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Economics of Basic Reloading

Economics of Basic Reloading
Terril Hebert

Reloading your own ammunition is a great way to improve accuracy, develop special purpose rounds, relieve dependence on commercial fodder, and save money in the long run.

In my experience, reloading is a learning experience. It saved me much money (and disappointment in the 2013 ammo shortage) as well as taught me more about firearms than the guns themselves could have taught me.

Whether you want superb accuracy out of your gun, need a light kicking load for a youngster, or want to save time and trouble, reloading just might be for you. While elaborate reloading setups exist, one does not need dedicated space or numerous gadgets to get into reloading.

Here is how much my initial set up costs and some thoughts on the matters listed below.

The List

1. The Manual ($20-30)

Terril Hebert
Terril Hebert

The first order of business is the reloading manual. While fine online sources are available, I prefer to stick to what is printed in loading manuals. While this data is conservative, it gives you a baseline to start with and an end point to make sure you do not overload a cartridge. If you do not know what sort of bullet, powder, primer combination to start with, a reloading manual will have that information.

2. The Press/Dies ($30 minimal)

Terril Hebert
Terril Hebert

Next you will have to decide exactly what reloading arrangement you want. If you are budget minded and expect to reload lower volumes of ammo, the Lee Loader set I highly recommend. They retail for about $30 and require no extras to get running.

Another budget set up is the Lee Hand Press that retails for about $40. The Hand Press is relatively fast but does require a die set and a way to prime cases. Die sets that deprime and reshape the brass, seat the bullet, and crimp the case back around the bullet cost anywhere from $30 up past the $100 range depending on brand. Shellholders often come with your set of dies but cost only a few dollars to get one if needed.

The Lee Hand Prime unit is a great way for the budget minded reloader to prime cases and cost $15. Other press and priming setups will cost a bit more and are not discussed here.

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3. Cases ($15 minimal)

Terril Hebert
Terril Hebert

The cartridge case is the most expensive part of the ammunition. Depending on caliber and brand, brand new cases can range for $15 to over $100 per box of 50. Cases may be collected at your local range and are generally free. I got my own start by simply reusing fired brass used in factory ammunition I had already fired, which costs you that box of ammunition but can be reused.

4. Powder ($15-25)

Terril Hebert
Terril Hebert

Powder is your propellant for your projectile and you must select one that is recommended for the caliber of your choice. Black powder and black powder substitutes are common in muzzle loading but are used in a great many cartridges up until the early 20th century. Smokeless powders vary according to the chemical burn rates with fast powders being used in handguns and shotshells and slower powders for rifles. Note: Black powder often looks the same as types of smokeless and its important to read the containers carefully before you buy. Powders range from $15-25 for a pound to higher amounts for higher poundage of powder.

5. Projectiles (various)

A jacketed rifle projectile (left) and a lead gas checked projectile (right). -Terril Hebert
A jacketed rifle projectile (left) and a lead gas checked projectile (right). -Terril Hebert

Your reloading manual can point you in the right direction as to what projectiles you may want to use. The type of firearm you wish to reload for also dictates projectile as well as what the reloads will be used for. Jacketed bullets of various types are available for matches, long range shooting, and self protection purposes. Lead bullets are available for those same purposes too though lead favors lower velocities like in pistols and reduced rifle loads. Different types of lead are available depending on the tin and antimony content. This hardness allows for the lead bullet to endure a trip down the bore without leaving a trace of itself behind. Gas checked lead bullets (bullets with a copper cup at the base) also help to prevent leading in the bore. Generally jacketed bullets will cost more than lead bullets, whether you are casting them yourself or buying them.

6. Primers ($3-40)

Terril Hebert
Terril Hebert

Primers provide ignition to the cartridge and its another necessity.  Depending on the cartridge, the type you will need will vary. Your reloading manual can point the way. Primers generally come in small rifle, large rifle, small pistol, large pistol types. Magnum primers in all these types exist but aren’t necessary. In your local gun stores small packs of 100 can be encountered for $3-5. Buying in bulk is always smart when it comes to primers. Cases of 1000 generally run $30-40.

7. Case Preparation Supplies (various)

A bullet puller. - Terril Hebert
A bullet puller. – Terril Hebert

Keeping your brass cases in good shape with no cracks is vital to saving cash when it comes to reloading. To clean your cases, a detergent bath works well and costs next to nothing. The ultimate set up would be a tumbler in which the cases are tumbled in coarse media until clean. Keeping the cases at the right length is important, especially in rifle cases, as firing can extend the mouth of the case out of spec. One of my favorite tools is the Lee Zip Trim unit that costs about $15. Couple it with the appropriate cutter and gauge and you have total investment in a basic case trimmer is about $30. I also highly recommend a bullet puller. It can be used to salvage already loaded ammunition and my favorite is a Frankford Arsenal puller that retails for less tan $20.

8. Scale/Dippers ($10-30)

Terril Hebert
Terril Hebert

You need a way to gauge the powder you are putting into cases. An inexpensive way is by using Lee Dippers that measure a certain amount of powder by volume. This retails for just $10. For the most flexibility, a scale is a good option. While there are automated measures out there, a good scale costs just $20-30 and works very well.

Final Thoughts

There are a ton of options out there for those wanting to get into reloading and now is the best time to start. You do not need a ton of cash to get started and in many ways reloading is the best bang for the buck.

A slow set up involving a Lee Loader and a few other items kept me shooting while the stores struggled to keep ammunition on the shelf. But there are set ups out there that can load tens of thousands of rounds much faster and easier. Get what fits you best and be safe.

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Economics of Basic Reloading