What are the pros and cons of reloading?

What are the pros and cons of reloading?

This week, Adam Barnes gives us his opinion on reloading. Are you reloading today? Are you looking at heading down this road? If so, keep reading!

Although I’m newer to the reloading scene, I’m often asked by shooting friends if reloading is worth the investment. Having only produced a few hundred rounds over the last 6 months, I’m here to share some information to those looking at reloading ammo versus buying factory ammo. Some of the key takeaways from this article will touch some of the pros and cons to reloading.

Remember the phrase “time is money?” Well, it’s no different in the world of bullet reloading. Equipment to save more time costs more money. Reloading ammo can be incredibly time-consuming with varying results. It becomes a new hobby that coincides with shooting. If you’re one of those people with a booked schedule week in and week out, good luck finding the time to invest in reloading ammo. In my opinion, stick to factory produced ammo or hire a reloader to develop rounds for you. It’s important to remember that your time has value along with the equipment, consumables, and final product.

Investing your hard-earned money into reloading will take time to see a return on investment. Depending on the ammo you’re planning to reload, there may only be a few pennies difference between a reloaded round and a factory round. As of this article, 9mm target rounds hover between $0.10 and $0.20 each. Depending on the powder, projectile, primer, and brass, a reloader may only produce a single target round for $0.08 to $0.15. Plus the cost of time invested, may ultimately be a wash in this category. Obviously recycling brass saves money in the long run, but brass has a finite life before it’s unusable. Now more expensive ammo types like defensive and hunting will typically yield a larger savings margin over factory loads. There are a number of cost variables to factor and mileage will vary. Another thing to note when purchasing consumables, specifically primers and powder, these will have a hazardous material fee when shipping from an online retailer – read: more cost to play ball. One way to circumvent the hazmat fee is to buy from a local retailer that stocks reloading supplies such as Bass Pro shops, or take advantage of online retailer sales that waive hazmat fees.

Reloaders are able to create custom loads for target, hunting, match grade, or home defense. For example, USPSA competitors have a minimum power factor requirement for sanctioned competitions. One goal might be to combine an accurate bullet with low powder charge for minimum recoil, accurate followup shots, but still be above minimum power factor. This may be difficult when using factory ammo as velocity may be significantly higher than minimum power factors thus having more recoil to manage. Having reloads tuned down could give you a competitive edge, shaving precious seconds off your stage time.

Factory match ammo may get good results, but hand loads tend to tune ammo to the gun. Rifle barrels in particular can be very picky when testing different powders and bullet weights. A powder and bullet combination in one rifle may shoot decent, meanwhile shoot sub MOA in another rifle with the same barrel length and twist rate. When testing loads, reloaders are looking for consistency like velocity from shot to shot and tight bullet groupings. Testing will reveal potential accuracy nodes, a solid group with near duplicate velocity values. From here, a reloader may fine tune that powder charge to maximize those results even better results. With chronograph data, a shooter has the ability to punch velocity data in to a ballistic calculator to help with scope adjustments for longer range shots. The better the round shoots in your rifle, the further you’ll be able to push distance and group size. One downside is if bad results are occurring, you’re sent back to the drawing board to try again often with the purchase of different powder or ammo. It could take some time before finding a solid combination of powder and projectile thus costing valuable time and money. Let’s not forget that working with gunpowder is dangerous. Charging a round with the wrong volume of powder can potentially be disastrous and even life threatening.

With regards to equipment, presses come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and quality. Like in other hobbies, there is entry, mid tier, and professional levels of equipment. The most common presses are single stage and progressive. Typically, someone new to reloading can purchase a starter kit for around $500. Other items for case preparation and cleaning are often not included in those starter kits. It may be difficult for a new reloader to get up to speed if on a tight budget.

Single stage presses will take the longest to complete a round from start to finish. These presses are often the least expensive and easiest to manufacture and tended to be the most affordable. Single stage presses only have one die slot vertically inline with the ram. With each pull of the ram handle, only one action is completed, for example seating a bullet. Single stage press operators often work in small batches of production to complete their reloads as each action will take one handle pull for each piece of brass. Think 50 times to resize, 50 times to prime, 50 times to bullet set, etc… Sounds like an afternoon of entertainment, right? That’s right, reloading can be very boring, so find a podcast or a good album to help pass the time.

On the other hand, progressive presses have a higher output when compared to single stage presses but are more complex in their manufacturing. However more expensive than single stage presses, starter kits with progressive presses offer great value. Every time a progressive press handle is pulled, multiple actions in rotation will occur. Progressive presses rotate from stage to stage very similar to revolver pistol cylinders, “progressing” from one action to the next. Some pistol cartridge reloaders may set their presses in a series such as: (1) deprime and resize brass, (2) prime, (3) flare case, (4) dispense powder, (5) seat bullet, and finally (6) crimp brass. After the first round has completed the last stage, it’s kicked out as a completed round with four more rounds in production right behind it. By the time a single stage press reloader kicks out 50 resized brass, a progressive operator may have 50 completed bullets. To maximize output on a progressive press, other equipment like brass and powder hoppers, and bullet and primer tubes are essential. There are even computer aided presses for home users to push outputs even further, but they’re often more expensive than the press itself. The AmmoBot system for Dillon progressive presses cost around $1,400 as of this article, but has the ability to remove the user entirely from the mechanical aspect of production. The user becomes a drone to make sure all of the hoppers and tubes are well stocked but no longer the energy input to run the press, but all of that comes at a steep cost.

Politics. Politicians are always attacking 2nd Amendment rights and shooting sports. Reloading is not exempt from politics. Only a few years ago, some ammo and reloading consumables were near impossible to obtain because of gun grabbing rumors. When that happened, there was a supply shortage as enthusiasts and preppers started to hoard essentials. Even now in 2018, just a few years after those rumors, some powders have become “unicorn blood” in the community because of the scarcity and popularity of new calibers. If you plan to rely on a local store for reloading supplies, be sure to check often for what’s in stock.

In the end, a few years of casual reloading and most will see a return on their investments. Of course new reloaders can explore options of buying parts and equipment second-hand to save a few dollars and bring that return time down. I bought my kit from a friend who didn’t have the ability to reload anymore. The process of reloading can be boring to most, especially those who can’t stand repetitive action for hours on end but for those of you who like to tinker and play, reloading is certainly a viable option.  I had no idea what I was getting into, but always toyed with the idea of reloading my own ammo. It’s been quite the experience so far and I’ve learned a lot. The bottom line is, cost and time will be the major factor when deciding if reloading is for you. Do your research and it will pay off for you in the long run.

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  1. […] Investing your hard-earned money into reloading will take time to see a return on investment. Depending on the ammo you’re planning to reload, there may only be a few pennies difference between a reloaded round and a factory round. As of this article, 9mm target rounds hover between $0.10 and $0.20 each. Depending on the powder, projectile, primer, and brass, a reloader may only produce a single target round for $0.08 to $0.15. Plus the cost of time invested, may ultimately be a wash in this category. Obviously recycling brass saves money in the long run, but brass has a finite life before it’s unusable. Now more expensive ammo types like …read more […]

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