December 30, 2020
By Lane Pearce
Townsend Whelen (1877–1961) was one of the most knowledgeable and respected outdoorsmen and riflemen that ever put pen to paper. His book entitled Why Not Load Your Own! was written nearly 65 years ago. It clearly and concisely presented the many benefits of “rolling your own” ammunition. Whelen emphasized how much money a reloader could save and touted the almost certain opportunity to improve ballistic performance compared to factory ammo.
Compared to today, relatively few metallic cartridges were available in those days. The most popular included the .30-06, .30-30, and .270 Winchester. The .257 Roberts, .300 Savage, .300 H&H Magnum, and .35 Remington were also pretty popular.
There were only two widely popular handgun cartridges: .38 Special and .45 ACP. A few hardy souls owned revolvers chambered for the .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum rounds.
Publications on guns and hunting had relatively few advertisements for reloading equipment and components. Advertisements for new, antique, and surplus guns, ammunition, spirits, cigarettes, and cars prevailed. Remington, Winchester, and Federal were primarily interested in selling factory-loaded ammo, not reloading components. Foreign sources for ammo, bullets, primers, and powder were essentially nil.
RCBS, Lyman, Redding, and Pacific (now Hornady) were the main reloading equipment makers. Cup-and-core construction bullets dominated the market, with Winchester, Federal, and CCI leading the field for primers. IMR, Hodgdon, and Hercules (now Alliant) offered about 30 propellant choices. However, while being substantially less than it is today, the component availability situation was adequate for the time.
Reloading during that time was less complicated, and Whelen addressed the two primary considerations: cost and performance. But even with today’s plethora of recently introduced metallic cartridges (there has to be 50 or more, ranging from .17 to .50 caliber) and all the evolution and expansion in the whole guns-and-ammunition marketplace, those two concerns are still valid.
Let’s look at the extremely popular 6.5 Creedmoor for example. It was introduced more than 10 years ago strictly for competitive shooting. Five years later it began to gain momentum with hunters, and today it is arguably the most popular rifle cartridge. I have nearly 20 different factory loads for it on my ammo shelf, and that’s not a complete assortment of what’s available. On top of that, there is a plethora of reloading components, and more new items for the cartridge seem to come out every day.
Handloading isn’t just for the most popular cartridges, either. Rolling your own ammo can keep perfectly good firearms chambered for oddball cartridges active.
For example, how many of you know that you can use the abundant 6.5 Creedmoor for forming the nearly obsolete .30 TC round? The .30 TC is a very good rifle cartridge; it’s accurate and duplicates the ballistic performance of the .308 Winchester. But it never caught on, and only Thompson/Center made rifles for it. Currently, Hornady offers the only factory-loaded ammo.
Another example is the 7-30 Waters that Federal introduced for Winchester’s Model 94 XTR lever action three decades ago. Today, there’s only one source for factory ammo, but a handloader can easily form cases from readily available .30-30 brass.
Those are just two examples.
And keep in mind that you can still save money by reloading, especially for some of the expensive high-performance cartridges for which factory-loaded ammo can cost $5 or more per round. And just as important, by handloading ammunition you will likely shoot a lot more and develop and/or maintain better shooting skills.
Whelen’s near guarantee of improved performance is not such a sure thing, depending on the cartridge, because today’s factory-loaded ammunition is so much better than it was back in his day. However, it’s still worth the effort to try. As the handloader gets more sophisticated in techniques and equipment, ballistic performance improvements can be achieved.