Isn’t it time you started reloading your own ammo?

At one time or another, most gun owners and hunters begin to wonder if they should start reloading their own ammunition. It is certainly a tempting proposition, particularly for those of us that like to shoot on a somewhat regular basis. The idea of saving a little money certainly adds to that temptation. In some situations, reloading your own shells can save you a substantial amount of money, but the money saving aspects of reloading is probably the least important reason to take up this fascinating and intriguing hobby.

Many people are a bit shocked when I tell them that some of the cartridges I reload actually cost more than I could buy new ones for. So why bother reloading? The answer is quite simple. My reloaded ammunition is better than anything I can buy over the counter. It is tailor-made to fit a particular firearm. The bullets I load are often the best made and best performing and as a result, I can be assured that if I do what I’m supposed to, the ammunition will not fail me.

While some of my hand-loaded ammunition would have to be considered a bit on the expensive side to produce, a considerable amount is also fairly cheap to load. When I’m loading for varmint shooting, for practice, for plinking, or for clay target shooting, I attempt to load as cheaply as possible. This sometimes produces substantial savings over the cost of shells loaded by the factory.

I won’t get into the actual mechanics of reloading here, but I want to provide you with enough information so you can determine whether hand-loading your own ammunitions is something you should pursue or not.

As I alluded to earlier, no one should base such a commitment solely on a cost savings basis. That would be a serious error in judgment. On the other hand, if you are looking for a way of extending your shooting enjoyment; you aren’t concerned with the amount of time the process will take; you want to produce the best possible ammunition for your shooting purposes; and you are intrigued with the mechanics of shooting, reloading may be just the new hobby you’ve been looking for.

One of the problems faced by the commercial manufacturers of ammo is that they must factor in a margin of safety with all their cartridges. All of the ammunition they produce must be able to function safely in the majority of the firearms, even if they are not in 100% new condition. This means that in some cases the factory rounds aren’t loaded to the velocity levels necessary for top performance. The factory must also seat their bullets far enough into the brass in order for the cartridge to fit virtually every magazine, even though it is common knowledge in the field of reloading that sometimes bullets seated a little further out may shoot more accurately. And lastly, never underestimate the desire by manufacturers to keep costs down to an absolute minimum. It is always a balancing act for any factory to produce a “good” product, but do so as cheaply as possible. With these objectives in mind it can sometimes mean that quality takes a back seat to monetary gain

Rifle and pistol reloading

Possibly the worst part of getting started reloading is the initial outlay of dollars. At a minimum, in order to turn out that first hand-loaded rifle or pistol cartridge you will need to purchase the following pieces of equipment:

As you get further into reloading you will probably want to add a few more items like:

  • A bullet puller and collets, or a gravity-type bullet puller, for when you mess up a load and need to pull it apart
  • A powder measurer, in order to “throw” approximate charges before they are weighed, saving you a bit of time
  • A powder dribbler (also to speed up the process)
  • Polisher or tumbler, for cleaning and making your brass look pretty

Sound like a lot of stuff? It is, but these costs can be defrayed over many years of reloading and shooting.

Shotshell reloading

In the case of shotgun reloading, the equipment necessary isn’t as large as what is required to load for a rifle or pistol. Essentially the reloading press does it all. There are two basic types of shotgun presses: the single stage press and the progression reloader. Single stage presses are the cheapest to purchase and easiest to use. For this reason, they are an excellent choice for the beginning shotshell reloader. This style of press is a bit slower to use than the much more expensive, progression presses, but that is the only disadvantage. Even though I have loaded hundreds of thousands of rounds of shotshells, I still own two single stage presses and frequently use both of them. I find if I’m loading only a box or two of shells that my single stage presses are more convenient. Generally, I can load a 25 round box in about 15 minutes on this style of press. In most cases, unless you shoot a great deal, this is probably fast enough for most shooters.

On the other hand, if you are looking to load a lot of shells of a single kind, fast, the progression reloader is what you want. According to the factory, the one I own is supposed to be capable of turning out around 800 rounds per hour, but in reality I can only load around 500 per hour, and that is when everything goes perfectly. Progression reloaders are not really intended to load a box or two at a time. They are essentially geared to the trap and skeet shooters that will generally load several cases of shells at a sitting. Single stage presses are better suited for hunters and the occasional shooter.

One disadvantage with shotshell reloading is the difficulty of changing the dies. This process is time consuming and the costs of the dies are quite high when compared to the cost for a complete press, including one set of dies. For this reason most shooters purchase a separate press for each gauge shotgun they intend to load for.

Outside of the reloading press the only other item that you will find absolutely necessary to reload shotgun shells is a manual. In the manual you will find the recipes for the various loads. Shotshell hulls vary dramatically, making it necessary for you to precisely follow the recipes and never interchange one type of hull or other components for the ones listed.

You will have to invest in powder, primers, shot and wads, of course. And it is always a good idea to have a powder scale or balance, in order to check the weight of your charges. There are charts and tables available in many reloading manuals that will permit you to select the appropriate charge bar or bushing for a particular load, but for safety reasons I always prefer to double check these amounts with an accurate scale.

Ways of saving money

Used reloading equipment can often be found listed in the newspaper want-ads, at garage sales, at gun shows, and on Internet sites like eBay. The problem with these sources is that you have to know what you’re looking for and be able to evaluate the usability and condition of these items. While in some instances these sources may be good ones for purchasing the actual equipment necessary, you should be very skeptical of buying reloading components this way. A buyer can never be absolutely sure what they are actually buying. For example, how could you be sure a can of powder actually contains the same type of powder that the label says it does? Or whether the bullets are of the same caliber and weight as the box says? How do you know if the powder or primers haven’t become wet, rendering them ineffective? For these reasons, I would recommend that your components always be purchased from reliable sources as new products.

Buying your reloading components in large quantities through mail order houses or wholesalers will often provide substantial savings over buying small quantities through your local sporting goods store. Shipping costs can be quite high for products like powder and primers, because the shipping companies tack on an extra charge for what they consider hazardous cargo. If you do decide to order these products, you need to order in quantity in order to offset these charges. By talking with other shooters that reload their own ammunition, you can often get great advice on the best buys on components. Sometimes two or more people can go in together and place an order, and then split it. Some of the mail order houses that I frequently deal with are:

    • MidwayUSA, 5875 West Van Horn Tavern Rd., Columbia, MO 65203-9274; 800-243-3220;
    • Lock, Stock & Barrel Shooting Supply, West Hwy. 20, Drawer B, Valentine, NE 69201; 800-228-7925;
    • Precision Reloading, Inc., PO Box 122, Stafford Springs, CT 06076-0122; 800-223-0900;
    • Widener’s Reloading & Shooting Supply, Inc., PO Box 3009, Johnson city, TN 37602; 800-615-3006;

Another way of cutting your reloading cost is to check with local gun clubs. Many clubs sell components for a reduced rate to their members, or if they don’t, certainly the shooters will have information on where to buy at the best prices. A great way to save on your lead shot cost is to use reclaimed shot for your practice shooting. Many gun clubs actually reclaim the fired shot by periodically mining their range. It’s amazing how much lead shot can be salvaged from these sites. After mining, the shot is screened, washed and graphite is added. Because this shot has traveled down the barrel at least once previously, it won’t be perfect in appearance. Much of it will contain flat spots or slight irregularities, and chances are your pattern will be a bit more open than with brand new shot. Nevertheless, this shot will work great at short yardage and for practice. Reclaimed shot will sometimes cost about half that of new shot. Sometimes I even use reclaimed shot for the first shot while hunting. I actually think that the more open patterns works to the benefit of most shooters.

Reloading can be great fun. It’s the ultimate way of recycling and if you shoot a lot it has the ability to save you money in the process. But possibly best of all, reloading your own ammo extends your shooting enjoyment, expands your knowledge, and increases your outdoor adventures.


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7 Responses

  1. Spook45

    I do not reload shtguns, however I hv been reloading metalic cases for over 20yrs. I prefer a single stage press, no moving parts to wear out and tighter tolerances mea ngreater accuracy. For a scale, a ot of people buy digital, I do not. The digital has some slight advantages such as speed and simplicity but it is no more accurate than the old fashion beam type scale and te old ones dont use batteries. IT will work anywhere there is gravity. For a case trimmer I would recommend the RCBS however I use Lee cutter and lockstud systems for each caliber. They are accurate,effective and inexpensive. You can use them by hand, with and electric drill or as I use mine, on a small lathe. There is also a small cord pull machin e that works with them for around $20. A good case lube pad and lube is essential, the pad rand and type are of no speciality, at opne time I used and old mouse pad and a aother I used a thick pc of scrap leather. I hv also just lubed them individually by hand. My lube preferance is teh Lee paste, It works freshly wet out of the tube or even after it dries.

  2. Spook45

    For Dies, I am divided, I love the Lee pace setter dies fr accuracy and ease opf use, but they are not a machine type die so You cant form cases with them. For the calibers that I may want to "wildcat" I use RCBS dies or Lyman Dies. Dnt forget lead bullet casting! This is not a huge investment and you will find that not only can you make bullets, but also fishing sinkers, jig heads, and other useful simple objects that than be molded out of lead. Hope this helps, I would urge EVERYONE with firearms to buy smart , buy BULK and load carefully and safely, OH yea, on tat last note, a Sierra load manuel. IT is the most versitile and comprehensive that I have seen.

  3. Spook45

    Oh yea, FYI, here is another excellent reloading supply that has real good prices and a very large selection. the link should be HTTP// , If that doesnt work, just search midsouth shooters supply and it should pop up. Also, you might try natchez shooters supply, they sometimes have things in stock that are harder to find in other places. The old stadbys such as Basspro and Cabelas also carry a good supply of reoading stuff and evenCTD bt they are a lil high.

  4. BulletJules

    We not only reload what we shoot, I also take the time to pick up shells which have been left behind by others. Several years ago I started recycling what couldn't be reloaded. Okay, I actually put a side shells which weren't reloaded and created unique and stylish bullet jewelry. I can say not many others were doing so back when I started besides a very large Hollywood company who made blinged out so called real bullet jewelry.
    Since then I've had my designed copied which I guess is a complement, or not. I'm proud to say that my bullet pendants, necklaces and various jewelry is being worn all over the world by several celebrities, rock bands and people like you and I. I now specialize in making memorial bullet pendants.
    I'm also a beliver that you shoud reload when possible. Its a great winter project and relaxing as well.
    If I can help you design a piece of bullet jewelry please let me know. You can visit my work at
    Thanks for the opportunity and keep up the great blog!

    • Spook45

      I use whatever shells I can to wildcat other shells that I can use, the others I part out to other reloaders that can use the for themselves. I will even dig up leftover bullets, wash them, and trow them in the melting pot to recover thelead for ead bullet casting. My newest endevor is to swage my own .223 bulets(atuall .224 dia,). Cobin bullet swaging sells a kit but it is over $700. I am going to use a Lee bulet sizer and punch to make the jackets(spent 22 shells) and then put the jackets in a mold and poor the bullets into them. Then, you use te same punch and die to size the finished bullet. When they are done, you just load them like regular and you have a semi jacketed soft point round. I also tr to use every pc of brass can. 30-06 brass can make a dozen dif rounds from 06 down to 45.

  5. PreppingToSurvive

    Thanks for posting this. Great article. I've been considering reloading recently but haven't made the investment to start.



  6. long rifle



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