There are several motivations involved in creating handloads for hunting purposes, and that may vary to some degree from hunter to hunter.
Here is a short summary of potential reasons for creating our own rifle ammunition for hunting purposes of big game:
1)Economic benefits. While it is certainly true that today’s factory products, especially those of the premium class, are a challenge to improve upon from an economic point of view, nonetheless we are able to save a few dollars by carefully selecting components, especially if the cartridge in question is a more common one. (A 286gr Nosler Partition on L in 9.3mm and a 180gr Nosler Partition on R for the .30-06)
Some say it’s closer to 1/2 the cost of factory ammo, but that has reference to mostly using cheaper bullets than the premiums that are often found in a comparably manufactured cartridge.
There is an exception to that where it is likely true that a few large bore nearly obsolete cartridges now being produced by Hornady in particular, can be self-manufactured at closer to two-thirds the cost of the factory offerings. But the brass cases for some large cartridges are often difficult to come by, and when located might create some angst over cost of the final product, like some Nitro Express cartridges that have been more recently resurrected.
Lately, I was at our local Canadian Tire store, scanning their locked ammo cabinets for pricing of the more common big game cartridges that might be put to good use during moose or elk season. At the upper end of premium Federal, Remington and Hornady, local hunters would be looking at $40+ for a box of 20… that’s $2 per shot. That was for anything from .270 Winchester to .338 Winchester Magnum. And some of those boxes had Sierra BT bullets loaded in the cases as “premiums”! Others had Noslers and Barnes, as well as “Fusions” in some Federal products. All were very pricey and perhaps some were deserving of the “Premium” moniker.
A price check of my own “products” for a mid-bore and a large-bore rifle was also done. After that experience I realized that in fact it was not due to economics that I handload my own ammo for hunting purposes. Even so, it is a LOT cheaper to do premium handloads for a 9.3 X 62 Mauser than for a 9.3 X 64 Brenneke, for example.
Consider these comparisons entirely apart from availability and costs of the firearms themselves. These are local prices:
9.3 X 62:
Hornady brass = $44.95 per 50.
9.3 X 64 Brenneke = $55 per 20 (CTG).
Some pricing for a .470 NE:
$60 for 20 Jamison cases.
$78 for 20 Hornady cases
.470 NE = $95 (Redding)
9.3 X 64 Brenneke = $142 (Redding)
Bullets in 9.3mm:
285gr PRVI = $52.95 per 100
286gr Barnes Banded Solid = $47.50 per 50
232gr Norma Oryx Bonded = $89.50 per 100
325gr Norma Oryx Bonded = $50 per 50
270gr Speer = $32.50 per 50
286 Nosler Partition = $67.50 per 50
So, for my 9.3 X 62 Mauser, I have many choices, and I can “manufacture” premium ammo at a cost of about $2 per shot counting total cost of bullet, primer, brass (6x used)and powder. That’s about the cost of premium .338 Win Mag ammo at our local Canadian Tire store. But I can’t purchase ready-made 9.3 X 62 ammo at our local gun shops. It has to be ordered in and I’d have to wait until it arrived, then drive for 1/2 hour to 1 hour to pick it up depending upon one of the three shops in our area. Canadian Tire, in town, doesn’t do those things — you can buy what they have in stock and they won’t be bringing in 9.3 anything, anytime soon!
So, practically speaking, if I want to use a 9.3 X 62 for big game hunting, I should handload for it because handloading components are available at one of those shops and I can order by phone, then expect a wait of approximately one week for arrival.
All of which leads me to:
Today, there are more bullets available in 9.3mm from 232gr to 325gr than I could ever put to good use. Plus, several brands of brass can be located or ordered. And because the case is similar to the .30-06 or .35 Whelen, in a pinch one could make their own. So, also, standard or magnum primers are easy to come by. There’s also several good, common powders that can make the old cartridge “sing” (yes, there’s currently a shortage in some areas due to hoarding).
It’s obvious I’m using the 9.3 X 62 as an example of what could be done by handloaders versus those who are “stuck” with factory products, as good as they might be.
I’ve a close friend and hunting buddy, fifteen years younger than I, who uses a .270 Winchester for all his rifle hunting. And he doesn’t handload. But he does use factory ammo loaded with the 150gr Nosler Partition whenever he can find it for purchase… he does buy in “bulk”.
I’ve “chronographed” those loads, and tested them for accuracy at 100 yards. The extreme spread was about 100 fps, ranging from around 2700 to 2800 fps. Accuracy was just “OK”, nothing to get too excited about, but at 100 to 200 yards, I suppose it’s accurate enough. And his rifle is a custom, built on a 98 Mauser action.
That brings me to the third reason for handloads:
3)Fine tuning loads for the accuracy wanted. There’s no way to adjust or fine tune factory stuff. But through handloading we can play with bullet seating, change primers or powder, vary amount of powder or even use different brands of cases. Most handloaders have in mind the best accuracy their hunting rifle can deliver using the bullet chosen and velocity expected. To get factory ammo to do all that is akin to expecting a miracle! Oh yes, I know it can happen — but it’s about as rare as a bear hibernating in July — it seems.
Over the past thirty or so years, I’ve only purchased one box of factory ammo. That was for a new .35 Whelen, and I wanted to take it deer hunting before my dies arrived, so I bought a factory box of 250gr RN by Remington, of course. Then, I could re-use the brass when all of that “stuff” was fired off. I say “stuff” because it “chronyed” at 2247 fps average for 10 shots. Factory said “2400 fps”! And shot variation was EXTREME! After the deer season, my handloads said 2600 fps at MOA from the same rifle! To me, that’s the main point in making our own.
4) The fourth reason for handloading IS performance! Yes, it’s true that a certain number of handloaders are more concerned with accuracy than with performance from a ballistics standpoint. But for myself, ballistic performance is paramount!
Permit me to illustrate from the 9.3 X 62 again. And, I’m thinking (again from experience)in this case improving ballistic performance for sub-mediums (7mm up to .323)as well as mediums and large-bores.
Factory ammo for the 9.3 X 62 employs a 285 – 286gr as standard fare, at an MV of 2360 fps. Traditional users of factory ammo, produced in several Euro plants, have been satisfied with results obtained in Europe and parts of Africa.
However, in more recent times, with the upgrading of products available, the use of chronographs, improved powders and bullets, the traditional has become somewhat obsolescent. It is now possible, using the best components, to about duplicate the performance of 9.3 X 64 Brenneke factory ammo while only being in arrears of the Brenneke by about 50 to 75 fps in premium handloads. And, I’ve safely done it, if we consider 2550 fps from a 286gr to be “normal” from the 9.3 Brenneke, which in turn is considered the equal of the .375 H&H! Of course, the H&H has proportionally improved from new components as well! But that’s not necessarily so for the Brenneke, which was already loaded to 64,000 psi.
Let’s compare a factory product in 9.3 X 62 with one of my handloads to understand why I prefer making my own:
1)A Remington factory load: 286gr @ 2360 fps
BC = .400 Zero at 230 yds
MV = 2360 fps/3536 ft-lbs/-1.75″ traj.
50 = 2260 fps/3242 ft-lbs/+1.97″
100 = 2162 fps/2968 ft-lbs/+3.97″
150 = 2067 fps/2712 ft-lbs/+4.11″
200 = 1974 fps/2475 ft-lbs/+2.21″
250 = 1884 fps/2254 ft-lbs/-1.91″
300 = 1797 fps/2050 ft-lbs/-8.49″
350 = 1712 fps/1862 ft-lbs/-17.8″
400 = 1631 fps/1689 ft-lbs/-30.0″
450 = 1553 fps/1532 ft-lbs/-45.52″
500 = 1479 fps/1389 ft-lbs/-64.6″
There are a couple of features of that factory product that should be pointed out: a) While the energy figures aren’t bad, yet the trajectory is somewhat “rainbowish”! b) It is doubtful that those numbers are ACTUAL! That is, following the usual protocol of factory generated firearms ballistics, safety is of primary importance. Since, therefore, the above ballistics represent those designed to imitate ancient ballistics in antique firearms, any notion of progression beyond those standards is muted. More than that, historically, companies like Remington err on the cautionary side of things so that 2360 fps from a 286gr could only be forthcoming from a “tight”, longish barrel of 26-inches or more. In a worn, shorter barrel, or a new shorter barrel with maximum specs, actual pressure will be less than the old standard, and MV will likely fall below that published by at least 100 fps.
So, there’s really little wonder why some hunters from Scandinavian countries suggest 200 to 250 yards for the old war horse as a reasoned maximum on big game.
Now, compare that to this… “This” being my premium handload in a new, modern bolt-action repeater that was put to good use on a black bear last September. The numbers are exact, but just don’t ask for the formula!
Bullet: 286gr Nosler Partition
Zero: 250 yds for moose and 100 yds for bear over bait last year. If you go back to March 25th you will find the same data… this is a repeat. (That was the load used — this is an average of 4x testing)
MV = 2625 fps/4375 ft-lbs/-1.75″ traj.
50 = 2536 fps/4085 ft-lbs/+1.52″
100 = 2450 fps/3811 ft-lbs/+3.43″
150 = 2365 fps/3552 ft-lbs/+3.89″
200 = 2282 fps/3306 ft-lbs/+2.79″
250 = 2200 fps/3074 ft-lbs/+0.00″
300 = 2120 fps/2854 ft-lbs/-4.53″
350 = 2042 fps/2648 ft-lbs/-11.0″
400 = 1965 fps/2453 ft-lbs/-19.6″
450 = 1891 fps/2270 ft-lbs/-30.45″
500 = 1818 fps/2098 ft-lbs/-43.71″
THAT’S why I handload my own for hunting big game!
A couple of noteworthy facts are evident from the very face of it:
1) So-called factory ballistics commence at 150 yds! In simple terms, this load has a jump-start of 150 yards over nominal factory ballistics. But over REAL factory ballistics, it’s more like 200 yards.
2) The 286 Nosler Partition also has a superior BC over any other 286gr that I’m aware of, making it possible to expand adequately all the way to 500 yds, and producing enough energy for a large bull moose! I like that idea immensely!
Now, all this is NOT to suggest that someone else needs to find a way to imitate those ballistics before good things will happen. On the contrary, that was simply an illustration of possibilities for new bolt-action repeater rifles that are chambered for some early 20th century cartridges, such as a .30-06 as another example.
It is possible from a new 24″ barreled bolt-action in .30-06 to attain the original or factory ballistics of a .300 H&H at 2880 fps from a 180gr using today’s best components. And that’s not mythology!
While ballistics from most rifle cartridges can be improved by the use of more modern powders, that especially holds true for those that predate the 21st century. It will likely be an effort in futility to try and get more than what is loaded by the factories in the short-fat magnums, as an example, because they are already loaded to 64,000 to 65,000 psi. The REAL advantage in loading your own for those is found in the proliferation and great variety of bullets available from the likes of Nosler, Speer, Barnes, Hornady, etc. Then, as mentioned, fine-tuning loads for accuracy and particular hunting situations.
Two years ago, I was using 2 grains less powder than last year’s load in the 9.3. That was also an excellent load at 2546 fps. Several other 9.3 X 62 aficionados are in that ballistic realm as well, but only in modern rifles. Don’t try that in a well worn and rather old Husqvarna!
Now, I must leave you for this time…
Next time, more of this same mindedness…