This issue contains an account of the first World Championships of the International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA). When the IDPA magazine Tactical Journal reported on this event in their Fourth Quarter 2011 issue, they included an equipment survey. Of the 356 competitors who answered as to the ammo they used in this obviously important match, 190 replied that they used handloads, and 166 said they used factory.

This was interesting for a number of reasons. Most competitive shooters I know are set up to load their own. To compete seriously, you have to burn a lot of ammunition, not only in the matches themselves but also in practice. That costs money, and the economy of loading your own is often the only thing that allows the winners to get good enough to win in the first place. Some of us remember that before the great Rob Leatham became a professional shooter for Springfield Armory, his sponsor was Dillon, the leading manufacturer of reloading equipment. Rob has publicly stated that without being able to reload massive amounts of practice ammunition on his Dillon progressive reloaders, he never would have become as skilled with a gun as he did.


Many a new shooter thinks reloading is too technically complex and is totally beyond him. That will change as he gets more into shooting, and his confidence builds, and he makes the acquaintances of veteran shooters at gun clubs and matches who will be happy to get him started at loading his own.

Some other people aren’t ready to make their own ammunition yet for other reasons. Consider the college student living in a no-guns dorm with his firearms secured in a locker at a local gun club, or a young soldier living on base who can keep private firearms at the armory and check them out when needed. Each has arranged to have their guns accessible for recreational purposes…but neither has any place where they’re likely to have room to set up reloading equipment, or be allowed to store powder and primers.

Or, consider the young married couple starting out in a small studio apartment. Space is at a premium, and even a decent beginning setup for reloading will constitute the workspace of a good sized workbench, not to mention heavy boxes of bullets and bulky buckets of brass. Of course, there might also be a spouse who looks in horror at canisters of gunpowder and cries, “You’ve brought explosives into our home!?”

Finally, there are some who’ve sat down with pen, paper, and calculator and determined that from the economic side, reloading may not be all it is cracked up to be. A single careless moment at the reloading bench can obviously have catastrophic consequences. The reloader wants to be sharp, alert, and wide-awake while practicing this craft. The realization that the spare time moments when the reloading will take place may be during afterwork hours when the shooter is exhausted, is a realization that gives some people pause.

Reloading Vs. Handloading

“Reloading” and “handloading” would seem to be synonymous, but they’re not, necessarily. To some who’ve gotten into it, “reloading” means activating the lever on the progressive press and seeing how many hundreds of practice rounds they can crank out in an hour. Anyone who has worked in a factory knows that when you push for higher production output faster on the same equipment with the same personnel, you do so at the risk of a decrease in quality control. To serious shooters, “handloading” means something different: it’s a labor of love in which each cartridge is meticulously assembled, often hand-weighing every powder charge, like a jeweler crafting a fine piece of jewelry. While in “reloading” the goal might be maximum ammo production in minimum time, with an obvious return in cost economy, in “handloading” the purpose is to make perfect cartridges so exactly correct that they will outshoot factory ammunition.

To the reloader, the objective is lots of inexpensive ammunition, to allow for more shooting and skill building. To the handloader, a very significant part of the objective is the personal satisfaction of making something the best it can be made. Thus, for the handloader, the act of making the cartridges is not just a means to an end, but a source of satisfying recreation in and of itself.

For those looking strictly at economy, their own time has to be factored into the equation. Particularly if working with entry-level equipment instead of the best progressive loading presses, that time adds up. When the individual examines his own potential for applying those hours to overtime at work or to a second job, it sometimes works out that it’s more economical to skip buying the reloading equipment and to put the time in at work instead of at the bench, and simply purchase the most economical store-bought ammo he can find for practice and match shooting.

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