Handloading: Half a Century at the Press

It occurred to me the other night that I have now been handloading for 50 years. I started in 1965, and I still have all ten fingers and both eyes, although my hearing seems to have gone off someplace else.

I started handloading because I was poor (although not as poor as Mrs. Clinton when she left the White House), and because I was a rabid woodchuck whacker and was looking for more accuracy than factory ammo could provide, and because all the gun writers with whom I was then getting acquainted rolled their own.

My two rifles at the time were a Savage 110 in .22/250, a light-barreled left-handed horror that was cheap and which could shoot pretty well, and a heavy-barrel Mauser-actioned .22/250 with a double-set trigger and a maple stock that had been built by a gun writer, gunsmith, and benchrest pioneer named Bob Wallack.

I still remember the loads I worked up for them, which is odd, because this was five decades ago and I can’t remember where I put my cell phone today. The Savage load was Remington brass, Remington primers, 33 grains of 3031, and 50-grain Sierra bullets. A friend of mine who had a chronograph said it was giving me 3,750 fps, and the groups, as I recall, went into .750-inch, which, for 1965, was pretty good. (That load, by the way, was too hot, although lacking experience I didn’t recognize it at the time, and 3031 is too fast a powder for the .22/250.)

The other handload did better. It was 32 grains of 4320, same components, and gave me something like 3,500 fps. I think the group sizes ran to .500, which was really cooking back then.

I can remember firing my very first handload. It was the Savage, and I think I sat at the bench for 15 minutes working up the nerve to pull the trigger. I was absolutely convinced that I had omitted some crucial step, and that when the firing pin fell, there would be the thunderclap of an exploding rifle, followed by the tinkling sounds of Savage parts falling to earth, plus the squishy plop of my brain landing on the bench two places down. But it didn’t happen.

I sometimes wonder how many bullets, cases, pounds of powder, primers, and pieces of brass I’ve gone through. It has to be a bunch. In any event, handloading has made possible whatever I’ve accomplished with rifles, saved me God knows how much money, and kept me in basements and garages, where I belong, muttering to myself.

I’d like to know where those two rifles are. I’m sure that someone is still shooting them. I hope their owners are taking good care of them.