began handloading in the 1960s, only a handful of manuals dealt with the
subject, and there were perhaps three dozen powders for everything from
shotguns to super-magnums. Today buying all the current manuals would cost
several hundred dollars, and there are over 150 canister powders available. How
is a poor hunter to keep up?
Of course, reading Handloader helps, but even then there are
too many new powders, cartridges, bullets and loading tools for even a staff of
writers to try everything. It’s become impossible to duplicate “Pet
Loads,” the long-time feature articles written by the grand master, Ken
Waters – the reason nobody has tried.
Just an update for the .30-06 alone would involve at least
50 powders and a dozen new bullets a year. Multiplying 50 times 12 arrives at
600 possible loads. Multiply 600 by at least 15 rounds per load (the minimum
required for meaningful data) and that’s 9,000 rounds. Throw in another
1,000 just for fouling and work-up shots, and the writer would have to fire
I don’t know about you, but 100 rounds of big-game
ammunition a day is plenty. Beyond that my data becomes suspect, because
“the nut behind the bolt” grows a little loose after all that
shooting. Even at 200 rounds a day (which I have done, purely in the interests
of science), a “.30-06 Pet Loads: 2005 Update” would take 50 days
to complete. Then the article would have to be written and photos taken –
and I would require weekends off. Call it three months per “Pet Loads.”
Nope, life doesn’t work that way anymore. So when
confronted by umpteen zillion possible combinations, what’s a poor handloader to do? I include myself as a “poor handloader,” because I don’t have time to try
them all either.
The first thing is to consult all the manuals possible. These
days many indicate which loads worked best in their test rifles. This
doesn’t necessarily mean those loads will work in your rifle, but in my
experience they’re a pretty good place to start – especially if
more than one manual recommends a certain powder for the job.
Another tool, however, is the Internet. Half of American
households are now online (and I suspect that an even larger percentage of
Handloader readers are, because they e-mail us all the time). Here I must put
in a plug for Handloader’s own web site: www.loaddata.com. This includes
a database of most of the loads published in Handloader – including all
those from the past few years, because they arrived at company headquarters
either on a computer disk or via e-mail, ready to download into the database.
A subscription to LoadData.com costs $25 a year, but you
also get a new monthly column
(by, ahem, me), reprints of articles published in Handloader and the ability to
ask for information if you find the database lacking. These answers are also
provided by me, and so far I’ve been able to come up with something at
least 95 percent of the time, using information from my own extensive data and
The Internet also can provide more extensive information.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve often logged onto www.24hour
campfire.com, a “chat room” site that deals with all sorts of
outdoor issues. The Campfire is more civilized than most. Thanks to the
anonymity provided on most chat rooms, some people feel free to post any aggressive
little notion that pops into their head. The Campfire is
“moderated” by Rick Bin, the owner of the site, a level-headed
rifle loony who keeps things reasonably polite.
The Campfire is primarily a shooting site. I use it mostly
to find out what shooters are interested in, but even to glean loading
information. For instance, you could post this question: “What’s
your favorite deer load in the .257 Roberts?” You’ll probably get a
couple dozen answers from enthusiastic Bob-shooters. Some, of course, will
advise you to forget about the .257 and buy a .260 Remington or .257 Weatherby,
but you’ll also get a bunch of loads mentioning several powders –
and often new powders. If a certain powder keeps turning up, it’s
probably worth a try.
You can also obtain information about new cartridges,
bullets, rifles, scopes, binoculars or anything else we use. If 32 people have
tried the new Window-Breaker bullet on big game, then you’ll get a
cross-section of information, not just the word from some gun writer who was
invited to Texas
and shot a single 127-pound “wild boar” with the thing. Or say
you’re having problems seating bullets straight with your new .300 WSM
dies. Ask for help and you’re likely to get 20 answers, most of which
will probably help.
Of course, you must winnow out the red-eyed fire-breathers,
the boys who always get 200 fps more out of any cartridge than the manuals
suggest. Luckily, the Campfire also has many moderate members, who quickly post
objections to such envelope-stretching. Even a beginner can spot the fringe
elements pretty quickly.
best thing about the Internet, however, is that you don’t have to wait as
long to get information. The United States Postal Service is more reliable than
most people but still can’t transport answers at light speed. No matter how often loading manuals are updated, there’s
always a lag, and even Handloader only comes out six times a year. But the
Internet is always there, circling the planet.