Costs vary a bit. Buckshot is slight savings, Target loads are basically a $1 less than garbage non-reloadable target loads, Field Loads are half price. I have a decent supply of components.