Part 5: Brass Resizing
Part 6: Trimming Cartridge Cases
Part 7: Repriming the Cartridge Case
Part 9: All About Primers
Part 11: Seating and Crimping Bullets
Part 12: To Crimp or not to Crimp
Part 13: Final Inspection and Packaging Tips
The big joke about reloading your own ammunition is that you save money. Sure, the monetary cost of each cartridge is less if you shop smart for reloading components like powder, primers, and bullets. The reloading is really “more expensive” part comes from the fact that you’ll shoot more! And then there’s all the cool gear that you’ll want to add to your reloading workshop…
There are some great reasons to take up reloading, and certainly different folks do it for different reasons. Some people reload to save money, and you certainly can if you’re willing to allocate some of your free time to the project. Others reload their own ammunition to optimize ammunition characteristics for their specific gun. Some get satisfaction from competing or hunting with their own hand-crafted ammunition. Others reload because it’s just a fun and relaxing hobby.
Whatever the reasons for your interest in reloading, we’re going to help you get started. This article marks the first in a series on reloading for centerfire metallic cartridges. Notice I specified centerfire ammunition. That’s standard rifle and pistol ammo with brass cartridge cases. Rimfire ammunition, like .22 Long Rifle, .22 Magnum, and .17 HMR is not reloadable as it does not use a removable primer. Well, technically, you can reload it, but it’s hard and tedious, so we won’t get into that just yet. Shotgun ammunition is reloadable too, but the process is significantly different, so this series won’t address that either, although the basic principles of reforming the “case” (or shell), re-priming, and re-charging are similar.
By the end of this series, you’ll know what gear you need, what you don’t, and what’s optional. You’ll understand the process and the different types of components you need. Most importantly, we’ll share tips and tricks to make your efforts easier and safer. With that said, let’s get started.
Let’s address the cost issue first…
This seems to be the first question everyone has about reloading ammunition.
The potential to save money (at least on a per round basis) comes from two factors. First, the brass cartridge case is the most expensive part of the complete package. You can reuse this anywhere from five to ten or more times depending on the caliber and your loads, so there’s a big savings opportunity right there. You don’t have to “re-buy” the expensive brass case for every shot. Second, you’re investing your time to process and assemble a new cartridge, so you’re not paying a factory to do it for you.
The amount you can save, again not counting the value of your labor hours, varies depending on the cartridge. Generally speaking, if you shoot larger caliber or unusual rifle cartridges, you can save significant money. If you choose to reload common and inexpensive handgun ammo like 9mm, it’s harder to trim costs. Let’s consider a couple of common examples. I’ll use low quantity pricing for each part assuming this model is for beginners who may not be ready to invest big bucks in buying pallet loads of materials at once. As you get into it, you can reduce your costs significantly by buying things like bullets in quantities of 2,000 or more at a time. The same goes with primers and powder. So consider the following examples as on the high end of what you might pay. Also, these rough figures don’t include your investment in startup equipment. We’ll cover that in the next couple of articles.
Brass: The day I wrote this, Brownells had Winchester brand .308 brass in stock for $23.99 for a bag of 50. If you use this brass eight times, that works out to six cents per use. As you gain experience, you can dramatically reduce your brass cost by using carefully selected once-fired brass, but that’s for a later discussion. For now, we’ll use the figure of just over a nickel per shot.
Primer: CCI #200 primers are the Large Rifle size appropriate for .308 Winchester, so we’ll need those too. A box of 1,000 was priced at $31.99 the same day, so that’s about 3.2 cents per shot.
Powder: There are many combinations of powder type and charge weight that you can use for .308 Winchester, so I just picked one I’ve used for this example. Hodgdon H380 powder costs $22.99 for a one-pound container. Again, you can save a lot of money buying in larger quantities, but for now, we’ll start small. This particular load calls for 45.2 grains of H380, and there are 7,000 grains per pound, so you can load 154 cartridges with a single one-pound container. In reloading, “grains” is a weight unit of measure, not an “object.” If you do the math, the powder cost works out to 14.8 cents per shot.
Bullet: Last, we need a bullet. A common one for practice, plinking, and competition is a 150-grain full metal jacket style. You can choose from a wide variety of bullet weights and styles for .308 Winchester, but for now, we’ll stick with the basic stuff. A pack of 100 Hornady full metal jacket bullets costs $22.99, so that works out to 23 cents per shot.
If you add all this up, you’ll see that our cost per cartridge is 47 cents. That’s not bad, but again, remember that we used small quantities of supplies, and that’s much more expensive. Right now, .308 Winchester full metal jacket ammo with brass cases costs between $.65 and $1.20 or so per round, so even our “pricier” reloads saved some money on a per round basis.
If you want to reload a common caliber like 9mm and try to save money, you’re going to have to work harder at shopping for components, and you’ll have to buy in larger quantities. Doing similar math with smaller quantity component purchases, you’ll end up spending about 18 cents per round. These days, you can find brass-cased 9mm for 20 to 25 cents per round if you shop, so the savings aren’t as easy.
So, the bottom line is that you can save some money reloading, depending on what calibers you reload and how you buy components. Of course, you’ll have to factor in the cost of equipment and your time, so that will eat into your “profits” at the beginning.
Now that we’ve gotten past the cost thing, I have to mention that, for me at least, that’s not the real issue I reload my own.
Consider some of the other benefits of reloading:
You have a constant supply. Once you build your inventory of components, you are no longer at the mercy of local ammunition supply. Every time a politician introduces a new gun control measure, everyone else runs out to clear the shelves of ammo, but you won’t have to. Of course, you’ll want to build up and maintain your stock of components so you can ride through the storms without having to scramble for powder, primers, and bullets.
You can create “perfect loads” for each of your guns. I like to load practice and training rounds that are on the lighter side of velocity and recoil. The reduced muzzle blast helps me focus on technique, not just managing recoil. These practice loads are also great for introducing people to shooting – it’s a lot less intimidating when there’s less bang. The beauty is that you can tweak loads and make them as light or heavy as you want (within safety guidelines) while still making your particular gun function reliably.
You can embark on your own accuracy Olympics. Especially with rifle loads, you can experiment to find the perfect combination of bullet, powder, primer, and charge that makes your rifle perform to its full potential. Factory ammo is great, but it has to be made to function in all rifles for a given caliber, so it can’t be optimized for yours.
While I don’t recommend using hand loads for self-defense, it’s satisfying to make your own cartridges for hunting. There is a near infinite variety of bullet styles so you can create a cartridge that does exactly what you want for the game you hunt.
Then, of course, there are the zombies. When that happens, you’ll be the most popular person in your neighborhood!
But seriously, reloading is a great hobby with plenty of benefits. How about giving it a whirl? Stay tuned – next time we’ll get into the actual process of reloading cartridges.