Factory Ammo vs. Personal Loads
Not everyone reloads. But current events being what they are, they might have to, if they can find the supplies. The ammo shortage and significant rise in firearms and accessories sales over the past year has been unprecedented. Primers are especially difficult to find, making life difficult for ammo companies and reloaders. In today’s world, most will shoot whatever they can get their hands on, so a discussion of factory ammunition versus personal loads is not entirely fair in this context.
Factory loads eliminate time spent reloading. For those who are not interested in reloading, do not have the equipment, or do not shoot incredibly often, factory loads are a great choice. Ready to shoot out of the box, you do not have to think or evaluate. (You should make sure there are no case splits, or other glaring abnormalities to ensure safety.) Even for dedicated reloaders, quality factory loads can be good choices for calibers not shot often or when time is short. Commercially made self-defense loads are also a better idea than hand-loads as there is more liability associated with hand-loads than factory ammunition.
There are vast differences in quality between types of ammunition. Not all ammunition is the same. Be sure that you know what you are buying and that it is from a reputable brand to avoid issues. You should NEVER shoot hand-loads that you did not load yourself or that are not from someone you know and trust to be a safe reloader.
In general, hand-loads are often more precise and accurate. This depends of course, on the skill of the person reloading and their choice of components, etc. Reloading is extremely popular among competitive shooters as it is often too expensive to compete with factory ammunition. People reload for different reasons. Some are fascinated by the mechanical process. Others want to save money. Even more are interested in fine tuning their loads to their specific rifle. In other words, altering the type and weight of bullet, type and powder charge, etc. to see what their gun “likes” best. A lot comes down to what you are doing. Bench-rest shooters are fastidious reloaders, reloading each shot just before firing. The once-a-year hunter sighting in his deer rifle is unlikely to own reloading equipment. One box of ammunition once a year costs far less than the time and money investment of learning to be a safe reloader.
Reloading is incredibly safe if certain guidelines are followed. You can not simply combine any powder, case, and bullet and expect to have a safe round that performs well. An overcharged round can cause damage to the gun and loads that have issues or cause malfunctions can cause even greater problems. Though it can happen with factory loads, it is less common. If a round is loaded without powder and the bullet is lodged in the barrel of the gun, it needs to be removed before another shot is fired. If another round is loaded with an obstruction in the barrel, pressure will cause an explosion which will not only destroy the gun but potentially hurt the shooter.
While this may seem overwhelming, it is a reminder that reloading is a responsibility, just like shooting and owning a firearm are. A reloading manual is a must-have, a book that specifies various loads for different calibers and bullets that have been tested by professionals. Factory loads have come a long way and depending upon how much money you want to spend, can perform incredibly well. While manufacturers do not share their “recipes,” reloaders can usually almost replicate it if they so choose.
In the world of precision and long-range shooting, many people are looking for an edge. Reloading offers that. There are endless tasks one can perform during brass preparation and loading that are not necessary but can increase accuracy. For example, reloaders have the ability to purchase all of the same lot of bullets or powder from a manufacturer to ensure that all loads for the entire season (or however long it takes for the components to run out) are from the same production run. If you buy one box of .223 ammunition now, and another of the same type a few months later, it may shoot differently. Accuracy and repeatability are more predictable with reloaded rounds. You are the quality control and can spend extra time on load development for your specific firearm that a factory cannot. (Even if you have the same model firearm as another person, every barrel shoots slightly differently.) Chronographs and other resources exist for testing reloaded and factory loads to determine exactly how well the ammunition is performing. If you are a data person there is certainly information there for you.
I choose to reload for my competitions not only because of the significant cost savings, because I like to know exactly what I am shooting. Though not innately mechanically minded, the loading process helps me to gain a deeper level of understanding of both ammunition and how firearms making your own ammunition rather than buying it. Think of it as the same way hunters feel harvesting a game animal rather than purchasing meat from the store.