Handloading Your Own Ammunition: A Long Term Investment

The cost of ammunition is rising and availability is dwindling, but I still want to keep shooting. I’ve decided to invest in a reloading setup because I think it will save money, and allow me to keep a flow of ammunition going in times when certain calibers are hard to come by at any price. These are the reasons reloaders always give when they talk about reloading being a smart idea. Do the numbers back up that statement? Will I really save any money? The cost of even a basic reloading setup is pretty high, I’m not going to lie. You need more stuff than you might think, but there is also some expensive machinery out there that is not really required. We can speed up the reloading process greatly by buying automated priming systems, progressive presses, and electronic powder dispensers, but just like with cars adding speed means spending more money. We don’t need a Ferrari to start out with. Let’s price out a sturdy pickup truck of a reloading setup for one of my favorite calibers, the .223 Remington. This article is going to have many hotlinks in it. You can click on them to see the products I’m talking about, so you will know where I’m getting all these prices.

A great place to start is with a Lee Reloading Starter Kit. For $113.13, you get a basic single stage press with a priming system, a mechanical scale, a powder measure, a powder funnel, and some case preparation tools. For the money, it is an unbeatable combination. I personally stepped up to a Lee 3-hole turret press which is still a great value, but if you do that you’ll have to buy all that other stuff separately.

You will need a way to clean up fired casings that you will be re-using. I went with the Lyman 1200 Classic tumbler for $82.04, and some cleaning media, which is gritty polishy stuff that goes in the tumbler, for $14.04.

We need some .223 Remington dies to go in that press. Again, Lee gets the call. Their $28.60 Pacesetter Die Set comes with three dies to go in the press. The first one resizes our casings, the second one puts the bullet in the casings, and the third one crimps the casing around the bullet to hold it where we want. If you’re reloading for a bolt-action gun, you can sometimes get by without crimping your ammo, but for a semi-auto like my AR-15, you need a crimp die. We also need a can of Hornady One-Shot lubricant to make sure we do not get our casings stuck in that resizing die. Cans go for $7.51, and I’m not sure how long a can of this stuff lasts, but I will let you know when I find out.

Since we’re reloading for a rifle caliber, our casings will stretch when we fire them. We need to trim them back to a consistent length to ensure accuracy. There are a lot of fancy expensive electrically powered case trimmers out there, but a basic Lyman AccuTrimmer will get the job done fast enough for most of us. It is still a $51.20 investment but they never wear out; the only other choice is to use brand new casings every time. No way!

Let’s add up the initial start-up costs of our basic reloading setup:

  • Lee Starter Kit: $113.13
  • Lyman 1200 tumbler: $82.04
  • Lyman cleaning media: $14.04
  • .223 die set: $28.60
  • Hornady One-Shot: $7.51
  • Lyman Accutrimmer: $51.20
  • TOTAL: $296.52

Whoa! We spent $300 and we don’t even have a single bullet yet! For only a few bucks more, you can get a thousand rounds of quality, brass cased .223 ammo from PMC, currently going for $311 per case. If a thousand rounds seems like a lot of ammo to you, maybe reloading isn’t a worthwhile investment. We still have to buy components to actually assemble ammo. Let’s price those out, per thousand rounds.

Cheaper than dirt! does not sell primers or powder, but we’re looking at about $25 per thousand primers. Likewise, a pound of powder costs about $25. A thousand rounds of .223 loaded with 25 grains of powder each will use up 25,000 grains of powder, or 3.57 pounds worth. We’re going to spill some, so let’s call it 3.6 pounds of powder. That means we will spend $90 worth of powder per thousand rounds. Cheaper than dirt! does have plenty of bullets on hand. If I want to use the same type of bullets as the PMC rounds, 55-grain full metal jackets with cannelures, I will pay $13.41 per one hundred, or $134.10 per one thousand bullets. If I require new brass, I have to pay $28.38 per hundred for new unprimed brass, but I scrounge the brass that my buddies leave behind at the shooting range, so I don’t have to pay that. Thanks fellas! .223 brass can be reloaded six or seven times before it needs to be thrown away entirely, so a little time spent picking up those empties goes a long way towards saving money. I’ve collected over a thousand brass casings, so I am going to leave that out of my equation. I don’t think that’s unfair with a super common caliber like .223. You can do the same thing! It’s not like I’m reloading for .416 Rigby or some other rare caliber.

So a thousand rounds worth of components is going to cost us:

  • Primers: $25
  • Powder: $90
  • .223 FMJ Bullets: $134.10
  • Casings: FREE! My back hurts a little from bending over to pick them all up though.
  • TOTAL: $249.10

Hmm. When it comes to the cost of components, I can build my equivalent of that PMC ammo for $60 less per thousand rounds. If I want to shoot 55-grain FMJ ammo, every thousand rounds I shoot, I save $60. If you only shoot a thousand rounds a year, you are probably not too excited about that. If you are the kind of guy that shoots a thousand rounds each and every month, you’re probably already reloading by now. Let’s assume I’m an average AR-15 owner shooting 2500 rounds of ammo a year, or a little more than 200 rounds a month. I don’t know if that is average or not, but it sounded fair to me just as an example. I will save $150 a year by handloading instead of buying PMC. In two years, the money saved will “pay for” the initial start-up costs of my reloading setup. In five years, I will have saved $750 in ammo costs. I know something else that costs about $750: a brand new AR-15 carbine from CMMG. Starting to get the idea?

Reloading blasting ammo as cheap as possible will save you money to be sure. However, properly handloaded ammunition can more accurate in your gun than even expensive match-grade ammunition, because you can custom-tune ammunition specifications to your particular gun. You can adjust the type of powder you use, the amount of powder, the bullet weight and type, and even the overall cartridge length to maximize accuracy. The margin of savings for loading match grade ammo versus buying match grade ammo are much higher than a blasting ammo vs. blasting ammo comparison. I will use the same numbers as above, but substitute 69 grain Sierra Match King bullets for the 55 grain FMJ bullets. Those awesome bullets cost $23.02 per box of 100, or $230.20 per thousand. Added to the rest of the components, 1000 rounds of carefully handloaded match grade ammo will cost me $345.20 if I re-use scrounged casings. Federal uses that same bullet to make Gold Medal Match ammo selling for $27.23 per twenty round box. That’s a whopping $1,361.50 for a thousand rounds of Gold Medal Match. I can save $1016.30 per thousand rounds if I load my own using the exact same bullets. If I want to shoot nothing but match ammo all year long and I use up 2,500 rounds, I will spend $863 on ammo. However, I’ll save a whopping $2,540.75. That’s more than a new in box FN SCAR in just one year’s worth of shooting!

An additional benefit of handloading is that once you have the initial setup, reloading additional calibers is super easy. It only requires the appropriate components and another $30 for a different die set. The amount of money you will save through handloading depends greatly on the popularity and cost of new ammunition in that caliber. 9mm Luger is already so cheap that it’s hardly worth bothering to reload for right now. On the other hand, I eventually intend to reload for 8mm Mauser as well as .223 Remington. New production 8mm Mauser ammo from BVAC costs $22.79 for a box of 20 rounds, or $1,139.50 for a case of a thousand rounds. I will spend $177.80 on a thousand bullets from Speer, and of course $25 on primers. 50 grains of powder in the casing means a pound will last 140 rounds, so a thousand rounds worth of powder will run through $180. Reloadable casings are pretty hard to come by, so if I have to buy new ones I’ll spend $28.50 for a bag of 50 casings, or a whopping $570 per thousand. I probably wouldn’t actually do that. Instead, I would probably buy 200 casings and reload each one five times, but even on a one-for-one basis with all new components, 1000 new rounds vs. 1000 new rounds, I would save $185.70 by handloading instead of buying from someone else. If I reload 200 casings five times each, I would save almost $650.

Does handloading ammo instead of buying new stuff save you money? There can be no doubt, yes it does. The more you shoot, the more you save compared to buying plinking ammunition. The more precise a loading you can replicate or exceed with your equipment, the more money you save compared to buying match ammunition. The more rare or expensive your caliber, the more money you save by handloading compared to buying new production ammunition. Handloading is not for everyone. It requires a significant amount of time, a significant initial investment, and a methodical, mechanically inclined mind. Handloaders find a rewarding challenge in the math involved and the attention to detail required. Many handloaders describe the time they spend measuring powder, deburring casings, and fiddling with primers as a relaxing endeavor that takes their mind away from the stresses of work and family. To them, this is an added bonus of handloading as part of their firearms hobby. If it sounds like a bunch of bother and endless frustration to you, then the cost savings alone may not be worth the hassle for you. Each of us must decide if this long-term investment in time and money is right for us!

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (22)

  1. In 1964 I had a friend hand load 20 rounds of .264 Mag for my Sako rifle, it took me 2 weeks to get out to the range to try them out. I shot a 5 shot group you could easily cover with a dime, the next day I bought a RCBS Jr press and the rest of the gear to load for 3 different calibers. I now load for 17 different rifle and pistol calibers and shoot about 300 rounds a week. It is my favorite hobby. I have worked up a 6.5 Creedmore load for my Ruger Precision Rifle that shoots .25 MOA at 200 yards. Love reloading, relaxing.

  2. I started reloading maaaany years ago. I got into it on the real cheap side with a Lee Loader. A complete (tho somewhat crude) one at a time reloading kit. The ammo was servicable, tho nothing to write home about. But, it worked, and I started to ‘expand’ my tools. I still have it, sort of as an historical trophy. I think the kit was something like$35.00

  3. I started reloading back in ’80, to save money initially. My shooting/hunting mentor buddy laughed and expressed concern that I would blow myself up. I am highly mechanical minded which he knew (we were both transmission technicians), so his fears were surprising.
    Long story…one he saw the product and performance I was getting and yes…my head still being attached, he jumped on the bandwagon and got a setup too. From there it became a ballistics efficiency competition. Super fun and educational to share combinations and performance results with other loaders.
    In the end it boils down this way, you will save on expensive calibers and at least a bit on all, but you will NOT get even comparable performance from factory ammo as with your finely tailored hand loads.

  4. I really appreciated the original post and the comments that were from real people. I’ve been thinking of getting into handloading, and this post gave a great sense of what the activity is really about.

  5. This article completely baseless. Everyone knows reloading never saves a dime. The lower ammo cost always leads to more shooting. When you’re shooting for 50% less, you’ll shoot 300% more.

    1. I have to disagree with your logic. I do mostly long range precision shooting and I can tell you I save 50% per round for the cheap stuff, and near 70% per round for quality match ammo. I save around $500 a year on just one caliber, that paid for my reloading set up in just one year, and it hasn’t caused me to go out and shoot more. I still shoot about the same as I did when i was spending $500 more a year. If I shot more, I would save more.

  6. I can tell you that is has ceased to become cost effective to load shotshells because of the price of lead shot. I still can’t understand how factory shells cost just about as much as loaded shells for clay pigeon shooting..

  7. I started reloading in 1985 for 2 reasons, It’s cheaper. I shoot alot. At the time I could load five 20 round boxes of .308 ammo for the price of 1.5 boxes bought. The other reason was that my rifle didn’t like factory ammo at all. I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn at 200 yards. with reloads I hve 1/2 MOA or better with several different loads for this rifle @ 300 yards. I currently load for several different calibers, both rifle and pistol, Although price of the components has gone up, and the savings over factory ammo has gone down somewhat, it still pays to load your own.
    With the ammo you’ve loaded yourself, for your gun, and whatever your using it for, be it paper, or the Bull Elk of a lifetime, you know it will go where you point your rifle, or pistol.

  8. You know Jack,I always said in the past; Why did I ever get rid of that gun? And there were more than several,many of which were my father’s,but one in particular comes to mind,after reading your post,and. You’re right on track loading down your cannon,and getting more bang for your buck from your guns,no pun intended. Your post made me remember,and long for the .44 Mag Super Blackhawk I used to have. I can remember coming back to the camper after the evening deer hunt once,with a 740 Rem in 30.06 in one hand,and a Super X Model 1 Winchester 12ga in the other,wearing the Blachawk inside my layered clothing in an impromptu shoulder rig, when I spotted a cotton tail, about15 to 20 yards away,in the dark. I was wearing a Ray-O-Vac head light w/elastic head band,and a 6v battery in my pocket, w/ red cellophane over the bulb. (Yeah, I know I was loaded for Bear, and ; Up jump a rabbit!) Anyway, I stopped walking, and with my .06 slung on my shoulder, and the 12ga in my left hand, I drew and he’ll my head cocked slightly to one side to train the light, I fired one shot, and when I recovered the rabbit, I found that I had just parted his ears,scalping him. And,that was with whatever 240 gr factory Remington load I could by off any store shelf. Eventually, I bought an RCBS Rock Chucker, and started loading for many of my guns, and you’re certainly right about versatility with. Your Bisley,and any other otherwise powerful gun. It really opens new ideas about how to utilize your weapon, and that’s a great thing. Your post made me remember that evening back in .83, and I just wanted to share that. Damn, I miss that gun.

  9. I recently bought a Stainless Ruger Black Hawk 44 mag Bislee Hunter. I have never shot a magnum round through it. I bought it as a target pistol. I was able to do that because I reload and can make this beast shoot like a pussy cat 38 special target pistol with custom reloading. My wife enjoyes shooting this pistol.

  10. What about that 7th post? What does that even mean? A sorce of non traceable ammo? Listen,all that information the guys are sharing about loading is true. It is an economical plus for sure, albeit harder to produce consistant loads to feed and cycle thru auto-loaders. It is a learning experience,and can be quite satisfying to fire,and experiment with loads you worked up. You can keep changing the recipe,working toward smaller groups at the range,or enjoy the silence of the woods from your stand, knowing the ammo in your gun as well as those shiny spares in your coat pocket are little soldiers of your creation,probably by now more accurite than factory fodder,yeah the thought of buying a box of factory anything is like a step backward on several levels. I know. I used to handload myself. Still have my RCBS Rock achucker press and all put away. I don’t hunt any more,and don’t have much to do with guns any more other than self defense. Which brings me to my point……..that comment about un-traceable ammo. Shooting anything other than over the counter off the shelf factory ammo at a perp may leave you answering a lot of questions. It’s not a good idea. If it goes to court,that evil home concocted poison tip smart warhead or whatever you loaded as custom ordinance will surely come under intense scrutiny. And it won’t be in your favor. I can only guess that’s what you were infering in your post. Don’t just take my word, ask a cop. Ask a DA or criminal attourney. The thing is to consider any and all things that happen to come up…..once you pull the trigger in a self defense shooting. Now,deer hunting or varmint hunting,target shooting? Handload to your heart’s content. It can only serve to make you a better shot,and teach you a wealth of ballistic knowledge,and pride in the sport.

  11. If you are considering Reloading and can afford a basic setup, look at it as a long term investment.
    I have been reliading all my ammunition for both pistol and rifle for 35 years. I have made thousands of rounds, all customized to my different Guns. I have achieved great accuracy and am really proud of my handywork. I started with new Equipment, but as Bill mentions above, there is a lot of good Used Equipment out there. So dont be afraid to invest a few dollars in equipment, it will definetly pay off in the long run.

  12. Something I noticed everyone missed is going with used equipment. about 10 years ago I picked up a single stage press, a 505 scale, a case trimmer. a powder measure, a trickler, a set of 7 mag dies, case lube pad, a shell holder, a case gard 50 round loading tray and everything was used but in the boxes. All the hardware was RCBS and it only set me back 75 dollars. Can’t beat that. I cleaned it all with starting fluid outside and haven’t looked back.

  13. I recently started loading my own ammunition for 7mm-08, .35 Rem, and .380 until I pick up more dies for the other calibers. For the most part I use the same equipment as listed in the article and they all work pretty well considering I was going “on the cheap” and spending as little as possible until I got the basics down. So far I have made about 100 rounds of each caliber with different recipes, so far all have gone bang. Even in my notoriously picky AMT Backup. The reloading equipment and components PAY FOR THEMSELVES if you use them enough. At current ammo prices for 7mm-08, the savings I have made loading my own practice/hunting ammo so far have already paid for the equipment in that one caliber as opposed to buying factory ammo.

    Quick note to CTD Mike: If you switch to Lee Resizing Lube (#40456 on your site) you can cut it with rubbing alcohol. For every 2oz of lube, use about 8oz of alcohol in a spray bottle. This will help you keep your lube longer.

  14. I have been reloading since I was 16 and had bought my first rifle a model 94 Winchester, I did not have the money to buy a press so I bought a Lee Loader, since I was more into hunting then accuracy, but now I have 4 different presses, and as many rifles, only shoot a Ruger Mark II, for a pistol round, I had a Beretta 92 but got tired of chasing cases, and unless you have carbide dies it can be a pain in the butt using a set of three dies., but this is a hobbny that has taught me a lot have you ever tried to use the formulas in most of the reloading manuals, this is not a hobby for those who are trying to drive a bullet at the fastest speed possible, that just burns out barrels, I would take accuracy over velocity anyday, and that is all that will be in my gunrack accurate guns whioch is under 1/2 an inch at 100!

  15. I think its important to also account for the time it takes to reload. If you are retired and you have all the time in the world to spend reloading your opportunity cost is much less than a career working professional. Also time spent reloading is time not spent shooting at the range or doing other fun activities.

  16. There are savings, and considerable flexibility, to be realized in reloading rifle cartridges; even more so with hand gun rounds. The equipment mentioned here is not too bad. (Personally, I would suggest Lee’s classic cast iron/steel press instead of the cheaper cast aluminum.) That said, the list provided will get you going. You might also keep in mind that there is a lot of fine quality reloading equipment (even supplies) that is available at garage and estate sales; often for some extremely low prices :vs: new stuff.

  17. Reloading is great fun.It’s amazing how detailed and precise it is.You learn so much about ballistics,head spacing,swagging and all the different factors involved in making ammo.Learning about all the varied components that go into producing the most accurate bullets is fascinating.Being knowledgeable is always a plus.You can’t go wrong in that respect!It’s just another great way be involved in your hobby.

  18. Finally, a nuts to bolt analysis of what the investment versus payback! Well done. I have been hesitate to jump into reloading given the high startup costs and negligible payback – but not I see that the goal should be an enjoyable past-time, and if you reload expensive calibers (.308) it would be worth it. But it’s a long term payback, it’s now obvious it won’t return your investment the first few years. From this posting, I think I will hold off on reloading.

  19. Midway has bulk Hornady 55 gr .224″ fmjs for under $100/1000. I paid $13/100 at Cabelas this weekend. $13.41 is high.

    Also, most of us will be loading for pistol too, which pays off the capital outlay a bit sooner. Except that we keep spending more money on more and better reloading gear, so we always come out behind anyhow.

    What it really is, is a fun second hobby. Two complete hobbies for the price of about 1.2 or so. Beat that!

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