What is it?
A handloader is a person who loads their own cartridge ammunition. This process may involve some or all of the following steps:
- Acquiring cartridge cases. These can be purchased new and unfired/unassembled, or one can get the appropriate cases (also known colloquially as "brass") by scavenging the empties from used store-bought ammunition. This will only work for centerfire cartridge ammunition - rimfire cases are deformed during use, and cannot be recycled.
- Cleaning the brass, if they are used.
- Priming the cases. New primers are placed in the rear, where they will be struck by the firing pin and ignite. The resulting flame will ignite the main powder charge inside.
- Charging the cartridge. Once the primer has been placed in the brass, a measured load of powder is placed inside the case. How it is placed there is important - how it rests within determines how smoothly it will burn (remember, it is supposed to burn, not explode!) and the speed of combustion will determine how quickly pressure builds up in the round.
- When the powder is in (and any requisite wadding to hold it in place and protect it) a bullet is placed at the top of the case, and pressed into the end.
This is a notional set of steps. Actually handloading ammuntion is a time-consuming process containing much art and science. Some handloaders cast
their own bullets. Modern handloaders have literally hundreds of retail
powders, bullets, primers, and cases to choose from. They can select their own charge strength, component mix, and modify the bullet or construction to suit their needs.
Why do it?
Why do any other hobby? There are various benefits to handloading, of course. 'Making it yourself' is an attractive option for many in any recreational endeavor. In addition, several distinct advantages seem to be accepted by the practitioners. First, it can be cheaper. If one is an avid shooter, ammunition can become quite costly - and handloading can result in a considerable savings over purchasing ammunition from a factory.
Second, ammunition produced by the hobbyist can be of much higher quality than that mass-produced in a factory. Comprised of carefully-checked, more-expensive components, rounds can be (and have been proven to be) much more accurate and consistent than factory ammo. Professional hunters and target shooters, or just serious shooters (of paper, food or man) all tend to load their own ammunition - because they rely on it. Loading one's own ammunition, after testing the load in the particular gun that will be using it, can produce rounds that are much more consistent, accurate and reliable than 'generic' ones when used in that particular firearm.
Third, it may be one's only option. Collectible guns often fire rounds that aren't made commercially anymore. A popular solution to this is to purchase brass that is close to the desired ammunition's measurements, then modify it and handload the resulting case. This may be the only way to acquire ammo for a treasured piece of personal artillery.
Finally, it can be done just for personal satisfaction - for the same reason that some carpenters find themselves making their own tools, or drivers find themselves working on their cars.