It's often said, reloading ammo keeps money in your pocket. But do the economics of handloading really shake out for penny pinchers?
I got into reloading for a couple of reasons: first, it was something I wanted to do with my Dad, as it kept us shooting together in the offseason; second, it allowed me to build premium ammunition at a lower cost than I could buy it. I’m not sure that is true any longer, but it warrants taking a detailed look at the cost breakdown of what it takes to make a box of cartridges compared to what it would cost to buy factory loaded stuff. And, never forget, your time is worth something, even if you spend it performing a labor of love.
The volume of ammo you expend will affect the numbers game, as you’ll need to purchase the same tools to make one box of ammunition as you’ll need to load twenty. And it’ll also depend on the cartridge you’re shooting; the cost ratio of reloading to factory ammo is going to be much different for the 9mm Luger, .45 ACP, .223 Remington, and .30-06 Springfield than it will be for the .455 Webley, .318 Westley Richards, .333 Jeffery, and .350 Rigby Magnum. Then there is the ability to load for rifles and pistols that have no factory ammunition option. You can then only place the value on the ability to shoot that gun, making the cost of reloading irrelevant as it’s the only option you’ve got.
Couple these ideas with the ammunition drought of 2013–2014 and the incredible increase in sales of both firearms and ammunition in the madness that began in 2020, and you’d have to add some value to having the ability to reload when there is almost nothing available on store shelves. No matter what the usual market price of your favorite factory ammo, when it’s unavailable, you’ll pay a premium. The value of handloads increases accordingly.
Let’s use the universal and popular .30-06 Springfield as an example for cost analysis, assuming you’re a new reloader and starting with no more gear other than a heaping pile of once-fired brass you’ve saved in a shoebox over the years. Looking at the big picture, at a bare minimum, you’ll need a reloading press, a set of dies, a scale, trimming capabilities, measuring tools, case lube, reloading manual, and other accouterments.
Let’s say you jump into the pool with one of the reloading kits, such as the Rock Chucker Supreme Master Reloading Kit, which has a street price of $400. I’d add to that a trimmer, say an RCBS for $135, and a set of standard dies at $40. Before you buy a single component, you’re now $475 in the hole. You’ll need a pound of powder for roughly $30 and a box of 100 large rifle primers for $4. Let’s use a standard deer hunting bullet such as the Sierra GameKing 165-grain spitzer boattail at $30 per box of 100. You’ve invested $539 and have the capability of loading five boxes of ammo. That works out to $107.80 per box of 20, but that’s not realistic because you can use the tools for decades.
Suppose you take care of your reloading tools, and they last you a lifetime. Further, to simplify the analysis, let’s remove the equipment’s initial cost from the equation. To be conservative, let’s throw in 100 brass cases from Federal at $62/100. Our components for 100 newly loaded .30-06 rounds would come to about $126, or $1.26/round. By comparison, a 20-round box of Federal Premium with that same Sierra 165-grain GameKing bullet fetches $30-$37 — or $1.50-$1.85/round. So, yes, you can handload these rounds for a $.24-$.59 cent per round savings. Not only that, as I write this, there is a run on ammo, and you can’t find that Federal factory load in stock. If you have the components on hand, you can always load some up.
Seeing The Savings
If you’re a one-deer-a-year consumer who generally confirms zero on Ol’ Besty and heads afield, perhaps the factory ammunition is the way for you to go. But if you enjoy recreational shooting and the benefits of routine practice with your big game rifle, you can see how the investment in reloading tools can pay for itself in a short amount of time. If you get a couple of buddies together to share the tools’ cost, you can see a return on your investment even sooner.
Compare this idea to a cartridge such as the .300 Weatherby Magnum, where factory ammunition runs from $40 to $90 per box. Suddenly, your investment in tools seems much more worthwhile. Should you shoot multiple calibers — both rifle and pistol — you will see how reloading gear can quickly provide a return on your money. I’ve also experienced the frustration of finding a factory load that a rifle loves, only to have the factory change the recipe (whether intentional or not, I cannot answer), resulting in ruined accuracy and me scratching my head wondering what happened to the rifle. What’s more, experimenting with different factory loads can be a hefty investment, especially if you’re shooting a rare and costly cartridge. The initial investment of the reloading tools, and the cost of components, coupled with the time spent developing a load, are all well worth it to me. I can grab primer X, charge the case with my known charge of powder Y, and seat bullet Z on top to arrive at the load that will serve for the rifle’s life.
More Reloading From Phil Massaro:
- Choosing the Best Reloading Press for Your Needs
- Primers, First Stage of Ignition
- The Reloading Scale and Ammo Accuracy
- Reloading Manuals the Sacred Tomes of Reloading
- Gunpowder or Things That Make You Go Boom!
I gave the example of purchasing a reloading kit, and that is certainly a sound idea, but you could also buy your tools individually. Depending on your budget, you can make the tool list as expensive or inexpensive as you choose. One benefit of reloading: dies and presses are interchangeable — should you choose a Redding press, you could easily use a Hornady resizing die, an RCBS seating die and a Lee crimp die, or just about any combination. You can buy as you go, keeping your eyes open for specials and deals on reloading gear to keep costs to a minimum.
Online shopping has become popular, and that applies to reloading as well. But primers and powder require a Hazardous Materials fee on shipping. This fee can add a considerable amount of money to your components’ cost, so keep that in mind and try and order in bulk, even if you have to combine orders with a friend or two. I recommend combining primers and powder on the same order under the same HazMat fee.
Looking For Deals
For the high-volume handgun shooter, there are many quality, inexpensive projectiles available that will keep the cost of ammunition down. Federal’s SynTech is a great example. It’s a synthetic-coated lead bullet, perfect for the indoor ranges, which cost between $23 and $27 per box of 100, or roughly 2/3rds the cost of Federal’s premium handgun bullets. It runs clean and is accurate for practice. If you don’t mind scrubbing lead from your bore, companies such as Meister Bullets offer hardcast lead bullets in bulk that can be as cheap as $0.07 per bullet for the classic 230-grain round-nose .45 ACP bullet if you buy them by the 1,000 count. Berry’s Bullets offers plated projectiles for both rifles and pistols at an affordable rate; they are accurate, and you can use them in an indoor range.