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.
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.
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.
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.
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