I’ve been handloading ammunition for more than three decades, long enough to learn a few things. The first was that reloading ammunition is not complicated, the second was that it takes time—lots of time, and the third is that it’s not really the money-saving endeavor so many shooters think it is. If you are contemplating reloading your own ammunition, here are some things to consider before you take the plunge.
It’s Easy Many shooters believe reloading their own ammunition is a complicated affair. We’ve all heard horror stories of guns exploding in a shooter’s hands due to a faulty reload or seen scary videos and pictures on social media. The truth is, handloading ammunition is actually a very simple process for which there are many resources. Any good reloading manual details the process and provides recipes for the creation of safe and reliable ammunition for most of the popular metallic cartridges.
Where folks get into trouble is when they go off the reservation. In other words, they begin to think their rifle/handgun is special and can handle more than the manual says. Or, they try to craft a load that’s outside the realm of reality. Even then, the chances of a disaster are slim. Don’t do stupid stuff like try to make a .40 S&W a 10 mm or a .30-’06 Sprg. a .300 Win. Mag., and you will circumvent disaster. Most tragedies come from the use of the wrong component, most frequently the wrong gunpowder. Load manuals exist for a reason; to keep you safe.
It Takes Time and Space What most overlook when they decide to reload their own ammunition is that it takes time. Actually, it takes lots of time. With a single-stage press you can load about 100 rounds per hour. With a basic, progressive press, you might squeak out 300 rounds in the same time. Of course, this does not take into account the time you’ll spend picking up brass, sorting brass, polishing brass, prepping brass, researching load data and testing loads.
In today’s world, time is a precious commodity. It’s also the thing shooters like to reserve for, well, shooting. If you decide you’re going to only shoot the ammo you load—to save money—you will not be able to shoot unless you have spent the necessary time at the loading bench. That’s time you could spend with your spouse and kids, and time that’s needed to take care of all the chores associated with everyday life.
You’ll also need to set up a dedicated area for handloading. You’ll need a space free of distractions where you can set up a bench and storage cabinet. To save time, ideally, you’ll leave your reloading area set up, so you don’t have to go through the same preparation steps for each loading session. If you have to get your reloading gear out and set it up for each session, guess what? That takes even more time.
You’ll Spend What you Save There is this notion that loading your own ammunition will save you money. Well, it can, but it can also cost you money. If you’re loading your own handgun ammunition, factoring in the cost of the tools and accessories you need, you’ll have to load and shoot about 15,000 rounds before you begin to see a savings. For most shooters, that will take several years.
Even if you get to the point where you’re saving money, you’re very likely to begin wanting to improve the quality of your ammunition or, even more likely, want to increase your production rate. Both will require the expenditure of more money to acquire the various tools of the trade to make that happen. A good concentricity gauge like the RCBS Casemaster will improve the quality of your rifle handloads. It will also cost more than $100 and add about a minute per round to the production process. Then you’ll have to decide what to do with all the less-than-concentric ammunition you cull during the process.
It’s Enjoyable Maybe the most-important thing I learned about loading my own ammunition was that it was fun. For many years I was a traditional archer, crafting, fletching and cresting my own arrows. It was a prideful endeavor; I enjoyed watching my creations sail to the target, and they looked good in my quiver. I found that same sense of pride creating my own ammunition. Whether poking several shots into a tiny group or hitting a steel plate at distance, it was rewarding to know that I fashioned the ammunition that delivered such successes.
The truth is, I don’t really load that much ammunition anymore. I’ve learned that my time is more valuable than the few dollars I will save by rolling my own. About the only time I get behind the press nowadays is to load ammunition for a cartridge for which ammunition is scarce or unavailable, or to test new components such as bullets, powders, primers or cases.
Yes, factory ammunition is expensive, but my time is just as—if not more—valuable. I’d never discourage someone from learning how to handload; it is a valuable skill that will enhance your appreciation, understanding and enjoyment of firearms. Like buying a used Harley Davidson, it can also become an addiction that will bleed your wallet and eat into your spare time.
To reload or not to reload? Maybe these bits of advice will help you make up your mind:
If you decide to take up reloading to save money, chances are you will be disappointed.
If you decide to take up reloading to make better ammunition, it will take lots of time, money, tools and lots of work.
If you decide to take up reloading because you have lots of spare time, it will fill it.
If you decide to take up reloading as a source of fun and education, you will be happy.
If your spouse and children already complain about the lack of time you spend with them, buy ammunition in bulk and leave the handloading to those who are single or don’t like their family anyway.