Monday, June 1, 2015

Why Custom Handloaded Ammunition?

            I manufacture Custom Handloaded Ammunition for a living, and one of the questions I’m constantly asked, is “What is that?” Simply stated, I don’t really manufacture anything, except in the eyes of the Government. I assemble ammunition, but for licensing purposes, it is considered manufacturing. Don’t you love the Government? So let’s take a look at what I really do, and why many think it is better.
            Working from the premise that there is no such thing as one size fits all, anyone who shoots a lot understands factory ammunition is at best a compromise. Please don’t get me wrong, factory ammunition has come a long - long way from when I first started shooting, but none-the-less, to this day, ammunition manufacturers struggle to make one size fit all. There are so many variables in rifle manufacturing today – chamber dimensions and rates-of-twist in barrels, to name just two factors. And, to make matters worse, some of these factors can vary between individual rifles of the same caliber, even in the same lot from the same manufacturer. Then consider the push for accuracy, especially at longer distances, than ever before seen and you can see how it is a struggle. Another reality factory ammunition manufacturer’s face is having to stay within SAAMI specifications for liability purposes, which can in some cases can and will affect accuracy. For those that don’t know who or what SAAMI is – they are Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers' Institute (SAAMI). They are an association of the nation's leading manufacturers of firearms, ammunition and components. Founded in 1926 at the request of the federal government, they are tasked with creating and publishing cartridge and firearm industry standards for safety, interchangeability, reliability and quality. So as you can begin to see, with factory ammunition, there are some real challenges to overcome, especially when some shooters are demanding so much from their ammunition.
            That’s where I come in. After spending a lifetime studying ballistics and learning everything I can about ammunition and what makes it better, as well as countless hours at the range experimenting and shooting I finally felt comfortable enough to get my manufacturer’s license (remember the government) and go into business April 2008. My whole business revolves around producing the finest custom handloaded ammunition I can. I specialize in hard-to-get and unique ammunition, meaning the ammunition you aren’t going to be able to find on the shelf of your local sporting goods store or even some of the larger chains for that matter. It maybe a rare safari caliber that someone really wants to take to Africa or someone who wants a very specialized cartridge for long distance target shooting.
            In the end it all comes down to the bullet, but getting that bullet accurately down range and making sure it performs as demanded brings to bare a whole host of factors that one must take into consideration. Bullet selection, brass, powder, and even primers used can all affect the performance of a given cartridge. So let’s take a look at some of the variables.
            Where I have an advantage is I’m not limited by selection. Meaning, within a given caliber the selection of bullets I can choose from is greater than what maybe typically found on the retail shelf. Many manufactures limit what they offer based on sheer sales volume, meaning they have to make a choice on what ammunition and what bullets to offer based on sales records and marketing projections. This means they may focus on the more popular calibers, and if possible maybe have a limited run, say once a year, of some other not-so-popular calibers. On the other hand, my business is order driven, meaning I don’t load ammunition I think will sell, rather I load what my customer’s request, so I have a great choice of options to choose from. For example, take a 308 Winchester – there are hundreds of choices available for that caliber, still I have customers I load 308s for with bullets that are not commercially available.
Don’t think ordering ammunition from me is as simple as calling and asking for a box or two of something. All my orders begin with a considerable amount of research. Chamber specs, if known, are discussed, as well as rates of twist of the rifling, and most importantly, what is the round being used for. From there loads are developed. Sometimes this process can take weeks, and in some rare cases even months: especially if it is an obsolete or very rare caliber. In some cases the components maybe very hard to come by and require special orders to get what is needed.
            From there the real work begins; assembling the finest components available to develop a cartridge that will do what is asked of it, every time. That’s really one of the biggest advantages of custom hand loaded ammunition, the confidence in knowing every shot will be close to the first one taken. Whether it’s in a hunting environment or someone shooting in a 1000 meter competition, consistency in the group is paramount.
Another factor to consider when hunting is whether or not the bullets will perform once they reached the target. Last month I explored the differences in some bullets and their intended uses. As I noted, Match Grade bullets are designed to provide as high a Ballistic Co-efficiency as possible. Those type bullets are designed strictly to fly as flat and true as possible and not for penetration on a target; therefore, they are pretty well useless in a hunting scenario. But, that’s not to say any or all hunting bullets aren’t accurate. Nothing could be further from the truth today as there are a whole host of extremely accurate hunting bullets available. I’ve been using a legendary Sierra .224 Hollow Point Boattail GameKing bullet for varmint hunting for decades now. I’ve taken shots out to 500 yards without hesitation with those bullets and been right on the mark. I was doing that at a time when a 500 yard shot meant something. So as you can see there are a lot of choices open to shooters who utilize custom hand loaded ammunition.
Not all the ammunition I load is for long distance shooting. Truthfully I load a lot of ammunition for safari hunters who consider a 75-100 yard shot really long. When it comes to dangerous game, it’s not necessarily about distance, as many of those hunts are up close and personal. Rather it’s about confidence in the ammunition and its knockdown power. This is where my experience and research really pays off, understanding kinetic energy and penetration. This is where knowing what’s going to give a hunter the best options to stop something really big that is dead set and determined to hurt him. 
            My investment in time and equipment was substantial, and I can say with a great deal of pride that ammunition I’ve loaded has been carried all over the world - from the savannahs of Africa, to the mountains of New Zealand, as well as all of North America. There are several long range target shooters who depend on me to provide the accuracy they demand for the competitions they shoot.