The Case Against Reloading…

Editor’s Note: The following is a syndicated article by author Ed Combs that first appeared in USCCA’s Concealed Carry Magazine Volume 16, Issue 2, February/March 2019 under the title, “Brass Class: Cashin’ In.” 

New shooters often consider the possibility of reloading their own ammunition. It sounds like a great scheme: You’re handling your own business like any good American, you’re saving money, you’re learning more about your firearm and its ammunition … what’s not to like?

Well, if you’re like most shooters, plenty.

Unless you enjoy it as a hobby, reloading can bear a suspicious resemblance to a time-consuming and equipment-intensive chore. Now don’t get me wrong. Your training and recreational shooting do, in fact, generate one of reloading’s primary and most expensive components: once-fired brass cases. But since this issue is all about saving money, I thought it would be prudent to pen perhaps the world’s first how-not-to-get-into-reloading column.

Every Last Scrap?

Spent brass cases (yes, they’re cases — casings are for sausages) are something of a point of contention in the modern shooting lifestyle. Some believe that any shooter who doesn’t reload is a fool; others believe that their time is worth more than the money they might save reloading, especially after investing hundreds upon hundreds of dollars into reloading equipment. Then there are those who will pick up any centerfire brass they can get their hands on even though they might not be sure why they’re doing it, but danged if they’re going to let even one 5.56 case roll away.

I believe that none of the aforementioned persons’ opinions are necessarily wrong. Like so many other facets of the shooting world, it kind of depends on whom we’re talking about. If you’re not looking to get into reloading but you feel odd just leaving all of that brass on the ground, you’ve got some options that don’t involve turning your spare bedroom into your extremely cluttered spare bedroom that you only reloaded ammo in once. The key is understanding how to best move forward.

The Brass Age

You can bring brass, an alloy of copper and zinc, to basically any consumer-level recycling center and exchange it for cash money. It would be an understatement to say that we humans use brass for a lot of applications; for example, it’s in every light and plumbing fixture you see in a day — and that’s just the beginning. So you could always just sell brass at scrap prices, but ammunition cases are worth a lot more to the right person as once-fired brass than they are as scrap to a junkyard. If you already reload, you’ve probably stopped reading by now, possibly even in a huff. If not, this will hopefully give you a few pointers on how to recoup some of the cost inherent in training with live ammunition.

A quick warning before we continue: Though basically no steel-cased ammunition is easily reloadable, that doesn’t mean all brass-cased ammunition is. If the cases are Berdan-primed, that means they’re almost fundamentally non-reloadable and should be bucketed up and sold like the scrap they are. On the upside, such ammunition is usually military surplus and priced accordingly since the seller understands that you won’t be able to offset much of your up-front investment. Like anything else in the online age, be certain what you’re buying before you click that “complete purchase” button.

Dirty Work

Right off the top, if you’re handling range brass, you’re going to be exposed to lead. This isn’t a huge deal, but you will need to conduct yourself as you would while shooting: Do not eat, drink, smoke or do anything else that involves touching your mouth or lips before thoroughly cleaning your hands and forearms with a lead-removal agent such as LeadOff.

Along those lines, bear in mind that dumping a bucket of .45 brass onto a surface will, lead-transfer-wise, basically turn that surface into the floor of an indoor range. If you’re going to be regularly handling spent cases, it is best to do so outdoors. If that’s not an option, it’s best done over newspaper or some other disposable membrane and definitely not in a food-prep area. Many orders from Amazon.com and similar websites ship in large plastic bags, and it’s easy to split them along their seams and use them as disposable tarps of sorts.

Brass in quantity is best kept and transferred in cinderblock-sized cardboard boxes, ice cream pails or tripled-up plastic shopping bags. All are strong enough to bear the weight of brass and can be thrown away after one use, therefore not allowing any particulate buildup to take place in your residence.

The Art of The Deal

Brass takes up space and is heavy, so the legwork necessary to convert it into cash or trade goods should ideally be done before you have a few dozen pounds to move. The easiest way to get once-fired, reloadable brass to a happy home is through ranges and gun clubs. These are two of the last vestiges of the old-style “message boards” (and I don’t mean the kind from mid-’90s internet culture). There will almost invariably be an actual, physical corkboard to which individuals affix messages scrawled on pieces of paper (what a concept, right?), and this is where you’ll want to leave a 3×5 card with what you have for sale or trade along with a phone number or email address.

SEE ALSO: .277 SIG Fury Demystified

Like any other commodity, scarcity can determine value. More-exotic fare like .357 SIG, .44 Magnum and FN 5.7 will probably fetch more, while 9x19mm will likely bring the lowest prices since it is so common. Whatever I tell you here though, it’s important to never forget that something’s only worth what someone is willing to pay you for it. If no one in your area is interested in reloading .38 Super or .40 S&W, you might be out of luck.

Clocking In

If you intend to collect brass for trading to a handloader, there are going to be several levels of “product” you’ll be bringing to the table that will go for differing rates.

If you show up at your buddy’s house with a copier paper box collapsing under the weight of 40 pounds of random brass you swept up at the club, you’re basically going to get scrap price. Your handloading buddy can’t just dump any old brass into the top of a machine and have fresh rounds squirt out the bottom. He’s buying brass from you, yes, but he’s also creating a good deal of work for himself.

In order for brass to be of value to a handloader, it has to be brass that he shoots. If half of the brass that you show up with is, say, .380, and your buddy doesn’t reload .380, at best, he has to find someone else who wants it. At worst, he’s going to sell it to the junk man. So understand that the 5-gallon buckets filled with a mixture of reloadable 5.56, steel-cased AK hulls and .22 rimfire aren’t going to go for the same price as the shiny once-fired brass your friend can buy online.

What this means is that you’re going to have to decide how much your time is worth. If you sweep up that 40 pounds of miscellanea and then sort it into even just pistol in one pile and rifle in another, that reduces the amount of time the end user will have to invest in it and therefore raises its value — even if only by a little. If you sort that pistol pile into 9mm, .380, .40 and .45, now all of a sudden it’s in a form that your friend can readily use or dispose of. In short, the time you invest is time he won’t have to, and that makes your gallon freezer bags filled with 9mm husks worth a lot more than the pile of range detritus from whence it was culled.

Mail-Order Metal

Several websites are set up to buy your brass and, strange as it may sound, the results are quite positive if you don’t have the time, inclination or means to get your brass into the hands of someone local. Usually, the website accepting your brass will credit your purchase from that same website the amount it deems your brass to be worth.

If that sounds like a cut-rate scam, think again: If you’re able to get more for it locally, you should do so. If you’re able to trade it for AR magazines or reloaded ammunition or anything else, those websites are not going to get in your way. If, however, you don’t want to put in that kind of time and effort, just send it to one of them and accept your credit.

This kind of arrangement does, however, involve shipping brass through the mail, so it’s going to cut into the price you’ll be able to expect as a return. Generally, the closer to home you’re able to keep your transactions, the better a deal you’ll get.

Just Sit Back and Count the Money, Right?

Shooters police up their brass for all kinds of reasons. Some reload for their own use, some save certain chamberings for friends, and some scramble around to pick up every non-rimfire case they see out of habit. However you end up with brass, all I’d ask is that you remember it isn’t garbage. Even if you don’t want it, someone will, even if that someone is the guy to whom you sell your beer cans and copper pipe end cuts.

Come to think of it, if, after reading all of this, you think you might just let it lay on the ground for someone else to fiddle with, no one’s going to hold that against you either … especially whoever picks it up.

Discover how you can join nearly 300,000 responsibly armed Americans who already rely on the USCCA to protect their families, futures and freedoms: USCCA.com/gunsamerica.

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{ 36 comments… add one }
  • Angie O'Plasty January 5, 2020, 3:37 pm

    If you’re thinking of reloading to save money, forget it. As soon as the price per round drops because you’re rolling your own, you’ll just wind up shooting more. If that’s a downer for you, maybe shooting isn’t really your thing.

    I’ve been loading quite a few calibers for many years, particularly for antique single shot black powder cartridge rifles. .45-120 and .50-140 ammo can run to $10/round commercially loaded – if you can find it. I learned to load pistol cartridges and went from there.

    My advice is learn to reload, even if you don’t want to take it up as an avocation. You can get set up with a single-stage kit and dies for one caliber for less than $150. One thing’s for sure – you won’t get voted off the island if the SHTF.

  • Bob Saad January 3, 2020, 7:08 pm

    You know, any intelligent person can make a case about any subject. The title of the article immediately pricked my interest. Having reloaded for more years and varied reasons than most gun authorities have been around ,I should have known this was nothing more than CLICK BAIT!

  • Larry J Parr January 1, 2020, 7:13 pm

    Some recommended followup articles for the author;
    Never go fishing or teach a child to fish. Boats are expensive, and fishing is a lot of repetitive motions that no one needs. And oh my goodness, the water is filthy. Fish pee in lakes and oceans, you know. Some other animals and some people do also. Never go fishing without washing down thoroughly with antiseptic and getting a regimen of amoxicillin… and drink plenty of fluids. Why risk it? There are plenty of fish at the restaurant and grocery. Just as everyone should be satisfied with what the retail market provides for ammunition, so too should you be satisfied with the menu or the grocery aisle offerings.
    Never fill your car’s gas tank. The fumes are noxious, and besides, you can sell the car to others who will fill it up, then buy yourself a new car. The money from the old one will help offset your expense. If you can’t afford this, then you should consider whether you deserve to drive a vehicle at all.

  • Thomas December 30, 2019, 9:59 pm

    I only have a manual reloader so time value is considered I only reload 41,44 mag ,6.5 Creedmore for my ar 10 and 270 140 gr or 45-70 for hunting deer and hogs most other ammo I just shoot cheep by the case factory ammo.

  • Ken J December 29, 2019, 8:30 pm

    People reload for many reasons, e.g., accuracy, economy, etc. I save @$.25/round for 9mm ammo using commercially cast coated lead bullets and the investment I made in my Dillon 650 paid for itself long ago.

    And, before picking up brass on a public range be sure to ask the other shooters permission first as they may also save their brass to reload.

  • Wayne December 29, 2019, 6:56 pm

    If you’re shooting the big boys oh, make no mistake you will reload or limit your shooting. At $90 a box of 20 460s and maybe 50 for a box of 500s it’s foolish not to reload. Also the rifle calibers get off of pricey. Especially when they get into the larger calibers. But more than that, in rifles and pistols you can increase and or decrease in half grain increments of powder and bring
    your groups tighter than you can with off-the-shelf ammunition.

  • zeno streletz December 28, 2019, 11:16 am

    I have been reloading for myself and my kids for quite some time. My oldest son has killed almost every
    head of North American game with my reloads. I started reloading 60 years ago, but now that I have
    read your article I guess I will quit.

    Zeke

  • Jluke45 December 28, 2019, 10:47 am

    One more point…I load for many different calibers for which commercial ammo is available, including some nearly obsolete WWII calibers like 303 British, as well as some more contemporary cartridges like the 25-06. I have tuned custom loads that the factory ammo which simply cannot match the accuracy and performance. I have taken a lot of game animals over the past 40 years, but none of them with factory ammo. It is sort of a “completeness” of a man and his weapon (I even cast some of my own bullets). Oh, it saves me a lot of money too, and you can get an old used RCBS JR. press for as little as $18 bucks, and other used accessories for pennies on the dollar. Mine has paid for itself many times over, and that old Enfield shoots sub inch groups it shouldn’t.

  • Grampasunny December 27, 2019, 8:21 pm

    i can say this much. if it wasnt for my being a brass HO and component buyer back when BARRY NOBAMA was the country wrecker in chief i would have had to stop shooting because there was no ammo to be found in my neck of the woods. administrator you dont want to reload dont but i promise you that if the SHTF and ammo isnt available your stockpile of factory ammo will soon be depleted and then you can use your expensive paper weight to club the bad guy with.

  • Michael J December 27, 2019, 4:14 pm

    I started reloading originally to save money. Now the primary reason are politicians and bureaucrats.
    In California these vipers are responsible for endangering the Constitution and the rights afforded by it. We now have background checks for all ammunition. At every turn these democrat leftists restrict our 2nd Amendment rights bit by bit and they’re not finished.

  • justjim December 27, 2019, 3:01 pm

    I police up all the brass I shoot, and sometimes what others shoot. Then GIVE it to my buddies who reload. Usually that is “repaid” at the range when they offer to allow me to shoot their guns and some of the ammo they’ve reloaded. Win/win!

  • OFBG December 27, 2019, 2:02 pm

    Lucky you if your local recyclers accept cartridge cases. No one in my town will.

  • Edward Hopf December 27, 2019, 1:56 pm

    I have been reloading since the age of 12. Now I’m 42 years old and I load right at 70,000 rounds a year. For many years I made my own hard cast lead bullets. I can load a box of 45 acp for around $4 a box. I’m disabled in a wheelchair and loading ammunition gives me something to do. On handguns I can load 750 rounds per hour average. I buy my components in bulk when the company runs free hazmat and shipping. A person has to shop around and buy in bulk when components are on sale. To me this is a hobby but it’s not for everyone.

  • jimmbbo December 27, 2019, 1:44 pm

    One missing reason for reloading is living in a state like Commiefornia where the Commissars in the Sacramento Politburo demand a background check to BUY AMMUNITION

  • Big Al Robinson December 27, 2019, 12:47 pm

    Most of my reloading lately has been confined to high power, long range rifles for Prairie poodles.
    Even today, no manufacturer has a round that matches what I can do, and although I burn up quite a lot on my outings, it’s nothing compared to a day at the range with handguns and smaller stuff.
    And I used to have an outlet for cheap lead (wheelweights), for handgun bullets, but that has gone bye by.
    I’s NOT for everyone, and the initial expense IS high these days, so I CAN see some of the points, but not all.

  • BillK December 27, 2019, 11:41 am

    Good article!
    I reload for several calibers, both rifle and pistol. But don’t go into reloading for the main purpose of saving money or you’ll soon quit. Better to buy ammo when it’s on sale.

    If you want to learn more about powder, bullet characteristics, ballistics, and what works best in your guns, you’ll have lots of have paths to follow and enjoy the journey by reloading.

  • Mr B December 27, 2019, 11:32 am

    Being retired, reloading 9mm is a hobby, but I only use my own brass which is collected as it ejects. I use a Lee single-stage bench press which has the breech lock system that eliminates having to screw each die into place. Based on my calculations, I’m saving $40 per 1,000 rounds, which may not seem like much, but it gives me something to do.

  • Larry Declue December 27, 2019, 11:15 am

    My Grandfather once told me “everyone has an opinion and an butt hole, and 99.5% of them stink!” So reloading isn’t your cup of tea, don’t bash guys who do.

    • Gramps December 28, 2019, 12:08 pm

      This article was not at all bashing reloading.

      • Larry J Parr January 1, 2020, 6:44 pm

        Maybe you didn’t read the title.

  • Guido December 27, 2019, 10:58 am

    Hello

    Really great and well-researched article, however, I believe there was one aspect of reloading / handloading that was overlooked.
    At one time, I would have been almost embarrassed to bring this up (almost…) but we preppers sometimes collect brass and other supplies in the event said products are no longer commercially available.
    When making the “cost vs. time spent” comparison, the variables shift considerably under a grid-down scenario.
    We loaders are pretty spoiled with electrically powered case feeders, primer loader tubes, scales, etc. but we can load just fine with no power other than our elbow grease, if need be.

  • D.J. December 27, 2019, 10:54 am

    I’m one of the hobbyists . ‘Love to reload ! Save myself a fair
    amount of money as well .
    ‘ Fire that Dillon 550 up & look out , man – I’m “crappin’ ” ammo !
    But , I can see , somewhat , the author’s point . It’s not for everyone,
    and to each his/her own .
    I’ll take those once fired cases , though .

  • Mat December 27, 2019, 9:53 am

    So why mention fn 5.7?….I’d like to know your reloading steps for 5.7 and hell .22 lr too….idiot

    • EricnOhio December 27, 2019, 5:35 pm

      Why the 5.7? Because it’s a centerfire cartridge that can be reloaded. Idiot

  • likes264 December 27, 2019, 7:59 am

    I’ve been reloading since the early 70’s and it’s a way of life for me but there hasn’t been a time that the ammo I reloaded was worse than factory stuff, I’ve always been able to improve the accuracy level of any of the calibers I load for and with the tools that are available today it’s a lot easier to do than in “the old days”

  • RODERICK McKeithan December 27, 2019, 7:43 am

    Interesting read, there are lots of this one I’m in complete agreement with… I differ when after I have cleaned and prepped my brass which wasn’t covered but….. I can sit down and in an hour produce nearly a thousand rounds of say 9 mm or .40 cal or my favorite .45 caliber rounds for less than half of what it costs to buy factory ammo…. So there are good points and there are better not brought up….It is a pain in the butt to sort out the calibers but once sorted out a supply of brass ready to be loaded is worth its weight in gold, or food or what ever….

    • Philip December 27, 2019, 12:21 pm

      Question? What is the approximate break even point in number of rounds produced to pay for the reloading equipment, and then what is the wear out period for various related machinery. Point is economy of scale may escape the reloader unless one shoots one heck of a lot . Accuracy gain may be the strongest attraction to personal reloading. My situation, no longer a factor, was driven by wildcat cartridges, and the early 44 automag, that came with a die set, when there were no commercial producers.

  • Michael Chen December 27, 2019, 7:36 am

    This comment is in response to The article “ the case against reloading”
    I think this article is sensationalized using the title that is misleading as it doesn’t give a balanced approach

    There are times when reloading makes sense and reloading doesn’t make sense

    Reloading would not make sense with common higher pressures cartridges like 9 mm Parabellum 5.56 mm and 7.62×39 ammunition

    Reloading starts to make economic sense for ammunition that is not is commonly available such as 38 special yes in comparison to 9 mm it is not as commercially available 44 caliber straight ammo 45 ACP and smaller ammunition is that are not as high in production like 32 ACP and 380 ACP

    In the case of the larger heavier bullets buying components allows you to upload and download and use lighter bullets to cut the cost of shooting down

    We are reloading comes into its own not only economically performance wise is for bottleneck rifle cartridges so that you can actually tweak out the best performance

    Here is one case in point to 70 Winchester you can download to 110 greens and up to 150 grains but the performance of the cartridge is very sensitive to the right of Twist in the barrel and a few other choice do you need dimensions sometimes the manufactures don’t provide the loading that you need to reload we could important esp here is one case in .270 Winchester you can download to 110 grains and up to 150 grains but the performance of the cartridge is very sensitive to the rate of twist in the barrel and a few other choice unique dimensions sometimes the manufactures don’t provide the loading that you need to reload because important to provide that option performance

    We are reloading doesn’t make sense and this is a legal situation is if you’re using the ammunition for self-defense I guess two legged predators and some jurisdictions reload it ever becomes in question during the aftermath of a lethal confrontation

    I will complement you on addressing the health and safety aspects of handling lead residue Especially recommending safety precautions to contain the lead residue

    • Scott J Degenaer December 27, 2019, 9:44 am

      you state reloading for 9mm is not economical? I cast my own bullets as well as reload. I can reload for 5 cents a round. Can’t find 9×18 Mak at that price!!!

      • Blasted cap December 27, 2019, 9:55 am

        Agreed. Cast my own for just about everything. Doing 38 special for around $2.25 a box. Haven’t seen anything in the stores for that price. 22’s are just recently getting back into that price range.

  • WCDSr December 27, 2019, 7:29 am

    Your article is timely enough and definitely has value but missed the point entirely for a certain subset of handloaders…

    There are those who truly enjoy shooting antique firearms and firearms chambered for cartridges that are either very difficult or virtually impossible to get fresh, factory ammunition (220 Swift, 32 Winchester Special, 284 Winchester, 7×57 Mauser, etc.) or for which factory ammunition is significantly over priced compared to component costs (ie: 375 H&H Magnum, 45-70, or ANYTHING that says Weatherby on it) or for those cartridges where bullet selections in factory ammunition are often limited to but a single choice when available.

    Because of these reasons, handloading can be a very effective part of a shooter’s tool kit.
    In fact, under many circumstances it is the only tool in the box to solve a specific problem.

    No, unless you are firing thousands of cartridges every week, you are not likely to save enough money loading 9mm or 5.56 FMJ to be able to financially justify reloading BUT break out the 22 Hornet, 22-250 Remington, 300 Win Mag, any “Weatherby Magnum”, a 458 Winchester or the mighty 500 S&W Magnum and that changes VERY quickly.

    Love to practice but don’t need full power loads to just punch paper weekly?
    Good luck finding factory “light” loads for your 30-06 or 7mm Magnum.

    Factory ammunition has vastly improved over what it was 20 years ago and relative to price per round (especially for low volume shooters) can be a good value but it is not the only viable solution for ammunition.

    WCDSr

  • Brian Randall December 27, 2019, 7:12 am

    I am calling you out on your comments regarding lead ingestion. 2 years ago I was picking up and recycling tons of range brass all the while reloading 3 pistol calibers and 4 Shotgun gauges. All the a fore mentioned using lead. One day I was pouring shot in a hopper and saw the graphite dust, and I assumed some lead dust billowing out the top of the tube, and it hit me like a lead balloon. I thorough to my self “man you are breathing in a ton of that stuff”.

    Having 2 friends both having tested positive for hi lead levels I thought I had better get checked. At my next check up I asked my doctor to add a lead test to my Lipid panel of tests. You see I’m a diabetic so getting tested is a regular occurrence.

    Two weeks later I had my results and was shocked to see that my lead level was ZERO! I was shocked yet very elated at the same time. I realized there was one difference between me and my friends. They both shot indoor matches on a very regular schedule. The scary part is was their level scores. One shooters level was 15 and the other at 23. I believe brain damage occurs at a sustained level of 25, but I did not verify that figure. Both had to stop shooting immediately.

    So regardless for the reason of this article the lead ingestion aspect is really a farce. I started reloading in 1987 with a Lyman 310 tool, a dipper for unique and lead bullets I greased with Crisco. I can’t tell you
    how much bass I have process or how many rounds I have loaded, but I buy bullets by the case and lead shot? There was a long stretch where I was shooting trap 3 nights a week and occasional skeet on Sunday.

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t totally disagree with your article. If a person is not going into high volume reloading for an array of calibers I would not recommend it. The manufactures have raised their profit margins so high over the last 15, and in the process many of the cost advantages have disappeared.
    If you are loading 223/5.56, 9 mm, 40 S&W, 20 and 12 gauge, well… your just throwing away time and money.

    However, at ten plus dollars a box 410 and 28 gauge are still a must load even for the novice. Me personally, I just moved into the dangerous game calibers of 375 H&H, 416 Rigby, 458 Win Mag and 450 Dakota. This creates an entirely different level of cost savings and customization that if we are being honest about it… makes the topic in your article totally mute.

    There you have it! your follow up topic to reloading, when it does make sense. I’d add one recommendation, don’t reload without a Chrono, either Oehler or Lab Radar.

    Good day and Happy New Year,

    Brian Randall.

  • Tim December 27, 2019, 6:40 am

    There are plenty of gun forums with market places. Lots of their members are looking to buy once fired brass. Also many reloaders such as myself reload berdan primed brass as well. It usually isn’t worth quite as much as boxer primed brass but there are guys like me that buy it for reloading.

  • Steve in Detroit December 27, 2019, 5:45 am

    Great article for someone contemplating reloading.

  • Tracy December 27, 2019, 4:20 am

    Never seem to understand where all this lead contamination come from. Seems today that all bullets are FMJ. I call BS to most of this article of course Im the one that smokes while I reload!

    • December December 27, 2019, 10:02 am

      The primers. Lead styphnate is used as the base initator.

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