The Potential Savings From Loading Your Own Ammunition
By Lance Robson
There are many reasons that shooters start to load their own metallic rifle or pistol cartridges. For some it is the ability to load an uncommon or out of production cartridge. Some may want to squeeze a bit more accuracy out of their firearm. For others it may be to develop a specific combination of bullet and cartridge that is not factory produced, while for still others it may just be for the satisfaction of loading their own ammunition. I first started loading my own ammunition for what may be the most common reason that folks start loading their own-financial self defense.
In 1978 I was a young single buck sergeant stationed in West Berlin. I hunted in Germany and Western Europe. Although I did some waterfowl and other small game hunting, the bulk of my hunting time was spent on deer and wild boar with a Ruger Number 1 in .25-06. I also had a Smith and Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum revolver and a Ruger Security Six in .357 Magnum. Needless to say, neither .25-06 nor magnum revolver loads were easy to find or afford in Europe. When I could find them there was usually only one or, at best, two loads from which to choose.
I lived in the barracks where reloading was not an option, so I never gave it much thought. Luckily, an older NCO took me under his wing and made me the proverbial offer that I couldnít refuse. If I bought the dies and components, heíd let me come to his quarters and he would show me how to load ammunition and let me use his equipment. (Thank you, Bob Tilly!)
The cost savings were dramatic and, although the price of components has gone up over the years, the cost savings as a percentage of the cost of factory loaded ammunition has remained constant. I am going to focus on some representative loads, both basic and fairly high end, to illustrate the range of savings you might expect from loading you own ammunition. If you shoot inexpensive ammunition in any caliber, particularly military surplus or military contract overrun ammunition, the cost savings from loading your own ammunition may not be enough to get you started on loading your own. On the other hand, if you currently shoot or would like to shoot high end loads or uncommon loads, such as the Weatherby line of cartridges, the savings can be truly remarkable.
There are three local retail outlets in my vicinity that sell reloading supplies and all of the ammunition and component prices used in this article are current retail prices at those stores. The local prices are very competitive with the internet outlets and I donít have to deal with shipping and hazardous material surcharges. If you are less fortunate in your shopping choices, you will need to consider those charges in deciding if loading your own ammunition is the right choice for you.
Over the years I have found that the hottest loads are usually not the most accurate and that powder charges in the middle of the range for a particular cartridge/load often work best. My experience has been that I can load each rifle cartridge case at least five times. Allowing for some losses while hunting and during case inspection at the reloading bench, I figured that each case would be used an average of 4 times. A pound of powder has 7,000 grains, so dividing the powder charge into 7,000 tells me how many cartridges I can load from a one pound can. I typically buy primers in cartons of 1,000. Bullets usually come packaged either 50 or 100 to a box, although there are some exceptions, so you will want to be sure of the quantity when doing price comparisons.
My .25-06 was sold long ago and, since I mostly hunt on or near our farm in central New York State where the only big game animals are white tailed deer and black bear, I tote a .308 Winchester. The two .308 factory loads I picked for comparison are the Remington 150 grain Core-Lokt PSP at $20.49 for 20 rounds and Nosler Trophy Grade 150 grain Partition loads at $38.91 for 20 rounds.
Since the cases, powder and primers cost the same to duplicate either the Remington or the Nosler load, Iíll run down those costs first. Remington cases are $45.99 per 100. If I divide that figure by 100 cases and then again by 4 (my assumed case life) the cost per load for the brass is $0.115. One of my favorite powders is Hodgdonís H4895 and my data book tells me that 44 grains will usually work very well with a 150 grain bullet. H4895 is $28.95 a pound. Divide 7000 grains by 44 grains per load and a pound of powder will load 159 cartridges at a powder cost of $0.182 each. A box of a thousand large rifle primers is $35.99. Divide that by 1000 and the cost per round for primers is $0.036. This means that my loads are $0.33 each before the cost of bullets.
Now for the Remington Core-Lokt load, Remington 150 grain Core-Lokt PSP bullets are $24.99 per hundred, for a cost of $0.25 each. Add that to the case, powder and primer and each loaded cartridge is $0.58. Multiply that by 20 rounds and the cost of loading my own is $11.80 per box, or only 58% of the retail price. The savings per box is $8.69.
Next, the Nosler Partition load.150 grain Partition bullets are $33.99 for a box of 50, for a cost of $0.68 each. Add that to the cost of the case, powder and primer and the cost of each cartridge is $1.01. Multiply that by 20 and the cost of loading a box is $20.20, or 52% of the retail price. The savings is $18.79 or 48%.
For a cartridge like the .300 Weatherby Magnum, the retail price of ammunition is usually very high. The local price for a box of Weatherby .300 Magnum 180 grain Partition factory loads is a whopping $72.99. To tame the cost, letís see what they would cost to handload.
Remington brass for .300 Weatherby is $84.99 per 100. Divide that by 100 and then again by 4 (the expected case life) and we have a cost of $0.212 each. A pound of H1000 powder is $29.99 and the 7000 grains of powder will make 81 loads at 86 grains each, for a powder cost of $0.37 per load. Magnum rifle primers are $35.99 per 1000, so they cost $0.036 each. .30/180 grain Partition bullets are $35.99 for 50, so they cost $0.70 each. The total component cost is $1.32 for each round. Multiply that by 20 cartridges and the cost of loading a box is $26.40, only 36% of the retail price. The money saved amounts to $46.59 or 64% of the retail cost.
The trend holds true for many pistol loads so I will use a single example. The Hornady .44 Magnum 240 grain XTP factory load in is a popular choice often used for big game hunting and protection in the field. The current retail cost of loaded Hornady 240 grain XTP ammunition is $21.49 for 20 rounds.
Remington .44 Magnum cases cost $25.99 for 100. Straight wall pistol cases tend to outlast bottleneck rifle cases and with a revolver you normally donít lose many cases, but Iíll stick with an average of four loadings per case. Divide the $25.99 cost by 100 cases and then by four uses and the cost of brass is $0.065 per cartridge. I have a keg of Winchester 231 in the flammable cabinet and my load data book shows my last load at 11 grains, which is a maximum charge based on Hodgdonís data. W231 is selling for $19.79 per pound. If I divide that into 7000 grains, I can load 636 rounds from a pound of powder for a cost of $0.031 each. Large pistol primers are $38.59 per 1000, so each primer costs $0.039. Hornady 240 grain XTP bullets are $22.99 per 100 for a cost of $0.23 each. The total cost of components for each round is $0.365 and 20 rounds will cost $7.30, only 34% of the retail price. The savings compared to factory loads is $14.19 or 66%.
The process of selecting and buying reloading equipment is beyond the scope of this article, but a basic set of equipment, dies and the components to start loading your first cartridge can be purchased for around $200 US at 2011 prices. The fixed cost of adding another cartridge is pretty small, a set of dies and maybe a shell holder.
The above figures assume no loss of components during the loading process and you can expect to spill a little powder every now and then, or to make a few mistakes and discard a few cases or bullets. On the other hand, many cases will outlast the four reloads per case assumed in the calculations above. The general savings remain a constant. For most loads, the savings from loading your own ammo will be in the range of 40-60%. Premium bullet loads, for either hunting or match use, will trend towards the higher figure and obsolete or otherwise out of production ammunition can result in as much as 80% savings over the cost of specialty ammunition. Making an honest appraisal of the amount and type of shooting you do will help you decide whether loading your own ammunition is a cost effective path. I know that, over the years, it surely has been a big money saver for me.
Copyright 2011 by Lance Robson. All rights reserved.