Reloading Ammunition to Save Money

Reloading Ammunition to Save Money

Having owned a firearms business for several years, I was (and often still am) mystified whenever I’d hear someone casually remark that “You can’t save money reloading ammunition.”  Many gun shops are understandably reluctant to carry much stock when it comes to reloading for several reasons, not the least of which is that every round someone reloads, is one they aren’t buying.  For this reason, (and this reason alone) I can at least sympathize with gun owners who take anything their LGS tells them on faith and rely on what these so-called ‘experts’ say.

I sympathize, because I’ve been there.  Once upon a time I found myself in my local gun store, conversing with the staff on the subject of getting into reloading whereupon they proceeded to tell me what a waste of time it was, and that I’d never recoup the cost of the equipment.  I almost believed it– Almost. The thing that struck me as odd about this was, if there really wasn’t any way to save money by reloading, why did it seem like so many people were doing it?  It’s important to note that every reloader I’d ever met was just your average, blue-collar guy– even the most successful among them was a far cry from the ‘Cristal-and-Caviar’ crowd, to say the least.  These were not the kind of people who would (or could, for that matter) afford to waste money on a fruitless pursuit.  As it happens I bought neither ammunition nor reloading equipment that day, and instead left the store empty-handed to do my own research.

I borrowed books from the library, I talked to old-timers at shows, and I devoured everything I could find online.  As I probed deeper and deeper into the subject I found that not only could you save money reloading, but it seemed like it was basically impossible not to.  Not convinced?  Let’s see what we can do to change that.

All of the pricing listed in the examples below was collected from local gun, and ammunition retailers in Ontario during September of 2014.  As I write this article, it’s now been four years, however as I noted in the video posted above, the prices may change with inflation, but the percentages will generally remain the same.

Case #1 – .45ACP

.45ACP has always been a popular round, particularly in North America where the venerable Colt 1911 reigns supreme.  The cheapest .45ACP ammo in my area is American Eagle which retails at $24.95/50 rounds, or about $0.50 each.  How much can we save reloading it?

Assuming we already have the brass, we’ll still need bullets, powder and primers.  The components I sourced for this load were:

  • Aim Projectiles 230gr Bullets $167.99/1,000 – $0.17/each
  • Hodgdon Universal Powder $200/8lbs – $0.016/each
  • CCI Large Pistol Primers $34.95/1,000 – $0.035/each

Total them up and you’ll arrive at $0.22/round, which represents a savings of 56%.

Now I know what you’re thinking–  “But what if I don’t have any brass?  I’ll have to buy it, and surely that will eat all my savings?”  Even in quantities as little as 500pcs, .45ACP brass can easily be found for $0.15/casing or less.  Most reloading authorities agree brass can typically be reloaded safely about ten times, but just to satisfy the critics, let’s say we can expect five.  Even purchasing the brass, that still adds just $0.03, bringing the total cost-per-round to $0.25, or 50% of retail.

Case #2 – .357 Magnum

I’ve always loved my magnums; nothing chews up tin cans (or your wallet) quite like a 357.  With only two gun stores stocking .357 Magnum within 30 minutes of my home, I’m used to paying through the nose for it.  A 25-round box of Hornady’s Critical Defense costs me a whopping $26.95, or about $1.09/shot.  A few boxes in to my 686 and I knew I was either going to need to start reloading, or get a second job.  As it happened I just couldn’t picture myself flipping burgers, or mowing lawns.

  • Aim Projectiles 158gr Bullets $99.95/1,000 – $0.10/each
  • Hodgdon Universal Powder $200/8lbs – $0.02/each
  • CCI Small Magnum Pistol Primer $39.95/1,000 – $0.04/each

Put them all together and you get $0.16/round, a savings of 85%.

Now again, let’s say you don’t have any brass on hand.  Once more, .357 magnum brass can be bought for about $0.15/casing, which (at five reloads) adds another $0.03/round.  Even with that added expense, that still leaves plenty of savings (83% to be exact) at $0.19/shot.

Case #3 – .30-06

So pistol ammunition obviously has some serious potential for savings, but not everyone’s into handguns.  What about rifles?  I don’t hunt, but I do enjoy long range target shooting, and it’s not cheap which is a shame, because I am.  To this day, I’ve never found anything cheaper in my area than Federal’s Power-Shok.  Even this ‘budget’ ammo still runs $24.50 for 20 rounds, or about $1.23 a piece.  Can we save anything reloading it?

  • Hornady Interlock 150gr Bullets $30.95/100 – $0.31/each
  • Hodgdon H414 Powder $200/8lbs – $0.20/each
  • CCI Large Rifle Primer $46.95/1,000 – $0.05/each

With these components, I’m able to assemble a completed round for just $0.56, a savings of 55%.

Once more, if I need to buy my brass, even at $0.15/casing and with just five reloads per unit, that still yields ammunition at $0.60/round, or 52% in savings.  Not too shabby.

12 Gauge Birdshot

By this point most folks are probably saying “Fine, so I can save on pistol, I can save on rifle, but no way can I possibly save loading 12 Gauge!”.  You might be surprised.  I’ve never been much for birding, but I love clay-shooting.  Any sport that doesn’t require me to get up at 5AM and sit motionless in the cold is OK by me, and while clay pigeons may not be as tasty as wild duck, they’re a lot easier to clean.  As a professional cheapskate, I prefer to use the absolute cheapest shells I can buy when clay-shooting– Winchester Universals.  Most readers will recognize these as the “Walmart-specials” that can be yours for the rock bottom price of $30 per 100–  That’s just $0.30/shell.  I don’t care what brand you buy, what quantity you order or where you get them, you simply will not find anything cheaper.  Unless of course, you reload.

The recipe for my famous ‘El Cheapo’ 12 Gauge Birdshot Shell is as follows:

  • Hummason #8 Lead Shot $30/25lbs – $0.09/each
  • Claybuster Wads $17/500 – $0.03/each
  • Hodgdon Universal Powder $200/8lbs – $0.08/each
  • Winchester 209 Primers $49/1,000 – $0.05/each

Whip a batch of these up and you’ll find they cost you just $0.25 a pop, for a savings of 17%.  This of course assumes you get your hulls for free, but let’s face it; if you can’t find used 12G birdshot hulls for free, you’ve done something wrong with your life.  Furthermore, it’s important to note that the choice of factory shell for this comparison also assumes you’re buying the absolute cheapest shotshells money can buy.  If you’re a serious birder or clay-shooter used to more premium brands like Remington Sportsman Hi-Speed, Kent Target, Winchester X-Pert Hi-Velocity or Remington Hypersonic– you’re already used to paying between $0.56-$0.96/shell, which means you’ll be saving even more.

But let’s say you’re a tightwad ‘fiscally-conservative’ like me, and you like your Winchester Universals; even at 17%, if you’re a regular clay-shooter going through thousands of shells in a year, you’re reaping savings equivalent to hundreds (or even thousands) of shells as illustrated below:

  • 2,500 Reloaded – 425 Free
  • 5,000 Reloaded – 850 Free
  • 7,500 Reloaded – 1,275 Free
  • 10,000 Reloaded – 1,700 Free

It’s worth noting as well, that all the examples used in this article cite basic, everyday, retail pricing.  Truly savvy reloaders can save even more by taking extra steps such as:

  • Buy in bulk – Most reloading component retailers will offer bulk pricing– Some manufacturers will even sell direct to consumers willing to purchase sizable quantities
  • Watch for sales – Many shooting sports retailers will post sales on reloading equipment and components in the Fall, knowing they don’t sell well during the Winter season– Stock up and save big
  • Trade/sell calibers you don’t use – Save your brass, even if you don’t reload it.  Even once-fired 9mm has a market, and can be traded for the calibers you do load
  • Pick up range brass – Tons of shooters don’t reload, and simply discard their brass; one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.  Bonus points if you live near a Police or Military range!
  • Ask friends who don’t reload – Got friends who don’t reload?  Ask them to save their brass for you– Instant freebie!

So can you save money reloading ammunition?  Well, I think by this point you know the answer to that question.  Not only can you save money reloading, but frankly I can’t imagine a situation in which you couldn’t.  With entry level metallic cartridge reloading kids in the low hundreds of dollars, and shotshell systems selling for even less, even after factoring in equipment costs it’s a no-brainer for all about the most casual shooters.

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