Reloading 101: Projectiles

Let’s look at the specifics of the actual loads, starting with the selection of projectiles.

I’m going to focus on projectile selection for handguns as the process of selecting projectiles for rifle loads is a complex issue involving long range ballistics including topics such as supersonic, transonic and sub-sonic aerodynamics, not to mention the specific nature of the target. Alessio Baldi’s series of articles (linked) on long range shooting provides an excellent insight into some of these topics and the performance issues associated with selecting rifle projectiles.

The other issue that I’m going to sidestep is the use of personally cast projectiles, which introduces a whole new range of issues. As most of us will be happy with using commercially available projectiles, I’ll leave the issue of casting your own projectiles to others with more enthusiasm for this process than I have.

Projectile Characteristics

Projectiles have seven basic characteristics:

  • caliber.
  • weight.
  • shape/type (round nose, hollow point, wadcutter, etc.).
  • base shape (flat base, hollow base, etc.).
  • material composition (hard cast lead, soft lead, lead free, etc.).
  • coating (copper jacketed, copper washed, dry lube coated, etc.).
  • ballistic co-efficient (BC).

Ballistic co-efficient (BC) is a complex area involving both physics and aerodynamics. There are also some discrepancies between the calculation of BC in a strict scientific sense and the use of BC by projectile manufacturers. For short range handgun applications, BC is of limited interest, but will come up as I talk about specific projectile types in the next article. For the moment, let’s just consider BC as a measure of aerodynamic efficiency. The higher the BC, the less the projectile will slow down during flight. Whilst not a strictly correct definition of BC, this should be good enough for short range pistol shooting purposes.

In selecting a projectile, four major factors to consider will be:

  • type of target (paper or steel targets, hunting, personal protection, etc.).
  • range to the target (competition distances, short range personal protection, etc.).
  • specifications of your own firearm (revolver, semi-auto, gas operated, polygonal rifling, etc.).
  • possibility of requiring a specific power factor for competition shooting.

Other factors to consider may be:

  • availability of the projectiles.
  • cost of the projectiles.

Some ranges limit the types of ammunition you can use on their ranges, e.g. jacketed ammunition or lead free ammunition. It may be prudent to check with your range operator to ensure that your own reloaded ammunition complies with any restrictions they may impose. If it doesn’t, you may need to change your projectile selection or find a different range.

I’ve already suggested that reloading your own self-defence ammunition is probably not a good idea, thus I’m not going to address the selection of projectiles for self-defence.

Reloading Tables

The most important piece of information you need to get started is a set of reloading tables covering:

  • your specific firearm (caliber, barrel length, etc.).
  • the type of powder.
  • type of projectile (weight, type, etc.).
  • primer manufacturer (not always specified).

There are a lot of reloading tables out there, some of the best (and cheapest) are those provided by powder manufacturers which are often available free of charge from the Internet. Projectile manufacturers may also provide reloading tables for their specific projectiles. The other commonly used source is commercial reloading manuals/tables, which often contain many more load combinations, but will cost you $50-100.

I have even seen reload data provided on the Internet by specific shooting discipline bodies.

The detail provided varies greatly depending on the source, and you may need to do some research to get the correct combination of powder and projectile for your specific firearm. At the very least, you’ll need to get a combination for the specific powder type and projectile weight, even if the specific projectile type can’t be matched.

As with any information acquired from the Internet—beware.  Not all information can be trusted. If you can, get reload data from a number of independent sources to confirm the data you have is correct.

Complying with the maximum recommended powder loads for a specific caliber and projectile weight is essential to ensure you don’t damage your firearm or cause any personal injury to yourself or anyone around you.  How you get to that “sweet spot” of the ideal load for your firearm will be a topic I’ll address once I have covered the issues of projectile and powder selection.

 Next Article

In the next article I’ll look at the various types of projectiles available and the process of selecting a projectile suitable for your specific shooting activity.

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