So much has been going on over the last month or so that I have had little time to catch up on my blogs. The roe rut is as good as over with some strange stories going around about lack of medals this year as well as peculiar timings brought on by the hard winter and dry spring – just goes to show that mother nature knows best and even when we think we have the measure of the deer they change the rules! August 1st saw the opening of the fallow buck season and my time spent on the ground has already been rewarded with a few prickets along with some cull roe bucks one of which may actually make a medal and most encouragingly, venison prices are on the up – southern game dealers are reputedly paying around £1.60 / pound, lack of supply during the spring and a boat load of venison from New Zealand being diverted to the far east being touted as the culprits. Unfortunately, higher dealer prices will only lead to more pressure from poachers looking to cash in, thankfully many dealers will only take tagged animals but time and demand will tell. The CLA gamefair came and went and it was good to catch up with so many old friends as well as meet many new ones, sadly for us next year it moves further north but it is still encouraging to see the level of support our sport still attracts.
Moving on, with the increasing cost of factory ammunition many people are asking me about reloading their own ammunition and what’s involved. This is always a tricky question particularly with regards the cost. There are several reasons why reloading is worthwhile and sadly I believe cost is the least watertight of them all! Many people believe that huge sums of money will be saved, their accuracy will become legendary and animals will simply give themselves up as their destiny is surely the larder! Let’s get one thing straight right now,if you’re looking to save money from reloading ammunition, forget it, stick to factory stuff, however if you do want to maximise your rifles potential and have a wider selection of bullet types and weights and make that bullet perform how you want it to then read on.
With the cost of factory ammunition averaging around £1.50 per bang it is only natural to think that reloading must surely be cheaper but lets look at a few truths. Firstly you must acquire the brass, good brass isn’t cheap but will reload more times, then comes the primer, bullet and powder – these are variable costs but still add up to somewhere around 50 pence per bang if a decent bullet is chosen, more if a premium bullet is used. Then come the fixed costs, a press, dies, scales, various gauges and all the other paraphernalia that’s available to the avid homeloader. By the time all the hardware including some bullets and a tub of powder, some primers and maybe some used brass has been amassed I doubt there will be much change from £500 – okay, so it can probably be done cheaper, say £300, but then you will be buying low-budget kit which may need replacing, cheap bullets, weak brass etc. My advice, don’t – buy better, buy once! As we can see for an initial outlay of around £500 a lot of factory ammunition can be bought, it will take a lot of rounds to recoup that outlay, so if cost can be ruled out fairly easily where do we go from here.
Accuracy, the number one reason why people now reload and undeniably the reason I started as well. A rifle is a precision instrument and in the right hands is capable of some extraordinary feats of accuracy but in order to achieve these feats as many variables as possible have to be taken out of the equation – the main one being ammunition. Because of the very processes that are involved in the manufacture of firearms, no two guns are the same, sure they may be the same model in the same calibre but they will still probably shoot differently, couple that with the sheer volumes of factory ammunition being produced that must fire in every rifle of a given calibre with little regard given to seating depth or chamber dimensions, little wonder that inaccuracies occur often with individual rifles often favouring one kind of ammunition over another. Of course there are exceptions such as when a rifle manufacturer makes the ammunition as well, such as Sako, something I have seen on a fairly regular basis at the range, Sako rifles seem to thrive on a diet of Sako ammunition – funny that! Then we have the supply problems and dealer issues, do dealers actually have their fingers on the pulse or are they more swayed by margins – lets face it not many of them shoot stuff and are margin driven, some of the prices I have seen on boxes of ammunition are eye watering – that should give you the answer. So with hand loading accuracy must be a given and it is rare for a rifles accuracy not to improve when being fed with hand loaded ammunition.
When I ask people who enquire about reloading their reasons for doing so, seldom do they give me what I consider to be the single most important element of the equation – bullet performance. It doesn’t matter how much or how little you spend on the components, whether you can achieve a 1cm group time after time – if the bullet doesn’t behave in a predictable manner at least 80% of the time then you are wasting your time and money and would be better off using factory offerings. Now, why did I say 80% of the time? I’ll give you an example. When I listen to people talking about the horrors of Polymer tipped bullets ‘blowing up’ I love to ask them a question – Out of the last 100 deer you have shot, how many times has this happened? What normally happens is they shut up, quickly, and start back tracking. What usually transpires is that they once had a polymer tipped bullet behave in an unpredictable manner which led to quite a lot of carcass damage, and last year they shot six deer, a bullet failure of a little over 16% – ask someone who actually shoots 100 plus deer a year what they would consider a reasonable bullet failure rate from carcass damage results and most will be higher than 16%! We shoot a lot of deer in a year often in difficult conditions and are more than happy with 20% bullet failure, we just sell more burgers! When I refer to bullet failure I encompass meat damage when the expanding missile has hit bone/bones and fragmented badly which is basically what it was designed to do and in all fairness this isn’t strictly bullet failure, actual failure is more like lack of expansion, jacket/core separation etc. as per my earlier article on terminal effects.
So, this gives us our criteria for reloading, we want to produce a cost-effective round, certainly no more than a factory round, one that is more accurate because we are using measurements specific to our own rifle, one that is freely available and most importantly one that does what we want it to do when it strikes the game ie. expand reliably and deliver as much energy as possible whilst retaining enough integrity to exit the animal and promote rapid death and although countless millions are spent on R & D by major munitions manufacturers, homeloading is the only way of ensuring that this set of criteria are most closely met.
Sadly, too many people are intrigued by reloading their own ammunition and then shy away from it because it all seems too complicated – a dark art, and I certainly see some horror stories at the range, from homemade gauges to a ‘blend’ of powders – I kid you not, but in reality if a clear and simple set of rules are followed, reloading will bring another element of the sport into your life, not unlike catching a trout on a hand tied fly, little compares to working up a load specific to your own gun and then taking a successful shot at a deer, you won’t forget it in a hurry. Why not give me a call to discuss it further, maybe consider our reloading course where we go from fired case to firing the reloaded round at the range in a day, with all the steps in between.