Introduction to Reloading

Why Reload?

StormEmptyShelves Sept-2017-Raleigh-2

This one may be different for different people. 

For me - I prefer to be as self-sufficient as possible, as well as having a natural curiousity on how everything works, so it didn't take much to nudge me into reloading.

After the tragic events of Sandy Hook, the subsequent politicalization and revival of 'gun control' agendas created a massive increase in firearms and ammunition purchases, along with huge increases in price as some unscrupulous 'businesses' decided to milk it for everything they can.

If you can imagine walking into a grocery store to find nearly all of the shelves bare, but for a small few moldy loaves of bread at $30 each, it wasn't too far off for those trying to purchase a firearm or even just basic target ammunition. Ammunition for .223 or 5.56, normally ~30 cents per round, or less if buying in quantity (600-1000 round cases), and the cheapest decent 9mm target ammunition, usually $12/50, or 24cents each, was selling for triple the usual price, or more, if you could even find any.

With the current climate, more are looking into reloading with every passing day. I hope this section provides some useful help as you decide if reloading is something you'd like to pursue.

How much ammo does one person need, anyway?

I’m glad you asked - and this is one area I sure with the ‘anti-gun’ crowd would get their heads around.  No one asks what’s the maximum number of boats, cars or businesses someone can own, or the maximum number of flowers or bushes they ’should’ have, do they?  How about how many ping-pong or tennis balls, or golf balls?

In reality - it depends.  Normal people with even a passing interest in firearms, usually spend (or should!) some amount of time at a shooting range, just to make sure both their firearms are operational, and to become or maintain at least some level of proficiency in their use.  

A typical range session for someone can range anywhere from an hour to a day.  Pistols, in general are the most ‘ammo hungry’ as they tend to be used for shorter distances.  It’s quite easy to go through 1-2 boxes of ammo per hour, each box being 50 rounds.  Per person, so if someone is bringing their spouse, girl/boy-friend or friends, multiply that number.  Some people like to go for multiple hours, but let’s assume they may go to the range once a week, with a single friend - it’s pretty easy to see the #s getting up to 500 rounds per person per month…or more.

Rifles - it really depends on the kind and purpose.  Those shooting .22LR at the range tend to go through a similar number of rouds or a bit less than pistol, as these are inherently shorter range rounds - meaning less setup and reset of targets, and less time to set up and take a shot.  Things like a typical AR-15 in .223/5.56 (no, not a military firearm…) can depend - they can shoot out to around 200yards (technically further, but as a relatively low-powered small round (.223” is barely larger in diameter than a .22LR, although it does have more propellant behind it) - it stops being effective in either aiming or effectiveness - so some use for shorter distance target shooting while others like to shoot firther distance.  

 In general - the longer distance someone is shooting, usually the fewer rounds per hour they tend to use.  Either way, rifle ammo in general comes in boxes of 20, or in cases, either themselves containing boxes of 20-50, or sometimes, loosely packed.  If shooting shorter distance, someone can easily use similar round counts as with pistol, or around 1/4 to 1/2 of that if shooting at longer ranges for an AR or similar chambered semi-automatic rifle.  So again, 500 rounds per person per month is not out of the realm of reality.

Bolt action and longer-range rifles - the ammunition tends to go upwards in price, as the bullets are bigger (more lead and copper), as well as having significantly more propellant (‘gunpowder’ - although it’s really not the explosive people have in their minds..also called in reality smokeless powder unless dealing with historic firearms).  It also takes more time to set up targets at longer ranges unless shooting steel targets, as well as taking longer time to spot the target, range it if appropriate (using rangefinders, optic reticles, etc.), getting the rifle set on bags, bipod, or in a prone position - to finally taking the shot.  After which, there’s time spent spotting where the round hit, adjusting ‘dope’ on the optic via windage and elevation dials - or mentally, before taking the next shot.  Even so - when doing long-range, I’d say many, including myself can still go through 5 boxes of 20 per outing, or 100 rounds, so 400 rounds per month going once a week for longer-range shooting.

Shotguns are a funny kind of thing.  They can shoot anything from a bunch of tiny pellets/BBs (birdshot) of different sizes (#00 buckshot is rather large and few ‘bb’s) to a sold slug.  Regardless, they still don’t have much effective range, generally from up close out to perhaps 100 yards, and by definition - just aren’t precision instruments.  While some pistol and rifle shooters really evaluate exactly where each shot is hitting - shotgun shooting, to me at least, is more about hitting in the right general area.  Depending on what range and type of loads are being used, I can easily go through 50-100 rounds of shotgun rounds per session, so once again, 400 rounds per month is entirely possible.

Other types of shooting

Those whose primary firearm activity is hunting - are a bit different.  Some of them engage in range-type-shooting as described above, while others really just focus on making sure at the start of each season - their optic and/or sights are true.  Hunting firearms in general in the US amount to some type of longer-distance round, either bolt action (or lever still!) or semi-automatic, or a shotgun for birds.  Most hunting outings don’t use a large amount of ammo, as it’s more about locating and stalking the animal, then tracking and waiting for the right shot, hopefully a clean hit and kill - I’m not a hunter, but most I do know are quite conscious of making it a humane kill, and at least the ones I know - all indeed do harvest and eat what they kill.  Regardless, unless they are also into range shooting of other types - their general round count per month is fairly low for things like deer hunting, while bird hunters more closely align to the shotgun range #s previously mentioned as a rough number.

Now - there are also training classes.  These focus on different skills, from concealed carry classes, to home protection, competitive shooting training of all kinds, and yes, some levels of police type (clearing rooms in the dark, multiple assailants), or military type (shooting from vehicles, stealth, …) training as well, and everywhere in between - as well as long-range target shooting.

Assume for most of those - round counts are fairly high.  For any long distance training I’ve done to date, it’s usually along the lines of around 200 rounds.  For pistol-based training - also seems to be around 2oo rounds - per day.  Semi-automatic rifle classes (e.g. AR) - can range anywhere from 200-500 rounds per day.

Finally - there are various forms of competition, from benchrest (lower counts but expensive ammunition) to precision shooting of different kinds (moderate round counts but a fair amount of practive and - using more expensive ammunition) to ‘moving’ competitions where the shooter is moving around while engnaging different targets with pistol, rifle, shotgun, or a combination thereof.  This is the one of most interest to me, in particular at least 2 gun (pistol and rifle) or 3 gun (pistol, rifle and shotgun) competitions.  A typical day match can go through 100-200 rounds pistol, 100 rounds rifle, and 10-30 rounds of shotgun rounds.  There were some months I’d do a competition every weekend, and also practice when not in competition.  

True competitive shooters can easily go through several thousands of rounds per month, each and every month.

So how much ammo is enough/do you need?

Consider the types of shooting you really engage in, or check and count over a few range trips or competitions for a start.  From there, expecially considering the perpetually moving political landscape impacting ammo availability and prices - I personally think having at least 6-12 months of expacted ammunition needs on hand - is pretty reasonable.  

The good news is if/when you decide to reload - that is more on you than on the politicians and media impacting demand…although then, you still need to work out how much to keep on hand in components, noting there is a general limit in place by each state and/or home insurance that amounts to somewhere around 50# of smokeless powder and I believe somewhere around 10K primers (the small ‘caps’ pressed into the back of a casing that trigger the ignition of powder when you press the trigger - we’ll cover this later).  Check your local ordinances on this one.

Cost Savings

So - everyone assumes there are huge cost savings to be had.  In some cases, there are, but not always.  

With the rising prices of well - everything, there are better and worse times to consider reloading.  The type of reloading ‘press’ you use (we’ll cover these shortly under Getting Started, can make a big difference in startup costs (or your actual time to break even).  

Reloading of the more common calibers, e.g. .223/5/5.56 and 9mm, even ‘typical’ .308 target practice type rounds - may not be truly cost effective to reload unless you shoot a fair amount of it.  

Some quick math - reloading .223 ammo for your AR (or other .223/5.56)


Ignoring the cost of the reloading press and associated tools (for now), let’s use the standard .223/5.56 55gr(ain) round with a full metal jacket (FMJ) bullet in it as an example.  

Now for a ‘standard’ equivalent round, for general target practices - ignoring the steel-cased Wolf/Russian ammo I just don’t use, the standard choices here for people buying ammo might be something like Wolf Gold (brass-cased) or American Eagle.  Hornaday is usually a bit more expensive, while PMC and a couple of others are usually i nthe same general price range.

Now - at the moment due to more political and news-induced craziness, it looks like even PPU 55gr FMJ is at 70 cents per round(!!).  Here’s a decent search engine I’ve used over the years - .  For starters, that price is insane - the ‘going price’ 2 years ago, and indeed, 4 years ago, was around 30c/round, which had gone up from prior rates of ~25c per round assuming buying at least 100 up to case (600-800) quantities.  

Let’s list out all the components needed here:
Cases - the brass casings.  
Primers - are pressed into the bottom of the case/shell, and ignite the powder when the trigger is pressed.
Smokeless Powder - goes in the case in a measured amount and type.
Bullet - the copper projectile that tops off the shell and is what is shot out of the firearm.

Now, a fairly typical ‘recipe’ for a ’typical’ AR or AR-like semi-automatice rifle is 24.5gr(ains) of TAC smokeless powder, a small rifle primer, and a Hornady or Wolf Gold 55gr FMJ bullet - combined in a re-sized .223/5.56 case.  

Looking at some of my previously purchased consumables - this is what it costs me ‘right now’ when people are charging 70c or more for a round of .223 55gr FMJ target/practice/non-’special' ammo.

I’ve had good success with Winchester WSR small rifle primers, along with others, but I have some I paid $28 per thousand on (including shipping).  Note - you generally can go cheaper by - buying in higher quantity.  Regardless, $28.00 / 1000 = 2.8c per round for primer.

I collect my own cases at any range (or event - when/as possible), but have also in the past bought one-fired military 5.56 brass at $100/1000.  I consider 5 reloads good (and check before each reload for case stretching, thin-ness, etc.), so if we use one of those, we’re at $100 / 1000 / 5 = 2cents per reload for the case.

A standard ‘recipe’ is 24.5gr of TAC smokeless powder for a 55gr FMJ general round.  One of my last purchases of TAC powder was 8# of TAC at $176 delivered, which wasn’t a great price but an OK one.  There are 7000 gr(ains) of powder per pound, so 56000gr in 8#.  The standard loadout of 24.5gr gives us 56000 / 24.5gr = 2285 rounds load-able from 8#, so $176 / 2285 = 7cents per round in powder.

My general rule is I look for quality bullets in the 55gr FMJ realm at 10c or lower per round.  This generally means buying cases, which from Hornady are 6000 bullets for their 55gr FMJ-BT (boat-tail) bullet, which is a good solid 1MOA (Minute of angle/an accuracy standard basically..) all around bullet.  I’ve bought Hornaday 55gr FMJ-BT as low as 8c/round delivered, as well as some Wolf Gold bullets which are surprisingly comparable, as well as some other brands which I generally have lower opinions of - at least in the generic 55gr general purpose category…so let’s add 10c/rd here.

Total: 10c bullet + 7cents powder + 2c case + 2.8c primer = 22c per round.  Now, in reality - when delivered reasonably-OK ammo was at 30c/round or less, unless I managed a score on some powder or bullet costs (which I have over time - just grabbing last purchased #s I could find quickly for this one), a savings of ~8c/round isn’t all that much, really, and it takes time to reload, although form some - it’s a hobby and/or therapeutic - just something they do and don’t consider it ‘lost time.’  Per case - which I’d run through in a month when doing competitions regularly, it would cost me $220/case reloaded versus $300/case purchased.  A reasonable but not earth-shattering savings.

However, with pricing today 9/6 - it would still cost me $220/case - versus $760+ per case!

For .308 long-range loads of 175gr Match BTHP ammo (the standard for real LR in .308), it would cost me around 45-50cents each, compared to ~$1.00 per round of the excellent Sierra Match King 175gr BTHP, depending on if I used Sierra or Nosler bullets and when I purchased them.  As of right now, that $1.00 per round isn’t as affected as the standard calibers of 9mm and .223, but is at $1.20 per round, so mine are less than half, and a case of 500 rounds would cost me $250 versus $600 or more.

Even 9mm - I can do cheaper rounds, but my standard is for competitions is Montana Gold 124gr HP (hollowpoints - but not self-defense kind, they don’t expand), 3.7gr of Titegroup powder, and a Fiocchi, Magtech or Winchester primer, while 9mm cases can be re-used a lot of times with moderate loads, nearly indefinitely but at least 10x before getting lost.  So my ‘competition’ load works out to ~1c/rd (or less) case + 9.8c/rd bullet, 2.5c/rd primer and around 1.5c/rd powder or around 15c/round and I can drop that down using SNS, Bayour or other decent coated lead bullet by 3-4c more, putting me in the 11-15c/rd range, or $11-$15/100 versus what was around  $40/100 ($~20/box of 50).

As of this writing, I can still crank out 9mm in the 11-15c/rd range versus over 60cents per round for <whatever you can get> Sept 2020.

Specialty ammunition

Once you get into more specialized ammo - even .308 long range like Federal Gold Medal Match with 175gr Sierra Match King BTHP (the gold standard for .308 long distance rounds) is relatively inexpensive when compared to exotic wildcat rounds or something like the Lapua .338 rounds (can easily hit $5 per round for factory ammo) - the more exotic or specialty the round/caliber, the more important it becomes to save your brass from factory rounds, and the greater the potential savings in most cases.

Having Ammo Available - when YOU want or need it

This is why I was still reloading 'basic’ .223 and 9mm even when component prices and ammo prices were ‘reasonable’ - my ammo was consistent and available when I need it, versus buying random, different-performing factory-made ammo based on availability and price. I also typically have enough loaded ammo on hand to get me through a few range visits and competition events - which does reduce a fair amount of last-minute scrambling when a new unplanned-for match or training event pops up.

For someone doing a single basic range visit once/month with popular rounds like .223 or 9mm to do some occasional and limited paper target shooting - it’s probably not worth it unless you really want to as a hobby.