The common cliché when it comes to loading your own ammunition is that you can save a lot of money. It has been repeated enough that it’s almost considered gospel. But is it true? Well, it depends. It depends mostly on how much you shoot.
To produce lots of ammunition in the least amount of time, you’ll need a progressive press. I’d suggest either a Dillon Square Deal or 550B. Both are capable of turning out 20 rounds per minute. Even a lazy handloader should be able to turn out about 4,000 rounds in a week with one of these. Four thousand rounds is an important number as you will soon see.
Of the four components that make up a loaded cartridge, brass is the only one that’s reusable. It’s also the expensive part of the equation. The keys to saving money are to save your brass and scrounge brass anywhere you can. Every time you’re at the range, pick up brass. Pick it all up. Other folks reload, too. Pin a note up at the gun store advertising you have brass to trade.
Contact local police departments for brass. You might get it free just by offering to pick it up. Cops are lazy when it comes to picking up brass. I ran a police range for many years and it’s easier to get a cop to arrest a fighting drunk than pick up brass.
There’s not a lot of money to be saved with primers other than buying in bulk. The problem right now is finding them. Next to brass, the most expensive component is bullets. You can use lighter weight bullets because they’re cheaper. Cast lead bullets are cheaper, too. If you have the time, cast your own. Do humans with normal lives have time to cast lead bullets?
Unlike bullets, gunpowder prices are fairly consistent. You’re better off to buy 4- or 8-pound canisters because you can save as much as a dollar per pound. Also, consider selecting a powder that will provide mid to maximum velocities with small charge weights. Do the math: There are 7,000 grains per pound of powder. Loads that use the least amount of powder will provide more shots per pound.
If possible, select one powder that will work with all the pistol cartridges you load and another that will work with all the rifle cartridges you load. This may seem impossible, but there are several that can do the job such as Ramshot ZIP, Accurate #2 and Winchester 231 for pistols and IMR 4895, Accurate #2460 and Ramshot TAC for rifles.
Don’t try to save money by skimping on tools. It’s OK to build cost-effective ammunition, but if you try doing it with cost-effective equipment, you won’t fill half of an ammo can before something breaks.
Let’s say you commit to shooting 4,000 rounds of rifle and handgun ammunition each year. If you shoot that much in a year you’ll save enough to pay for the minimal amount of equipment you’ll need to load those 4,000 rounds. On the other side of the coin, if you shoot considerably less than 4,000 rounds per year, you’re probably better off—at least financially—to use brass-cased factory ammunition and sell or trade your brass to someone who does handload.
But like with most things in life and shooting, there’s always more to it. Handloading is a great way to extend your shooting fun into the dark of night or the cold of winter. It’s also a great way to learn more about firearms and ammunition. And, if you’re smart and really charismatic, you can convince your non-shooting significant other into helping sort brass prep cases and even into running the reloading press. If you pull that off, you should probably give up shooting and handloading and get into politics. You have a gift!