How To

To Reload or Not to Reload: 12 Important Considerations

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Once you decide to start reloading, you'll want all the cool gear...

Once you decide to start reloading, you'll want all the cool gear.

The first step towards healing is to admit you have a problem. I’ve got an ammunition reloading addiction. I can spend hours fantasizing about all the cool gadgets like case concentricity gauges in the Sinclair Reloading catalog. There. I’ve said it. Since part of my problem is uncontrollable reloading evangelism, I’m going to allocate a couple of these weekly columns to reloading your own ammunition. First we’ll look at factors you should consider when deciding whether to reload or not. After my SHOT Show coverage, we’ll come back and talk about how to get started. So how do you decide if reloading is for you? Consider the following.

Are you, or can you be, detail-oriented?

As with any shooting related activity, safety comes first. Like shooting, reloading is perfectly safe, as long as you pay attention and follow the rules—every time, without fail. With reloading, you have to pay close attention to all aspects of the task. Undercharging (not enough powder) and overcharging (too much powder) are equally dangerous and can harm the shooter and the gun. Seating bullets at the proper depth consistently prevents dangerous over pressure situations. Using the right components from professionally published recipes is mandatory. While it sounds scary, as long as you are careful and attentive, you can manufacture safe and reliable ammunition.

It’s a gateway drug.

You know, like crystal meth. Once you start on that stuff, you’ll quickly move to something really serious. Likewise, if you start reloading something simple, like pistol cartridges, you’ll soon move to rifle cartridges. Before you know it, you’ll be melting lead in your kitchen and casting your own bullets. And we all know how much other family members enjoy lead fumes in the kitchen.

You’ll save money.

If you reload for fun and/or don’t place a dollar value on your reloading time, your cost per cartridge will almost certainly be lower than the price of factory ammunition. Of course, you have to reload often enough to cover the start-up equipment costs. We’ll cover that in the next article. Let’s look at a simple example. Right now, .223 practice ammo costs somewhere around $0.45 to $0.50 per round. If you reload it yourself, plan on spending about $0.09 per bullet, $0.03 per primer and $0.08 for each powder charge. If you have to buy brass, you can use each casing about 10 times, so your per use cost is about $0.04. That brings us to about $0.24 per round, not counting your time. Yeah, I know. You know a guy who can get all this stuff cheaper. Keep in mind, this is just a rough estimate example for those who are uninitiated.

You’ll spend more money.

Once you start reloading, you’ll want to get all the gear. Like digital scales, electronic powder dispensers, power case trimmers, progressive reloading presses, and custom reloading benches. You’ll also shoot a lot more, so even though your cost per round might be lower, you can easily end up spending more money overall.

What’s your time worth?

In our .223 Remington example, we might save $0.25 per round, not counting the value of your time. So on a per-round basis, your time needs to be worth less than $0.25 for the time it takes to assemble one round, else you’re unprofitable. The time value calculations are tricky because they depend on the equipment you have and the pace at which you work safely. Progressive reloading press manufacturers claim output numbers like 500 rounds per hour, but that doesn’t count other chores like case preparation. Read this to get an idea of the steps involved in reloading .223 Remington ammunition. It’s a little tongue-in-cheek, but will give you an idea. If you spend most of your waking hours hanging out at Occupy Something Evil Protests, you’re probably in good shape. If you have a paying job, chances are you’re not beating the ammunition manufacturers in the hourly wage efficiency game. You might be better off working more to cover your ammo bills.

Do you shoot often, or do you want to shoot more often?

Reloading only makes sense both economically and from a learning curve perspective if you’ll do it frequently. Like any new hobby, you need to make investments in time to learn and cost of equipment.

Do you like to tinker?

As you’re probably starting to see, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to take up reloading if you absolutely hate the activity. If you value your time accurately, you’re not really saving money, so you better enjoy doing it. Those big expensive ammunition manufacturing plants do a pretty good job of producing quality ammunition at the lowest possible price. But if you consider time spent as an enjoyable hobby, you can have fun, and shoot more frequently at the lowest-possible component cost.

Do you compete?

Rolling your own cartridges can help you keep up with the volume of ammo required for shooting competitions without breaking the bank. Better yet, you can create a custom load that works in your specific gun, meets the required power factor, yet minimizes recoil for fast follow up shots. My young nephews love shooting my full-size Springfield Armory 1911 with wimpy plinking loads—it gives them great bragging rights with their friends.

Do you shoot rifles?

Pistol rounds have a per-cartridge component cost benefit, but rifle reloading can have a huge cost per round benefit. My eye-opening experience came when my son bought a 1938 Arisaka. At the time, factory loads were over $2.00 each. By reloading my own, I was able to bring the cost per round down to about $0.35.

Do you live for accuracy bragging rights?

Most relevant to rifles, you can tune a specific projectile, case, powder, primer, and seating depth combination that wrings every bit of potential accuracy from your rifle. By definition, factory loads have to be made well within spec so they work reliably across thousands of different guns. If you’re loading for one specific rifle, you can push the envelope a bit and find the best possible performance.

Do you hunt?

There’s not much more satisfying that using your own custom crafted ammunition in the field.

Does your family like you?

Or would they prefer that you hibernate more often? When you get the reloading bug, you’ll find all sorts of excuses to hide away in your reloading space for hours on end. As you can tell, I’m a reloading fanatic, so I’ve already made a decision in favor of reloading. Why? Because time won’t waste itself.

Image by Tom McHale

Any views or opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect those of OutdoorHub. Comments on this article reflect the sole opinions of their writers.
  • OZ

    Good informative article.

  • Jim

    I can see this is going to get interesting

  • rjhollydog

    I am just starting to re-load, mostly because I can not find the ammo I want for some of my less than popular calibers, my 41 mag for example, I can find high$$$ self defense ammo, but target rounds are nowhere to be found.Plus I have been picking up my brass for years now, don’t want it to goo to waste! ;+)

    • Excellent, the more of us that reload, the more cool products that will come to market. Check out the LabRadar in my SHOT Shot article here. It’s an amazing piece of equipment for reloaders.

  • Glenn H

    Throughout this ammo shortage I haven’t been short of ammo! I go out to my reloading shop and load up whatever I need.
    I did have a great stock of components on hand and still do, I’m not one to run out of stuff!

    • I’m right there with ya! Had a tough time for a while restocking components that I used during that great ammo drought of 2013, but that seems to be clearing up!

  • justsayin’

    I have enjoyed using the old ‘Lee Hand Loader in a Box’. I still have the original .30-30 Winchester kit I bought in 1973. I think I paid $9.99 for it. I still have the original powder measure cups kit, too. I have used it for many different cartridges from .22 Hornet to .444 Marlin. I think the last kit I bought was a .38/.357. Sticker is still on it $12.99 from a gun show dealer. I also have a Lee powder scale, for the in-between loads. Some claim that you can’t use these for loading for semi-auto’s. I have used the same brass as many as five times for two Remington 742’s, in .243 Winchester and .30-06 and a Winchester 100 in .308 Winchester. I only used aluminum foil to clean the brass. I admit that I never used lead bullets. I always used jacketed. It’s been several years since I have loaded anything. But give me a pound of powder, a box of bullets and a box of primers, and you will see a very happy man at the range.

    • Glenn H

      I use lots of Lee tools also but my favorite is probably their hand press, with it you don’t need to carry mallets and such also it’s much faster than the little kits in the box.
      My latest addition to my reloading tools is a good array of lee bullet molds and 1000 plus lbs of lead, just in case bullets get really hard to find.

  • I’m totally new to reloading, so I’m really glad to see you launch this series of articles on your blog. Keep ’em coming. I like your books, too.

  • MMC(CC) Van Worman

    Before I retired from the Navy, I accumulated a lot of 5.56 and 7.62 brass from our range days. With proper conditioning, it can last for about 10 reloadings. Reload more, shoot more, enjoy life more. Most Range Officers are happy to part with the brass since it promotes proficiency through shooting. Keeps the country safer.

    • Yes to that! It’s like recycling with a direct benefit to you 🙂

  • disqus_xMJXFQWBl8

    I’ve been wanting to reload my pistol ammo really, really bad…for the sake of consistency in accuracy. I NEED to work up a really good load with perfected consistency, with the correct power factor for competition.

    Do have a question: can I tweak things well enough with pistol ammo reloading to meet my competition needs better than the manufacturers who put out “match” ammo, and save money while doing so? I’m talking about taking EXTRA special time as if I were loading up cartridges for a .338 Lapua “Sniper type” rifle cartridge…Would it be worth the expense of the equipment to do this in your opinion?

    • I think reloading pistol cartridges will allow you to balance the combination of power factor, felt recoil and (your) gun function reliability exactly as you want. You won’t make *better* ammo than manufacturers necessarily (although you can with effort) You WILL be able to tweak it to your exact preferences.

      If you’re shooting competition, your ammo volume requirement will quickly drive you to a progressive reloading press. More expensive, but produces a lot faster. And of course, higher volume of use will help amortize the equipment cost quicker. Always assuming you’re not putting a high dollar value on your reloading time.

      • disqus_xMJXFQWBl8

        That’s a helpful way of looking at it. Yes, a progressive “Dillon” press is what I have in mind….so amortization is important!! LOL.
        “Tweaking” is VERY important to me…I am a total control freak when it comes to seeking perfection of my art (in this case, competition pistol)….so I will probably end up being the “goto” guy for pistol reloading in the future sometime?!… (I would like that anyway..)
        Seriously though, if I can reload as well, or better than factory Match Grade ammo, then it is worth it to me to spend the money on the equipment to do so.
        Looking forward to more info from this series!k
        BTW, I used to use a “Lee” HAND press to reload 30-30 ammo. And dang, that worked pretty good, but was just too dang slow. This time, speed with perfection is my goal…Thanks so much for getting me all fired up lol.

  • steve_clark_1

    I have been wondering why I had this feed on my Facebook. Now I know, I just back read the three articles and have to say I am tickled to death. These are great articles and now I can’t wait to read more.

  • Fred Scholl

    I’ve been reloading for 38 years….RCBS single stage and MEC shotgun. Those who want to shoot a lot more should look into progressive loaders. That will really cut down on reloading time. Also reloading is perfect for loading waddcutters for pistol practice. Boxes of 500 are dirt cheap.