Difference Between Handloading vs Reloading

Handloading vs. Reloading: Same Activity With Different Goal

Some might use the terms interchangeably, but there is a difference between handloading and reloading. Each involves the same activity — a person making bullets themselves — but the intention behind each activity is very different, and thus there is a practical difference between the two.

Handloading For Performance, Reloading For Value

If you read forums or look around online, a person could be forgiven for confusing handloading with reloading. The two are similar, but aren’t completely the same, as each has a completely different end goal in mind, along with different techniques, equipment and philosophies being involved in both activities.

Granted, the two terms describe much the same activity — a person making their own bullets. Primers go into cartridge cases, then powder, and a projectile is seated and sealed into the cartridge to make a cartridge/bullet.

However, each has a different goal in mind. Reloading is, by and large, often a DIY act of economy. By reloading, a person can save money over buying factory ammunition since components are fairly cheap. Recycling spent brass is also environmentally friendly.

Handloading, by comparison, can be a different animal. A handloader can either make cheap ammunition or custom-specification bullets.

It’s the difference between doing your own car repairs and building your own engine from the short block to up to the injectors. The former is to save cash and do something yourself, the latter is because you need something nobody sells.

Handloading Custom Ammunition

Handloading saves money in the long run if done for the sake of economy, though there is an economy of scale involved.

Handloading bespoke ammunition is something else. Some create custom rounds, some make custom calibers — a practice called “wildcatting.” Wildcatting involves shaping the design of a round to enhance certain attributes, such as faster velocity. Many wildcat calibers of yesteryear are now commercially available or led to the development of popular rounds, such as .243 Winchester, 7mm Remington, 7mm Remington Magnum, .338 Winchester Magnum, .454 Casull, .44 Magnum, .357 Magnum and so on.

Some shooters need certain qualities expressed in their ammunition that factory rounds don’t provide. Greater velocity, flatter trajectory, deeper penetration, greater expansion upon impact…there are different areas of bullet performance, and each is important in some way.

A faster, flatter-flying bullet will fly farther and drop less as it goes, very important to a long-range shooter. A better-expanding bullet will create a larger wound channel once it hits a target — very important if a person wants to put a target down with as few shots as possible.

The custom handloader, though, is less likely to save money. In an article on PrecisionRifleBlog, the author found that handloading his own match-grade ammunition came out to roughly the same cost as factory match-grade rounds. Better materials means more in outlay, higher-quality equipment is expensive, etc.

By no means is it limited to rifle shooters. In the list of wildcat or wildcat-inspired cartridges mentioned above, you’ll notice two of the most popular magnum revolver calibers — both inspired by or developed in part by wildcat pistol rounds, and both indirectly or directly thanks to gunwriter Elmer Keith — an intransigent devotee of the “bigger is better” school. Shotgun rounds can be handloaded as well.

Reloading Is Recycling

Reloading, on the other hand, is by definition the re-use of spent brass. You take a previously used case, clean it up, and put everything in it to turn it into a fully-functioning bullet again. The opportunity cost may be a bit steep, but you’ll eventually realize a savings.

You can also start handloading at the same time, since the equipment is generally the same, though wildcatting will require more machinery. (You’ll definitely want to invest in a lathe.)

It’s up to the individual. Some are perfectly fine with factory ammunition and there is a plethora of quality ammunition available.