Reloading 101: Beating the High Cost of Ammunition (Part 2)

Brass casings

Dan Z. for TTAG

This is the second of two posts on the basics of reloading ammunition. See part one here

If there’s one thing I like more than shooting it’s being a cheap bastard saving money. It’s the main reason I got into reloading: more shooting for less bucks. Eco-warrior that I am, reloading spent brass also gives me something to do with all that spare metal. I mean, you can’t just throw it away.

Anyway, despite the hype you may hear from reloading advocates — or more likely, people who sell reloading equipment — the money you “save” by reloading depends largely on how much you shoot. I’ll do a simple cost breakdown and let you, the reader, decide whether reloading makes economic sense. The example I use will be a cartridge I reload.

As I wrote in part 1 of this series, there are four primary components to a cartridge: case, primer, powder and projectile (bullet). When I talk about costs, I’m only going to mention the last three items; the components that are expended when the round is fired. The case is a special case. We’ll get to that….

For .38 Special, the load I like to use is about three grains of Bullseye, a 158 grain Round Nose Lead (RNL) bullet or a 148 Grain Wadcutter (WC). Primers are Small Pistol and my Auto Prime requires that I use either Winchester or CCI primers.

I’m using the prices from the Brownells. And though I think they are a tad high, they are probably fairly representative of what most reloaders would actually pay. Brownells is a mail order company, but for reasons I’ll describe below, I prefer to buy all of my components locally rather than mail ordering them.

Component                                                                              Cost

Alliant Bullseye powder                                                            $21.99/LB

CCI Small Pistol primers:                                                          $33.99/1000

Hornady Swaged 148gr SWC Bullet                                        $51.98/500

Of course, that’s the bulk cost. Figuring out the unit cost is a little more tricky, except for the bullets of course which, at $52 for 500, work out to a little more than a dime a piece.

A pound is 7,000 grains, so you can theoretically load 2,333 .38 special cartridges with a pound of Bullseye. That works out to $0.0094 per round. Round it up and call it a penny per round.

Primers are also easy to figure; each primer fills a cartridge. That runs .3399 per round. Round up to $0.034 and call if four cents each.

So at four cents for the primer, 10 for the bullet and a penny for the powder, the approximate component cost per round (not counting the case) is 15 cents. At 50 rounds per box that works out to $7.50. That’s pretty good—the cheapest .38 special FMJ ammo I’ve seen lately is $19/box…if you can find it in stock.

Now, having said all that, you can do better if you shop around. For example, last time I bought bullets in bulk, I’m pretty sure I paid around $35-$40 for 500 rounds.

Really, it doesn’t make much sense to mail order reloading components except for the cases. Powder and primers are considered “hazmat” (hazardous materials). The additional shipping charges will eat up a lot of your savings (unless you live in a really remote area). As you know, bullets are heavy which means shipping can be expensive on those as well. For that reason, I prefer to buy my expendable components locally.

The reason I didn’t count brass in the per-round cost is because, of course, brass is reusable. So, if you only load rounds once, the cost for brass (about 16 cents each for .38) pushes the total costs up to about $15.50 for 50 rounds. You still save, but you safe a lot less. However, every time you re-use your brass, the cost drops. Put more simply, the more you shoot, the more you save.

As for how long you can reuse a case, that’s like asking “how high is up?” I rarely throw away a case unless it has a crack in the rim wall or is so badly bent it can’t safely be reused. Because .38 is such a low-powered round, those cases can usually be reloaded 10 to 12 times before becoming unsafe.

NOTE: ALWAYS INSPECT THE CASE BEFORE RELOADING.

The cost breakdown for rifle cartridges is similar. But because rifles use a lot more powder (my .30-06 loads use about 60 grains of powder), you get a lot fewer rounds per pound of powder. Rifle bullets, being typically complex designs including a copper jacket, soft point and lead filler, are also more expensive.

Even there, though, the money saved can be significant.

Component                                                                              Cost

Hodgdon H4895 powder                                                         $29.99/LB

CCI Large Rifle primers:                                                           $33.99/1000

Nosler Ballistic Tip BT bullets, 125 GR                                    $25.99/50

At 60 grains per round, that pound of powder will fill 116 cases. That’s $.26 per charge. With the primer at three cents, and the bullets at 52 cents apiece, that’s $0.81 per round or $16.20 a box—about half the cost of decent hunting-grade rifle ammo.

Of course, you have to consider the cost of the reloading equipment as well. Like the brass, the more you use it, the more you save. Theoretically, there should be a point at which you’ve saved enough to cover the cost of the reloading equipment.

I say theoretically, because, like most hobbyists, reloaders have a tendency to acquire more and more gear as they go along: scales, digital powder measures, case trimming tools, case tumblers, chronographs for measuring bullet speed, bullet casting equipment, and eventually progressive loaders. All of which can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

By the time you count the cost of the brass and the equipment you will need/want, the per-round cost savings can quickly disappear. Again…unless you shoot a lot. Even with my single-stage press setup I probably have nearly $500 invested in reloading gear. $500 could buy a lot of factory-loaded ammo. But as much as I shoot, it’s long ago paid for itsef.

Based on the above, it’s obvious that in strictly economic terms, reloading probably doesn’t make sense for the casual shooter. Nor does it make much sense for someone who fires a cartridge that is widely available in bulk quantities at (what used to be) low prices, like 5.56mm NATO/.223 or 7.62 x 39mm (7.62 Russian) and is content to shoot military-grade ammo.

But for someone who shoots hundreds or thousands of rounds a month (competitive shooters, for example), the savings can add up quickly. Particularly when you consider that the most expensive items (the reloading equipment and the brass) are reusable and don’t wear out in a hurry.

There are other valid non-economic reasons to reload. First and foremost these days is basic availability. Good luck finding much of the ammo you like to shoot most often right now. And no one knows how long it will be before production catches up to demand. Judging by past buying surges, it could be years.

Another reason to roll your own is that reloading lets you shoot cartridges that the big ammo manufacturers don’t sell. I hunt antelope in Wyoming using a .30-06 rifle. While the .30-06 is an excellent cartridge, antelope are small and fast and live in wide-open grasslands that demand long shots (200 yards is typical, 400 is not unknown).

Most commercial .30-06 loads are in the 150-180 grain bullet weight category. Which is fine out to about 200 yards. After that it drops precipitously. That’s why I like to load a lighter 125 grain bullet for a faster, flatter-shooting round.

Reloading also lets you experiment with different bullet types and shapes, or you can even cast your own lead bullets.

And the final reason to reload is for the same reason people like to grow their own vegetables, hunt their own food, or build their own houses: the sense of satisfaction that comes with knowing that you did it yourself.

My wife says that a bowl of chili tastes better when she knows the peppers in it were grown by her own hand, in her own garden. In a similar way, that antelope steak tastes better to me when I know the round I used to take it is one I loaded myself. As always and in most things, your results may vary.

See part one of this two-part series on reloading for beginners here

comments

  1. avatar Manny A says:

    Prefer using powders that have charts for when SHTF occurs. Have used CFE 223 for 5.56 and 30-06, 2400 in pistols and rifle, unique for both. Having too much to lug in a bug out could prove to be fatal.

    1. avatar Vic Nighthorse says:

      I can’t make sense out of your first sentence. Are you implying Alliant and Hogdon don’t publish reloading data or are you saying that there is special reloading data for SHFT? Also are you saying that you have smokeless powder in your bug out bag?

      1. avatar Biff says:

        He’s probably going to use either Lee dippers or one of their powder measures that uses fixed cavities. Lee has charts for some powders so you can theoretically load without a scale.

        It really would not be difficult to make your own chart, but if you are taking your reloading equipment with you a scale doesn’t take up much room.

        1. avatar The Crimson Pirate says:

          I believe he means powders that have the reloading data on the bottle

          https://www.hodgdon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/h335_1_lb.jpg

        2. avatar Vic Nighthorse says:

          Hand loading stuff is right up there with farming equipment and supplies on my carry with me list when I am running for my life.

        3. avatar Southern Cross says:

          I found the Lee powder scoop didn’t have anywhere near the amount of powder the instructions with the Lee kit said it would (it was way under and less than the book minimum load), and was so inconsistent that charge to charge could vary by quite a few grains. Once I went to a proper powder thrower and trickler, I never used the Lee Scoop again.

        4. avatar xtphreak says:

          @ Southern Cross
          1) the density of powder varies by lot, so change the density / volume and you get a change in weight.
          2) show me a factory that loads by charge weight
          3) using a volumetric measure (“scoop”) requires a consistent application and technique

          I use both methods for different applications.

          You can learn a lot about loading by reading Richard Lee’s Modern Reloading. The man was an engineer and invented / patented a lot of reloading tools sold by his competitors.

    2. avatar Chiefton says:

      I agree with your choices. CFE 223, Unique and I also like Power Pistol for my 9mm. For my 300 Win Mag I have always used 4350 but might change on that. I buy my projectiles in bulk and practice with what I carry in most cases. I have been able to keep those down around .08 – .09 a round. Buy primers in bulk at gun shows along with my powders to save hazmat costs. Always in 4lb – 8lb cans which really drops the cost way down. What’s nice about unique as it can be used in shotgun loads if you do that also.

    3. avatar Ansel Hazen says:

      All my presses are bolted to the bench and I have no plans to take them off it if the SHTF. If I’m to be found in a pile of empty brass underneath my Dillon so be it.

      Also a quick check of Ammoseek will have some holes shot in the authors math. 38 special bullets are running 28 cents per 1000/case as we speak.

  2. avatar arc says:

    Beat the high cost of ammo? Buy when times are good and inventories are fat.

    1. avatar I Haz A Question says:

      Exactly. Good advice to always follow, and this is what many of us did over the past few years.

      In regards to the author’s debate over whether reloading is worth it (from a cost efficiency standpoint), we Californians have an entirely different point of view on the matter. Reloading will get us around the bogus ammo BGC law. Simple as that.

      I have a [removed for OPSEC just in case I ever mouth off too much personal info and get doxxed, lol] of factory ammo already stockpiled, but effective immediately I’ll begin retaining my once-fired factory brass in all calibers. I have a still-new-in-box Rock Chucker press, and I think I’ll pick the brain of one of my reloader friends for “training” on how to do it. I’ll start with just 9mm and 5.56. Never too late to start.

      1. avatar Curtis in IL says:

        Learning from experienced friends is good.

        Also, lots of videos online showing how to reload, from RCBS and the other equipment suppliers, and hundreds more from bubba and his cousins.

        1. avatar BradB says:

          I refer to that as being “YouTube Certified”. You can learn a lot on YouTube if you have some basic understanding and enough discernment to separate the fly$#! from the pepper.

          You can place a reasonable degree of trust in videos from powder or equipment manufacturers. They are a good place to start. I learned hand loading long before Algore invented the internet by reading the instructional chapters in the reloading manuals. Once the internet came along I started finding lots of advanced information, first in articles, later in videos.

      2. avatar Someone says:

        Go for it. Crazy legislation aside, maybe you will find out that you like loading cartridges almost as much as shooting them. I did.

        A point about cost. I bet everyone noticed that the bullet is by far the most expensive component. Some say it’s economically not worth the effort to reload 9mm, bullets costing almost as much as loaded ammo. Larger pistol bullets like those for .45 or .44 are even more expensive.
        Casting your own can significantly lower your bullets (and therefore ammo) cost. Depending on your lead source, your bullets may cost next to nothing. Casting also brings another layer of self reliance into your ammo procurement.

        1. avatar Ansel Hazen says:

          Just before all this BS started I could load .357 sig for 16 cents ea. Rounds for my AR at about 20 cents ea. because I stocked up on 55gr FMJ for $70/1000

          The authors prices assume you have been a dedicated brass hound as there is no cost listed for cases.

          Bottom line though is still that cost isn’t going to be an issue when SHTF. Being able to load at all is what will keep you alive. Stock up and stack deep.

        2. avatar mikes says:

          Reloading supplies have been on an rapid increase since 2008 do to politics, demand, gov and civilian and the unexpected. Powder for example:
          2008 8# keg of Bullseye under $92 easy for 13-16K 9mm rounds
          2010 $104
          2012 $118
          2014 $124
          2016 $128
          2017 $132
          2018 $137
          2019 $142
          2020 today $147
          Then from the last administration shutting down the last of the lead mfg’s. Lead has become a crazy $1.50-$2.00+ a pound, primers $14 per 1k $99 for 5k pre 2014 now are an avg $30+ per 1k
          Brass goes up and down but 9mm was $25 at 1k now $35-$50+
          Ammo pre 2008 9mm $16 cheap box 100 max pack now $24 but also in commyfornia they passed an illegal ammo purchase license with a fee. So as time goes by our Rights and lifestyles are affected by money and Legislation. So Reloading and keeping a healthy supply has become a survivalist style mentality. Some call bulk buyers hoarders but I call some of them smart thinking ahead and cost cutters. It’s never to late to start reloading even just getting the inexpensive presses and other equipment because in a few years the cost of supplies and ammo would negate those up front costs and you have the ability and experience to maintain your hobby and maybe break even. I have been able to sell some/trade reloading equipment for supplies or upgrade equipment etc. So even the equipment is a investment that keeps giving. I hear family, friends, neighbors etc complain they cant find or get ammo or complain about the costs or can no longer order ammo online. I even spoke to FBI agents at Walmart in my area because their county banned ammunition and people went to nearby counties and bought up everything so they had to travel 50 miles to my area to get ammo for their private fun time. So I think people need to be educated properly to make appropriate decision rather than last minute craziness. Another example was when people were buying all the popular ammo years back and I couldn’t get my 9mm target load for brass, 556, etc there was always tons of .22LR so I always grabbed a box of 500 or 1k this went on for months. But as I reload I had plenty of supplies for those calibers. Then when .22LR was as hard to find as a 5oz gold nugget I was sitting comfortable. I even saw $14 box of 500 .22LR round on craigslist going for $75 and people were buying it ( before the CL restricted ammo or atleast enforced the policy) So as my saying goes ” I would rather have it and not need it than to need it and not have it”.
          For current and new to reloading think ahead and plan for the worst, then sit comfortable from then on rather than be those that complain and panic. Besides it’s a fun, educational, always learning and ever expanding hobby. There are always people in the hobby willing to share info and experience to right minded people as some of these posts are reflecting now.
          Have a wonderful day and keep rolling.

        3. avatar sam caffer says:

          I cast, but thirty years ago I bought about a half ton of lead and a quantity of antimony and tin to make bullet metal. Pure lead can only be fired at very low velocities or you will get heavy leading of your barrel. I cast practice bullets for every caliber I shoot, about a dozen, except .223 Rem, for which I buy jacked bullets in multi-thousand lots.

          Furthermore, casting bullets, especially if you need a specific hardness, is a skill which exceeds that of simple reloading with purchased bullets.

          Everything is a trade-off. Physics and ecomoncs, don’t ya know?

    2. avatar Phil LA says:

      Bingo.

  3. avatar Curtis in IL says:

    Yeah, the hazmat fees with shipping can throw a monkey wrench into the economics of reloading. But those who don’t have a well-stocked retailer within driving distance don’t have much choice. Understand that you only pay the hazmat fee once per package, so if you must go that route, buying larger quantities and combining primers and powder with the same vendor will spread out that cost. Talk to friends and share orders.

    Bullet vendors have figured out how to exploit the US Postal Service flat rate package pricing so you can still order bullets online without busting your budget.

    1. avatar I Haz A Question says:

      Does anyone know if of any recommended limits to buying bulk powders without being flagged, tagged, & bagged by an alphabet letter agency as suspicious? Serious question. Or is it a moot question?

      1. avatar GS650G says:

        Pay cash and buy in different locations.
        Powder has lot numbers and can be tracked. Primers have lot numbers too but the powder falls under explosive category.
        Bullets are a safe bet. Many people cast their own.
        If you’re looking to stock up remember powder needs careful climate controlled storage. Until it’s in bullets store in a cool dry location and avoid extreme changes.
        Others may disagree with all this but I would not put anything past computer driven agents.

        1. avatar Geoff "Guns. LOTS of guns..." PR says:

          “Until it’s in bullets store in a cool dry location and avoid extreme changes.”

          Having experienced a house fire in my past, store it as low to the floor as possible, and sealed in something like an ammo can, if it will fit…

        2. avatar mikes says:

          I bought in bulk for decades and the powder, ammo, primer sellers do not attach the lot number to your orders for traces or other. The lot numbers are mainly for the manufacturers reference, Lot numbers are mainly used for RECALL’s so if you go to one of either mfg website you can see a list of RECALLED powder, primer or ammo lots. Sometimes they state that ammo lot number(s) may have been double or mischarged and are unsafe, they will replace or refund you if you should have any lots. This goes for all the above. I see these come up from distributors and mfg’s in my email and websites from time to time. Good rule is to catalog your ammo/reloading supplies by those numbers so when you check or get informed ” RECALL, if you bought @#$%^” do not use” you can simply pull up your soft/hard copy list and check if you may have some lots. It is a hell of alot easier/faster than to say scrummage through 200 boxes of 20 count ammo etc. or thousands depending on your supply/hord.

        3. avatar Ron says:

          @Geoff “Guns. LOTS of guns…” PR

          Powder is NOT to stored in sealed metal containers.

          “…If burning smokeless powder is confined, gas pressure will rise and eventually can cause the container to burst. Under such circumstances, the bursting of a strong container creates effects similar to an explosion. …”
          https://www.alliantpowder.com/getting_started/safety/storage_handling.aspx#:~:text=Smokeless%20propellant%20shall%20be%20stored%20in%20nonportable%20storage,kg%29%20shall%20be%20stored%20in%20any%20one%20cabinet.

          Leave it in the factory containers to protect it from moisture / humidity.
          They are designed to NOT trap gases if it ignites.

          I suggest storing in an airtight case that will burn before the powder ignites and NOT build up pressure.

          Please do some research on storage.

        4. avatar BradB says:

          “Powder is NOT to stored in sealed metal containers.”

          Dang! Just when I thought I had it all figured out. Thanks for the heads up, though. Never too old to learn something.

      2. avatar Curtis in IL says:

        If you’re concerned with what the government knows about you, then buying online is probably something to avoid.

        Keep in mind, there are many thousands of recreational/competitive shotgunners around the country (trap, skeet, etc.) who reload several thousand rounds a year. Their powder and primer purchases would dwarf even a hard core pistol or rifle shooter.

      3. avatar mikes says:

        As of now I would say moot unless you are doing things that you think might have you flagged. I have been buying in bulk for decades. Some suppliers do max 40lbs powder with max 30k primers on one order and hazmat. There are others that do it differently, but you MUST also keep in mind the laws for max storage limits in your area as well as proper storage by the law and from the mfg’s.

  4. avatar Behind the lines in the PRK says:

    Haven’t commented here in ages, paranoia re: the internet is forever. Keep in mind California also has limits on how much powder you can store. I can’t recall the exact amount at the moment, something like 10 lbs.
    Didn’t make much difference when all powder and ammo burned in the Woolsey fire, fuel, propane and welding outfit probably made more of a bang. Just FYI neighbor.

    1. avatar Geoff "Guns. LOTS of guns..." PR says:

      That’s probably 10 lbs per location, so consider storing in multiple locations…

  5. avatar silverwarloc says:

    I’ve been thinking a lot about reloading for the same reasons you mentioned. I’ve saved up a lot of my 308 brass. I have about 4000 cases. Been sitting in my storage for over a year. Wanted to know if the Dillon 750 is a good reloader.

    1. avatar Someone says:

      Yes, it is. I use Hornady presses, but would not refuse Dillon if offered at good price. The no BS warranty doesn’t hurt either.

      1. avatar Bob in Calif says:

        +1 on the Dillon guarantee. I have a 650, 20+ years old. Sent it in for refurb and got it back in a week good as new. No charge. Now that’s a guarantee and great customer service. They cost more but definitely worth it. I wouldn’t own any other.

      2. avatar BradB says:

        And RCBS. I have never had to pay for any part from RCBS customer service. Lee has not been so helpful.

        The only caution I would state is to do your due diligence on researching powder tumblers and electronic scales. I’ve heard good things about the Harbor Freight versions of the wet or the dry tumblers and the ultrasonic cleaners from my reloading buddies but I’ve had my best success with Thumlers. I have their dry tumbler and a rotary wet tumbler (rock polisher). Both have lasted many years. I read some consumer reviews on the RCBS Chargemaster combo and decided to stick with my tried and true methods.

    2. avatar Someone says:

      Oh, one more thing – some say it’s better to start with a single stage press. The learning curve is less steep as there is less stuff you need to keep an eye on happening at once. But I started on progressive press and bought single stage one later for some specialized operations and for hand loading of rifle ammo. It’s not a rocket surgery.

    3. avatar Biff says:

      If you don’t want to spring for a 750 ($1k) the Dillon 550 is a great press. It really depends on how much you want a case feeder. It’s pretty much mandatory for a 750.

      If you do get a 550 know that you don’t have to buy complete caliber conversions ($50) for each caliber. You might just need a $20 powder funnel. For example if you buy the press setup for .308 and want to load .45 acp you just need the powder funnel. If you want to load .223, .40 and 9mm, you need the conversion for .223 and .40 along with a 9mm powder funnel. You can find a list online that list every possible caliber and all the parts (shell plate, locator buttons, powder funnel) you will need.

    4. avatar Phil LA says:

      Its not about speed, it’s about consistency. Putting out 100 1 MOA rounds beats 1000 2-3 MOA rounds, for me anyway.

  6. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    There are some powders that are more useful than others. They might not be “ideal” for your application, but they will work.

    Take the powder “Unique” – it can be used either for handgun rounds or 12/16/20 gauge shotgun reloading.

    In rifle powders, I think I’d give a vote for H4895 as being a very versatile powder. Are threre better rifle powders today? Sure. But H4895 has been around for quite a while, and it is a well-proven powder.

  7. avatar Old Guy in Montana says:

    Recently I had a physical. I requested a Blood Lead Level test mostly out of curiosity. The results were enlightening…a level of 13…not immediately dangerous, but higher than the adult norm. A crash course (Internet research) on lead poisoning and lead abatement led me to revamp most of my existing exposure precautions.

    For example: Sweeping up your brass at the range picks up a lot of lead dust and particulates. I now wear a P100 mask and disposable nitrile gloves for that task. Bagged in a large Zip-Lock and rinsed when I get home prior to any de-priming, tumbling or sizing operations.

    The test results opened my eyes to how exposure, through ignorance, can happen. I have a follow up test scheduled in early September to see how successful my changes have been.

    I have not stopped my regular shoots or reloading…I’m just a bit more aware and careful while doing both.

    My $0.02 worth.

    1. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

      Lead poisoning. One of the reasons I dislike indoor ranges. Well, that and the noise.
      In Oregon, OSHA rules say if you’re going to work in an indoor range, a pre or baseline lead level check has to be done and additional testing for every 8 hours spent in the range.
      Always use gloves and a mask when handling dirty brass. And DONT! use your hat to collect brass.
      And where have we heard this before, “wash your hands” post cleanup before eating, smoking, applying lipstick, or doing anything with your hands. Simple, yet effective.

      This problem is slowly going away as indoor ranges use “green” ammo. I’m never surprised when a range says you have to buy and use their ammo. But then, I’ve got ammo, new in boxes, from the early 60’s in my stores.

      1. avatar Old Guy in Montana says:

        Sometimes the solution is as simple as rethinking a sequence. Now, after I take all my stuff back to the truck: weapons secured, collected brass in ZipLocks, earmuffs wiped down with LeadOff wipe and hands (including forearms) washed with LeadOff or D-Lead…now I remove the P100. Before I was tested, I would wash my hands and then take all the exposed stuff to the truck…ooops, bad sequencing.

        Blood lead levels have steadily dropped for years. What is considered “high” now was “average” 30 – 40 years ago. Take a reasoned approach, evaluate your sources for exposure and and take steps to mitigate.

  8. avatar James Ivy says:

    I horde brass and lead, when the shelves are barren I have the ability to process ammunition. Powder and primers are the main concerns, buy a case every payday and keep your old primers. If ever the world goes completely I can be a valuable asset to those who fight the good fight 🙂 boogie it up

  9. avatar touron says:

    Is it illegal to sale reloaded ammo?

    1. avatar Phil LA says:

      I think you have to register with the ATF in order to sell reloads. Liability wise, I don’t think it could ever be justified.

    2. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

      I’ve never heard of it. I used to sell my reloads at gun shows.
      Conversly, I would never shoot anyone else’s reloads. (There is one exception. Yours LeeVon).

      1. avatar Ron says:

        FYI

        “…The Mesa, Arizona, man who supplied ammunition to the October 1, 2017, Las Vegas shooter was sentenced Tuesday to 13 months.
        The Associated Press reports that 57-year-old Douglas Haig was sentenced for “manufacturing ammunition without a license.” …”
        https://www.breitbart.com/politics/2020/06/30/man-who-supplied-ammo-to-las-vegas-shooter-gets-13-months/

    3. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

      Technically, you would need a Type 06 FFL.

  10. avatar Matt in Oklahoma says:

    You think a 30-06 150-180gr is a 200 yd cartridge!?!

    1. avatar Craig in IA says:

      The right projectile (168 gr HPBT) works pretty well out to 600 yds in service rifle match…

    2. avatar Phil LA says:

      I load the Hornady 125 gr SST projectile over a minimum 4830 load (I think) for ~2600 fps low recoil rounds. Its still very flat and I haven’t felt it necessary to increase the velocity.

      This is where reloading shines; finding a load that checks all the boxes you want.

    3. avatar Ought Six says:

      30-06

      Use a 212 grain Hornady ELD-x and Reloder 17 to get 2600 fps.

      Point Blank range getting close to 300 yards.

      Still carrying 1000 ft pounds of energy at 1000 yards.

  11. avatar Craig in IA says:

    This has been a good series but it needs to be made clear that a person is actually going to have to shoot a lot, and I mean a lot to finally break even on the reloading. The cost of the equipment needed is going to take some time to recover and I’m not sure about anyone else but I also count my time as worth something,

    I started out around 1974 reloading 12 ga for shooting trap. Bought a Mec 600 Jr and all of the components. Then “graduated” to a Mec 650 (progressive) and today I have Hornady 366s in 12, 20 and 28 ga plus a Bec 9000g in.410. I added skeet to my games.

    About 1976 I bought an RCBS single stage (not a Rockchucker) to start reloading .30-30 and .44 Mag which was about all I had at the time that wasn’t shotgun or .22. Someone told me I could just scoop out the 3031 and 2400 with one of the Lyman scoops so I bought a set of those, along with the lube pad and lube. Everything went bang just fine, I guess. When I decided to add .30’06 after picking up an M1 rifle, I found i could hardly resize the longer brass on the little RCBS press so I sold it to another novice friend and bought a Rockchucker. I’d also done some more reading and figured I’d better buy a decent scale so got the best RCBS balance beam. Then I added an auto prime system to it and a Forster brass trimmer with pilots for what I needed. I also bought an RCBS Uniflow powder measure system to speed things up. I was getting a lot more safe.

    Next I found out a brass vibrator/cleaner would help a lot so I picked up a new one at a gun show, along with media and Brasso at a hardware store. That helped a lot for cleanliness and appearance. Gun shop I’d started buying about a gun a month from had a progressive loader top for the Rockchucker so I conned him out of it and it worked ok for handgun stuff, of which I now had the .44 plus .38 and .357 mag. (Autos weren’t very popular yet…)

    Putting on/removing the progressive top for the RCBS was a pain so I finally traded it back to the gun shop and threw in a lot more for a Dillon 550. By now I was loading probably 20 metallic cartidges from .17 Rem to .458 Win Mag. Each caliber requires a new die plate and shell plate kit with powder funnel besides the dies which is a pretty good outlay. I did find it easy to use the same shell plates for cartidges like .30’06, .243, .308, .270, etc. and just buy a new powder funnel if you can keep things straight and label them. I did find it a pain to have to change from large to small primers, though, so at an NRA convention I talked to the Dillon people and they made me a deal I couldn’t refuse on a second 550b which they shipped to me at no cost. Oh, I haven’t mentioned the bench space that’s needed. I also picked up some power case trimmers (Lyman) and a Pact digital scale for fun. Strange thing is, for a lot of my precision rifle stuff I still use the Rockchucker.

    Anyway, I cannot estimate hos much I have tied up in reloading equipment now and it’s going to take a pretty big truck to haul it all out of the basement when I croak. This doesn’t include the shelves or powder, primers, bullets, wads, shot, cases, shotgun hulls, etc. And I doubt it will ever bring half its original price. I have the equipment and components for well over 30 different calibers of metallic and the 4 shotgun gages. Today, however, I do not consider myself as a “reloader” as I do a “loader”- a lot of the metallic I do is with new brass and loaded for a specific firearm. Whether it’s been cost-effective for me over these last 45 years or so I can’t say, but it has provided me with a lot of satisfaction knowing I can produce high quality ammo and be quite self-sufficient if need be. I’ve been fortunate not tohave had to watch all the pennies as I ammassed this equipment but again, it was done over decades and saving money was only a part of the equation. As I started out, when including the cost of the equipment and time, it’ll take quite a while to break even if you can but it is enjoyable and satisfying.

  12. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    Wow. Just took a trip down memory lane reading your comment Craig.

    Yeah, close to the same path here, only I went Dillon 650, and the rockchucker when it first came out.
    Holy crap, the shell plate carriers, conversion kits, plates for the auto brass feeder, primer tubes, electric powder dumper/scale, etc, etc, etc….
    Just the bench and shelf space for all that and much, much more is a lot.

    When I built my new shop last year, I reorganized. I had three balance beam scales, dies for calibers I don’t even remember owning, and more. All the extras went bye-bye at the next gun show.

  13. avatar Ought Six says:

    One can do unusual things that can put your gun to more kinds of uses than expected.

    Grouse load for 375 ruger! No need to blast that thing into feathers, or spook all the game when out looking for elk but come upon something for the pot.

    Prices from Sportsmans Warehouse today.
    Primer $.027
    Bullseye Powder 7 grains $.022
    Speer or Hornady black powder round ball .375 diameter $.099

    Cost per round $.15!

    1. avatar Ron says:

      In the bad years (2008-2016) when ammo got tight I played with round ball loads for .45/70 using unique.
      I have a pic of an old Lyman manual for the “collar stud” conical for gallery loads that weighs same as round ball.

      worked well for plinking, so I tried a .32 muzzle loader ball in a .30-30 shell with a few grains of bulleye to substitute for “hard to find” .22LR. A tuft of cotton to hold the powder in the rear of the shell.

      I use Speer 110 gr hollow points for plinking / varmints too.

  14. avatar Bemused Berserker says:

    When I first started reloading 40+ years ago, Cost Savings was a prime motivator (I’m sure several others would agree). At present though, when you factor in the initial investment in equipment and components, it takes years before you’ll break even (the days of a Lee Loader and a rubber mallet are drifting to oblivion). Back when I started, reloading could save you 60-70% over factory ammo. Now the savings are more modest, about 30-40% depending on caliber (last time I sat down and figured my cost a year or two ago), but even the best savings doesn’t factor in the time and effort.
    So the advantages to reloading are many, but the initial investment remains high, even if you buy used equipment, it’ll be some time before you recoup that expenditure. My primary reasons, now that I’m older (hopefully a wee bit wiser), is that I enjoy the process of tailoring ammo for a gun. I know which powder and projectile combination gives the best in accuracy and function for each caliber/gun I reload for. That, is the main reason I continue to reload, Cost Savings has taken less of a role over time.

    1. avatar Biff says:

      If you are shooting 9mm or 5.56 ball you are largely right. You might be better off just buying in bulk and even consider shooting steel cased ammo for practice.

      If you are shooting match grade or premium rifle ammo, magnum pistol or even a bunch of .45 acp you can save quite a bit. Even with .300 BO FMJ you can load ammo for about half what factory cost. Then there are the people in CA who might want to be able to shoot without dealing with their new laws.

      For a baseline setup you will need a case tumbler and a media separator to clean your cases along with a decent press with some dies and shell holders. A hand primer, powder measure, loading blocks, calipers and a reloading manual are also needed. If you are going to load rifle you will need a case trimmer and a chamfer/deburring tool.

      I’m kind of a snob when it comes to reloading tools, but some of the Lee presses are pretty decent. Their Classic Cast Turret Press is sort of a semi-progressive that will auto index the turret if desired. It’s not as fast as a true progressive because you have to pull the handle 3-4 times to make one cartridge, but would still be ok to start with. The rest of Lee’s stuff is also ok to start with if you are on a budget. I wouldn’t recommend their scale though. If space is at a premium they make a neat little hand press that will fit in a .50 ammo can with most of the other tools you will need. You can even buy it in one of their kits, packaged with some other necessary items.

      If someone is interested in reloading I’d recommend buying the Lyman manual and reading it first, then going online and watching videos of the various presses in operation.

      I shoot 200-300 rounds of 9mm almost every week and 1-2k rounds of 5.56 every year. I will also shoot some .40, .45, 10mm and .30 carbine every once in a while. Almost all my pistol ammo is reloaded. The less common ones I only have to load every couple of years. The AKs only get fed commie steel case ammo, but that’s what they are made for.

      With rifle I’m lazy and if brass cased 5.56 is under $300 per K I’ve just been buying it. Now it’s expensive enough that I’ll start reloading for it again.

      Even when ammo was cheap I was saving $15-20 a week just on 9mm, it doesn’t sound like much but that’s over $600-800 per year.

      1. avatar Ron says:

        I started with a Lee Classic Loader for .30-06 about 45 yrs ago.
        All I needed was a can (yep they were metal cans back then) of powder, primers, bullets (that my uncle cast for me), my own fired empty brass and a hammer.

        Made decent hunting loads.

        Now I have a bit more, a bench full of presses both single stage and progressive.

        I also have the Lee Hand Press and use it while sitting in my recliner.

        It uses standard dies and will do anything I need it too (but I hand prime with an RCBS APS hand primer).

        Heck the Lee Hand Press is only about $50-60!

  15. avatar 9x39 says:

    Looking for advice about Lyman, myself. I was looking to get into reloading right before all this came crashing down, and the Lyman Ultimate was/is high on the consideration short list due to it’s extended list of bits in the kit. Plans were to jump into the deep end, straight out.

    Opinions? Gripes? Concerns?

    Also if you wouldn’t mind, recommendations for shot shell presses? Needed for 2 3/4″ – 3″, preferably without a litany of high priced extra’s to swap between. I mean, I like nice things, but no wealthy man am I.

    1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

      Shot shell presses:

      Lots of people start with a MEC press. They work, and lots of shotgun shooters use them. I have a MEC progressive.

      Then there is the ultimate shotshell press, a Posness-Warren. They have single stage and progressives. Folks who have to reload to support their trap/clays habit will often have P-W presses, because they work very well and handle high volume reloading. One guy I know who used to shoot the trap circuit every year reckons that his P-W press has had over 250K rounds through it in over 20 years.

      What I’ve found works for me is to reload trap/clay loads, which I shoot the most. I still buy my game loads, which I shoot in progressively heavier shot sizes as the season progresses (eg, I will start upland season with #6 shot, and end with a heavy load of #4 as the birds are flushing further and further out…). But my clay load never changes. It’s 1 1/8 ouch of #7.5 shot, with a charge of powder, buffer, etc that never changes.

      1. avatar 9x39 says:

        Thanks Dyspeptic, appreciate the advice. Btw, I know you don’t generally revisit your comments, but in case you do, check your email addy attached to your blog. I sent you a communique a while back about some specialist smith services I need, preferring to have rendered by someone of your caliber. If you’re still in the business, of course.

      2. avatar Curtis in Illinois says:

        The thing is, you can buy 12 ga. target loads (Federal or Winchester, 1 1/8 oz. 7 1/2 shot) at Wal-Mart for around $23/100. It’s really hard to beat that buying components, even if you avoid shipping and hazmat fees.

        The more specialized game loads cost a lot more off the shelf, that’s where you can save some bucks reloading. The question is, do you shoot enough of them to make it worth the effort?

        1. avatar BradB says:

          I don’t do a lot of shotgun but keep my skills up for defense purposes. I have MEC 600s set up for 12 and 20 gauge and several lbs of 00 and #4 buckshot. About all that buckshot hand loads are good for right now is range time, but should the rule of law evaporate I’ll be in better shape than if I were sitting on a bunch of WalMart bird, skeet or target loads. One of these days I need to look around for some deer slugs and load data. That would be a shotgun load I could actually use.

  16. avatar Alan says:

    Reloading one’s ammunition is certainly a money saver, though with the escalation of component prices, powder, primers and bullets, how much of a saving becomes a question. For those who cast their own bullets, the story is somewhat different, though the price hikes of powder and primers is still a consideration, and then there is the cost of the tools used, though reloading presses and dies seem to last forever.

    I used an RCBS Junior press and 30-06 dies that I purchased new in 1967 for the grand sum of $25.00 out the door. I’ve loaded thousands of rounds of assorted rifle and pistol cartridges with this press and appropriate dies, which remain fully functional. In 1980, I bought a Dillon 550 press, on which I’ve loaded thousands of rounds of ammunition, mostly pistol cartridges, and some rifle ammunition too. Dillon’s after sale service has been excellent, leaving nothing to be desired. The above referenced escalation in component prices, factory ammunition prices have gone up too continues to be a factor to consider, though respecting the ammunition requirements of hunters, I would not think it was much of a factor. By the way, related tools, powder measures, scales, case trimmers and so on need to be acquired, though they are all long lasting, given reasonable care. It all boils down to the following. There is no such thing as “a free lunch”, though some eating places are pricier than others.

  17. avatar BradB says:

    SHTF has been mentioned a couple times in this thread. Some definition may be in order. If SHTF means a dry spell of ammo and/or reloading components, then being stocked up on reloading components is a good thing.

    If SHTF means societal upheaval, famine, pestilence, end of law and order, everyone for themselves type things, then I would posit that being stocked up on manufactured ammo, carefully stored in a way that keeps it dry and cool is a better thing. You will have too much else to do to be sitting at your reloading press. Once ammo is a thing of the past, if you are still alive, sitting on reloading supplies and have not had to bug out, you might be the most valuable person around.

    On the subject of ammo for barter, I take a dim view of thinking I’m going to do that. If we have no rule of law, why would I want to give someone the means to kill me? It would have to be someone I trust a lot.

  18. avatar kap says:

    a good portable hand loader is the lee classic, used one for years for load development at the Range! however for volume I prefer a progressive, a lee 1000 which I made about 15 K .45 ACP cartridges before it wore out and I quit IDPA! Now being over the hill I only make Hunting rounds for kids and grand kids {each have a Minimum of 100 cartridges} also make 1k for each of my precision rifles, its hard to quit! did sell most of my progressives Guess I’ll have too start going too Cartridge Anonymous meetings?

  19. avatar Cost of Your Time says:

    One thing that I rarely see mentioned is the cost of your time. Unless reloading is something you enjoy doing (I tried a few times, was a chore for me), you need to factor in the cost of your time. Of if you have competing demands (work, school, family) and limited free time to allocate, look at the opportunity cost.

    I’ll agree there are rounds where it makes sense to reload for cost savings–such as .30-06 for some loads (note that you can buy Winchester Deer Season XP .30-06 at Cablea’s right now for $22/box, or $1.10/rd–this has knocked over every deer I’ve shot with it). Boutique calibers like .50 AE, .500 S&W, etc where the per round cost for purchasing is significant.

    I will never understand why people reload common calibers available in bulk. Within the past year I have seen American made factory brass ammo for as cheap as $0.14/rd after rebate. Makes more sense to stock up at that point, even if you’re a high volume shooter. Ditto for .223/5.56, which is a giant PITA to reload.

    1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

      Because I want a better quality bullet – or because I’m seeking to make the rifle perform to its ultimate capability of precision.

      I get into this argument EVERY time I talk to a youngster (35 and under) about target shooting with high-power rifles, be they AR’s or bolt guns.

      Youngster: “I want a rifle that will lay down 1/2 to 1/4 inch groups consistently.”

      DG: “OK, are you willing to reload or shoot nothing but match-grade ammunition?”

      Youngster: “No, that takes too much time or costs too much!”

      DG: “OK, and I suppose you want to date nothing but supermodels (plural) too, right?

      Youngster: “Yea, that’s not going to happen…”

      DG: “Neither is that rifle you want…”

      1. avatar Cost of Your Time says:

        That’s called unrealistic expectations, which is not uncommon for my peers (I fall into that age group). If you want to squeeze every last bit of performance out of your rifle, sure–but typically that doesn’t involve common calibers. If you’re shooting precision and want to maximize performance, you aren’t going to be using a .223 (you can, but there are better calibers available so it doesn’t make sense to someone looking to maximize performance).

        In your situation, the specific reasons you are reloading are valid, and it certainly sounds like you enjoy doing so. Heck, if you enjoy the process of reloading that’s a valid reason to do it for any caliber, even if it doesn’t make sense from a cost perspective. I typically see “cost savings” as the main listed benefit of reloading, as in the article above. In the savings calculation, what I almost never see discussed is the cost of time to do so, again assuming we are discussing it on a primarily cost saving basis and not something as an entertainment/enjoyment activity. I contend that most people who reload common calibers are doing so for cost savings (not performance) and for most calibers, the cost benefit is not there (examples in my original comment). Most people would be better served buying ammo and using their time to actually go to the range and practice.

        Even common hunting ammo (again, previous example) is readily available for the needs of most Americans (whitetail and mule deer out to 200 yards, and further if you know what you are doing). To be frank, most people don’t have the skills to make a clean hit in the vitals of a deer at 300+ yards, and shouldn’t take the shot. Most people on the east coast the extreme range of what they will shoot hunting is 150 yards. Regardless, the amount of ammo typically consumed hunting (a few rounds to site in and several rounds in the pursuit of game amounting to less than a box per year) doesn’t justify the cost of reloading for it.

        That slight digression to say this–there are very limited circumstances where reloading makes sense for cost savings when looking at the total cost picture (startup investment, material cost, labor, opportunity cost). If you gain enjoyment from spending these resources to reload (including to maximize performance), more power to you! (I don’t fall into that category, but no skin off my nose for anyone who does.) Otherwise, make sure to evaluate that full cost picture as part of your analysis.

        1. avatar BradB says:

          Someone else in one of these threads called it, “knitting for men”. Considering what the wife would have me doing if she were in charge, I’ll take it. Maybe I’m not saving money. I certainly shoot more.

          For me, it’s what I’ve learned. Pressure curves, ballistic equations and terminal energy are some of the “interesting side of physics” that I mentioned either here or in the thread of comments from the preceding article.

          My only regret is that I did not connect with my uncle who, unbeknownst to me, was doing this when I was a kid. He can remember when everybody used mil-surp powder, bullets and primers. He was reloading 30.06, .357/38 and 45 ACP back when 9mm was for nazi-lovers. We almost lost him this last few weeks but once he’s up to visitors I plan to make another trip north just to let him know how much I love and respect him.

          And, I’m working to pass this skill (manly art!) along to my kids and grandkids.

        2. avatar Cost of Your Time says:

          Enjoyment factor (and dodging other chores) is a great reason, and can’t argue with it getting you shooting more. My method for that is stocking up on good sales and my wife telling me I have to go shoot it to draw down 🙂

          Hope your uncle is well enough to visit soon!

  20. avatar BusyBeef says:

    This is all really nice but there aren’t primers anywhere, thanks to the panic buyers (same people who now have too much toilet paper).

    So, good luck.

    1. avatar Ron says:

      No deals anyway.

      $0.03-$0.04 ea

      But, try ammoseek.

      I just looked and can find some of any size, might not be the preferred manufacturer, but gives an excuse to work up a different recipe.

    2. avatar BradB says:

      I was in the local GS Friday and they had primers of every variety. They were low on the small (non-magnum) pistol primers but one box would get you up and running. They can be found.

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