So You Want to Load Your Own Ammo, But You’re Not Sure if It’s Worth It. Read This First

cowboy action shooting reloading

Courtesy Thundervoice

[ED: With more and more attempts to raise the cost of ammunition — justified by an alleged desire to reduce “gun violence” — more people in places like Washington, California, and Connecticut among others, are considering the benefits (and fun) of loading their own ammunition. Besides avoiding background checks, taxes and who knows what else  (depending on where you live) reloading also has the benefit of saving you money over time.]

Reader Thundervoice writes . . .

I’ve been reloading for about four and a half years. The first couple of years saw limited quantities while I adjusted to rolling my own. Then I started cowboy action shooting in June 2017 and started cranking out a lot of .38 Special and 12 gauge reloaded ammo for matches (sometimes I shoot in three or four matches in a month).

About two years ago, I started keeping a reloading log so that I could track what I was doing over time. Between the log and invoices for materials I’ve ordered, I can provide a pretty good estimate of what it costs for me to reload. The costs are broken down by equipment, bullet, primer, powder, and brass.

I don’t include the cost of my time in the overall calculation.

Equipment

Dillon progressive reloading press

Courtesy Thundervoice

I bought a Dillon 550B off of Armslist in 2015. The person I bought it from had never taken it out of the box and I got a sweet deal on it. The deal included the loader, vibratory cleaner, media separator, scale, dies, and accessories.

If I had bought it all new in 2015, it would have cost about $1200. Yes, you can get into reloading for less, but this is how I did it.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve reloaded about 7,000 rounds of .38 Special. That results in an equipment cost of $0.1714 per round. If I do another 3,000 rounds in 2020, the cost per round drops to about $0.12/round. For purposes of the overall calculation, I’m using the $0.17/round value.

Bullets

bullets reloading

Dan Z. for TTAG

For cowboy action shooting, I use a lead 105 grain flat point truncated cone bullet. These are available from a variety of providers. I have ordered then in quantities of 1,000-3,000 and the cost per round works out to $0.069 including the shipping costs.

Make sure you are on good terms with your mailman. Having them carry 3,000 rounds of lead bullets (~45 lbs.) to your door in a box that is typically close to falling part is something to thank them for.

As a point of comparison, copper plated 9mm 115 gr bullets run about $0.072 each and full metal jacket 9mm 115 gr bullets cost about $0.105 each.

Primers

winchester primers

Courtesy Brownells

When I bought my reloading equipment, the guy included several thousand primers as part of the deal. The small pistol primers (SPP) were CCI, which I found out are somewhat shunned by cowboy shooters, but they still proved to be useful when I traded them for powder.

I initially bought a bunch of Winchester SPP, then a bunch of Federal SPP when they became available. I bought my Winchester SPP for $0.031 round. When bought in quantities of 5,000 or 10,000, the cost per round for Federal primers is about $0.036 each, including shipping and hazmat charges.

I’m using the cost of the Federal primer for my overall cost calculation. My observation of primer costs in retail stores is that they are much more expensive, typically about $4.95 for 100 primers, or almost $0.05 each.

Powder

Hodgdon Titegroup reloading gun powder

Courtesy Brownells

I use Hodgdon Titegroup powder. It’s been a while since I bought any as I traded my CCI primers with another cowboy shooter for a big jug of powder.

For the purposes of the overall calculation, I’m using the cost of buying a 4 lb. jug online including the shipping and hazmat charges, although you can find specials that reduce or remove hazmat charges if you’re patient.

That results in a per-round powder cost of $0.01. If you buy a 1 lb. can for $30 (about what it costs in local retail stores), the powder cost is $0.012 per round.

Brass

Reloading empty brass rifle pistol

Dan Z. for TTAG

Brass is the most expensive of the reloading components. It’s also the only component that isn’t consumed when the gun goes bang. Picking up spent brass is a big part of cowboy matches because almost everyone rolls their own.

I can’t calculate the cost of the range brass because it was either from ammo I bought before I started reloading or stuff I’ve picked up at matches or other ranges that wasn’t my own ammo.

I use the range brass for practice sessions. For competitions, I use Starline brass. When I bought it, I paid $0.1305/round for 1,000. Today, that cost is $0.1415/round.

.38 special reload ammunition

Courtesy Thundervoice

I mark the headstamp of my brass with a colored Sharpie when I reload it so I know how many times it’s been fired. I’ve got bins with Starline brass that has been fired between 1 and 6 times. My plan is that after I use it 10 times, I’ll put it in with the range brass.

The key question with the cost of brass is whether to include it in the cost per round calculation. If you’re re-using your brass, then there’s no brass cost and this is where reloading really begins to pay off, as the brass is the most expensive component of a loaded cartridge.

Overall Costs

When you add up the numbers, you get a total cost per reloaded round of $0.4265 (0.17+0.069+0.036+0.01+0.1415). But wait, you say, I can buy .38 Special ammo for les than that!

AmmoSeek shows per round costs starting around $0.20 per round for 158gr brass case .38 Special FMJ. Yes, you can get ammo cheaper, but that ammo won’t do what I need it to.

Cowboy ammo has to be lead ammo, no metal jackets allowed. And it uses lighter bullets downloaded to reduce recoil. My load produces a velocity of 650-700 fps out of my pistols.

If I were to buy a 105 gr TCFP .38 Special rounds online, it would cost about $0.44/round. So even with all the costs included, I’m still saving money by reloading.

The real value in reloading is eliminating the cost of the brass and the declining cost of the reloading equipment. If you eliminate the cost of the brass, the cost per round drops to $0.285.

After I reload this caliber for another year, the per round cost of the equipment will have dropped the overall price by another nickel. If I eliminate the cost of the equipment from the equation, then the cost per round drops to $0.115. That means it basically cost me a dime plus a cent each time my gun goes bang (that’s the value of the bullet, powder, and primer).

Amortization

With an assumed cost of $1200 for the equipment and $391.50 for a year’s supply of brass that is used over and over, how many rounds do I need to reload to recoup the cost of the equipment and brass? Based on my per round consumable cost of $0.115 and a retail purchase price of $0.44, I save $0.325 on each cartridge I reload. That means I need to reload about 4,900 rounds to recover the cost of the equipment and brass. I’m well past that point already so I have recovered the cost of my initial expenditure.

Shotshells

Shot shell reloading shotgun

Dan Z. for TTAG

A year or so after getting into cowboy shooting, I got tired of paying retail prices for my shotgun shells. I won’t go into the same level of detail for shotshells, but the cost of the consumables are $0.108 for lead shot, $0.043 for the powder, $0.033 for the primer, and $0.054 for the wad, resulting in a total of $0.238 per shell, or $5.95 per box.

I’ve seen retail box prices for the 980 fps low recoil shells range between $7.80 and $13.50, so I’m definitely saving money on my shotgun loads as well.

Summary

Overall, having a reloader has been a good deal for me for a variety of reasons. The two biggest are saving money and being able to create exactly the load that I want. But I also enjoy going into my space for 30 minutes at a time to churn out another 100 rounds of ammo (and I can do it in even less time if I want to).

When I bought the reloader, I had no prior experience and no mentor to show me what to do. I just watched some YouTube videos for help with the setup and read some reloading books.

Reloading isn’t difficult if you prepare, make a plan, and go slow. I’m glad I spent more money up front to get a progressive reloader, as that has saved a lot of time over the years.

I’ve made my share of mistakes during the five years of reloading but thankfully have never had a squib, just the occasional primer installed upside down or trying to put a bullet in the case sideways (hint: it doesn’t go in that way).

If you shoot a lot, it is definitely something I would recommend.

 

comments

  1. avatar pwrserge says:

    Reloading is an opportunity cost. If you have plenty of free time, sure, it’s cost effective. If you can barely afford the time to get out to the range in the first place, not so much. This is especially true is you have a job where you can sacrifice personal time for more income. If you save $20 per hour by reloading your own ammo but can make three or four times that by billing an extra hour at work, the economics just don’t work out.

    If I shot more boutique rounds that cost $2+ per round it might make sense. For 9mm, 7.62×39, and 5.56×45 you would need to have enormous marginal cost savings or production throughput to make it financially worth my time. This is especially true if you add in the cost of the reloading equipment which is basically another gun or a couple cases of ammo.

    1. avatar A says:

      I understand the maths. But if the state u live in is coming for ur guns through ur ammo then the cost becomes worth it in both time and money….

      1. avatar Me says:

        If you are talking about places like California you probably should have moved, or started casting lead about 10 years ago.

        1. avatar A says:

          Im outside Chicago so i have been collecting my expended cases for a while now

    2. avatar Truckman says:

      A lot of the cost is also in the type of equipment you buy to start I myself have Lee loaders and they work fine but I reload just because I like to and can reload different loads from low powder to hot loads and specialty ammo it does save some money but also in the 7.62X39 ammo I hate the waste of all the steel casing also there is a lot of reloaders that pour their own bullets and that a whole different story but back to the equipment I like the Lee loaders I have a 4 stage loader then I have single stage press for when I am being real careful on my loads It is just up to the person to what they want and are willing to put in it

    3. avatar John Hull says:

      Even with the common calibers like 9mm, .45 ACP, 7.62×39, 5.56, etc., you can save money if you are judicious with your purchases of components and wait for sales with low or no shipping cost, no hazmat fees, etc. Even if it is the same cost, you can tune the load for better performance and accuracy quite easily. You should also be aware that the cheap bulk ammo that is so prevalent is often poor quality, so you are essentially throwing your money away. Stocking up with good bulk ammo for the Apocalypse is gonna cost you some dough. I not only can load better ammo than anything I can buy, when the balloon does go up, I can still make ammo after all that surplus stuff is history.

      1. avatar pwrserge says:

        Not when you take my time into account. Also, define “bad quality” as it relates to 9mm, 5.56, and 7.62×39. Most commercial bulk ammo uses sealed primers. It will go bang every time you pull the trigger if stored properly. Will the performance match super-boutique specialty rounds? No. Is it a noticeable difference within normal ranges? Also, no. Properly stored mil-spec 7.62×39 will last decades if stored in sealed cans with a simple desiccant pack, probably longer.

        As I said, it really depends what you shoot. If most of your shooting is high-volume and intermediate range, boutique loads make no practical difference and the opportunity cost will eat up any ticket item line savings you could possibly line up. If you’re shooting 6.5 precision rifle matches, I can see the argument as there is a definite advantage to tuning your ammo for those. If you’re shooting at 1/4 size targets only out to 200 yards or so? Not so much.

        1. avatar jwtaylor says:

          “Properly stored mil-spec 7.62×39 will last decades if stored in sealed cans with a simple desiccant pack..”

          Doubtlessly true.

          There are also lots of folks like me shooting .30-30 and .30-06 rounds we found stored out in a shed somewhere in a carboard box since the 60s. Ammunition lasts a long, long time.

        2. avatar miforest says:

          yeah, when I was a teenager , a friend of mine and I decided to do some target shooting, so his dad gave us the key to the gun closet. we found some ole ammo. thinking his dad would be happy we shot the old stuff and saved the newer stuff we blazed away with several boxes from his ammo collection. some of it 70 yrs old or more. I don’t remember any trouble with it shooting , and luck for us his dad had a sense of humor about it. but yep, the old stuff still goes bang.

        3. avatar Kendahl says:

          I reloaded a lot of .45 ACP and .38 Special lead semi-wadcutter ammuntion in the early 1980s. Then, I lost interest in shooting. I picked it up again five years ago and began using up the ammunition I had loaded 30 years ago and stored in my basement. It worked fine after all those years.

          Two things kill ammunition — water and oil. Most factory ammo comes in cardboard boxes. They are convenient for storing your reloads. If the box is in good condition, the ammo will be, too.

          I reload for two reasons. One is that I am cheap. I am willing to trade my time for the difference in cost between my reloads and factory ammo. The other reason is that I like to load light. Some of my reloads are so weak that, after pulling the trigger, I have to lay the gun down and carry the bullet to the target.

        4. avatar I Haz A Question says:

          The only old (30+ years) ammo I’ve ever encountered issues with was some boxes of plain lead bullet .22LR. Lots of casing blowouts and squibs, plus dirty fouling. Old jacketed .22 was just fine.

          When I started seriously stockpiling about ten years ago, I made a practice of marking all inventory by year of purchase before packing away in sealed ammo cans. I figure this stuff will easily last 30+ years if necessary, since it’s being stored in a much better manner than my Dad’s & Grandad’s were…and theirs performed just fine when I inherited some of it and took it to the range.

        5. avatar Klaus Von Schmitto says:

          I can work pretty much as much as I want to as well. I still have free, or my time.

          I enjoy reloading and find it relaxing on “my” time.

        6. avatar Southern Cross says:

          I have Turkish 8×57 made in the early 1950s. I haven’t had a dud in several crates. And I like the packaging of it being in bandoleers and clips.

        7. avatar jwm says:

          Southern Cross. The only 8×57 I had any trouble with was a case of surplus German ammo made in the last year of ww2. It was on strippers. I can’t remember any outright duds but there were quite a few hang fires.

          Apparently copper was in short supply so these rounds had a jacketing material that looked like stainless steel. Shiny, bright bullets.

        8. avatar John Majane III says:

          Some ammunition like 9MM is not worth reloading it is cheap. But 45ACP is not and you can save significant amounts reloading it. It takes less then 10 minutes to reload 100 rounds. It would be hard for anyone to not find 10 minutes out of a week. Takes you at least that long to walk from your vehicle into a store, buy the ammo then walk out.

        9. avatar billyhill says:

          The time excuse i feel is a cop out. You dont watch tv? reload while watching tv relaxing at the end of a day. the time it takes to reload say 200 rounds a night really isnt that bad.
          Me personally I reload at night in the winter because its too cold to go out to the shop. I generally reload all my ammo for the year in jan & feb.

    4. avatar Craig in IA says:

      Perhaps when I first started reloading 12 ga rounds to shoot trap back in 1974, cost entered into my thought process, but today, I reload something like 30 metallic cartridges and all 4 guages to shoot skeet and I find the ability to produce my own custom-tailored ammunition gratifying and a relaxing.

      1. avatar jwtaylor says:

        I’m pretty much the same. I have no idea how many different dies I have. Quite a few for calibers I no longer or never did own. Reloading saves me some money, and certainly gives me better performance, but I also do it because it’s the one thing that always puts me to sleep. Something about the meticulous, repetitive process of reloading settles my brain.
        I have no digital equipment, and use nothing but single stage presses. Regardless of caliber, I weigh every charge on an old school scale, after I’ve confirmed its measurement at zero as well as a known weight. I check trim length and head space, clean the primer pocket, clean the interior, and chamfer the case mouth on every single round, again, regardless of caliber. Match rounds get their necks turned as well. I don’t anneal anymore.
        I reload at least 10,000 rounds per year in this manner.

        1. avatar Red in CO says:

          Oh so now it’s just meditative for you rather than an expression of patriotism? Because I distinctly remember you once saying that the only reason not to reload is if you hate America 😂

        2. avatar jwtaylor says:

          I said: “…but I also…”.
          What gave you the impression it was just meditative?
          Why do you hate America?

        3. avatar Klaus Von Schmitto says:

          I load about 15 calibers mostly and 2 shotgun gauges.

          But 3 of those calibers are Weatherby Mags and it doesn’t take long to realize some significant cost savings there. Plus I shoot 1 that there is no other option.

        4. avatar Southern Cross says:

          JWT I find the charging and trickling of the powder charges to be the most tedious phase. Especially as I keep my powder charge tolerance to 0.05 of a grain. But I can throw and trickle 3 charges in 2 minutes.

          After that is seating projectiles which is the finishing phase.

        5. avatar jwtaylor says:

          Southern Cross, don’t forget crimping!

        6. avatar Craig in IA says:

          I do most of the rounds I’ll hunt with or shoot at service rifle on my old Rock Chucker but the volume stuff- nearly all the handgun, 5.56, .300Blk and blasting .308 and .30’06 I do on my 550s. I liked the first one but got tired of changing the primer feed so 15 years ago or so, Dillon was offering a great deal at the NRA AM so I bought a second one. Now I have a set up for small primers and large.

          It’s my sincere belief that one should start out loading on a single stage press, rifle, handgun or shotgun. Learn the basics of each stage and also the preparation of the round to be loaded. Even then one can run into a CF if they aren’t paying attention. I remember years back I ditched my old Mec 650 for a nice Pacific (now Hornady) 366, after starting out first on an old 600 Jr. Proud as could be, and really cranking out the shells. Except I wasn’t keeping an eye on the powder bottle. Learned how to open up misloaded rounds quickly…

    5. avatar Arc says:

      Nailed it. Time is money.

      There is absolutely no reason for me to build X when I can work a high paying job and buy X with time and money left over. I’ll sooner drop the coin on a pallet of ammo and never having to worry about it ever again.

    6. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

      Serge, you can still police your once-fired brass and rat-hole it and trade it to a reloader in some ratio for an ‘end of days’ bulk ammo supply…

      1. avatar pwrserge says:

        Going back to “time is money” and the fact that I consider cases left on the range a voluntary donation to my club’s budget.

    7. avatar StLPro2A says:

      Hmmm……money is an abundant, easily renewable resource; heartbeats not. No matter how much money I save….or how much accuracy I gain for ELR shooting (I buy the best factory ammo which my individual rifles prefer best.)……it’s never worth the heartbeat expenditure……for me. To each his own. Also, reloading equipment would take up too much room in my Class A motor coach basement. I can carry a lot of factory ammo….and easily stop by a Cabelas or LGS to resupply en route to some great ELR/High Angle/scenic shooting venues. Most don’t consider heartbeat expenditures in their decision criteria. Wait til you get more years on your clock….and start re-connecting with long time friends at other long time friends’ funerals. Youth is wasted on the young.

    8. avatar John Majane III says:

      I can reload 100 rounds of 45ACP in under 10 minutes from the time I put the primers in the primer try to the last bullet coming out of the reloader. I have a Dillion 550 progressive loader. If you cannot find 10 minutes out of a week I think your time management skills are terrible. It would take longer to go to Walmart and buy the ammunition. I shoot about 4000 rounds of 45ACP a year, the reloading definitely saves me both time and money.

      1. avatar Gary Benoit says:

        I don’t save money by reloading for my 45. I spend the same amount but shoot LOTS more.

        1. avatar Bucephalus says:

          I did the math and rationalized that I would break even after about 2 years. What I did not take into account is that now I shoot much,much more. Is my cost per round down? Yes.
          Is my over all cost up? Most definitely yes. Has the fun factor gone up? Yep!!

    9. avatar Matt says:

      Yup. I am just getting in to reloading. I was given most of the equipment from a family member who got it from a friend. Both of whom planned to reload and never did. I am getting dies and will work up loads for 9mm, 5.56 and 7.62×39. Keep my notes and probably never reload for them again.

      Just in case the ammo prices sky rocket or I just can’t buy them (and the components to reload a few hundred rounds at least).

      I do plan to reload some stuff like 38sp, 6.5 Grendel and .308. I might reload 7.62×25 and .30 carbine. Probably won’t touch some others like .32acp. Oh and I will reload for .30-06, to Garand specs so I have a deer hunting load for my M1 that’s safe in it.

      But I’d like dies on hand for every caliber I own.

      Maybe in retirement I’ll reload more, but I have precious little free time. I can justify reloading for something I can’t get (.30-06 hunting load for a Garand), especially where it’s low volume (probably no more than 40 rounds a year at the range and 0-a couple field use). Or where there can be pretty good cost savings (Grendel I can save about 30c a round and can probably reload 200 rounds in an hour factoring in all my time invested to take 200 used cases and turn them in to loaded ammo, that’s $60 an hour).

  2. avatar Me says:

    The real savings in reloading comes in when you load rifle rounds, and usually the bigger the round, the more you save per round. Exceptions of course when reloading the more expensive pistol and revolver rounds such as .44mag, 500 mag and so on. I looked into reloading shotsholls and figured out the $20 box of 100 12ga was cheaper in the long run, even more so when the time is calculated in. I can roll .223 Remington for about the same price as .22lr per round because the brass is absolutely everywhere! Another thing failed to be mentioned is when running your brass through 10-12 rounds per piece will weaken the brass causing cracks and case-head separation and super thin, stretched cases. Everything is usually cheaper in bulk quantity, but stating you have to roll 5k rounds before savings isn’t very appealing, roll 500 300winmag rounds on a single stage rcbs and savings will start within a month or two, instead of a few years reloading .38spl when a box of +p is cheaper than fmj target loads.

    1. avatar Truckman says:

      The fellow that was saying that he got so many reloads per casing was because he’s shooting real low powered rounds unlike people like you and me I measure my casing every time I start to reload before I use a trimer and also mark my brass to make sure how many times it has been used

      1. avatar Jeremy B. says:

        Low pressure works the brass less. But resizing the brass works it close to the same amount every time.

        No crimp on rifles or slight crimp on handgun cartridges can extend brass life. Neck sizing rifle rounds does too. And annealing brass can greatly increase brass life and accuracy… If done correctly.

    2. avatar Squiggy81 says:

      Rifle rounds are definitely where the real savings start. I load both 45-70 and .308. I can do match grade 308 for under 50 cents each and warm 45-70 for about the same. Both of those would be twice that in factory loads. Dies are basically free when buying Hornady. With their free bullet offer, I can get a box of .44 mag xtp bullets with each die set. Not a bad deal at all.

  3. avatar Jr says:

    I also got into it for cowboy action shooting. From a pure economics standpoint its definitely not worth it if you factor in your time but it is the only way to get the exact load you want and it can be enjoyable and educational. I do all the non critical steps while watching tv or listening to audiobooks.

  4. avatar John Hull says:

    I’ve been reloading standard calibers in rifle and pistol, and wildcat rifle calibers for 50 years. 10 years of that was competition where I was shooting 1000 rds of .45 ACP every month on average. Even at surplus prices, I couldn’t have come even close to that buying it already loaded. In addition to that, I tailor my loads for specific purposes, and use bullets that can’t be had in factory ammo. Wildcats mean no factory ammo exists so I have to create it from scratch, so cost is a major factor. Pistol ammo takes a lot longer to amortize the cost of your equipment than rifle. When I bought all new gear (a Hornady LnL AP Progressive w/extras) I spent nearly $1500. It was amortized in less than 5 months. I figure I’ve loaded somewhere in excess of 3 million rds over the last 50 years (150,000 in .45 ACP during the 10 years of match shooting alone), loaded at least 40 different calibers, and had a hell of a lot of fun. In all that time I probably haven’t fired more than 250 rds of factory ammo.

    1. avatar Me says:

      Only factory loads I shoot are 22lr, or if I need fresh brass and can get it on sale at wally mart. Agreed the benefit is in getting that perfect load for any purpose that is unattainable in factory loads, nice when your hunting loads are the same quality of most factory match loads at a fraction of cost.

  5. avatar Manny says:

    Got started in 1980 when I couldn’t get 357 magnum rifle ammo that would perform better in a 24” barrel. Got a Mequon hand kit , added a scale, plastic hammer and a case trimmer. A slow process, but great if you don’t need quantity. Handy if you have to bug out. Was inexpensive too.

  6. avatar Doug Pratt says:

    I can’t help but think that if your main reason for reloading is saving money, you’re turning it into work. For me, the sheer pleasure of spending time in the shop and producing something useful makes the money irrelevant. But don’t mind me, I’m crazy. I reload .25ACP.

    1. avatar Andrew Lias says:

      You must have those small hands Trump keeps talking about.

      1. avatar Jeremy B. says:

        No doubt! When I switch to reloading .45 ACP after reloading .380 ACP I feel like I’m shuffling around 55 gallon drums on the press!!

    2. avatar John muller says:

      I have lotsa time and lotsa money. I reload because it is fun, educational, and makes me independant upon a supply chain which is at the mercy of the next president.

      And I reloaded .25 ACP for years, until I sold my .25 pistols. Used 1.1 grains of Bullseye; great fun!

  7. avatar Randy Jones says:

    My Lee Pro-1000 is over 20 years old. It hammers out the .357 and .38 Specials. An old Lee O-frame knocks out the .380, 9mm, .44 specials , .44 magnums and .45 acp. he nice thing about the .44 magnum hunting loads is I can custom load them to what is most accurate to the Ruger. All of my reloading equipment is over 20 years old and all still works just fine. (Except the 22 TCM which I just bought last fall.) The tumbles, scales all the other stuff, over 20 years old. I’m not sure I could even begin to break that cost per round down anymore. I used to but 1,000 count bricks of primers, 8 pounds of powder and bullets by the pound at the gun shows.

    It not hard, just pay attention. You can dial loads into your pistols/rifles. And you get a little bit of quiet time.

  8. avatar Southern Cross says:

    Reloading is how you can tailor a load for a gun, or make sure everything is set up right so results on paper are down to you.

    I mostly load .223 for less than 30 cents per round, but in my part of the world surplus 5.56 is nonexistent, and even normal factory ammunition costs $1-2 each. The time is a few hours every few months with a single stage press. The press and other equipment paid for itself within a few years.

    If you shoot less common or obsolete calibers reloading is a must. I cannot even remember when I bought factory ammunition other than .22LR.

  9. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

    I began reloading decades ago so that I could have premium hunting bullets in my rifle and handgun ammunition. Then they became available in factory loaded ammo. End of reloading for me. Cost of factory ammo wasn’t the issue. I get that some guys just like to do it. Good for them. Me? I’ve got more ammunition than I’ll ever shoot in the rest of my life.

  10. avatar CDC says:

    Great Article, maybe author could start a series to encourage new re-loaders.
    I would like to reload 357 Sig, 45 Colt +P for Redhawk and Super Redhawk Toklat and 300 Blk so I can maybe get soft point bullets intended for 30-30 to expand on game at 200 yards.

    1. avatar Jeremy B. says:

      .357 Sig can be tricky. It’s as much like a shouldered rifle case as it is like a conventional pistol cartridge.

      You can actually use a .40 S&W / 10mm sizing die or “bulge buster” die as a sort of pre-sizing to help if you need it.

  11. avatar Don Davis says:

    I’ve reloaded since 1983…… IDPA, Cowboy Action on RCBS and Dillon (thank you for that invention!). Tailored loads for competition went downrange, with occasional factory defensive rounds to check sights and remind myself “those are more powerful!”. A couple of years ago, I signed up for a certain school in AZ, which requires factory ammunition only. The sticker shock of 1,000 .45acp was tempered by reminding myself of the cost of the week of knowledge and transportation.

  12. avatar Andrew Lias says:

    There’s a few things here. My initial reloading setup was less than $100. Easily. It was:

    $35 Lee Classic Cast Press
    $7 gun show dies (C-H Carbide) in .357 magnum
    $3 Auto Prime
    $1 Perfect Power Measure
    $0 .45 ACP case trays as loading blocks
    $50 Ohaus/Dillon powder scale

    This is easily enough to do a lot of work. You can make some very nice, inexpensive .357 mag this way.

    For not too much extra you could do:
    $8-small cast iron pot
    $0-home made ladle (free)
    $20-Lee 2 cavity mold
    $40-Coleman Propane camp stove
    $15 hose to adapt to 20# grill tank.
    $15 toaster oven for powder coat
    $50 harbor freight vibratory tumbler
    $20 powder coating from Eastwood or other reloading supplier

    This gets you into the casting game. I was getting lead for $1/lb via my local scrap yard. Combined with the Powder Coat you can do tons of cool stuff for almost no money. I’m riding on a 300lb score of free lead right now. It means I have a primer and powder into casting .357, .45, .38 spl and 9mm. You’re talking about making ammo for say 6-8 cents a round or perhaps even a bit less depending on powder!

    My .38 Special Ammo was shooting better than the Remington FMJ 130gr I had before. By about 35% at estimations based off target shooting. That’s a pretty big difference in accuracy for 1/3 the cost!

    Besides this, it also makes zero account for shooting exotic ammo. The more oddball the ammo is the more you need to be reloading for it.

    Depending on what you’re doing it can be more or less of a time suck. For you OWFGs who are sitting around watching TV anyways why not prep some brass? I usually have 2 phases, one is “low attention” which is up to priming and the other is “high attention” which includes things like seating primers, charging powder and seating bullets. This division of labor is a big help.

  13. avatar Killtron says:

    I don’t load any revolver rounds that need roll crimped, but typical straight walled handgun cases like 9mm or .45 acp can be loaded 20+ times before the mouth splits.

    If you are going to reload in mass quantities I’d recommend Powder Valley and Graf and Sons for powder and primers. For jacketed bullets RMR Bullets is hard to beat.

    If you get a Curio & Relic FFL ($30 for 3 years) you can get a dealer account at Graf’s and Brownell’s. It’s worth it.

    It typically cost me about $130 to load 1k 9mm with a 124 grain FMJ.

    5.56 with a 55 grain FMJ is about $180.

    So even loading common rounds you can save money. It isn’t hard to load 1k rounds of handgun ammo in 3 hours. Rifle is a much bigger PITA because you have to trim the cases. Lately I find myself mostly loading handgun ammo because it’s easy and I’ve just been buying bulk 5.56.

    If you load much large rifle rounds, magnum handgun or match quality rifle ammo your cost savings will add up much faster.

  14. avatar possum says:

    Yes reloading is worth it

  15. avatar former water walker says:

    I like the IDEA of reloading but I doubt I’ll ever do it. I’m not a high volume shooter at nearly 66. No reliable buddies to help(I do have an old friend who reloads but he AIN’T reli able!) I’m also doing OK with my ammo stash. And I only shoot 223/556 & 9mm as of now. YMMV…

    1. avatar Jeremy B. says:

      If you wanted a SECOND hobby that sort of scratches that gun nut itch (without leaving the house) then you would be a decent candidate. But with today’s prices on those calibers, you aren’t looking at saving much.

      If you had an old .44-40, .357 Sig, or 6.8 SPC that you wanted to feed more often, then that would be a different story!

  16. avatar The Rookie says:

    I’d like to get into reloading some day, even if just for the skill set to know how to do it.

    One of the issues holding me back at this point is that I don’t really have any place to shoot hand loads. None of the indoor ranges in my area allow them.

  17. avatar Prndll says:

    I might get into reloading. I am saving my .308 brass on the chance it becomes something for me. Who knows what the future may bring?

    1. avatar Jeremy B. says:

      Save ALL your brass. You can trade it to other reloaders for stuff you might want. Such as .308 components, gun parts, sparkling beverages, etc.

  18. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    I’ve been reloading since, well, since a very long time ago.
    Current go to is a Dillon 650 for plinking ammo. When I can load a thousand rounds in just a few hours, it makes me smile.
    Loading target or large rifle is done on an old RCBS single stage.
    I Find it very enjoyable.

  19. avatar Dave Lewis says:

    Back before I retired from the sheriff I could get lots of brass in 9mm, .40 and .45 (and a few pieces of .38 from the old timers who carried snubs for back up)for the labor of helping to clean up the range after qualification. I’m talking five gallon buckets full of 9mm and maybe half that of the other calibers. Nobody else reloaded and our firearms guys said “take it”. Before I retired last year the department standardized on 9mm. These days they’re selling the brass because everybody is issued range ammo and the sale helps to defer the cost of the practice and duty rounds.

    I still have a pretty good supply of 9mm and .45 and should be okay until I get so old and feeble that I can’t shoot any more.

    To answer the question of “why” here are a couple of reasons. First, I’m cheap. For me the cost of brass in most calibers that I reload isn’t in the equation. I load the cheapest bullets I can find on sale for range work. I buy powder and primers in bulk and take advantage of free shipping and free hazmat promotions. The second reason is that I’m able to load rounds that weren’t traditionally available – for example 7.5mm Swiss soft points, .30-06 Garand target loads, hot .357 carbine rounds, full power 8mm Mauser (not the wimpy stuff that’s available commercially). I actually got back into reloading after I bought a CMP Garand and read all of the warnings about not using “modern” ammo with the rifle. My third reason – and this is a little weak – is that I feel reloading puts me a little bit under the radar. Anybody who looks at my credit card records can see that I’ve bought reloading components and OMG! gun powder, but it doesn’t look quite as bad as when the UPS guy drops off a thousand round case of 5.56. Finally time isn’t much of an issue to me. I’m retired and I’ve got lots of time. I go into the shop and the wife and I are out of each other’s space for a couple of hours. Togetherness is great but after almost 44 years of marriage a little alone time is good too.

    1. avatar Southern Cross says:

      I remember when the AIF would practice on our range. We would descend onto the firing points with buckets, plastic bags, and even hats to pick up the brass they left behind. I still must have over a thousand ADI F1 brass (SS109 spec) somewhere.

  20. avatar Broke_It says:

    Reloading is great as a hobby unto itself. As a result I now swage my own projectiles along with having learned how to cast lead. Digging out bullets before leaving public land for the day usually will yield pounds of free reclaim lead for maybe an hour’s worth of effort. My plinking rounds are down to the cost of primer, powder and time. It is time intensive but it’s time spent doing more gun stuff.

  21. avatar Curtis in Illinois says:

    It’s all about the brass.

    The cost to reload 9mm, .38 SPL or .357 Magnum is all about the same, give or take a few cents. But the price of each of those cartridges off the shelf varies quite a bit. The reason: It’s the brass. To put it another way – If you have the brass, you’ll save a lot more per round reloading .357 Magnum than 9mm.

    You’ll save even more per round on rifle cartridges, but resizing and trimming bottleneck rifle cases adds quite a bit of labor to the equation.

    As for shotgun shells – You are not going to save money reloading #7.5 or #8 target loads when compared to ~23 cents/round for Federal or Winchester at Wal*Mart. But if you want a #6 game load, there is savings to be had by reloading.

    Other keys to economy – It’s important to find a local retailer where you can buy powder, primers and shot without paying hazmat fees and shipping. Those add-ons will eat up any profit margin in a hurry.

  22. avatar Aven says:

    The only reason I would reload is if there was a shortage of ammo and I couldn’t find it. My son-in-law got into reloading when we had the last shortage. I have never had any problem with any factory center fire or shotgun shell.

    1. avatar Bob in IN says:

      This. Remember 2012? I do. Empty shelves. Or $20 a box for 9mm if you were lucky.

      1. avatar Porridgeweasel says:

        I was able to continue my 2 to 3 times a week shooting through that whole mess thanks to stocked up supplies and doing my own loading.
        Good point.

  23. avatar uncommon_sense says:

    As others stated, reloading is a money saver primarily on hunting rifle cartridges or specialty rounds (such as the author who wanted low-velocity cowboy loads or special super-accurate rounds).

    Most other stuff is available in bulk for about the same price as reloads even if the brass, equipment, and your time are free.

    I can buy 100 packs of shotgun shells (target loads) locally for $22 which works out to $0.22 per shell. I can buy 9mm Luger target ammunition in bulk for $0.18 per round. And I can buy .223 Remington in bulk for $0.27 per round.

    Why would anyone reload like that unless they really enjoy reloading?

    1. avatar Broke_It says:

      Using spent .22lr cases and range reclaim lead to make my own projectiles I can get my 5.56 cost down to .08/round. Of course I am guilty of enjoying the investment of time that it takes to get to that number.

  24. avatar Wally1 says:

    A friend instructed me how to reload about 20 years ago. I have some odd calibers that I load, 45/90, 338 win mag and 338 federal. It’s cost effective and by reloading I can regulate accuracy. I would never try any type of Wildcat load, I keep strict adherence to load data and always load to the lower or medium load data chart. it’s a great way to relax and spend a couple hours. Nice skill to have when the libs ban everything.

    1. avatar Ed Schrade says:

      I started reloading in 1966. Living in a small town, 7×57 ammo was scarce and when I could find it, it was always 175 gr. Got an inexpensive Lee loader and loaded 139 gr. ammo at a very reasonable coast.Use single stage now and weigh each powder load. it’s slow but I enjoy doing it and my quality is great. Good hobby. I do see ammo recalls from factories which is something to consider.

  25. avatar Darkman says:

    Once you’ve reached 30,000 rounds cached. Reloading seems passe.

  26. avatar Cea says:

    The authors cost is still about twice what I figure my 38 spl ammo costs to make.
    I can load anything from 125 sjfp, 148 wc to 158 jacketed ammo for about $7-$8 for 50 rd.
    I’ve been loading my own ammo for 10 yrs. I have just passed 150k loaded rounds. Only one bad round produced. The primer pocket was a bit worn out and a primer fell out in transit to the range.
    Rifle ammo is where it’s at for savings. About 1/3 to just over 1/2 the cost of factory ammo depending on the caliber.

  27. avatar Phil LA says:

    I’ve been reloading for about 5 yrs too. Heres what I’ve found.

    Semi-auto handguns: waste of time. I might can save $0.01/rd, but spend hours to do it. If you move and shoot you’ll spend more time finding your brass than practicing.

    AR-15 drills: same, unless you use a good brass catcher. I might shave $0.10/rd. But then every ready-up has a jingle and off-balance extra weight.

    AR Target: this is gold. M193 will print 2.5” at 100 yds (5 rds) in my 18” Wylde barrel. My handloads (after MUCH trial and error) will group 0.4” in the same gun/conditions. My target handload costs are about $0.27/rd, which is about $0.50-$1.00 less than comparable target loads. FYI- 2600 fps (75-77 gr) and 3250 fps (55 gr) are super accurate.

    My 30-06 125 gr loads are tailored to low recoil and high accuracy, while being $0.75/rd less than comparable.

    45 Colt: love it. Just awesome in both my lever and Blackhawk. I’m pushing supersonic with a 250 gr SWC and 1400 with a 185 gr JHP. $0.25/rd. Love it.

    If you’re a tinkerer, handloading becomes a fun hobby. If not, its just another chore.

    1. avatar Phil LA says:

      One more thing: reloaders may save money per round, but we make it up by shooting more. Between that, equipment and wasted components, there is extra cost.
      But I live in a free state… for now.

  28. avatar Phil LA says:

    Ghost ammo!

    1. avatar GS650G says:

      Once they realize people are beating them on ammo taxes, or even God forbid selling reloads, you’ll see ammo being treated like cigarettes with tax stamps on the box and an attempt to microstamp each bullet and case.

  29. avatar Meanoldmike says:

    Go and buy a near perfect Argentine Mauser as your first rifle and you will be reloading rounds within a week. Amortizing my equipment cost over total rounds loaded results in something like a $0.005/round – essentially nothing. I can neck 30-06 cases down so my brass cost is also essentially nothing. Handgun rounds end up costing about 15 cents each. Also you get to listen to lots of good music and podcasts!

  30. avatar Cea says:

    Another thing, there is something special about winning a match, with ammo that you made yourself. I have several loads that are more accurate than factory ammo, in multiple calibers.

  31. avatar Porridgeweasel says:

    Great article and very interesting replies.

    I started loading my own years ago to save money and learn something. Now I do it because I like my own ammo and it’s relaxing to make. I make my own for several pistol and rifle calibers and as others have said, the savings comes with the big stuff or specialized ammo.

    I shoot more than 10000 rounds a year on average so it pays for itself in my opinion. Besides, I like to experiment with powders and bullets.

    I love it as a hobby and need it as a shooting enthusiast.

  32. avatar chumley says:

    I started handloading in 1990 because a friend offered me a Rockchucker set up with all the fixins for $150. I loaded like crazy when components were cheap. Primers were a penny each. Hard cast lead bullets about a nickel. Powder was around ten bucks a pound. My time was worthless because I was in the military and always on standby anyway.
    Now everything is so expensive I dont shoot much anymore. Surplus ammo until recently was far cheaper than even reloading. I’ve got about 30 die sets, scales, and every tool imaginable, plus about five single stage presses. All were given to me as gifts or from friends who didnt want them anymore. Not to mention bin after bin of cleaned and decapped brass, most of it range pickups.
    I loaded a couple hundred rounds last year. Thats it. I’m finding as I age that my time is far more valuable to me than it once was, and about the best I can make and still be safe is about a hundred rounds and hour. When I croak someone is going to make out like a bandit.

  33. avatar RedFlagRising says:

    Or, you could stockpile ammo since prices are rock bottom right now, and not bother buying expensive reloading equipment and not be hostage to primer and powder shortages.

    1. avatar Someone says:

      Because primers and propellant goes bad when not loaded into cartridge, therefore you can stock up on ammo, but not on components. Is that what you mean?

  34. avatar Bill Stuart says:

    One day sat down and computed some numbers. Based upon a minimum estimate of 30,000 reloads of .40, 357, and 10mm, comparing cost of factory rounds at todays prices, the cheapest, and cost of components to reload, calculations revealed that I had not spent $10,000. My reloading presses have paid for themselves and I have a hard case with a Kimber, 6″ Fusion, P226 X5, 6′ STI, that I was able to purchase because I didn’t buy factory ammunition.
    If the time spent reloading is considered, seems I received $10,000 for my efforts.
    Sure has been worth it for me since the 90’s.

    One thing to consider. Started with a single stage press and loaded about 10,000 loads with it. When I thought about it I realized that I had yanked the handle on that thing, 40,000 times.

    Save your arm, buy a multi stage press.

  35. avatar GS650G says:

    I reload 44 mag on a friends rig he’s kind enough to have. I did shotgun for years but at 40 dollars a bag for lead even reloading was too expensive for trap shooting.and i gave it up.
    9mm is cheap enough to just buy but calibers like 45 LC, .357 , and even .40 are expensive and if you have several irons to feed it’s worth the 700 to 1200 dollar investment.

    1. avatar RedFlagRising says:

      Factory loaded 40SW FMJ is around 250 bucks per thousand for brass, 200 bucks for steel case right now.

      Couple weeks back at WuhanMart bought Winchester 40SW FMJ 50 rd. boxes for 7.00 USD. Took all they had, there were no “limits” as to quantities.

      40SW can no longer be considered an “expensive” round to shoot, in fact its almost as cheap as 9mm.

      You might say its like getting a GS750T for the price of a GS650G.

  36. avatar ChoseDeath says:

    How much of a difference does this make for stuff like .480 Ruger and 45/70 Gov’t? I just built a bench in my basement, ostensibly for reloading, and really I’m just interested in my big boy revolver and rifle calibers. Is that a money saver?

    Really, I just want to learn how to do it for several reasons. And I have two guns that are incredibly finicky, maybe I can help those.

    1. avatar GS650G says:

      How much do you shoot? if the 45-70 only comes out once a year for a few rounds it’s not worth it. The .480 is a stout round not used for plinking much.

      I have 2 guns in .44 mag and shoot both regularly. I might even add a third or fourth to the stable. If you have a collection of guns in these calibers it makes more sense.

      Or you could find someone that reloads these calibers and make a new friend.

      1. avatar ChoseDeath says:

        I have fallen in love with my .480, and have put about 140 rounds through it in a couple of months. I shoot a minimum of 1,000 rounds of .44 mag a year, and your suspicions about the 45/70 are dead on. Maybe 20 rounds a year currently? I have been shooting a lot of .450 Bushmaster lately, and have every intention of getting into .454 Casull and probably .500 Linebaugh or another massive revolver round. I can definitely reload my smaller stuff if need be, but that isn’t my primary goal.

        Kinda feels like it’ll be worth it. Buy the smaller stuff and reload my big boys! Would you concur, sir? Also,
        I thank you for your time and replies!

        1. avatar Someone says:

          The larger and more expensive is your cartridge, the bigger is your saving per round. If I didn’t cast my own bullets, reloading 9mm would make no sense. As it is I save couple of cents on each round. But on .44 mag or bigger rounds the difference is very significant.

          Reloading is a fun hobby, it allows me to shoot more and better. But I understand it is not for everyone. It does not surprise me when someone tells me, what I tell to my friends who make and smoke their own sausage, bake bread or brew their own beer: it seems like a lot of hassle for something I can get at a store.

  37. avatar Don from CT says:

    If you are doing it right, reloading will become an entirely new hobby. I probably spend as mmuch reloading as I would buying. But I shoot more.

    I also get to make custom ammo to match the gun or the shooter. Like very light recoiling .308 loads for my wife to shoot as well as match grade (7 fps mv sd) 175 grain .308 for long distance use.

  38. avatar BusyBeef says:

    Cost be damned, I reload to control the powder load and to avoid Emperor Cuomo’s whims.

    Just so happens that I’m at about 12-14 c/round depending on 38/9/45

  39. avatar hawkeye says:

    Interesting read. Here’s my $.02. Maybe I’m a purist, but I think of reloading and handloading as two different things. Or maybe better, handloading is a level up from reloading. Nah, that seems snobby, and I’m not that, maybe just call it a type of reloading. But in a practical sense, I like the process of performing each step by hand. The only step that is automatic, is when I click the Buy button, I know that Fedex or the like will automatically show up with a box in a couple days. All the rest, I like to have my own fingerprints on it. Now, this works for me only because I am not a high volume shooter, otherwise I’d be with many of you and get one of those blue reloaders, flip the switch and watch the cartridges roll out as I sip my lemonade.

    Growing up, I was taught the old “one shot, meat; two shots, maybe” aphorism and found that most store-bought ammo of the time sorely lacked the consistency I needed to fulfill that motto. So I bought a few books and read them, then a Lyman single stage press kit and some components, and worked at it until I had my “one shot, meat” recipes for a few different cartridges. Immensely satisfying.

    Now, being an honest purist, if there is such a thing, I have to confess. For those who don’t know, and according to McManus, a true purist is a snooty guy whose dry fly box has a hidden panel that opens to reveal a matched pair of night crawlers. When no one else is looking, of course. I admit to being something of a purist, but I try to be up front and honest about it. I have an ancient press for 12 and 20 gauge that I bought from a widow whose husband shot trap until he passed some 15 years prior, that is multi-stage but not a turret style. Came with half a keg of 700X and sundry items. Cleaned and lubed, it did numerousl cases of starling ammo for wingshooting practice at the mulberry tree on the farm. But later, a dear old friend who was succumbing to that Agent Orange nightmare impressed upon me his desire that I take his newfangled MEC progressive press for 12 gauge, so it wouldn’t get squandered away after his passing. So, now and then, I’ll crank out a box or two the easy way, while reminiscing about Coffee, his black Lab, splashing out to collect a brace of mallards at one or another of our old duck hunting ponds. Here’s to Calvin and Lester.

    So, there we have a couple more reasons for reloading, or handloading, for you folks to ponder.

  40. avatar Slow Joe Crow says:

    I’ve just been doing reloading math myself. Common pistol rounds like 9mm 115gr FMJ don’t pencil out unless you shoot 1000 rounds a month or more. Rifle ammunition can be really worth it. Federal .308 Winchester match ammo with 168 gr Matching is $1.35 per round, reloading with used brass is $0.82 per round, and would pay for a single stage press and dies in about 500 rounds. Uncommon stuff like 7.5 French or 6.5 Arisaka probably pays off fast.

  41. avatar Eric R. says:

    I reload but only certain calibers, .50 Beowulf, 458 socom and 450 bushmaster, to name only a few, I also reload 38-40, which to buy is around 40.00 for 20 rounds, 458 socom is like 50.00 or more for 20 rounds. And it cost me after first reloading of socom, like 30 cents a reload.

    You can’t beat that.

    1. avatar Someone says:

      I’m considering getting an upper receiver in one of the thumper calibers you mentioned. Which one would you recommend? (I will cast and reload for it, so price difference is not an issue.)

  42. avatar BN says:

    In the end reloading does not really save you a lot of money, especially in calibers like 9mm and .45ACP. You can achieve a slight cost benefit in more expensive calibers.

    If someone enjoys reloading, then so be it, do what you enjoy, just don’t tell me that you’re a better human being because you reload.

  43. avatar David says:

    I’ll be saving money when I start reloading this year. Partly because I’ll be sticking to loading match grade ammo in calibers such as .223 Remington, 6.5 Grendel, and .308. I’ll also be loading .45ACP so I can afford to shoot my 1911 and Sig P220 more often. Compounding the cost savings will be the fact that I’ll have something to do gun related in my garage when the kids are asleep than building ARs.

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