To Reload or Not to Reload: 12 Important Considerations
Tom McHale 01.20.14
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.