How to weigh the costs and benefits of reloading your own ammunition

We’ve all been there- walking past that neglected tool in the garage or exercise equipment in the den with accumulated dust so thick you could write your name in it. Then, you think back to the weeks that you agonized over which make/model to go with, and the rush of excitement when the delivery truck dropped off the equipment. Then, after using it once or twice, it sits neglected and collecting dust. Now, you’re deciding whether you want to order a bunch of reloading gear and get a home degree in ballistics so that you can join the ranks of ammunition reloaders. Thinking back to that dusty treadmill in your den, you may have second thoughts.

So let’s take a look at the reasons why you should or should not reload your own ammunition- then, you can move on to agonizing over which gear to go with.

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Reasons to reload

So why reload? There can be a lot of different reasons to reload, but here we’ll focus on four reasons to ponder.

Reason 1: Saving money and shooting more

The first reason we’ll discuss for reloading is the reason that got me thinking about reloading in the first place- saving money on ammunition and feeling good about shooting frequently. A good portion of the cost of ammunition is the brass casings that are used to hold all of the components together- so why throw it away? So how much money can you save by reloading? In some cases it depends on the caliber or ammunition spec you’re shooting, and in other cases it depends on the kind of deals you get on factory ammunition. Another factor that can change the savings associated with reloading are the costs associated with the components used to reload ammunition- primarily the primers, powder, and bullets used when reloading. My first press was purchased to reload 44 Magnum ammunition. This is a great caliber to reload, because 44 magnum ammunition is very expensive, and revolver brass is easy to collect- you just dump it out of the cylinder into a nice pile.

So let’s take a quick look at a “factory versus reloads” cost comparison for 44 Magnum based on reloading component street prices. First, consider a box of Magtech Sport Ammunition with 240 grain JSP bullets is running about ~$40 if you can find it in stock. Second let’s consider what it would cost if you were to reload equivalent ammunition with the following components:

Component Cost, reloading 44 Magnum

  • Brass $0.00 (re-use)
  • Primers (per 1000) $25.00
  • Powder (per pound) $20.00
  • Bullets (per 1000) $175.00

If we do a little math, and assume a powder charge of 20.0 grains (where one pound = 7000 grains), we arrive at a total of $12.86 per box of 50 for our own reloaded ammunition. Now, this analysis does not factor in the cost of your equipment, and other costs related to reloading (such as case cleaning media) but it does give you an idea of how much you can save by reloading your own ammunition.

Savings per box (44 magnum reloads) = $40.00 – $12.86 = $27.14

Reloaded 44 Magnum Ammunition - savings and satisfaction
Reloaded 44 Magnum Ammunition – savings and satisfaction

Here reloads cost only 32% of what factory ammunition would cost! In some cases it does not save you much money to reload ammunition. If you take the example of 9mm Luger ammunition, if you are comparing your own reloads to Winchester “White Box” factory ammunition, you may be closer to a wash on your costs if you are shooting plain FMJ (shortages and near-term price hikes aside). If you’re reloading JHP ammunition, the equation will look different, and you’d likely save money by reloading. There can be even more extreme cases of savings due to reloading, such as if you were to cast bullets (usually the most significant cost for reloading is bullets) and load your own 500 S&W magnum ammunition. In that case, you’d save even more compared to factory ammunition where a box of 50 could run $50.00 or more. That could transform your expensive bear repellant from a novelty into a frequent range companion- especially since you will be able to load cartridges to the power level that you can shoot comfortably.

Reason 2: Increasing accuracy and optimizing/customizing loads

There are two factors that are most instrumental in attaining accuracy when loading ammunition:

  1. Tailoring component selection and dimensions to the firearm
  2. Minimizing variation between cartridges

It’s hard to explain, but each firearm (each individual firearm, not just each make/model) tends to have an inherent preference for specific components. Bullets vary by profile, construction (jacketed versus hard-cast, etc) weight, and hardness to name a few. These factors can make a big difference for accuracy. Primers ignite in a particular way, some burning hotter, some burning cooler, some burning longer, some burning more quickly. Primers need to be matched to both the bullet and the powder being used. Even when matched to the components being used, firearms can show a preference for one brand/type of primer over another. Accuracy variation due to primer selection is more evident in rifles than in handguns, but it is a factor in both applications.

Various pistol bullet types that you can choose from when reloading

So why are we discussing all of these factors for accuracy here? It’s because reloading gives you the opportunity to select the components that work with your gun, and fine tune your loads for maximum accuracy. Once you’ve figured out what works for your gun and particular application, you need consistency from one cartridge to the next in order to maintain optimal accuracy. By paying careful attention to your reloading setup and using care when operating your equipment, you can attain better consistency than machinery used in factories to mass produce ammunition. By minimizing variations in bullet seating depth, charge weight, and other factors, you’ll experience less variation in point of impact which translates to better accuracy. This does assume that point of aim does not change from one shot to the next, so as the shooter, you have to do your part as well! By working up your own optimal load recipe and loading your ammunition with precision, you’ll naturally have more “pride of ownership” and satisfaction at the range when you seem improved and consistent groups.

Reason 3: For the fun of it

Is reloading fun? Well, that depends on your personality, how much time you have, how much space you have, and other factors as well. Reloading is about learning and improving. Reloading will challenge you to learn about how your firearm is put together, how it works, and what it needs in terms of ammunition. By studying your weapon and by experimenting, you’ll learn how to assemble optimized ammunition. While you can learn to reload ammunition in a short period of time, you can spend a lifetime learning about this craft continually learning new tricks, methods, and skills. If you are inspired by this quest for knowledge then you are likely to enjoy reloading. If you have a clean workspace and are willing to take your time, you will be much more likely to enjoy the process of reloading. Putting together ledger books and taking detailed notes will make your activities more fruitful over the years as you will have references to look back on and compare to. This information is invaluable not only for your own future reference, but also to share with others. This level of detail and discipline will make your reloading more of an experience of craftsmanship, and help to minimize frustration and dissatisfaction.

Keeping accurate records of your reloads is a part of the satisfaction of attention to detail
Keeping accurate records of your reloads is a part of the satisfaction of reloading

In order to convey what the reloading experience is about, I like to articulate what it was like to shoot my first box of reloaded 44 magnum ammunition. The first shot was a complete thrill! At first, you may not know what to expect, but as you drive home from the range after that first shooting session with your own ammunition, you’ll experience a unique satisfaction. This is true (to a lesser extent) each time you try out a new caliber, powder, bullet, or firearm you’ve loaded for. It is truly a lifetime journey.

Reason 4: So that you can shoot – period

We are all familiar with ammunition shortages and hoarding/price gouging that are a result of the current unstable political climate. If you are one of the fortunate individuals that stocked up on reloading supplies and gear before the “craziness”, then you now have the luxury of shooting when you want to and what you want to. Unfortunately, if you didn’t get stocked up prior to last fall/winter, you’ll have trouble finding reloading equipment and consumables. My only advice here is to get creative (friends, local shops, craigslist) and to be patient. It’s just a matter of time before presses, dies, powder, primers, and projectiles are more readily available again.

Deciding whether to take the plunge

We’ve covered a few (but not all) of the reasons to help you decide whether reloading is for you. Let’s summarize here by walking through some criteria to think about. Hopefully this will shed more light on whether or not you should “take the plunge”.

Mechanical aptitude
If you are the type that enjoys working on your own car, you’re likely to enjoy the process of reloading. In addition to just setting up and operating your reloading press, you will need to troubleshoot your equipment and repair it from time to time. If you have mechanical interest and ability, you’ll enjoy rising to the challenge.

Attention to detail
If you have a bit of OCD and like to organize your nuts and bolts, you’ll also enjoy picking up brass, labeling your ammo boxes, and getting your reloading bench setup. Since reloading can be dangerous (you are playing with explosives after all) this attention to detail is very important.

Patience
If you take up reloading as a hobby, there will be times that your patience will be put to the test. From time to time rounds won’t chamber, a rifle won’t group, and who knows what else. If you have enough patience, you will work through the issues. If you are not a patient person, you may end up with a reloading press in the trash can.

Time
Everything seems to require time, but there’s only so much to go around. We’ve all known someone without the time to use the toys they own, and if you don’t have time to shoot, you’ll need to ask yourself if you’ll have the time to reload as well. Reloading does take time, but like anything else, there’s always tomorrow.

Hopefully you now have a better idea about reloading as a hobby or necessity. Have thoughts to share? Please leave a comment!

Thanks,
Gavin

About the author

9 thoughts on “How to weigh the costs and benefits of reloading your own ammunition”

    1. Whenever there’s political issues primers seem to be the first thing to dry up. They may just be made out of crushed moon rock and unicorn tears. 🙂

  1. Where the heck you can find primers @ $25/1k, I went to a gun show in WI last month and for small gun primers $75+tax. Yeah Right! Shells are kind of easy to find, but try to get bullets too Good luck….

    1. In this climate who knows what you’ll pay… I have to respect some of our reputable online retailers that don’t price gouge, but last I looked the main online retailers were all out of primers (for the most part.)

      1. The sad fact is….and it becomes annoying…you have to stay close to the internet…and money set aside and/or have a buying group in place with an appointed person to handle transactions…and wait/stay connected to the net. As I said…annoying. But when an in stock notice is received…you’ve gotta hit it and buy fast! I’ve seen in matter of moments in stock primers/powder/bullets go to out of stock at a online supplier.

        Now to be fair….even at Wally World there has been new rules applied. Managers…yes managers both department and upper….were hoarding reloading items and/or ammo. Sometimes having buyers waiting in the parking lot with cash in hand. Profit is made. But!! No more. and there is product that if you arrive at the right time….primers/powder/ammo can be had. I picked up 5 boxes of Tulammo 223 last night. Limit is 3 pre customer but I was allowed to buy 5 boxes @ $5.47 per box or $5.97 per box (Can’t recall which one)…no matter…all over the net…product is beginning to show with more regularity. Last couple of weeks I was able to buy a pound of Varget and primers of various sizes. Plus I recieved my order from Powder Valley to boot.

        A little over a week ago…I recieved from Natchez Shooters Supply 10,000 Tulammo small rifles primers @ $19.99 per thousand and 1,000 small pistol magnum primers @ $35.00 per thousands. A little over a month ago…I recieved 24 pounds of WC872 and 24 pounds of WC867 from Wideners. Same week I recieved 6,000 large rifle magnum primers from Natchez and so. So….primers can be had…but as I said…you have to stay connected. It is not easy to drop $300.00 to $400.00 here and there for reloading componets. Kind of ridiculous that I have more reloading componets than the local gun shop…but I do. But as I said…it is best to have a buyers group with trusted people. Do not trust everyone blindly!

        As far as the gun show black marketeers…and this is what most are that sell primers/powder/etc at gun shows…these guys/gals will rip you off and smile about it. I say don’t buy from these hacks! Get organized. Buying from online dealers does work. Just bear in mind…there is shipping fees and that dreaded HazMat fee or $27.50 for a maxinum of 50 pounds per container. It isn’t that hard just plan ahead. And indeed…you must be patient. But I’m still shooting/practicing while most are screaming. I dispise the black market scumbags. These people are at the top of the reasons behind such an acute shortage of ammo/componets. That and those that scream “The Shy Is Falling” Doomsday preppers and the hype associated with such. The last place you wanne be “IF” such a senario would ever take place is a hole in the ground or way up in the high country where you can’t grow squat!

        Anyways……there is product out there.

  2. I found it interesting how you mentioned how loading your own ammunition can give you some freedom when it comes to component selection. I have recently picked up shooting as a hobby, and I love it so much that I want to do everything I can to make it the best experience possible. I will definitely keep this in mind as I continue to search for loading materials!

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