Factory ammo is a fact of firearms life. How does it relate to us, as handloaders, and, how do we relate to it? READ MORE
I’ve long been an ammo snob because of my focus on target sports, and on the creation of ammo for same (a focus both for myself and for my published materials). If you’re building ammo to stake a score on then it has to be the best, it has to be custom, and that is a substantial investment in a lot of time and tools. And testing. Testing testing testing.
I’m now shooting more factory-made rounds than ever, and one reason is because of I’m doing a lot more work with more varied firearms. For me, handloading is a serious step up, not a casual step in. I don’t load for several of the different guns I have because of that. My son, Charlie, has been doing a good deal of published reviews, for instance, and neither of us is about to set up a station just to test a firearm chambered in anything we don’t already load for.
I also have come to accept that it may be a more fair test of a gun to run ready-made through it, but only because that is how it’s usually done: get a gun, get a few boxes of ammo, go to the range, and see what you have. I have every confidence that, given enough of that time and testing, I can make any rifle out there shoot better with a handload — I’ve seen that over and over and over again. But, I say factory ammo is a fair test because overall and after enough different tests with different guns there will be a pattern develop reflecting ammo quality. There are, therefore, decided performance tendencies I’ve seen in factory ammo, and, as with many things that have, at a base level, cost as a variable — it’s predictable.
“Premium” factory ammo shoots better! Of course it does. That’s assembled with, mostly, a quality bullet. For rifles it’s the barrel, for ammo it’s the bullet that matters most. So, if you’re wanting to see how well your new gun can shoot, choose a box of factory ammo that’s got the better bullet. That also gives you the chance to get started assembling a component list when you spool up the press to make your own for it. If you doubt that, ask any old NRA High Power Rifle shooter about “Mex-Match.” And, since I’m handy, I’ll tell you! Pull the bullet from a mil-spec load and replace it with a commercial match-grade bullet of a suitable weight. Groups shrink 50-60%.
The Value Of Factory Ammo
Are there times when factory is prefereable to custom?
Yes. At least, maybe.
I keep factory ammo in my “ready mags.” That might surprise some. Yes, of course I “trust” my handloads. Usually, though, I won’t be shooting a lot of whatever is loaded into my house gun, and that’s all about bullets. I’ll shoot a ton of handloaded rounds through my main carbine, but not with the bullet I want being there if needed.
On that topic: it is the bullet options that factory ammo provides that can give it an edge over a routine-use handload. For instance, some of the “specialty” defensive or hunting factory recipes use bullets that often aren’t even available otherwise (or not readily). Or, and as said, it’s a better value all-around to get a few boxes of what you have chosen to represent best fulfillment of needs, get a zero with some, and then keep the rest at the ready, than it is to load them yourself. That requires routine load recipe testing, which requires purchase of more bullets, maybe different propellants, and so on.
Plus, since most are treated to sealant or at the least little to no contact with humans, there’s less chance of “stiction,” which can and will happen. (That’s when the bullet “freezes” in the case neck, and it raises pressure.) I’ve seen it, and it’s from plain corrosion, which is fueled mostly from handling the components. I’ve had it turn up in rounds loaded for no more than a year (and they popped a few primers). Some use latex gloves, and I started up that after this experience.
First I apologize for this short list because there’s a lottamo out there. I only feel right, right now, about telling you what I have used that I really like.
Of the factory ammo I’ve shot, and this is across a range of cartridges, the Hornady line has overall been the most impressive. That’s for handguns and rifles. Hornady has a wide range of specialized loads (specialized bullets) that are well thought out, and, by my experience, well constructed. Stuff shoots well! For instance, their lower-cost “mil-spec” simply shoots better than others similar I’ve tried. Likewise, for hunting, defense, and targets, there will very likely be a load that’s been well-proven. Again, it’s usually the bullet that’s the difference. I shot a lot of good scores with Hornady bullets in my handloads, and some of their designs for impact effectiveness have proven themselves indeed effective.
I also like Nosler. It’s not cheap. Neither are the bullets or brass used in it! Nosler has been my go-to for .223 Rem. brass for a good while. Its quality is very good and it’s ready to load right out of the box, and it’s tough enough. I switched to Nolser match bullets also. I mostly got to shooting Nosler factory ammo when I got my 22 Nosler. Hornady has a wider selection for different needs, but my experience has been that I haven’t found anything that beats Nosler on-target. And I get to keep the cases!
I’m leaving a lot of makers out. Clearly, there is good and not good factory-loaded ammo. Those I know with a lot more rounds downrange from freshly-factory-sealed containers have good things to say about Federal Premium, and often favor Black Hills, and also agree with me about Hornady and Nolser.
There are a lot (a lot a lot) of options in bullets especially for .300 Blackout, for instance. The Blackout is that much more variable because of super- and subsonic.
The .223 Rem. range, along with other popular cartridges, includes the “target” use loadings. Some are pretty good. However! I honestly think there’s a tad amount, to a lot, of kidding the self to think it will be better than what you can load for yourself. If you want to really find out how well your gun shoots, getchaseff to the loading bench.
As suggested, it might be wise to try a few factory loads in a new gun before making the investment in choosing components for your handloaded ammo to come.
The preceding is a adapted from information contained in from Glen’s newest book America’s Gun: The Practical AR15. Available at Midsouth Shooters Supply. Visit ZedikerPublishing.com for more information on the book itself, and also free article downloads.