Factory Ammo vs. Handloaded

Something I’ve been wondering for a while now, but why does handloaded ammo pretty much always achieve better accuracy than factory? And at a lower price point?

I get that there’s probably less precision and care for your general mass produced cheap ammo, but even for match grade ammo?

I just would have thought that the factory could achieve the same degree of accuracy when they try, and for cheaper seeing that they have more access to better equipment, and scaled production on their side.

At the factory to dispense powder they use volume metric devices just like your powder thrower. Typically most hand loaded ammo uses a weighed charge. This aspect probably only matters at the longer ranges depending on the variance.

The scope of hand loaded ammo is really wide however from Nuff Nuffs that really haven’t the patience to learn all the technicalities and patience to load each round with precision and consistency to those that are totally anal and have spent huge money on the best measuring equipment and prep equipment and load each round with loving care.

@Tempestman - what are you asking though? There are at least a couple of questions in there. One is price, the other is quality and then you sort of go into a discussion.

Quality - depends, but you with your rifle on hand, taking time and care, you will always be able to load:

  1. premium ammo with the same or better components cheaper; and
  2. cheap plinking ammo with the same or better components cheaper.
  3. you will not be able to load any ammo faster.

Then you move into cost of equipment, rather than cost per round. This is where things get tricky. For example, if you have $1200 scales and $400 press (you’d probably go cheaper, but I am using extreme examples here), but you only shoot 223 at the range for fun, at $15 per box of 20, then… Purely from equipment costs, you are looking at shooting around 2100 rounds before it even gets close to paying for itself (so before then, it’s not cheaper).

If you are shooting anything in 30 calibre or bigger, it pays for itself a lot faster. If you are shooting milsurp calibres, then 90% of the time, it will either (a) pay itself of a lot faster or (b) you have no other options - some calibres are either not made anymore or ridiculously expensive for what they are.

Then you looking at bulk vs small purchases, small you are not really saving much money, but learning what you should buy in bulk.

So… The question is. What are you asking? Quality, price or something else?


Ooooo also, some calibres, 45-70, 38 Special and 44 Mag come to mind, are underpowered usually to account for older guns. So there’s that too, you may want to squeeze a little bit (or a lot) more oomph out of your ammo, reloading is the only way.

Then there’s a thing that for some reason a lot of people don’t emphasise. Self reliance and learning. I personally, value self reliance very much.

Short answer: Because you tune your handloads to your firearms. The factory tunes their ammo to something that will fire in every firearm.

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@juststarting your not really being extreme with your prices. The scales perhaps not everybody needs or wants to spend so much on scales. I am surprised though just how many people have spent all of that and then some on scales and Auto Tricklers. See the Auto Trickler as an example on FB the amount of hunters and your everyday recreational shooter that have purchased that equipment boggles my mind. I cant justify having that equipment and spending that sort of money. Then you have the press while a Lee press is ample and even the small upgrade to a Classic Cast Lee is suitable for all reloading at under $300 the amount of shooters that have Redding, Foster, Mec Dillion ect is huge because they think paying more will do the job better for them. Throw in an AMP Annealer for $2000 a Labradar Chrono the list goes on.

Really I think the components of Reloading could be a lot cheaper I think there might be some really good margins in Bullets and cases.

I didn’t think I was being extreme either, but for someone starting out or casual/hunting/plinking loader - it is pretty freaking extreme.

I think auto trickler, like RCBS or Hornady ones, for example, is pretty nice, I’d like one. I actually don’t think it’s anything do with precision and everything to do with saving time. I find, using my RCBS scale is precise enough. And balance beam for QA. However, if you are working up test loads or loading for a bunch of calibres, it’s a major PITA to use (in my case) - a close-enough dipper, then trickling in the rest. And that’s really your only option, because manual throwers and stick powders combination sucks major balls. Theeeeennnn… If you want to get anal, you lift the tray and seat it back down, which will generally give you some small variation, because the sensor doesn’t pick up 0.0-f-all grains when you trickle that shit slow AF (I think OCD comes in when you learn that 4 grains of 2208 is about 0.01 grain and start popping them in there individually, or so I heard, I don’t have OCD at all - he says nervously). Then you start yelling at things lol. So I totally get the auto trickler for time saving. At least, then you could save a few steps.

What I’d like is an auto trickler connected to balance beam scales, that would be pretty good. Or those fancy trickler/lab scales combos - but $$$$$$ is just full of nope in that case. RCBS - one day…

Re: press , yep, lots of people giving people really bad advise on FB, while any press would do for anyone starting and wouldn’t break the bank.

Anyhow, I think this is a good thread to split into something else. Let’s focus on OP’s original questions.

I’ll try break down my midnight rambling. Let’s ignore the whole price point thing for now.

I keep reading online that factory ammo isn’t as accurate as hand-loaded ammo, even for high grade match ammo. I’m trying to understand why is this the case.

I’m not super familiar with how ammo is made in a factory, but I do know a little bit when it comes to factory processes in general with lean six sigma. I’m under the impression that these factories have access to better and more precise equipment that the average punter, and thus should be able to make ammo with less variances, or more accurate rounds.

The stuff that @JizzFlinger says about tuning the loads makes some sense, what kind of things would you be looking to tune the ammo to? Is it stuff like twist rates and barrel length?

I pick my projectiles length according to twist rate (often done by weight as 90% of the time a heavier bullet is longer and therfore has more engagement on the rifling). This is so it comes out of the muzzle fully stabilised and not tumbling.

Barrel length has at least two things going for it: harmonics and how much or what powder you will burn. In my experience and from many reloaders Ive spoken with, the bullets tend to stabilize best when they leave the barrel at a point closer to the cartridges maximum pressure. PLEASE dont take this as ‘start re loading at the higher end’.
Factory brass is shaped to an industry standard, (usually S.A.A.M.I specifications) and your chamber has been cut with a reamer that has been used to cut as many chambers as it can while remaining within the industries tolerance. When you reuse a piece of brass fired from your chamber, you can cut it and press it into a shape that more closely suits your chambers requirements, compared to the factory piece which was cut and shaped for all chambers cut in the industry spec.

You don’t need to invest a lot to get better than factory -

"Classic Lee Loader
For over 60 years, more shooters have chosen the famous Lee Loader for their first reloading tool than any other. They realize it is all they need for good, accurate ammunition. In fact, at one time ammunition loaded with a Lee Loader held a world record listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for more than seven years. Millions upon millions of rounds have been reloaded with the famous Lee Loader, and we expect it will continue to be a popular reloader for many years to come. It’s the perfect tool for those who wish to simply try reloading, because it will pay for itself in just an hour or so.

The Lee Loader neck sizes only, use only with brass fired through your gun. You can reload a round in 30 seconds.

Find out for yourself how much fun it is to reload with the Lee Loader. Everything you need to begin loading one caliber and you’ll save enough to pay for it in the first hour!"

Like identical 22’s favoring one ammunition over another slightly different loads work better than others in particular centerfire rifles. The trick is to optimize for your rifle (or so I’ve been told).

One example of doing things better than the factory is I purchase a couple of thousand bullets at the same time. Match quality supposedly, I then weigh each individual bullet and batch them into 1 milligram increment lots that is 0.015 of a grain.

The six sigma quality system you speak of is really a system designed to produce consistency not necessarily quality. A company could produce something that is absolutely crap, but as long as you are following your procedures and producing that piece of crap consistently then you are good to go.

I also purchase say 400 Lapua cases and then batch those into groups of 50. so you are taking stuff that is already top of the line within tight manufacturing tolerances and tightening those up.

Guess it’s true that lean six sigma is only really good when you include kaizen with it as well.

So you’re able to achieve a lower population S.D because you segregate them into different population groups? Rather than what a factory would do with treating the whole line as a single population? That makes sense. Does it mean you also never shoot two different increment lots of ammo together then?

Is the harmonics stuff to do with the natural frequencies of the firearm?

What would you describe the tuning process like? Is it very guess and check, or are there key things you use to make a fairly educated guess about what would achieve the highest precision?

Yes, the harmonics is to do with the natural frequencies produced, so you can imagine the same gun with different length material, different resting position etc…
For me, its shoot and measure and try again. For those with real precision in mind, like benchrest and fly shooters, they might fit a ‘barrel tuner’ which I assume gives them some control over the resonance.

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I am not a big follower of the Harmonic sect. That is a topic for another thread.

As for using all the same bullet weights at one time the answer is sort of yes. There are normally enough of one weight to fill a full box of 50 or more. When I load if I run out of one weight I just use the next highest box weight. I am not that fussed even if the bullet weight changes that one milligram even mid course of a range. The increments + measurement tolerance is still not going to cause me a meaningful change on paper. If I was just using what came in a box of 100 with the manufactures tolerance of +/- 0.2 grains (and it is larger than this) it would make a measurable change on paper everything else being equal at Long distance say 600 yrds +

There is a lot about shooting that is also used in Sales Management. Things like backwards planning. “you cant monitor what you dont measure”
So I take what is the tolerance I want or need to achieve. Then you break down all the aspects of reloading to find out what tolerance you need to have to be able to achieve that tolerance.
For instance if you want to have 1/4 MOA vertical at 1000 yrds what variation in bullet speed do you need to maintain to achieve this. Then what is the powder tolerance that you need to achieve not go outside that velocity spec. Of course there are other factors that can influence velocity as well so those things also need to be listed and considered.


FWIW I had a ruger that wouldn’t shoot any factory cartridge that I could get my hands on better than 1.3" at 100m on paper off a bench. I had tried 6 brands with a total of 8 variations. I made some loads up that were costing me more than the factory items due to the scarcity of these particular components. I got it to shoot 10 shot groups at 0.75 inches off the same bench. I was absolutely stoked.

Just a fortnight later some US made steel case ammo came onto the market and the damn thing shot a .45inch and .6inch group of 10. Its been shooting the same ever since.

Gee @sungazer, you must get the best batches of bullets out there. I’ve weighed “match” bullets form different manufacturers and gotten anything up to 4 grains variation from heaviest to lightest in a box of 100, that’s in 168gr 7mm’s.
When I cast my bullets for my black-powder competition rifles my tolerance is +/- 0.3 grains. The batch of 200 I cast for my muzzle-loader to compete at Bisley last year was less than 1 grain from #1 to #200, ( I shoot them in order from lightest to heaviest). We are talking 530 grain bullets here, so the percentage variation is 5/8 of fuck-all.

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From my perspective, handloading is about having more choice and control over your rounds. From bullet and other component selection to getting crazy about sorting, etc (as other mentioned). You can load as quick and dirty as you like or nut it right down to ultra precision rounds.

Also, I need to eliminate as many excuses for missing as I can! :joy::+1: