Waiting for the water to get in shape for open water fishing would be a terribly anxious time if not for other things to occupy the time, especially when one of the things is handloading, something I thoroughly enjoy. Even though I have worked up loads for most of my rifles, I do enough shooting that I am always short on some cartridges. And this year I have a new project, working up a load for my .221 Fireball.
It is too soon to write about loads for the .221 Fireball. Instead, this is a good time for an introduction to handloading for those readers who have not tried it.
There was a time when handloading was touted as the only means for making custom loads for your rifles. But what amounts to custom loads have become available to anyone since ammunition manufacturers have expanded their lines to include a wider variety of bullets, and more specialized bullets.
New powders which are not always available to handloaders have allowed ammo manufacturers to produce loads with superior velocity.
Tolerances have been tightened through new manufacturing means to make cartridges more uniform, which translates to better accuracy.
One thing mass produced ammunition can not do, though, is tailor loads to the peculiarities of just one particular rifle. No matter how uniform any load may be, each rifle has its own peculiarities which can mean the only way to achieve maximum accuracy is by working up a handload.
I started handloading while I was a teenager not so much for any practical reason, though, as much as just because I enjoy it. My uncle, D.L. Lacy, was a handloader, and I wanted to do what he did. I bought a Pacific Pro loading vise, dies for my .264 Remington Magnum, and the rest of the necessary equipment and supplies and started handloading.
Looking back, handloading is a very good hobby for a young shooter. It demands a good deal of study, focus, concentration, and responsibility, all traits that are essential to maturity.
Beyond that, handloading is relaxing, and it is very satisfying. Taking game with your own handloads adds another element of accomplishment. It is the same feeling the fly tier gets, or the bowhunter who makes his own arrows.
Many new handloaders rate velocity as their first and foremost goal. This is just plain wrong, and I will show you why, using the trusty, old .30-06 Springfield as our example. With the Nosler loading manual for reference, a 165-grain bullet gets about 3,000 fps with a maximum load of powder. Using 4 grains less powder reduces velocity to 2,800 fps. That loss of 200 fps, if a rifle is zeroed at 200 yards, causes the bullet to strike 1.4 inches lower at 300 yards. The bullet retains 280 ft. lb. less energy at 300 yards, but at 1,720 ft. lb. you still have more than plenty energy for hunting any North American big game.
It is doubtful that you will ever shoot at a white-tailed deer that is more than 300 yards from your position. At that 300 yards, the trajectory difference between the two loads is not a factor. You can not notice 1.4 inches at 300 yards.
Accuracy should be your primary goal once you have settled on the bullet you want to use, or you have narrowed down to just a few potential choices. Thinking in practical terms, accuracy to the sub-minute-of-angle level is not necessary for most big game hunting situations. But it is important to varmint hunters. And though not necessary, many handloaders come to the point where better than necessary accuracy is important at some level, even if only self-satisfaction.
Both handloaders and hunters who buy their rifle ammunition off the shelf pay much too little attention to bullet choices. The way a bullet is constructed plays a vital role in hunts, especially big game hunts where the wrong choice plays a large role in the difference between a clean kill and wounded game.
No single bullet can be perfect for all big game animals. Some call for quick expansion, others for deep penetration and weight retention. Locally, hunters should pay strict attention to the differences between bullets used for whitetails and for black bears.
Deer hunters should have good results using bullets that have moderately thick jackets and rapid expansion. Examples are the Nosler Ballistic Tip, Hornady Interlock, and Sierra Game King.
Bear hunters should stick with bullets that retain weight and penetrate deep, such as the Nosler Partition, Hornady SST, or Speer Grand Slam.