Factory Ammo

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May 28, 2005
Hello everyone. When I started reloading 1 year ago, I came into the hobby with a few assumptions that were eventually proven false. One of those assumptions was the power level reloads were capable of. I believed that factory ammo was at somewhat of a mid level power wise and a reloader could either up or down the power level. As I learned, a reloader could easily lower the velocity but upping it was a different thing entirely. It can be difficult to find a reloading manual that will even match factory ammo in velocity let alone beat it. Many reloading manuals list the max velocity as 100fps slower than factory ammo. This presents a question. I'm aware that ammunition companies have access to powders that we don't. Those powders can't be that much better though. Does this mean that factory ammo is loaded almost exclusively to max pressure?
Factories blend thier own powders, and they keep them proprietary, according to what I was told years ago. Doesn't matter, I'll still reload, more fun anyway. :)
ACD, you've got some misconceptions about factory and reloading stated/quoted muzzle velocities. But then most people who've been reloading for over 40 years do too.

If several people were to take a given round of ammunition, be it factory or reload, then shoot a few dozen of them in several different barrels, there would easily be a 150 fps spread in muzzle velocities. Here's a list of things that make this happen:

* Powder lots each have slightly different burn rates. Powder companies usually blend two or more powder lots to get a batch of powder with burn rates within specs for the powder type. And each blended lot sold to the public will have slightly different burn rates; same charge weight from two lots may have a 30 fps difference in muzzle velocity.

* Case neck tension will vary depending on how much the case neck was sized and how deep the bullet's seated; tighter means higher muzzle velocity. Crimping in the bullet adds to case neck tension.

* The bullet's jump distance to the rifling has a small effect on muzzle velocity and pressure; the more the bullet moves before entering the rifling the lower peak pressure and muzzle velocity will be.

* Firing pin spring strength impacts primer detonation characteristics; weak ones result in lower muzzle velocities.

* Chamber, bore and groove diameters vary across different makes and even within makes of barrels. Larger bore and groove diameters, even by only a few ten thousandths of an inch, result in lower muzzle velocity. Rifle factories using precision test barrels to test pressure and muzzle velocity are made to exact specifications; they're expensive. They typically produce higher muzzle velocities than their regular production barrels with a wider specification range.

* Barrel length effects muzzle velocity. A 30 inch barrel will shoot the same load 100 to 200 fps faster than a 20 inch one depending on the bore dimensions and particular cartridge and its components.

* Depending on how the rifle's held, muzzle velocity will vary. Two people holding and shooting the same rifle with the same ammo can easily produce up to a 100 fps difference in average muzzle velocity. And the same person shooting a given rifle and load will get higher muzzle velocities shooting from the prone postion than from standing/offhand.

* And finally, if you chronograph factory ammo in your rifle, it will probably be 50 to 100 fps slower that what the factory lists it at. If this happens, one or more of the above issues resulting in lower muzzle velocities will be in effect.


Loading ammo's not an exact process. Military arsenals know this and they adjust charge weight of each lot of powder to get muzzle velocity and peak pressure withing specs. Handloaders can do the same thing if they've got the right tools (machine rest to hold the rifle for shot-to-shot holding repeatability, chronographs and pressure gages). And many folks reload ammo to much higher pressures and muzzle velocities than factory ammo 'cause they get away with it and don't care or know about very short case life and dangerously high pressures.

Whatever your target is, it doesn't care if it's hit with a bullet traveling 100 fps slower than what some sales and marketing group says it will. If it does, it's powerful and strong enough that shooting it with anything won't phase it at all and it's probably going to get even with you before you can shoot it again.
Some loads I can meet or beat factory velocities and some loads I can't...

Bart B. gives a good comprehensive list as to why.

I'll still reload...
Some loads I can meet or beat factory velocities and some loads I can't...

Bart B. gives a good comprehensive list as to why.
Yes he does. Excellent post....AC

Downloading is much easier than matching, and especially beating, factory ammo. No real news flash there for experienced reloaders.

No reason not to reload either. No real reason to get that last few FPS most of the time. The target or the animal will never know the difference in 50 to 150 FPS 99.99% of the time.

A well placed 165 Gr .308 at 2675 FPS will kill a deer much better than a poorly placed one at 2775 or even 2800 FPS.

What calibers are you talking about Action_Can_Do?
Factory vs Handloads

Being a new member I'm I bit uncomfortable taking exception to your post but factory ammunition is manufactured to be safe in ALL makes of guns in good condition, chambered for that particular cartridge. In most cases a Ruger or S&W revolver is going to be able to tolerate higher pressures than an imported less expensive firearm manufactured for the cartridge in question.

Secondly publishers of reloading manuals find themselves in the same predicament and in many cases their listed maximum loads can be safely exceeded if worked up to slowly using a high quality firearm.

A good example of this can be found by in the Hodgdon reloading data for the .357 magnum firing a 125gr JHP. My Hornady and Sierra, manuals all show maximum loads of H-110 in the 19.5 to 20gr range with muzzle velocities of 1500 to 1550 fps. Hodgdon shows a max load of 22 grs with a muzzle velocity of 1950 fps. A couple of years ago I slowly worked up to the 22gr load with the only signs of excessive pressure being a slight flattening of the primers. Of course without a chronograph it's impossible to be certain if the 22gr load exceeded factory ballistics, but from the amount of recoil and muzzle blast I highly suspect it did.

I'm by no means suggesting that all the "maximum" loads found in the most popular reloading manuals can easily be exceeded and produce MVs higher than factory loads, but in a good many cases these "maximum" loads can safely be exceeded by increasing the loads in 2-3% increments until signs of excessive pressure begin to show up and the velocities, I suspect in many cases, will exceed that of factory offerings.

There are 2 primary, realistic reasons to reload, and getting super velocity isn't one of them. They are:
a) save money (or shoot more for same money). Once press, balance, powder measure are paid for, reloading is quite economical for virtually any cartridge.
2) to get superior ammo compared to factory. A reloader has the oppertunity to produce much better ammo than what is marketed, fitting it to his gun, as well as combinations simply not available off a shelf.

There are others, but those, I suggest, are the primary reasons.

The only way to know if factory ammo is "faster" , is to chronograph the factory load against your own handloads. Same rifle, same temperature, altitude etc. Alot of the factory loads are milder than what they list. Moosehunt makes two very good points, the faster round is not always the most accurate either.
I haven't shot factory ammo in many years, I've heard it's really improved, but I still wouldn't trust it to be accurate enough to shoot across a chronograph.:D
The cartridges I've seen the biggest velocity differences in are 44 magnum, 454 casull, and 460 magnum. Most factory ammo lists the 240 grain 44 magnum load at around 1400 fps. Many reloading manuals list that as maximum or even above max. Also, I've never seen a reloading manual that would match the 200 grn 2300 fps load for the 460 mag. Hence my assumption that factory ammo must be max loads.
fprefect +1

I'm not an experieced reloader, and I don't espouse loading heavier than manuals dictate ; but in 9mm, 40 cal and 38 super many competitors do load faster than specs to make their modified guns run correctly.
I reload 44 Mag and 45 ACP. I'm not looking to produce something to exceed factory velocities . . . I'm looking for accuracy, and in some cases accuracy plus shooting comfort. Once I get a particular load dialed in . . . I can always get better accuracy from my reloads. In some cases my reload may exceed factory velocity and in others it might be way under factory velocity. As long as I get a safe accurate load . . . I'm happy. I reload primarily for: less cost, better accuracy, and stress relief.
fprefect claims:
....but factory ammunition is manufactured to be safe in ALL makes of guns in good condition, chambered for that particular cartridge.
Well, I'll be the first to give some examples of guns that, in perfect, mint condition, will probably burst if some modern, fresh ammo is fired in it.

Example 1: a 12 gage Damascus steel barreled shotgun made in the late 1800's shooting a maximum load.

Example 2: No revolver in any condition (mint included) made by Hopkins & Allen Arms Co. should be fired with any modern ammo, even rimfire 22's.

Other readers may cite other examples; there's several out there.
The only way to know if factory ammo is "faster" , is to chronograph the factory load against your own handloads

Very true. I've found that published ballistics are really for comparison only. Many times I've been frustrated working up a load using a chronograph, wondering why I can't come close to published factory ballistics, or even stated velocity in a loading manual.

Recently I was helping a friend work up some loads for his .25-06, so we found some factory 120gr. rounds and fired them across the chrony from the same rifle as the reloads. In this particular instance we had no problem exceeding factory ballistics by 80 fps with apparant safety (H4831), but we eventually settled on a load that almost exactly matched factory velocity because it seemed the most accurate.

My philosophy as it has evolved: if you feel the need to hot-load your 30-06, it's time to sell it and buy a .300 magnum. Your brass and your rifle will last longer if you avoid the red-line loads.
Well, I'll be the first to give some examples of guns that, in perfect, mint condition, will probably burst if some modern, fresh ammo is fired in it.

Bart, you are correct. I should have made it clear that I was intending the post to refer to weapons manufactured in the past 50 years or so. The only problem being I completely neglected to include that information in the post. Even then, there might be the occasional exception.

But the real point I was trying to make was that the reloader, in most cases using modern firearms, can safely exceed factory loads with the right bullet/powder combination and usually obtain better accuracy as well. In other words, most rifles will have one load that will provide the best velocity and accuracy, and the reloader has an almost infinite number of combinations to choose from.

F. Prefect
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My factory 223 PMC FMJ ammo = 3050 fps and about 3.5" groups at 100 yards with my mini-14.

My handload's, 55 gr Hornady SP, CCI primer, 25.3 gr H-4895, Rem case = 3110 fps and 1.75-2" groups at 100 yards.:D

My handload's are all over the factory junk in .223.

Biggest advantage to handloading = tailoring the load to YOU'RE rifle. Its not some "across the board, work in any rifle load".

Factory 223 PMC ammo = 45 cents/round
My handload's = 22 cents/round.
The cartridges I've seen the biggest velocity differences in are 44 magnum, 454 casull, and 460 magnum. Most factory ammo lists the 240 grain 44 magnum load at around 1400 fps.
Getting 1400 FPS+ from a 5.5" (Redhawk) tube is relatively easy, while staying within load book guidelines.
Find a 20yr old Hornady manual, it will have what your looking for.

I just picked up a new Hornady Manual and the darn thing has neutered
loads now. At least 200fps less on most loads.

Freaking Liability Claims ruined everything apparently. :banghead:
In reloading, I am looking for the most ACCURATE load for my gun. 10 times out of 10, it is NOT the fastest, but somewhere in the middle of the loading range that achieves that.

I guess I just don't get everyone always trying to outdo the books or go for the fastest loads instead of the most accurate ones.
there's a reason all these bullet makers are makeing money hand over fist. that's handloaders looking to save money and get better shooting ammo.
finding the best slug for your rifle's bore dia, twist rate and intended use may take some trial and error.
Not sure if the factory ammo is faster then mine, but I seriously doubt it is more accurate. They're making it to work in any rifle. I have the advantage of knowing exactly which rifle it'll be shot in.
The PMC 55 gr FMJ is the only factory ammo I've bought in probably 5 years. That was just to get started with the new rifle, I've got brass to reload.:) The first thing I did, was get powder, primers, and bullets for the .223, all of which I was able to find at reasonable prices. I'll probably never buy another box of factory .223 again, since my loads cost half, are faster and more accurate.:)
Accurate, accurate, accurate, that's the final answer. The factory published velocity is not always the most accurate. As stated above the factory ammo is usually so-so accuracy wise and the handloader can blow the sox offa anything produced commercially. That said, the reason is tuning the load/bullet to YOUR particular firearm is resulting in more accuaracy. More FUN also. The time..........Worth every second it takes!!
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