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by L.F. Combs
The quest for the perfect load. The Holy Grail for hand-loaders. Many believe it is a search for as much speed as possible while others think it is just a matter of size. Choosing the biggest bullet that can be used for the job. This is nothing new to many hand-loaders. The old argument of Mass at moderate speed vs. Light fast shock inducing loads. I have never liked this division I feel it closes the eyes of many to the true objective of hand-loading. The perfect load for the rifle, and the job at hand. The right speed for the mass, and the right mass for the speed. To limit the load to a quest of max. speed, or just bullet size is a side step of the true factors of Optimum Bullet Performance. Speed is only good if the construction of the bullet is up to the speed and can function properly at the maximum speed allowed within the pressure limits of the gun. The size of the Mass is only useful if the Mass can be moved fast enough to allow the bullet to function as it needs to do the job efficiently. Yes no matter what- the quest for speed is an important aspect of load development, but not just the maximum. Yes no matter what- the weight of the bullet is very important to load development. The right speed for the mass being pushed, and the right mass for the speed. The search for what yields perfect utility of the bullets construction is the true guest. Thus allowing the gun to be more effective. It takes a combination factors. Let’s face it all the speed in the world is useless if the bullet doesn’t function right when it hits target. The same is true with a large mass. What good is all that weight if it doesn’t have enough steam to penetrate the target.
A good example of a load that is not formulated properly for a gun would be what happened to me personally in a self defense situation. I had a Taurus .32 Magnum(not the best choice to began with), but I had to defend myself against a man using his car as a weapon. The Federal factory 85 grain ammunition loaded with Hornady XTP’s didn’t penetrate the hood of the car. The hollow points didn’t expand at all. In fact one round bounced off the hood. After this event I tested the gun and the ammunition. The low charge Federal rounds didn’t have enough speed at 998 fps. to cause the bullet to expand, or penetrate the metal. At the speed they did achieve they didn’t have enough mass to penetrate the hood. If the bullet is loaded with a bigger charge so that the velocity reaches about 1300 fps then the hollow points expand, and penetrates a car hood very easily. At 998 fps if the ammunition had been loaded with a bigger bullet going at the same speed it would have had a better chance of penetrating the hood of the car. You have to have the proper mix of speed, mass, and bullet construction to do the job. To do this you must look at the path the bullet will take, how it is affected by the process of being put in flight, and what happens to the bullet on impact. Yes the powder type, and other aspects of the load are important, but the bullet is the component that reaches out and touches the target. This is the ultimate goal of the ammunition. To get that bullet down range, and have it function perfectly upon impact. If everything isn’t focused on this factor the load may be useless. Powder burn, primer selection, and everything else associated with load development is working towards this point. The point of bullet impact, and how it responds to that impact.
Remember the more you know about the situations you are going to encounter the better the results in the field. The primary goal to achieve is Optimum Bullet Performance, and the first step on that path is a true realization of the actual distance that the bullet will impact the target. This way you know at what yardage to test the load. A good way to find information to help with this is to find a load recipe in a manual, and check it on paper to see if the level of performance is adequate to handle the job. This is only the first step of testing. You must realize more testing needs to be done after this calculation is done. In this part of load development I have read and used many formulas to determine the killing power of a load. Kinetic energy. TKO Taylor Knock Out formula. The Hatcher Formula. You name it I have probably used it, but the one I like the best is the easiest to use. This is how I make my first judgments as to which load in a particular caliber is best suited for my needs. I also use this number to make sure the load is in the ball park of killing power needed to do the job. This has to be checked to see if the load is even powerful enough to be further tested as a viable load. It is called simply the Power Factor Formula . It shows the effects of speed, and mass on the power of the cartridge, and the difference between loads for a specific cartridge. To see what I am talking about get your favorite reloading manual, and check the loads power factor using the formula PF= Velocity x Weight in Grains divided by 1000. A .44 magnum loaded with a 200 grain bullet pushed at 1662 fps. will have a power factor of 332.40. When compared to a .44 magnum load using a 240 grain bullet pushed at 1450 fps. has a power factor of 348. I know you are thinking well what does it take to kill certain animals, well I am getting to that information. A cartridge with a power factor over 550 is the starting mark to kill a Grizzly. A Power Factor of 300 is what I would look for in load to take a Deer. In most practical competitions it is 125 for minor, and 170 for major divisions. I recommend also using a formula like the Tierney Stopping Power formula, or Taylor Knock Out formula as well. You no doubt will decide on a favorite formula to check your load, but I personally would only recommend these formulas. I am not saying that these are the only ones. I am just saying I have had more experience, and luck with these formulas. After this I for four points. You find four factors, or points in the bullets trip. Four points on the bullets trip to impact. Four points concerning bullet construction, speed, and distance. Four points to the perfect load for the job.
The first step in a load development is to take a comprehensive look at the job at hand. What job do you expect the bullet to accomplish? If you are going to hunt White Tail Deer, and you know from experience in the area, or from scouting that most of the encounters with Deer are going to be within 100 yards. Knowing this you now know what to look for in a bullet, and you will be better able to Tailor the load to those conditions. The first point the distance at which the bullet will most likely impact the target. I am not talking about just the distance you have the rifle sighted in at, but the distance many of your shots will most likely hit. This gives you a distance to test the bullets impact. You will need a media that will help you evaluate the performance of the bullet. Ballistic gelatin is the best, but it can be expensive. I have used many items from clay molds to wet newspaper. I am sure many of you have a media you like to use for testing, but make sure it gives you an accurate depiction of what the bullet will do in the field. A milk jug isn’t the same as a Deer, and a bullet that shoots good on a watermelon might not do as good on a Deer. Let’s face it the ultimate test of the round will be in the field on a game animal. Learn from your mistakes, and never repeat them. That is the difference between a hunter and a redneck shooting animals.
This is usually covered in a recipe by starting with the minimum load. This is the point at which the bullet starts to expand, or just penetrate. Usually the minimum charge in most recipes will put you past this point. Starting with a recipe is the safest way to start, but as you learn more about reloading, and understand the concepts of the practice you may want to start from scratch, and if you have no recipe then you will need to find this point to insure the powder charge is even viable to turn the bullet into a dangerous projectile. Information from manuals, information from powder companies, and from experience with all reloading components will help you find a start charge, and then on to finding the second point.
This is the speed at which the bullet fails. This is when the speed has began to effect the bullet in a negative way. It is going too fast for the bullet to expand as needed, as in to soon hindering the penetration of the bullet, or expanding to late so as to go completely through without creating a terminal wound channel. This has many aspects to it. Many things need to be considered with bullet construction you can have too weak a bullet. as well as to tough a bullet. As I experienced this Deer season using a Federal 30-30 load with a Nosler Partition bullet. The bullet penetrated but punched through the animal without expanding enough to do enough damage to stop the animal in its tracks, or spilling enough blood to track easily. Too much construction. A bullet like the Winchester 170 grain Power Point would have been a better choice. It would have hit and expanded quicker. Depositing its energy in the kill zone of a thin skinned animal. If you have the first step right you will know the type of bullet to choose in most cases. I have learned from my mistake in the field. Learn from yours. Most companies have good information on the design of their bullets. If you cast your own? Know your pressure limits of the bullets, the Brinell Hardness, and the mold design- as in the theory behind the bullets design.
The last and most important point is the point between the second and third points on the velocity spectrum at which the bullet functions perfectly for the task at hand. This is a time in the process were having a realistic idea of the job at hand is very important. Ideally if everything is done right the projectile hits with authority, opens, expands to the maximum diameter without breaking apart, and penetrates to a responsible depth- as in just under the skin of the Deer after creating a massive wound channel in the vitals of the animal. Depositing the maximum energy into the kill zone. Efficiently and consistently every time you send one down range. Optimum Bullet Performance.
I know for some this is old news, and some are not going to agree with what I have said in this article- I look forward to the feedback, but I think if you give it a chance and look for the points I have mentioned you will see why I use this method of load development.
The perfect load for the job is a lesson in moderation. If you have too much of one thing, and not enough of the other. The load will not do the job. This is why I concern myself with the four points on the velocity spectrum. Because just worrying about the size, or the speed is a practice in futility, and only a dot in the larger picture of load development. The actual truth is a well constructed bullet moving at proper speed is the best foundation of a hand-load. Knowing the Four Points of Proper Bullet Performance is the best guarantee of making an effective hand-load. Always remember that after the four points have been found and utilized you must began testing the finished load. A chronograph is needed to do this work. You have to know the actual velocity of the rounds you are loading. The information is a must for handloading good ammunition that works at optimum performance levels. Practice makes the job perfect. Knowing the trajectory of the load will help you judge the point of impact on a target at any range upon the bullets path. If you do your job by putting the bullet in the right spot, and if you have given the bullet what it needs to perform. It should serve you well in the field.