Do I really need a bullet feeder?

So there you are sitting at your reloading bench cranking out some ammunition and a thought comes into your head. What if I added a bullet feeder to this press? I could really speed things up, and it would be fun to get a new press accessory! But you may also ask yourself: Will it be worth it? What’s really involved in adding a bullet feeder? In this post I’ll answer some of these questions and hopefully make your decision process easier if you are wondering whether or not to buy a bullet feeder.

Hornady Lock-N-Load Bullet feeder collating 45 ACP bullets - Image copyright 2013 Ultimate Reloader
Hornady Lock-N-Load Bullet feeder collating 45 ACP bullets – Image copyright 2013 Ultimate Reloader

Here are some basic considerations to think about:

  • Pistol -vs- rifle: Feeding pistol bullets is generally more straightforward than feeding rifle bullets. If you are planning on loading rifle bullets with a bullet feeder make sure that the feeder is compatible with your press and is offered in the caliber/cartridge that you plan to load.
  • Bullet type: In general bullet feed systems are designed only to work with plated and jacketed bullets. If you are loading cast lead bullets then chances are that you won’t be able to use them with your bullet feeder. The reason: cast lead bullets are not as consistent dimensionally *and* the lube gums up feed parts.
  • Available stations and press setup: Adding a bullet feed setup will typically require at least one dedicated station in your press, and in some cases adding a bullet feed die will have multi-station dependencies (example: RCBS Rifle Bullet Feeder die has to be actuated by adjacent powder measure). You may be able to free up stations by employing combination features like powder charging and expanding in the same station (Hornady’s PTX expander for example). Just make sure you know the implications and requirements before you spring for that bullet feed system.
  • Mounting and Storage: You’ll need a place to mount the bullet feeder (some bolt to the press, some to your bench) and you’ll also need space to store the bullet feeder (hanging from the wall works good). Bullet feeders can be quite tall (bullet collator) so make sure you have “headroom” in your space as well.
  • Complexity and Setup: A bullet feeder does require per-caliber setup, and they can take a while to get “dialed in” – so make sure your loading quantities will justify the extra setup overhead if you are contemplating a bullet feeder.
  • Power: If your bullet feeder has an electric bullet collator, you’ll need AC power at your bench. One more thing to think about!
  • Cost: Make sure you add up all of the components and parts that you’ll need to buy in order to get a realistic “total cost of ownership”. It’s also a good idea to make sure that all of the parts are available (given recent shortages).

Finally, I’ve found that the biggest increase in loading speed happens when you add either a bullet feeder *or* a case feeder to a press. Having at least one feeder enables one hand to stay on the handle at all times which makes your loading go a lot faster. Adding the second feeder (meaning that you have both bullet feed and case feed attachments) definitely speeds up loading, but the gain is not quite as dramatic as when you add the first feeder.

Have thoughts about bullet feeders? Please leave a comment!

Thanks,
Gavin

About the author

9 thoughts on “Do I really need a bullet feeder?”

  1. I have neither case or bullet feeder. IMHO, the case feeder would give me the most bang for the buck, especially since 95% of my loadings are cast bullets.

  2. Gavin – The thing that I noticed from your videos, that is a major detractor in my opinion, is the noise level of the feeders. I am not yet an owner, but having watched all your videos, and particularly the progressive rig videos, I noticed that as you are walking us through the reloading process it is rather enjoyable and I could see having some music playing in the background and it being pleasant. With the feeders going, it seems to make it harder to hear you – maybe the mics your using are hyper-sensitive, but that’s the impression I get. – Cheers – Rich

  3. I have a LNL AP and tried the Hornady feed dies in 45 and 40 with horrible results. I tinkered with it for a few days and still couldn’t get consistent drops through he dies. I want to try RCBS’s feeder die offering if it is compatible with Hornadys feeder setup.

  4. Bought the Hornady case feeder for use with my LNL press. Other than a random bounce out with .40 or 45 it works great and feeds .223 too. Thought I wanted a bullet feeder as well but they were always “out of stock”. Bought the bullet feed die for .40 and .45. They are a real value. Anyway, Bought a bunch of extruded plastic tubes in 5/8″ od and cut them to about 36″. Also bought a bunch of 5/8″ Caps. Each tube holds about 60 bullets. Very easy to fill on a bench and cap. When the tube is empty I twist out the die and put another tube in and reinstall the die. Very fast, 30 seconds. Modified the .40 die with a 60 deg. countersink and use 5/8″ tubes there as well. Due to somewhat limited space for storing presses and feeders I don’t think I would buy a bullet feeder now. I have an RCBS tube feeder in 9mm but don’t know if it would hold 60 or 70 bullets back. Ordered a Hornady 9mm feed die and will use tubes there as well. Now if I can just get some Varget. Thanks, Gary

  5. I run the CF on a Dillon 650 and a STAR retrofitted with a Dillon unit. . Without it I wouldn’t go much faster loading than on my 550. The BF is a great concept but as pointed out they don’t do well with lead bullets. Ninety nine percent of what I load in handgun is lead. The amount of rifle bullets I load while quite high still does not warrant the addition as most of them are in short run batches of match ammo in various flavors. The big run of 223 that most of us make periodically is not enough justification for the expense.

  6. Looking forward to a case feeder. Looks like it’s going to have to be a DIY project. If I can get the lower parts for the Honady LNL case feeder, might try to adapt the Lee feeder tubes and collator. Otherwise, it’ll be a scratch project.

  7. Upfront Caveat: Because you are sponsored by the various vendors, I can understand if you decide not to let this comment get posted, but there are really easy workarounds to the multiple-hundred dollar units that cost about 50$ per caliber.

    For the home reloader, an alternative to relatively expensive bullet feeder systems (albeit one not likely to receive reloading vendor sponsorship), is to pair some clear plastic tubes with a bullet feeder die to accomplish the same goal as the collator-fed system, at a much lower price point. A number of gun blogs have entries that show how to do this.

    For the cost of the caliber-specific bullet feeder die and some cheap rigid plastic tubing in the appropriate diameter(s) totalling around $50 per caliber, you can pre-load 50 bullets per tube in a similar way as you load primers, using metal safety/cotter pins to capture the bullets in the tube until use. The collets in the feeder die dispense one bullet with every operation of the press handle just as with the vendor solution. I have mine setup for 9mm and .45ACP alternatively on my Hornady LNL AP press. The only issue I found was finding a wat to support the upper end of the tube to handle all that lead weight waving around above the press. (An eye-bolt with sufficient inside diameter worked fine).

    Since the press restricts operators to loading 100 primers at a time anyway, its easy to pre-load 2 tubes of 50 bullets each for every primer load, so reloading sessions end up in multiples of 100. I’ve got 6 tubes each for 9mm and .45ACP, so I can go 300 rounds without stopping to reload bullet tubes, with breaks to refresh the primer supply using my MidwayUSA/Franklin Vibra-Prime primer tube loader. (You should review one of these sometime)

    Hope this helps someone.

    1. Thanks for the info- Ultimate Reloader is all about information, and I have a “Freedom of speech” clause with all of my sponsors, so no problem here! Where I draw the line is bashing and disrespect which are not permitted on this site.

      Thanks John!

  8. Yes, if there is progressive press at your bench, than the bullet collator (BC) and bullet feeder die is exactly what you need for full comfort of the reloading.
    I don´t know how much is it for you, in the country of BC origine, but here, in Central Europe, it´s quite luxury item. So, I decide to built my own one. I am working on my BC few hours at night several times at week last five month. Now I am going to be at final. At this time, I can say particular specification of my BC:
    1. Speed. Depending of bullet type. For example – 9mm Luger FMJ 115+124 grs ogival – full speed possible, cca 40-50 bpm (bullets per minute), upside down about 2%. 9mm Luger FMJ 123 grs truncated conus hollow point, 40-50 bpm, cca 2% .357 FMJ 158 grs flat nose, cca 30-40 bpm, cca 3-4%. .357 FMJ 180 grs flat nose hollow point, cca 20-30 bpm, cca 5-7%. .357 FMJ 158 grs SWC, cca 25-35 bpm, cca 4-6%.
    2. I designe it for use with Hornady Bullet Feeder Die. I have experience with RCBS Kiss Bullet Feeding Die and I don´t want it for more.
    3. My BC is provided with stepless speed regulation, reverse switch (because of evolution progress, few times I needed to reverse it), adjustable height of column of bullets in the tube of bullet feeding die – by shifting the optic sensor on the bullet tube.
    All the fun much cheaper than the factory BC I can see at Youtube. Sometimes some kind of bullets need also to change the angle of the BC drum to work better (just to slow down isn´t anough), so, that angle is also adjustable.
    Next step is the cal. .40, .45 and when I finish it, than .223 and .308.
    You can see second working preview test of my BC here:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4fzBnDqSOk
    BTW, controll box seems like much better at the present time. 🙂
    Unfortunately, I didn´t find any info, how reliable are factory BC with the bullets like SWC. I would welcome any information, if there are bullets designes difficult to work with – like SWC are.

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