In my previous article I identified a desire for cheaper ammunition as a potential reason for wanting to reload. But exactly how cheap is “cheaper” ammunition, and does it justify the cost of the reloading equipment required? To answer these questions, let’s look at the economics of reloading, starting with the direct costs for reloading. The other part of the equation, the setup costs for reloading equipment, I’ll cover in a future article.
The cost of producing a reloaded round will vary enormously, depending on many factors, in particular the country in which you live. Local costs of manufacture, import costs and taxes on reloading components all vary. For this article I will use the “typical” costs I experience. The basic cost formulas should work for most everybody, but you may need to do some additional research and plug in your own values, depending on where you live.
There are 4 significant costs to reloading a round of centre-fire ammunition, namely:
- The projectile (usually the biggest cost).
- The primer.
- The gunpowder.
- The case (based on multiple uses of the same case).
I have a spreadsheet with all the costs for the various components and manufacturers I use for reloading in it. This makes it easy to quickly compare costs of different components and the overall effect on the cost of reloading should I need to change anything.
The cost of projectiles is not only the single biggest factor, but also the one that can vary the most. Basic coated hard cast lead projectiles are relatively cheap—less than 10 cents each for typical handgun calibers. However, comparable copper jacketed projectiles may run as high as 40 cents each. The use of hard cast lead (non-jacketed) projectiles may have a performance and/or warranty implication on your specific firearm. Check your own specific firearm manual and be prepared for the potential limitations/implications of using reloads, e.g., gas-operated handguns or handguns with polygonal rifling. The selection of projectiles will be covered in a later article, but will focus on different applications, not firearm specific issues such as warranty.
As you might expect, the basics of buying in quantity applies to purchasing ammunition components, especially projectiles, i.e. if you buy 250, the unit cost will be higher than if you buy 1000. If you can, stock up each time you buy to keep the costs down over the long run. Suppliers frequently offer discounts for bulk orders. My local projectile supplier does this for orders of 10,000 or more. This works great for clubs or if you have fellow shooters who use the same reloading components.
Primers come in four basic sizes: large and small for pistols, and large and small for rifles. There are also special magnum primers available, but let’s stick to the basics. Fortunately, the cost of primers doesn’t vary much between pistol/rifle or small/large. For pistols, small primers are used for anything up to, and including, 9mm/.357/.38/.40, and large primers are used for 10mm/.44/.45 and larger, etc.. Primers are generally packed in lots of 100. You can buy boxed lots of 1000 (10 packets) or 5000 (50 packets), although some manufacturers produce boxes of 5500 (55 packets). Either way, it is cheaper overall to buy the larger quantities. In quantities of 5000+, primers will run you around 5 cents each.
There are numerous brands and types of gun-powder around, and as you’d expect, the costs vary significantly. The selection of which powder to use for a particular load will be the subject of a future article. For the moment, we’ll just address the costs. Powder generally comes in 1 lb or 4 lb bottles. To add to the confusion, loads are calculated in GRAINS. A 1 lb bottle of powder holds just over 7000 grains. Loads vary immensely depending on the specific powder chosen, but will generally run 4–5 grains for a typical hand gun (9mm, .45, etc.) load. So, from a 1 lb bottle costing around $50, you’ll get 1500+ loads at about 3 cents per load.
Often overlooked in calculating reload costs is the cost of the case itself. Fortunately, the case is reusable, so the cost is spread over the total number of reloads you get from a single case. From my experience, you’ll get 10–20 reloads from a single case. This will depend on lots of factors, including the original quality of the case and how “hot” your loads are. If you use 10 reloads as a baseline, you shouldn’t go far wrong. New, un-primed cases will run you anything from 25 cents for a 9 mm case, to 35 cents for .45 ACP and as much as $1.00 for a .50 BMG. The cost of rifle cases will be somewhere in the middle. If you can get them, “once fired” cases are another way to go. Many ranges and firearms suppliers will sell these to you for about 10 cents each; however, you never know what you’ll be getting. So for cases, about 3 to 4 cents per reload is close to the mark.
Let’s add all that up.
Total Cost = Projectile + Primer + Powder + Case
For a typical 9 mm round using a 124 gr hard cast lead projectile →
Total cost = 10 + 5 + 3 + 3 = 21 cents per round.
For me, a box of 50 factory 9 mm is around $25 (50 cents each). That’s > 50% savings.
For a typical .45 ACP round using a 230 gr copper jacketed projectile →
Total cost = 37 + 5 + 3 + 3 = 48 cents per round.
For me, a box of 50 factory .45 ACP is around $46 (92 cents each). Again, we wind up with about a 50% saving.
The Cost of Time
The one thing I haven’t addressed so far is the cost of your time. If you are self-employed, time is money, so you may need to factor in the cost of your own time. After all, reloading time is time you could be on the range! For salaried employees, and those of us who are retired, that’s not so much of an issue. With a good reloading setup, you can generate around 800 rounds per hour. The books will tell you 1000+/hour, but good luck with that. If you value your time at say $50-100/hour, then it will cost you another 6 to 12 cents per round to reload.
Also available are so-called factory reloads. These are commonly sold at commercial ranges, and are often mandatory if you are hiring guns from that range. These reloads may have been sourced from dedicated ammunition manufacturers, or reloaded out the back by the range staff. The quality of these reloads can vary considerably, and there is no simple advice other than “buyer beware.”
The cost of factory reloads is generally half way between the cost of a new factory round and your own reloaded ammunition. Whilst these factory reloads save you the time and cost of establishing a reloading facility, the cost difference between new ammo and factory reloads can be quite small.
The break-even point is the point where the cost of your reloading equipment is offset by the cost savings from your reloads. This is a complex area, and one which I’ll address in more detail after we have discussed the costs of purchasing reloading equipment.
Put simply, if you are saving 25 cents for each reloaded round, and you have spent $1000 on reloading equipment, you need to reload 4000 rounds to break even. Depending on your rate of shooting, that could be months or years. For me, that’s about 6 months. Even if you go all out with a high quality progressive press, and spend say $2000 on all the reloading gear, your payback period could be less than a year—food for thought.
Firearms and their use involve safety critical considerations. This applies equally to reloading ammunition. In the next article, I’m going to address some basic safety considerations for reloading. Stay tuned!
Featured image courtesy of contributor Somus, via istockphoto.com