Thursday, May 30, 2013

Should You Start Reloading?

Most hunters will not save money by
reloading, but that is not the only
reason to reload. Customizing ammo
to fit your firearm or hunting situation
can be an important part of
your hunting experience.

The recent rise in the cost of ammunition, and the scarcity of some calibers, led one friend to ask if I thought he should start reloading. Since he is still using the same box of .30-06 ammo he bought three years ago, and he only shoots 4-5 rounds a year, I told him that I thought he’d be OK staying with factory ammo.  Then I got the same question from someone else I know. Reloading is a great hobby, but not for everyone. Let’s take a look why.

What is Your Motivation?
Reloading can offer a number of benefits, but if those benefits don’t apply to you, there is no reason to reload. Forget what I do, or your neighbor, or some guy at the range. If it doesn’t help you, it’s a waste of time and money. Remember that saving money may not be the best reason to reload.

Penny Wise, Pound Foolish?
The “pound” in that old saying refers to British money, and reloading can be a great way to spend dollars to save pennies. It all depends on volume. I started reloading decades ago because I was shooting a lot of handgun ammo and couldn’t afford to shoot as much as I wanted (that hasn’t changed over the years). I was able to ‘pay’ for my reloading gear with money saved on ammo in the first year. Unfortunately, I didn’t really put that money in the bank. Overall, I’ve just shot more, and spent more money on other guns and additional reloading gear. You will find that you will either become overwhelmed, bored, and find reloading too much trouble, or you will gradually get more involved, start loading more calibers, and need more gear.

Do The Math
After you start reloading you will discover that there is
a plethora of additional gear that is helpful, necessary,
or good to add to your process. This can result in
you spending more money, and reduce the amount
you save on ammunition. 
If you think you will save money, first put a pencil to paper. A very basic starter kit, plus supplies and one set of dies, will run you $500-$700. A decent setup with some additional gear will add $300-$500. So let’s say $1,000 to get going (and you will spend more in the future). You can expect to save 30-70% over factory ammo (perhaps even more right now, with the recent shortages and price increases), depending on the cost of primers, powder, and bullets (and whether or not you have to buy brass), but let’s say you can save 50%. Let’s assume factory ammo is $1.00 a round. At a bare minimum you’d have to reload 2,000 rounds to make the breakeven point. A serious shooter can do that, but I know a lot of hunters who won’t shoot that much in a couple of decades.

Other Reasons to Reload
When you reload you will be able to
select components to achieve
specific performance objectives
 from your firearms.
But don’t be discouraged, because saving money is not the only motive for reloading. You can fine-tune your ammo to produce the most accuracy possible from a particular rifle, produce ammo to meet specific performance requirements (very light or very heavy loads, for instance), produce ammo for hard-to-find calibers, or have the satisfaction of using ammo you manufactured to take that trophy animal. You can use different powders and different weights and styles of bullets to make your deer rifle suitable to take anything from varmints to elk, and you will receive an extensive education on ballistics.

Is Your Personality a Match?
A single-stage press can produce perhaps 50 finished rounds an hour. Do you have the patience and attention to detail to do the same thing, exactly the same way, hour after hour? You have to be careful, precise, and methodical – there is no margin for error. If you leave the powder out of one case, fail to properly seat one primer, or double charge one round, the results can range from problematic to catastrophic. You must keep careful records, compare loads, examine spent cases for signs of stress, and fully understand what you are doing, and why you are doing it. All of this will take a lot of time. You will also need a clean, dry, well-lit area in which to reload, with a solid, secure bench where you can bolt the reloading press. Make sure you can safely and securely store components when not in use. Be honest with yourself – if this is too much for you, stick with factory ammo. If this is a good fit for you – then get some catalogs, save some money, and start reloading.

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