It was getting late in the mid-January afternoon and buck tags filled in years past told me the rut was in full swing in southeast Alabama. When the magic hour hit, a doe emerged from the far tree line as if shooed out on cue by nature's stagehand. By the way she was acting, I knew that a buck wouldn't be far behind. Even at 300 yards, I didn't need to raise my binocular to know he was a shooter. He was a trophy, not due to inches of horn, but because he was a wise, habitually nocturnal old warrior who was only showing his face because biology demanded it.
It wasn't a short shot, but I knew the rifle and I knew the load. I'd carefully chosen the bullet, the brass, the primer and the powder. I'd experimented with all four and found the best balance of accuracy and velocity before painstakingly assembling the cartridge in a small batch at my bench. Even before I pressed the trigger, I knew the outcome.
I'd learned to handload rifle and handgun cartridges when I was in high school. I quickly determined that I could feed my pistol-shooting habit far more prosperously on my dime store paycheck by scrounging brass and loading my own. A few years later I started hunting big game and became mildly obsessed with rifle accuracy and bullet performance—it was with one of my own handloads that I took my first whitetail and many since.
Unless you've just been roused from a five-year nap, you are undoubtedly aware that centerfire ammunition has increased in both price and scarcity. A box of premium .300 Winchester Magnum ammo runs nearly $50 for 20 rounds but at least you can probably find it on store shelves. But what if you're going varmint hunting and are looking for a case of .223? Good luck with that.
Though handloading definitely saves dollars, it's not the only reason you should consider it. The ability to have a sustainable supply of ammunition through marketplace shortages like the one we've witnessed lately is another good reason; a modest supply of powder and primers and the ability to cast one's own bullets can keep you shooting through the lean times. Handloads can also help maximize the accuracy potential of your firearm by allowing you to assemble component combinations or cartridge dimensions that are unavailable via mass production. Though today's factory ammunition offers the best and most diverse lineup that hunters and shooters have ever seen, there's still a limit to what you can buy off the shelf.
Best of all, for me, is the satisfaction of having done it myself. When I put venison on my family's table, knowing I shot it with a rifle that I assembled, using a cartridge that I loaded by hand, over a field that I planted, I can't help but feel good. And it's hard to put a price on that.
Do This at the Range
Start range sessions with an understudy rifle
that mimics your deer rifle. You likely haven't fired a round in earnest in months, and no doubt your skills are rusty after the winter/spring layoff. So don't beat yourself up, waste expensive ammo or grow frustrated. Use a rimfire to concentrate on breathing, relaxing, squeezing the trigger and following-through on meaningful shots. Then move to your centerfire rifle of choice.
Bore-sight a new scope at close range.
Weighing 55-70 pounds, shorthairs push size limits, but they can make charming house pets if not overly hyperactive. They may not require as much exercise as setters or pointers, but probably need more than any dog on this list.
Move off the bench.
In preparation for hunting, a bench rest is good for one thing only—assuring your rifle is zeroed. There are no shooting benches in the woods, so why use one for practice? Instead, fire from the prone, sitting, kneeling and offhand positions most likely used while hunting.
Become proficient with artificial shooting rests.
The best field-shooting position can always be enhanced with a backpack, a pair of shooting sticks or a proper sling. Practice shooting with all three, make them part of your "kit" and never leave home without them.
Identify problems with rifles and ammo now.
Extractors break. Scope erectors grow weak and stop taking adjustments. Ammo misfires. Now, not November, is the time to wring out problems with equipment.
The New Ram 1500 Express Hear the growl of the standard, proven 5.7L Hemi V8 that offers 20 hwy mpg and kicks out 390 hp – all starting at $22,855 (you won't get a Hemi® V8 for that low anywhere else). This is the new 2011 Ram 1500 Express. Your truck. Your terms. Check it out at ramzone.com.
There's Talk. And Then There's Truth. Ram trucks are powered by proven engines, such as the 6.7L Cummins® Turbo Diesel (available on Ram Heavy Duty and Chassis Cabs), and the 5.7L Hemi® V8 (available on Ram 1500 and 2500 HD). Plus, Ram 1500 delivers a five-link coil spring rear suspension, for a more comfortable without compromising capability. See the truth for yourself at ramtrucks.com
Anglers Rejoice – for Ram Outdoorsman: Ram Outdoorsman is purpose-built to help you reel in the big one. Equip its available RamBox® Cargo Management System with available Mopar holster and stow up to six fishing rods. Navigate your way to even the most remote pond with rugged, all-terrain tires and enhanced lighting. Want more? Check out the new Outdoorsman at ramtrucks.com.
*EPA estimated 20 highway mpg for Ram 1500 4x2 with available 5.7L Hemi V8. **See dealer for a copy of limited warranty. Hemi is a registered trademark of Chrysler Group LLC
Like the fossilized skeletons of its ancestors displayed in the Smithsonian, a 12-foot alligator can be scary even when it's dead—something that Shooting Illustrated's Adam Heggenstaller learned in person during a gator hunt in Florida. Read More »