The Basic Economies of Reloading

By Gary Zinn

I have long been convinced of the conventional wisdom that reloading ammunition is more economical, in terms of monetary outlay, than shooting factory ammo. It occurred to me, though, that there is very little specific documentation of this. (The only relevant article on this website is The Potential Savings from Loading Your Own Ammunition, by Lance Robson). How much money can one save by reloading, and under what conditions? This is what I found when I explored the issue.

I chose for examples the two cartridges that I reload and shoot the most; these are the 9mm Luger and .223 Remington. Next, I decided to limit the study to one common loading in each cartridge, a 115-grain FMJ load for the 9mm and a 55-grain soft point load in .223 Remington. I shoot volumes of these loads for practice and plinking at the range, plus the .223 Remington load is my go-to varmint medicine.


To focus on the basic economies of reloading, I assumed that one already has a loading bench setup, including press, powder measure, scale, case cleaning system, etc. Then, I assumed that the reloader does not have loading dies in the two subject calibers, nor a supply of brass for each. In other words, my analysis of the cost of reloading the cartridges will include amortizing the cost of dies and brass.

Once I had set these parameters, I collected relevant data on the cost of everything needed to load the cartridges, including dies, brass, bullets, primers and powder. For consistency and to save myself time and confusion, I used only one source for price data, MidwayUSA. The die and component prices below are rounded values of MidwayUSA online prices for each item, as of July, 2015. I ignored shipping charges and sales tax, as these will vary.

The factory loads I chose for cost comparisons are the Winchester Super-X .223 Remington with 55-grain PSP bullet and Winchester/USA 9mm Luger with 115-grain FMJ bullet. These are examples of economical factory ammo, suitable for practice, plinking and shooting varmints, that are closely comparable to the reloads I want to analyze.

The Hornady Handbook of Cartridge Reloading, 9th Edition (2012), lists a 9mm load with 4.5 grains of Hodgdon Universal powder under a 115 grain FMJ bullet, which yields a muzzle velocity of 1100 f.p.s. Also listed is a .223 Remington load with 22.2 grains of Alliant RL-10X powder and a 55 grain pointed soft point bullet at 3100 f.p.s. I felt it was karma that these recipes are very close to my pet loads for each cartridge.

Finally, I decided to do the analysis for 200 round batches of 9mm Luger ammo and 100 round sets of .223 Remington cartridges. These quantities correspond, more or less, with how much of each I would typically carry to the range for a serious practice or plinking session. With the parameters set, here is the reloading economies evaluation for each cartridge.

9mm Luger

Die and component costs for the 9mm Luger are:

  • $42 - Dies (Lee Deluxe 4-die set)
  • $50 - 200 pieces brass (Winchester)
  • $25 - 200 bullets (Ranier LeadSafe plated round nose, 115 grains)
  • $7.00 - 200 primers (Winchester WSP)
  • $3.50 - 0.13 pounds powder--4.5 grains per load x 200 loads (Hodgdon Universal at $27 per pound)

Before going further, note an important principle regarding getting handgun brass for reloading: Often it is more cost effective to buy and shoot factory ammo and then reload the fired brass, rather than to buy new brass for reloading. The strategy is, buy factory ammo to get fresh reloading brass if the cost of a given number of rounds of commercial ammo is less than the cost of an equal number of new cartridge cases, plus the cost of bullets, primers and powder to load them the first time.

Given the component costs listed above, the cost of 200 pieces of 9mm brass, plus the bullets, primers and powder to load 200 rounds totals $85.50. Meanwhile, the cost of 200 rounds of Winchester USA 9mm 115-grain FMJ cartridges is $59. One saves $26.50 by buying factory cartridges instead of buying new brass and the other components needed to load the first 200 rounds.

Accordingly, I will start the analysis with once-fired brass from factory cartridges. I then outline the incremental costs of reloading 200 round batches of 9mm cartridges four times, using this brass. The cost of reloaded ammo will be compared with the cost of a comparable quantity of factory cartridges. I include the cost of a set of 9mm loading dies in the cost of the first reloading.

First reload

$42 for dies and $35.50 for bullets, primers and powder.

Total = $77.50 (cost of dies included), versus $59 for 200 rounds of factory ammo.

Net savings = -$18.50 (The first reload costs $18.50 more than factory ammo.)

Second reload

$35.50 for bullets, primers and powder, versus $59 for 200 rounds of factory ammo.

Net savings = $5.00 (The cumulative reload cost is $5 less than the cumulative factory ammo cost; the cost of the dies has been amortized.)

Third reload

$35.50 for bullets, primers, and powder, versus $59 for 200 rounds of factory ammo.

Net savings = $28.50 (The cumulative reload cost is $28.50 less than the cumulative factory ammo cost.)

Fourth reload

$35.50 for bullets, primers, and powder, versus $59 for 200 rounds of factory ammo.

Net savings = $52.00 (The cumulative reload cost is $52 less than the cumulative factory ammo cost.)

I stopped the analysis here, on the premise that after four reloadings and five firings the cases might be worn out. This is conservative, for I typically get seven or eight firings out of 9mm cases loaded like this. However, my pistol seems to treat cases a bit gentler than some other guns do, so your results may vary.

The cumulative net savings from four reloadings, $52, is almost enough to buy the next 200 round batch of factory ammo, to start a new cycle. Further, the savings from subsequent cycles of loading will be larger, since the cost of loading dies was amortized during the first cycle. If one buys a new 200 round batch of factory ammo for $59 and reloads it four times, the total cost of reloading will be $142, while the cost of the equivalent quantity of factory ammo will be $236, giving an advantage of $94 for hand loading in the second and subsequent cycles.

Currently, I have the dies and cartridge specific accessories to load 9mm Luger, .38 Special/.357 Magnum, .40 S&W, .44 Special/.44 Magnum and .45 ACP cartridges. I occasionally buy virgin brass for some of these, but more commonly buy attractively priced factory loads and then reload the brass after firing.

.223 Remington

Die and component costs for the .223 Remington are:

  • $31 - Dies (Lee Pacesetter 3-die set)
  • $35 - 100 pieces brass (Winchester)
  • $17 - 100 bullets (Winchester pointed soft point, 55 grains)
  • $3.50 - 100 primers (Winchester WSR)
  • $8.50 - 0.32 pounds powder--22.2 grains per load x 100 loads (Alliant RL-10X @ $27 per pound)

Here are the incremental costs of loading 100 round batches of this cartridge five times, compared with the cost of a comparable quantity of factory loaded ammo. (Winchester Super-X cartridges are priced at $95 for 100 cartridges.)

First load

$31 for dies, $35 for brass, $17 for bullets, $3.50 for primers and $8.50 for powder.

Total = $95 (the cost of dies and brass included), versus $95 for 100 rounds of factory ammo.

Net savings = $0 (The reload cost equals factory ammo cost, with cost of dies and brass amortized; this is a coincidence.)

Second load

$29 for bullets, primers, and powder, versus $95 for 100 rounds of factory ammo.

Net savings = $66 (The cumulative reload cost is $66 less than the cumulative factory ammo cost.)

Third load

$29 for bullets, primers, and powder, versus $95 for 100 rounds of factory ammo.

Net savings = $132 (The cumulative reload cost is $132 less than the cumulative factory ammo cost.)

Fourth load

$29 for bullets, primers, and powder, versus $95 for 100 rounds of factory ammo.

Net savings = $198 (The cumulative reload cost is $198 less than the cumulative factory ammo cost.)

Fifth load

$29 for bullets, primers, and powder, versus $95 for 100 rounds of factory ammo.

Net savings = $264 (The cumulative reload cost is $264 less than the cumulative factory ammo cost.)

Now we are beginning to talk real money! In this scenario, the cost of dies and brass is amortized with the first loading and the cumulative savings from five loadings of the cases is $264, compared with the cost of 500 rounds of equivalent commercial cartridges.

Note that I bought new brass to load in this scenario, rather than buying factory ammo to get brass to reload. This is because the cost of factory cartridges, $95 for 100, is greater than the cost of new brass ($35) plus the cost of bullets, primers and powder for the first loading ($29).

My experience is that five loadings and firings is about right for a batch of .223 Remington brass, so this scenario is quite reasonable. Even if the brass will not take the fifth loading and firing, the savings come to almost $200. Further, the cost advantage to reloading will be $31 greater in subsequent cycles, since the cost of reloading dies was amortized early in the first cycle.

There can be other advantages to hand loading, besides the cost savings. For instance, the .223 Remington load I have featured here is a do-all load for me. I have three rifles chambered for the cartridge. These include a bolt action, a break-action single shot and an AR-15. They have different barrel lengths and twist rates, but the RL-10X with 55-grain PSP load shoots very well in all three. Having a load recipe this versatile is a good thing.

Besides .223 Remington, I reload .260 Remington, .308 Winchester and 8x57mm Mauser. I buy very few factory cartridges for any of these, because of the distinct cost advantages of buying brass and building hand loads.

I also hand load for my .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum carbines. I sometimes buy new brass to load these cartridges, even though that may be more expensive than starting with factory ammo to get brass for reloading. I do this because I have developed very specific pet loads for my .357 and .44 carbines and these are not available as factory ammo.

Disclaimers and other thoughts

To isolate the cost economies of reloading specific cartridges, I assumed that one already has at least a basic reloading setup in place, including a press, powder measure and scale, case cleaning and trimming accessories, etc. The cost and amortization of tools and accessories are not considered. I address this issue in the companion article, Building a Reloading Setup: The Essentials.

I also need to mention some things about sourcing brass. I have assumed starting with name brand factory ammo to get once fired pistol brass and buying new name brand rifle brass in this article. These are the surest ways to proceed, but other sources of brass may present themselves (scavenging at the gun range, for example). My advise is to exercise prudence when taking advantage of these.

I have a couple of good friends who do not reload, but who save their fired factory cases and give them to me. I love these guys! Also, from time to time, I can scrounge good once-fired brass at my shooting club, especially after public shooting events where we use a lot of 9mm and 38 Special ammo.

Be careful! I once scrounged a couple hundred once fired 9mm cases that were an off brand, which is thankfully no longer on the market. When I started to reload them, I encountered problems, including uneven rims, erratic case lengths and off-center or poorly punched primer pockets. I discarded this brass in disgust. Stay away from off brand cases and never use scrounged cases that may have been fired more than once.

Some shooting supply vendors occasionally offer bulk lots of fired 5.56x45mm or 7.62x51mm NATO brass. Shooters of .223 Remington and .308 Winchester can use these, of course, but be aware of two things. Military cartridges normally have crimped primers, so the crimps on the rim of the primer pockets must be reamed off before the cases can be re-primed; this can be a hassle. Also, military spec cases are thicker than normal, so that they have marginally smaller powder capacity and generate higher chamber pressure with full powder charges. This must be taken into account when developing safe load recipes with military brass.

Finally, I attached no monetary value to the time spent reloading. This is because I view reloading as an interesting leisure activity. Reloading is much more productive than some other pass-times, such as watching reality shows on TV. Accordingly, any labor cost I might attach to reloading a given number of rounds of ammo would be arbitrary at best and meaningless at worst. Note that anyone who is too rushed and harried to approach reloading in an unhurried, deliberate and focused manner should not get into reloading.


In summary, the cost savings of reloading 9mm ammo vs. continuously buying factory ammo work out to $11.75 per 100 cartridges. (This is after the cost of loading dies has been amortized and under the other specific conditions of the above scenario.) Similarly, the savings from reloading .223 Remington cartridges total $59 per hundred. I rest my case.

Monetary cost saving is certainly a prime justification for and benefit of reloading ammunition, but it is not the only one. I have found that reloading has enabled me to develop highly accurate loads for my rifles, ammo that is tuned to work smoothly and dependably in my autoloading pistols and even some special purpose loads that are not available in factory loaded ammunition. For further perspective on these benefits, see Building Accurate Rifle Loads.

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Copyright 2016 by Gary Zinn and/or All rights reserved.