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In a recent post about taking on the shade tree blacksmith task of making your own lead shot, I pointed out how inexpensively shotgunners can buy a press and start reloading their own shells. That’s when Don Worsham asked how much I save by refilling my own empties. Unfortunately, it had been a long time since I put metaphorical pencil to paper to figure that out. I knew pulling that handle like granny at a nickle slot machine was saving me money, but I hadn’t kept track of my component costs and actually fired up the Cray to get any more scientific than that in a while. So . . .

Here we go. Keep in mind that there are more shot shell formulations and ingredient options than Carter’s has little pills. But for shooting trap – my primary smoothbore vice – I like one-ounce loads of number 8 shot. I use Claybusters wads in Remington STS shells and Winchester primers to fire Hodgdon Clays powder. Got all that?

If you’ve never reloaded before, the only question left after deciding what components you’re going to use is how much powder you’ll need  to propel your chosen load of lead. Figuring that out is kind of important because if you don’t use the right load, it’s possible to make your gun go ka-BOOM instead of the nice pleasing bang you’re looking for.

Fortunately, Hodgdon – like any other decent powder purveyor – prints very convenient manuals so you can look up exactly the combination you’re using to make your little lead pellets fly downrange at just the speed you need.

Sound complicated? It’s not. Really. If I can do it, any self-respecting Armed Intelligentsian can.

The only thing left, then, to grok my savings was to get updated costs for my components. Fortunately, there are plenty of easy, free reloading cost calculators out there on the Intertubes anyone can use to do the math heavy lifting for you. I took advantage of one the Pacific International Trapshooting Association posts on their site. From there, it’s pretty much a plug and play process.

Click the above image to embiggen it.

What does all this tell you? Basically, compared to an off-the-shelf box of Remington’s or Winchester’s finest target loads, my homebrew shells save me about $2.25 per box. That’s right, per box. Shoot a round of trap, skeet or sporting clays and you’ve left nine more samolians in your pocket. Depending on how often you shoot, that adds up pretty fast and repays your investment in  reloading equipment before you know it.

And don’t give me any crap about it being hard. Reloading couldn’t be much easier. Flip on the ball game on the radio, load up the press and you can easily knock out a box of 25 in ten minutes or so. My luxurious set-up (above) takes up a little space in my garage but you could easily get a smaller arrangement into a corner of your basement or a spare room.

Before you ask, the press I use is a MEC Sizemaster. I bought mine about eight years ago and they run about $225 these days. But you don’t have to spend that much to get started. You can get in closer to $150 for a new, more basic model or, better yet, peruse the ads where you can always find someone looking to unload one. So to speak.

So get in the habit of bending over and picking up those shells at the range the other shooters are leaving behind – assuming they’re the goon ones, that is. Leave the Universals and Federal Multipurpose junkers, though. They’re not reload-worthy. You can save yourself some serious coin and ultimately shoot more for the same money you’re spending now. Or piss off MikeB and use the savings on a new gun. Either way, you come out ahead.

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  1. You’ll save even more with home-made shot. I’m loading my 12ga. trap loads for roughly $2.50/box using 1oz. of #8, Fed 12SO wads, Titewad, Win. Primers, and Fed. paper hulls (I shoot a 1927 LeFever that seems to prefer paper hulls). If you load for 28 and .410 your savings will approch $8/box depending on prices in your area.

  2. You tickled a little thought I’ve had for years. In these large shotgunning matches like the Grand American, what becomes of the tons of empty hulls? Do they get reloaded, recycled or discarded?

    • I’ve been to the Grand American once, the last year it was in Dayton. I’m not positive, but as I remember, everyone picked up their own shells. I have to believe the great majority of them reload.

    • Many competitors pick up their own hulls and reload.

      That said, I’ve had many competitors at trap matches tell me that they will not shoot reloads at any ATA sanctioned competition, because if someone challenges your load and you’re one pellet over the max pellet weight or velocity, you’ve spent all that money and effort for a DQ. They shoot factory for the matches and reloads for practice…

      • Agreed. I don’t think anyone at the Grand was shooting reloads. In fact, if I remember correctly, competitors were required to shoot factory loads.

        But they picked up their empties to reload and use later.

        • Oh, absolutely, because guys at those levels (as I’m sure you can confirm) are NOT shooting bulk ammo obtained on sale from an end-cap at Wally World. The hulls from those premium target loads (eg, Rem STS, Federal waxed paper, etc) are excellent for reloading several times…

  3. What is the best machine for reloading Self Defense shot gun rounds? I am not talking about Bird Shot rounds and the Dillon Shotgun re loader only does Bird Shot.

      • I trust my hand loads more than off the shelf stuff. I’ve had fewer failures with it– by which I mean none.

        I’d rather know exactly what is in the case than trust my life to a QA procedure in an automated factory.

  4. Hodgdon – like any other decent powder purveyor – prints very convenient manuals

    Hodgdon is the best that I know of for providing on-line reloading data:
    Hodgdon Reloading Data Center.

    This is an interactive database access site; it’s not just viewing images of printed pages.

  5. The headline made this sound like a post on springing for expert tax counsel. I suppose that’s an April topic?

  6. Many reloaders, myself included, tend to spend the same amount of money but get to shoot a hell of a lot more for that money. I’ve been reloading for 25 years now and the feeling of shooting clover leafs with your own carefully crafted loads is sublime.

    Three years ago I got into casting bullets and it’s been a hoot. I have a buddy that works at an auto shop housed in a very old building so I trade electrical maintenance around there for wheel weights which saves me a ton of cash. When I first considered casting I wasn’t sure if I’d stick with it so I went as inexpensive as I could to test the waters. I ended up with a Lee 20lb furnace ($65), Lee 2- cavity mold ($18) and Lee sizer die ($18). For just over $100 bones I was off and running. Three years later the furnace is still cranking and I have molds covering 9mm, .38/.357, .40, .44 and .45.

    I think any fella that shoots often owes it to himself to at least look into loading and casting.

  7. “I trust my hand loads more than off the shelf stuff. I’ve had fewer failures with it– by which I mean none.”

    “I’d rather know exactly what is in the case than trust my life to a QA procedure in an automated factory.”

    No doubt. But as Mr. Ralph will tell you, prosecutors and juries prefer standard off the shelf guns and ammo.

    • No doubt. But as Mr. Ralph will tell you, prosecutors and juries prefer standard off the shelf guns and ammo.

      They’d have a heck of a time proving that lead balls out of a bag in a once fired Federal hull are substantially any different than the original lead balls that came in it. Or, for that matter, that it was reloaded to begin with.

  8. I have been reloading my handgun ammo for years now. While I don’t cast my own bullets, I find it is a very relaxing way to unwind from the daily grind. You kind of zone out if all your preliminary calculations are done. It also saves a bunch of money over factory for practice.

  9. Wow, I thought there’d be more savings in the shotgun world… $2.25 per box is around $0.11/round saved… to me, that barely seems worth the time/effort. I don’t shoot enough clays/skeet to even come close to warranting the purchase of a press and stock of supplies (which are much bulkier than centerfire pistol/rifle).

    On the other hand, centerfire rifle and pistol has a huge savings (comparatively). I can reload .308 “match grade” ammo, using 168-grain SMK’s, IMR4064, Lapua brass, and Federal 210M primers for a near $1.20 savings per round (cost around $0.52 each vs $1.70 each for FGMM full-retail). The $0.52/round is assuming that I can only use the Lapua brass 5-times, but in reality with the relatively “light” load of 43.5-grains if IMR4064, I can get almost double the amount of reloads (close to 10). In a single 66-shot F-T/R match, that equates to almost $80 saved. Assuming the brass is cleaned/tumbled, I can reload 100-rounds in about 4 hours or so, so it is certainly worth it to me!

  10. I used to re load and I have looked into getting back into it. However, I don’t see any savings on re – loading your own center fire calibers. I can buy .308 ammo for ~ .60 a round shipped. Buying a press and all of the equipment, plus powder, primers and bullets exceeds the .60 per round cost of factory ammo. Maybe for the less popular calibers like .338 Lapua you can realize some savings, but for the most common calibers re loading is the same or more, especially when you factor in your time.

    • @Bill – What type of ammo are you referring to at $0.60/round? There is a big difference between shooting mil-surp ammo and shooting match ammo… show me where you can get FGMM/BHM ammo for $0.60/round and I’ll sell everything in my garage! I can load “plinking” ammo for around $0.20/round (150-gr FMJ, cheap primers, large bin of IMR 4895 powder) but it holds a 2″ group at 100-yards out of an accurate bolt-gun… certainly not acceptable for match practice or serious target shooting, but does OK in gas guns…

      Cheaperthandirt has FGMM on sale now for $20.03 and that is the cheapest I’ve found in weeks (doesn’t include shipping charges). An order up to 4-boxes costs $13.75 to ship to my house, which adds about $0.20 per round to the cost. Not including shipping, even at $1.00/round, reloading my own match ammo (optimized for MY rifle btw) is still half-price or better. 100-rounds/4hrs=25-rounds/hr… A savings of 25rounds/hr x $0.50 saved/round= $12.50 saved/hr. Now I’m lucky enough to haven’t been in that pay scale since high-school, but even at $12.50 saved per hour I still feel like I’m getting paid to reload.

      .223 ammo is one of the few centerfire rounds that I won’t reload, at least not for my semi-auto’s. My LWRC, RRA, and DPMS can all shoot the crappiest, lacquered, steel-cased commie-bloc made stuff just fine. I can get 440 rounds of 5.56Nato 62-grain penetrators that shoot surprisingly well out of the LWRC and DPMS for ~$0.30 a round. The cheapest I can reload .223 is about $0.20. However, varmint and match rounds still run close to $1.00 each, and I can reload .223 match ammo for just under $0.45! Even using IMI or LC brass, I can shoot as good or better than Hornady match ammo 🙂

  11. I get Federal Target loads for $4.77 or $5.47 per box of 25 depending on the whim of WalMart. 12ga, 2 3/4 in, 1oz, 7.5 shot.

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