One of the ways I have saved money in the past, to make room in my budget for other prep items, is by learning to load my own ammunition. I love capitalism, as I believe competition breeds innovation and competitive pricing and usually provides the consumer with a variety of options from which to choose. As a good consumer in a capitalist economy, I try to spread my loyalty (brand loyalty) around as I find products that meet my needs and budget. I believe that trade-offs of quality versus price will need to be balanced with value-added engineering and budgets. I have a great wife who spurs me on to pursue my dreams and desires, and I try to return the favor, however, reality sets in when my need for “caliber diversity” collides with the family budget. Suffice it to say that I have become very creative and efficient at having reliable and plentiful ammunition on hand for my most favorite calibers, for present and future use. This ammo that has been attained has come through resourcefulness, creativity, perseverance, tenacity, and innovation. At present, the round counts are approaching my goals and diversity standards and will meet my training requirements. Naturally, the ammo I produce at home has supplemented my round count, since I’ve learned how to safely make my own bullets. Bulk purchases have combined buying power, which has also helped me toward my goals.
As in all hobbies, there are several key tools, techniques, manuals, skills, and components that must be acquired prior to initiating the actual process of engaging in the joy of hands-on experience. Reloading bullets is no different, and in many ways it is more exacting than most. Some of the tools of the trade include, but are not limited to the following:
- Reloading press,
- Reloading dies (caliber specific),
- Powder scales,
- Ancillary tools that supplement the press, and
- Instruction materials that may include reloading manuals, “how to” books, and videos on YouTube, just to mention a few of the possible resources.
The new nomenclature, skills, and knowledge may at first intimidate anyone who wishes to enter into the mysterious, satisfying, yet potentially dangerous hobby of reloading your own ammunition. Just bear in mind that 2 Timothy 1:7 tells us, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” Part of the adventure of learning new skills is overcoming obstacles that others may find too hard to hurdle. The reward of any new skill is in the newly-learned accomplishments and understanding the fact that knowledge is power!
For anyone who dares to enter here, I have listed some of the more common manufactures of cartridge reloading equipment (in no particular order) for hand guns and long guns. They are as follows: Lee, Hornady, Lyman, RCBS, Reading, and Dillon. This list is merely to mention a few of the better known manufacturers of hand loading dies, fixtures, tools, and presses. Each manufacturer has its own key selling points in the industry, but generally speaking, Lee is going to be on the lower end of the price spectrum, while Dillon will generally be at the higher end; however, there are no sure bets, and different manufacturers will have their own areas where they excel that make them a “go to” or “must have”, regardless of what your budget allows for.
Since I titled this document tips for the .223 cartridge, I will basically stay with that caliber and walk it through with as much thought to budget and practicality as I can muster. This article is not an extensive “How to reload a .223 cartridge” instruction; rather, it is meant to address the specifics of retooling of used shell cases and is written for entertainment purposes only.
While I did mention earlier that I have no loyalty to brands, I DO HAVE A FEW I PREFER, judged on my biases, past experiences, satisfactory results, affordability, and research. This is not a product review, so I will not go specifically into or expand on a product’s strong points, but I may mention a few brand items in passing. As I am not trying to sell or convince you of the merits of any particular product, consider that my advice is worth about what you paid for it when it comes to brand names. This article is for educational purposes only, so what I tell you is merely my opinion and should not be viewed as a “how to manual”, selling point, starting point, or any kind of sponsorship. Opinions are like fingers, and most of us have several of them. Your mileage may vary, and your choice of manufacture may also, but if you have to stick within a budget I would ask that you remember the general guidelines mentioned above as a starting point.
In some instances, the question that might be asked is “Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?” In this instance, the more appropriate question would be, “Which do I get first, reloading equipment and tooling or the components to reload?”
In an ideal world, I would answer “Whatever you can afford first.” However, if you are currently doing much shooting, it would be a good idea to start saving your spent brass and the packaging your ammo came in (more about this later). It is often difficult to know where to start in reloading your own ammo. Here, I am referring to a completed round as one that safely goes bang and spits out the end of the barrel of a gun at the desired speed and accuracy specific to the caliber in question. Please see the glossary listed at the bottom of this article for clarification, if need be, since this article is not being submitted in a gun or a shooting magazine but is intended for the thrift-minded prepper. After all, the Lord does call each of us to be good stewards of our resources. Hopefully many of the tips and hints listed here will help you save on the cost of target shooting.
If you are blessed with a family member, acquaintance, or friend who reloads their own ammunition, I recommend you set aside some time to meet with them and have them help you work on the details and techniques of making bullets. If not, then I recommend you go to YouTube or the like and type in your favorite caliber and/or “how to reload it”. You will be overwhelmed and pleasantly surprised with how much information is out there on this subject.
While I will not make you an expert, I do want to walk you through the tips and a few basics that I have had success with in reloading the .223 bullet.
I have helped more than one friend learn about reloading, and some have given it a go, though some have decided that they would rather buy their ammo from a gun store, online sources, gun show vendors, or elsewhere. At the time of this writing (early 2015), ammo is relatively plentiful in all but a few odd calibers, and some of the prices for new, factory-made rounds from many of the .223 manufacturers are almost cheaper than the cost of ammo components (slugs, powder, primer, and shell case) necessary to make your own bullets. Again, I am not brand loyal nor trying to sell a product, but many of the Russian brands of ammo, such as Bear, Wolf, Tula, and the like can be had for $0.25 or so a round. There are domestic brands out there that can be had for similar prices even with brass shell cases that can usually be reloaded in .223. This, of course, has not always been the case and is always subject to change.
I will take time here to help with understanding the cost of reloading components. We are assuming the cost of a new target load of .223 is running around $0.25 to $0.30 a round or about $5.00 for a box of 20, which is the typical for most ammo vendors. Now, let’s calculate the cost of the ingredients and the price to make our own round of ammo. We need to know the following costs:
- slugs (.224 dia, 22 cal, 100 each, 55 gr. FMJBT) cost about $9.00 per 100 or 9 cents each,
- powder cost about $22-$24/lb and at around 25 grains of powder a case; I can usually get about 200 rounds per pound, so powder cost about about 10 cents a round,
- primers cost about $30-35 per thousand, so they run about 3 cents each, and
- new brass cost about 20 to 25 cents each.
So, according to the above calculations, that means that each hand-loaded cartridge is going to cost (9 + 10 + 3 + 20) 42 cents each. Now, I believe that figures don’t lie, and I have not even calculated the cost of equipment or the time it takes to reload into this yet. Obviously I can not afford to load my own ammo for 80% over the cost of a factory-made round, unless I am able to control my cost better. One of the obvious choices that will lower my cost would be to find brass at the lowest cost I can, which goes without saying. I can also try and get powder and slugs at a less expensive price. Primers are a little tougher to get a better deal on, however, if I buy in bulk I may knock a cent or two off of the powder price or the slug price by going to a specialty outlet and purchasing in quantities of say eight pounds of powder at a time and 500-1000 slugs at a time. Still, the greatest margin for savings will come when I get the brass for nothing. So, let’s redo the math again with our new cost savings. We will estimate the new prices for the components to be (8 + 9 + 3) $0.20 a round, which is certainly much easier to take, and now you can see how I can afford to invest in some reloading equipment if I take a few steps to control my cost and keep the expenses down to a more reasonable rate. The real savings come into play when I am able to load the specialty rounds that I would pay $1.00 a round or more to purchase. You’re probably wondering how we were able to make the price drop so dramatically by removing one of the purchasing aspects of the brass shell case. THIS IS THE HACK or TIP I WILL SPEND A MAJORITY OF THE REMAINDER OF THIS ARTICLE ON!
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