With ammunition shortages around the country and the cost of what ammo is available skyrocketing, shooters are increasingly choosing to make their own ammunition. Reloading is a subject that’s been trending in top online searches, and industry experts say the time it takes for home ammo makers to recoup their initial equipment investments has never been shorter.
For many years it was said making your own ammunition, known as reloading, was a way to save money. In reality, that really wasn’t the case for those who weren’t competition or high-volume shooters. It’s true the more you shoot, the more you save, but hunters and those who shot only a box or two of ammo a month weren’t seeing big savings. But now, with ammo prices so high, savings can be had by those who reload. So how does one get started?
This article will focus on reloading metallic cartridges, specifically centerfire handgun and rifle cartridges. You can also reload shotgun shells, but that’s an article unto itself.
The first thing you’ll want to buy is a reloading press. This is the heart of the reloading process, and there are two kinds – single-stage and progressive reloaders. Single-stage reloading is a manual process for each step – sizing/de-priming, priming, powder measure, powder add and bullet seating. Progressive systems do all this with one handle pull and produce a loaded round with each stroke. That’s wonderful for cranking out a few hundred rounds in an hour, but there are a lot of things to keep track of all at once. A good single-stage reloader cranks out only 50 to 75 rounds in an hour, but correction and intervention are easier if there’s a problem.
I strongly recommend beginners start with a single-stage reloading press because it familiarizes users with each step of the reloading process and allows vital experience to be gained. You can begin with a progressive system, but unless you have help from an experienced reloader, the chances of frustration and disappointment are substantial.
Some names to consider when choosing reloading equipment are RCBS, Lee, Lyman, Hornady, Dillon and Redding. All make good products. Redding makes primarily dies; Dillon has complete caliber-specific setups; RCBS, Lyman, Hornady, Lee all offer very good beginner single-stage kits. Whichever you choose, I suggest going all-in on one brand. By that I mean get the press, powder measure, dies and other accessories from the same manufacturer. That tends to help if you have customer service requests because they’ll know exactly how to help you. Most dies are interchangeable (RCBS dies fit a Hornady press, for example) but try to keep everything in one family of products, if possible.
In addition to the reloading press, your first setup should have the following: a powder measure or scale for weighing powder charges, a powder dispenser or funnel, a priming tool, case lube and a lube pad, a reloading block to hold cartridge cases, a caliber-specific shell holder and dies. If you’re reloading brass that’s been fired, you’ll need a case cleaner or tumbler with appropriate cleaning medium or solutions. It’s also handy to have an Allen wrench set, adjustable wrench, a deburring tool and calipers. If you plan to use brass that’s been fired more than once, a case trimmer might be needed at some point.
To guide you through the process, you’ll need a reloading manual. These books contain charts showing which powders, primers and bullets to use in various calibers, along with other helpful information such as case length and overall cartridge length. Each page contains a list of powder charges, including minimum and maximum loads that should not be exceeded.
Because of unprecedented demand for ammunition, the prices for bullets, powders, primers and brass are elevated at the start of 2020. Ammunition companies tend to put production of completed cartridges ahead of individual components, so supplies are scarce. I calculated savings per box of 9 mm, 124-grain bullet loads at going rates and came up with savings of $2 to $4 per box of 50 rounds if you reload. You’d have to reload 100-200 boxes to recover your initial equipment investment. But if you shoot a couple of boxes each weekend, you’d be ahead cost-wise after a year or two.
The real benefit of reloading comes with being able to tune a load to your specific firearm. By working with various bullets and powders, you’ll be able to discover which combination delivers the best accuracy in your gun. You’ll be amazed how much difference a few tenths of a grain of powder or switching bullet types and weights can make. For example, I tested different loads in a Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 9mm pistol. I found 115-grain bullets of any type delivered adequate accuracy at 20 ft. and 147-grain bullets opened groups up to 3-4 inches at that range. But Hornady XTP hollow-point bullets from the same firearm printed groups as small as an inch. Your results may vary.
If you’re considering making your own ammunition, Nexgen Outfitters has several staff members who are experienced reloaders and ready to help you. Our website has a wide range of reloading products to choose from. Please reach out to us via the chat feature on this site and we can help get you started on an exciting new hobby.