Report 11: Why Reload

There are two main reasons people don’t get in the necessary range time required to maintain proficiency: accessibility of a range and the cost of the ammunition. There isn’t much I can do about the range accessibility, but I can address the ammunition cost issue. All shooters wrestle with practice costs, specifically, how to keep the cost of practice ammunition manageable.

First, let’s look at the cost of purchasing factory loaded ammunition at a retail store. Bear in mind that the prices I list here are not representative of all retail outlets. I am getting my prices from a couple of online outlets, and some local vendors may be less expensive than what I have found online.

Winchester (white box) full metal jacket is a good representative example of typical range ammo. This is a quality, middle-of-the-price spectrum, bulk ammo. Prices and quantities for Winchester (white box) quoted this morning, 15 Nov 2014, at Midway USA were:

  • 9mm, 115 grain full metal jacket
    • 1000 rnds/$300
    • 100 rnds/$30
  • .40 cal, 165 grain full metal jacket
    • 500 rnds/$190
    • 100 rnds/39.50
  • .45 cal 230 grain full metal jacket
    • 500 rnds/$240
    • 100 rnds/$49

When in a normal range period you spend $30 – $50 just in ammo, the cost can become pretty restrictive. Notice that I just talked about the full metal jacket PRACTICE ammo. DO NOT take your personal defense ammo to the range for a normal practice session. You may be paying twice the price for this type of ammo.

Now, let’s evaluate the cost of using your own hand-loaded ammunition. First a note in the interest of safety; reloading is not something you should do without proper training. It can be very dangerous when done incorrectly. This report deals ONLY with the economics and not the techniques involved in reloading.

The first thing you need to consider is purchasing a reloading press. A quality press will last a couple of lifetimes. I have been using mine for over 30 years and expect it to last well into my grandchildren’s lives. Expect to pay anywhere from $100 – $500 for a good press if you buy one new. Buying a used one can save lot of money, but I recommend you take an experienced reloader with you when looking at used equipment to make sure all parts are included and it is in proper functioning order.

Next you will need to add a set of dies to your equipment. I only recommend carbide dies as they take a lot of inconvenience out of the lubrication process. A quality set of carbide dies will cost you $40 – $60 per caliber, depending on the source. Almost every caliber requires a specific die set. Some dies can be used for multiple calibers. For instance, .38 special can be readjusted to be used with .357 magnum and .40 cal can be readjusted to be used with 10 mm. Do not go cheap on the dies.

You will also need an accurate powder measure and a powder scale capable of measuring to within +/- a tenth of a grain. A good powder measure will cost from $40 – $70, and a good balance beam scale will cost in the range of $90.

While you can get reloading recipes from powder and bullet manufacturers online, I recommend you purchase at least two reliable reloading recipe books from reputable companies. You can pick one up for $25 – $30. I use Sierra, Lyman, and Speer reloading manuals.

As you can see, just the setup cost of reloading is pretty spendy. You may spend approximately $300 for budget-friendly quality equipment. To switch to another caliber, you only have to buy the dies associated with that caliber, adding $40 – $60 to the equipment list. I’ve purposely not discussed way to maximize efficiency in reloading as this requires additional expenses.

The initial setup cost is not the figure with which you should be the most concerned. The bottom line of how much ammunition costs to make AFTER you have reloaded several thousand rounds over the years is the more important figure. I cannot even come close to guessing how many thousand rounds I have loaded over the past 30 years. Prorating the cost of my reloading equipment in that way, I am saving significantly over buying factory ammunition, especially at today’s prices.

Now let’s look at cartridge component costs. I have found that normally the least expensive outlet for cartridge components to be Powder Valley, Inc. This does not always hold true, but they are always my first stop on the shopping tour.

The first component to consider is the brass or case of the cartridge. For example, new Winchester .40 cal brass costs $28.50/100. As you buy in greater quantities, the cost per case goes down. The nice thing about the brass is that one case can be reused several times; therefore, it is not a cost for every reloading.

Next to purchase is primers. Small pistol primers used in .40 cal cases are going for $26.50/1000. A box of 1000 primers is about the smallest you should buy when you order online.

When people ask how much gun powder costs, I have to ask them to specify what powder they are talking about. There are over 50 different powders of various types available, and seldom will you find two that are the same price. The powder I will quote is Accurate Arms #7 which is one that is popular among pistol shooters. The current price for a pound of AA#7 is $19. That sounds like quite a bit, but when you consider what that means in terms of how many rounds you can load with a pound of powder, it really isn’t a very high price. One pound equals 7000 grains in weight. If you use 9 grains of AA#7 for each .40 cal case, you will be able to load over 750 rounds for each pound of powder.

One thing to be aware of when ordering powder and primers online, there is an added hazardous materials shipping charge of approximately $25. Therefore, it is often wise to order all of your primers and powder at one time to keep from paying multiple hazardous materials shipping charges.

You can go several different ways for practice bullets. Some reloaders I know cast their own lead bullets, which gets into a whole different discussion. However you can minimize your costs by buying pure lead bullets as opposed to copper-jacketed bullets. Midway USA quoted a box of 500 hard-cast round-nose bullets at $51 this morning. That breaks down to approximately $.10 per bullet.

Now, let’s put all the figures together and see what we come up with. For this exercise we will assume we are using new brass and will use .40 cal for our example. The figures below will break out the cost per round using the costs I listed above.

Brass           $.285

Primer          $.027

Powder         $.025

Bullet           $.10

Total            $.437 per round.

When you look at the initial cost using new brass, there is not of a savings from using factory Winchester (white box) which comes in at about $.38 per round; but if you are using once (or more) fired brass, that reduces the $.437 per round figure down to $.152 per round. This bottom line figure does not figure in the cost (prorated) for the equipment required to get started in reloading.

It should be obvious that the more you shoot and practice, the more economical it becomes. I know many people who do not reload and are more than happy to give me their once-fired brass. That reduces my cost to reload drastically. Also, I have started casting some of my own bullets and have reduced my costs even more.

Reducing the cost of shooting is only one of several reasons to reload and the one I have concentrated on in this report. However, the main reason I started reloading in the first place was to develop the most accurate possible ammunition for match shooting. Reloading for economics was the natural evolution from that first requirement.

Do not be tempted to load your personal defensive carry handgun with your reloads. If you get into a defensive shooting situation, the use of hand-loaded ammunition would most certainly come under extreme scrutiny in court. When loading up your defensive every day carry, always use quality, defensive, factory ammo.

As stated earlier, I do not recommend that everyone just go out and buy a bunch of equipment and start putting cartridges together without proper training. This can be a rewarding adjunct to shooting but must be done in a safe way using appropriate precautions. For further information and training feel free to contact me.