Handloads For Practice, Factory For The Street
In addition to being committed supporters of our rights enunciated in the Second Amendment, many concealed carriers are also firearm and shooting enthusiasts. We enjoy frequent trips to the range for practice sessions and competitive events. Many of us also take the time to interest others in our sport by introducing new shooters to various activities, instructing new shooters, etc. Anyone who does a significant amount of shooting recognizes that our interests can consume quite a bit of money. Quality firearms and accessories are not cheap. Regular practice can burn up hundreds or even thousands of rounds of ammunition in the course of a year. Opinions may differ on this, but I feel that practice sessions at a minimum of once per month are required to maintain a level of skill necessary to carry with confidence and safety. If you were to expend 100 rounds in each session, that’s 1200 rounds in a year. Currently, .45 ACP ammo suitable for practice costs between 45 and 50 cents per round, while 9mm can be had in the 25 to 30 cent per round range. Devoted enthusiasts can expend five or even ten times as much ammunition. The pleasure of shooting is definitely not free.
One way to reduce the overall cost of shooting is to hand-load one’s own ammunition. The most expensive part of a round of ammunition is the cartridge case. If you have a quality firearm and follow sound hand-loading practice, a single case can be re-used multiple times. Quality hand-loaded ammunition can be produced at home for significantly less than the cost of factory-made rounds. In addition to re-using brass, the hand-loader can make use of common full-metal jacketed or very inexpensive cast bullets. The projectile is the second most expensive part of the finished round. State of the art premium bullets are considerably more expensive than ordinary FMJ projectiles.
NOTE: The use of cast bullets in barrels with polygonal rifling (Glock, H&K) is generally not recommended. This has been the subject of much discussion over the years. Unless you have precise control over the hardness of the alloy used, the exact sizing of the cast bullet, and the type of lubricant used, it is a good idea to stick to jacketed bullets in Glocks and H&Ks. In some cases, use of cast lead bullets may void the warranty of the firearm.
Once the initial cost of the hand-loading equipment is amortized, hand-loading can allow the shooter to enjoy many more rounds for his ammo dollar than the shooter who uses factory loaded ammo all the time. In the near future, we will explore the cost savings to be had by hand-loading in considerable detail. There is an up-front investment in both time and learning required, but for those who are committed and careful, there are considerable rewards.
The advantages of hand-loading as part of a shooter’s lifestyle being acknowledged, there is a very important caution to observe: Hand loaded ammunition is great for practice, but for defensive use on the street, carry only factory-made premium ammunition with high-performance projectiles.
There are many reasons for this. First is the issue of safety. A full-metal jacketed projectile will penetrate much further than a jacketed hollow point of the same diameter when launched at the same velocity. The FMJ is also much more likely to ricochet if it strikes a hard, flat surface like a sidewalk or a building. Whenever you discharge a firearm, you are responsible for the bullet from the time it leaves the muzzle until it comes to rest. In a defensive situation, you do not want your projectile to sail clean through your intended target and potentially strike an innocent person who just happened to be in the area.
Second is the issue of reliability. Modern ammunition, especially the premium variety intended for law enforcement or personal defense, undergoes very strict quality control. When you hand-load, the responsibility for quality control rests solely upon you. Even if you are using the best possible components, you are one human being. Being human, you can make an error or be distracted during the loading process. Although you can take measures to insure that your rounds will all chamber, fire, and eject reliably, there is always the possibility that a bad round can get by you. Since the potential consequences of failure of a round of ammunition are so severe, you may want to trust an established manufacturer’s QC department in preference to your sole oversight.
Third, and to me the most important, is the issue of potential liability. As a hand-loader, you may use the best components and take the time to visually inspect and test-gauge each round you produce. With some enthusiasts, this is a matter of pride. I should know, as I am one of them. The one thing you cannot predict is the legal fallout from a defensive shooting. Even if you do not face criminal charges, the possibility of a lawsuit by the family of the unfortunate would-be criminal you had to shoot is very real. The attorney for the plaintiff will do anything to make you look like a blood-thirsty troll, who made his own “extra-deadly” ammunition in his basement. You want to deprive the greedy plaintiff’s attorney of anything he can use against you. One good way to go about this is to habitually carry factory ammunition, available in any gun shop. If possible, find out what your local law enforcement uses and carry it, if it is available to you.
This is a small concession to make. Of course, you will want to periodically rotate your carry ammunition by using it in practice and replacing with fresh rounds. By doing this, you are also constantly re-confirming that your firearm will function reliably with the ammo you choose to carry. In fact, if you switch to a new brand or new type of ammunition for daily carry, it is a good idea to use no fewer than 200 rounds in practice before carrying it on the street. You want to be sure that your firearm is reliable with the ammo you carry.
Meanwhile, keep on practicing and stay safe.