Shooting is fun, whether it’s for hunting, competition or simply plinking. It’s also expensive. Ammo costs money. Sometimes a lot of money. Factory centerfire ammunition can cost anywhere from 20 cents a round to a couple dollars a round.
The price of ammunition is one of the things that motivated many of us to reload our own. That’s what motivated me to start reloading. We can reload ammunition for half the cost of factory ammo, sometimes even less.
Here are some tips to help you save a little money when looking for components. The less money you spend on components, the more money you have for the other joys of life — like another gun!
The point is that there’s no need to spend more than you have to for this sport.
Buy in Bulk. This is an obvious way to save money. There is often a discount for volume purchases. You might need to buy small samples to find out what your gun likes, but once you’ve learned that, buy in volume.
Your local gun store might offer discounts with bulk purchases, and most nearly all have sales from time to time. Watch for ads in local newspapers and flyers. Shop around. Some stores are known for having low or high prices, so it pays to know the usual price structure of your local stores.
Buy Online. Your best bet for volume discounts is mail order since many retailers offer discounts for volume sales. Some companies do the bulk of their reloading sales online, and the savings can be substantial.
Bullets are most commonly offered for volume discounts. Montana Gold Bullets is an example of how much money you can save when you buy in bulk. The price for 100 of their 9mm 115-grain FMJ bullets is $25.25, or 25.25 cents per bullet. The price for 500, 1,000, or a case of 4,000 of these bullets is 19, 13 or 8.75 cents each, respectively. The case price is a huge savings over smaller quantities, and at that price, they are in the same price range as cast bullets.
If you buy primers or gunpowder online and it has to be shipped (as opposed to picking it up directly from the store), only Fedex or UPS will ship them (they cannot be sent via the Post Office). You must pay a mandatory Hazardous Materials (HAZMAT) shipping fee for these items that costs $28.50 per package, so add this fee to the cost of your reloading supplies. Obviously, this only pays off if you buy in bulk so that your total cost is less than what you might pay at your local store.
Need to order 20,000 primers or 20 pounds of powder to make it economically practical but won’t use that much in 20 years? Combine your order with your reloading buddies. You’ll all save money.
Use less expensive components. We have favorite reloads with specific bullets, powders, primers and brass for particular purposes, and no substitutions are allowed. But some of our reloads are less critical and we can save money by using different components.
Bullets are the most expensive disposable reloading component. Jacketed bullets are usually the most expensive, but do you need jacketed bullets, or can something else work? How about plated or cast bullets? We don’t have too many options when shooting high-speed rifle cartridges, but low-speed rifle and handgun rounds can use plated, cast and swaged bullets, which are usually less expensive than jacketed bullets.
Just watch out with using lead bullets in polygonal rifled barrels. Sometimes they don’t play well together and can result in excessive lead buildup which increases pressure.
Factory seconds (blemished bullets). These bullets have minor imperfections. I’ve reloaded thousands of these over the years. With many of the batches I’ve bought, only a small percentage of the bullets seem to have any visible defect. The rest look normal. MidwayUSA offers them from time to time.
Sometimes changing bullet weights can save a little money. Lighter bullets often cost less, but lighter bullets generally require more powder for the same performance level, however, since they are usually driven faster. Do the math to see if they really cost you less in the long run.
Cast your own bullets. Casting equipment costs money, but if you’re reloading and shooting enough, it will pay for itself. However, casting is not for everyone. It’s time-consuming, and the bullets have to be lubed and might need to be sized which adds more time and effort to the process. You also have to be aware of the alloys used, or you can end up with leading in the barrel. A good manual such as Lyman’s Cast Bullet Handbook is essential.
If you’re fortunate, you can get lead for free at some sources. Check with local tire stores for scrap lead wheel weights. Many modern wheel weights are largely zinc, though (so I read) and are not appropriate for casting, so do your homework.
You might be able to reclaim lead from shooting ranges. Some folks dig bullets out of the backstop and toss them in the melting pot, including jacketed bullets. Hey, it’s free lead, and the empty jackets can be sold as scrap copper.
Buy larger jugs. The price per pound for a 4, 5 or 8 pound jug is almost always less than for a single pound. The shelf life for reloading powders can be decades if properly stored in their original containers, so even if you don’t use a powder often, it will remain good for many years.
Use a more cost-effective gunpowder. If your current load for 230 grain bullets in .45 Auto requires 7.0 grains, you might be able to get the same velocity with a different powder that requires less weight.
Say powders X and Y cost the same, but powder X requires 7.0 grains, while powder Y requires 5.5 grains for your desired velocity. You could be reloading 1,000 rounds with one pound of powder X but 1,272 rounds with one pound of powder Y.
And you’ll have a little less recoil with the powder that uses less weight for the same velocity. You’ll save money and reduce recoil. That’s a win-win!
Prices vary between brands, and trying a less costly brand can save several dollars per thousand rounds.
If you’re reloading precision match grade target ammo, you might need to stick with the brand that produces the tightest groups, but if you aren’t, you might be able to use a different brand that is less expensive.
Here’s an example of price (per 1,000) differences I found at one website for small rifle primers: Federal $30.00; Remington $30.00; Winchester $27.50; CCI $26.50; Tula $24.50; Sellier & Bellot $22.00. The least expensive brand offers a 27 percent savings over the most expensive brands.
What about magnum primers? Magnum primers might cost a little more than standard primers. The question is whether you need magnum primers. The answer is yes for some gunpowders. The stronger spark (brisance) offered by magnum primers will provide better ignition and a more complete burn with some powders, and if they are recommended in your reloading manual, then stick with them. If not, you might save money using standard primers.
Save your brass! Bullets, primers and powder are “disposables,” but brass is recyclable. Unless we’re shooting at a range or a competition where we can’t pick up our brass, we can reuse it until it splits, the primer pockets get loose or we lose it.
Scrounge! You might be able to pick up brass left by other shooters. Some public ranges might let you scrounge brass during the off hours. It never hurts to ask. With range brass, however, you don’t know how it has been loaded or what it has been fired in, so inspect it after cleaning to see if it is in good condition.
I shoot at an outdoor range and some shooters just leave their brass wherever it lands. It’s free for whoever wants to pick it up. Over the span of just a couple of years I picked up over 10,000 perfectly good reloadable cases — and those were just for the calibers I’m reloading. I had no practical use for the calibers I didn’t reload, but some folks will pick them up and trade with their friends or sell them.
Several sources on the internet sell fired brass. Sometimes it is once-fired, and sometimes it is simply listed as fired, with no indication of how many times. Be sure you know what you’re ordering.
However you do the math, less means more. Less money spent on reloading components translates into more enjoyment at the range because you’re not worrying so much about the cost of every shot.