While the terms Reloading and Hand Loading are often interchanged, there really is a difference in the two. It’s the sort of thing that only matters to those it matters to, and then, those people are likely to be handloading.
Many people get into making their own ammunition for budgetary reasons. Shooting pistol in particular, where a weekend’s round count can get up to (or surpass) 200 rounds, being able to reduce the cost of ammunition is a great advantage. For a direct example – when I started shooting the pistol, I was buying 9mm. Cost per round was around 55 cents.
Some quick calculations revealed that even with the purchase of a progressive press (in my case a Dillion 550), my return on investment was going to be under a year.
Meaning, the components used meant that my cost per round was going to drop down to 25 cents. With the amount I was planning to shoot – the press and dies would ‘pay for themselves’ with a year.
The economies of reloading
I will release this calculator publically sometime soon – it’s a good way of recording my recipes and gives me a bit of extra data analysis at the same time.
It made sense to start creating my own ammo as a cost-savings measure. This is essentially what reloading means. Reloading ammo is primarily focused on cost reduction, or, in the case of some more uncommon cartridges, it may be a simple fact that you can’t buy it new anymore.
Now, here is the catch. While many of us get into reloading in an attempt to save money, there is a little issue that sometimes ruins the theory. Ourselves. Many of us, myself included, like gizmos and toys. It won’t take long before the actual cost of equipment, well, may not be as economical as first indicated. You know, that rotary tumbler, those upgraded dies, the LED lighting for the press… not that it really matters, but you probably also don’t include a labour cost into your figures, do you?
Anyhow, our own lack of self-restraint on toys notwithstanding, reloading can be a way to reduce costs.
However, at some point, another aspect of making your own ammunition will become evident – finding that perfect load for your firearm, and that is where we start to cross over into handloading.
When you start trying to achieve the smallest groups possible, your ammunition becomes more and more critical.
If you want consistency, be consistent.
Consistency means repeatability, and the goal of shooting is to repeatedly put the bullet where you want it to go, time after time, after time.
Consistency means removing variables and your ammunition can be one of the biggest (yet most controllable) of them. The ideal would be to reduce all variables apart from the shooter themselves.
As you get into handloading, terms like neck tension, ES, headspace and more will become more and more important to you.
Handloading, unlike reloading, quickly throws any notion of the economy out the window. The equipment and processes required begin to require more and more, both in regards to the cost of equipment and the time spent using it. Think the scales that came with your 50th anniversary Lee kit are enough to get down to single-digit ES figures? Think again. You will start reading about full length or neck only resizing, debate if you should anneal your brass and consider neck turning. All done with one goal in mind – make every single round you put through the rifle the same as the last.
Handloading takes more time.
There are generally more steps in the process, as each process gets broken down and refined. Instead of just full length resizing in one do, you may use a body die, then a neck die, of course – a neck sizing bushing die means you should also be neck turning your brass, which also means you may have already batched the brass out into weights. This all takes more time.
However, as already stated, different purposes, different levels of results and effort required.
A little of both
For many people, they are actually going to be doing a little bit of both. Myself, for example, I reloading pistol, but I handload rifle. My 9mm at 30m requires less accuracy than my .308 at 1000m. The one interesting conundrum I have coming up is going to be .223. Can I combine some of the process economies of a progressive, with the accuracy of a single stage? I think I might just have it cracked!