Bad Dancer asks for my thoughts on using reloads for defense. This comes up from time to time, and I don’t do it. Not because of the gun lore of a prosecutor using reloads against you, but because it just doesn’t make financial sense to me.

Let’s say that I wanted to roll my own ammo. What does it cost to roll your own? (all prices from Brownell’s, because I am doing a blog post, not writing a novel)

So call it $735 to load 1200 rounds, or about 61 cents per round. Winchester white box currently costs 26 cents per round and JHP costs 40 cents per round. Now I already know what the reloaders are going to say. They are going to claim that they can reuse the brass. (We aren’t going to be reusing used brass if we are making war shots, because you are either saving them for later, or you don’t have time to police a battlefield for your brass) But OK, let’s play that game. Let’s assume that you can load each brass case 10 times before it gets lost, damaged, whatever. That lowers your cost per round to 34 cents per round, which is still more than buying cheap factory ammo. Even if the brass is free, it still costs 32 cents per round.

However, if we are going to do that, let’s also consider that I have to buy the tools, so let’s call it $300 or so. Then there is also my time, which is worth something. It takes over an hour to load 1200 rounds. Then there is the chance that you will make a mistake and destroy one of your firearms with a double charge, which has a much higher probability of happening with a reload than with quality factory ammo.

So that’s why I have never really wanted to get into reloading. Hey, if you like sitting at the reloading bench and rolling your own, I support that. Don’t think that I am attacking reloaders. Shoot sports is filled with all kinds, and if you enjoy loading ammo, knock yourself out. Just don’t say that you are doing it to save money.

Categories: Arts and CraftsGuns


Gryphon · May 18, 2023 at 1:36 pm

When I first started Shooting regularly (40 Years ago!) Ammo was so Cheap that the only folks who did it were Target Shooters who would “Tune” a Cartridge for a specific Gun. Eventually, I took it up more to Learn How than ‘save money’ and after Recycling Brass until it Cracked, gave it up for a long Time. Recently, I sold the complete Set of Equipment to someone who has the Time (and $$ to Waste – he buys New Brass) to do it. I spent the $500 he gave me on Ammo…

dave in pa. · May 18, 2023 at 2:37 pm

took and learned how to reload back in the 1990’s when everything was going nuts. anyway. picked up and stockpiled a
lot of primers and some powder. did some reloading to pass the time now and then. but I also stocked ammo deep, maybe not as deep as some did. picked up 7.62 Nato ammo at 20 cents a round and 5.56 for a little more maybe. used to buy by the case. if I thought ammo was going to go up like it did, I would have bought it by the skid load !
I even cast my own bullets for most of what I have. got the lead for a few beers. a buddy of mine ran a scrap yard and he got me
close to 500 pounds of it. the neat thing about reloading is that you can “roll” rounds that you want. I did a lot of playing around with subsonic loads for my rifles. and I got a gift from a old lady up the street from me. her hubby old reloading books from the 1950’s old Lyman cast bullet books. I used to clear the snow off her walk and steps back then. she always was nice to me, so why not ? she gave me the books after seeing me go to the range one time. she said her kids took all of his weapons but left the books. one thing people do not understand is without ammo
all you have is a fancy rock or club.
btw, the last case of primers I pull out had a price of 21.95 on them. and there are a lot more in my ammo cans

    Divemedic · May 18, 2023 at 2:47 pm

    If you’re gonna stock primers, powder, cases, and bullets, it costs the same to just stock ammo.

      dave in pa. · May 18, 2023 at 9:51 pm

      I did stock a lot of ammo. still sitting on a lot .
      used to find/get old 5 gallon paint buckets.
      clean out the INSIDE and leave the outside messy
      you can store a lot of ammo in one of those and no one looks twice at old buckets of paint. I had a couple of thousand rounds in old paint buckets at home. stacked in a corner and like I said. no one looked twice at them.
      I stocked primer and powder and cast bullets for when I ran out of loaded ammo. or they stop selling it.
      brass I always picked up at the range and it has helped
      me make a few friends along the way. I also buy any reloading dies I find at yard sales or whatever.
      there a guy I get firewood from who I cast bullets and reload his 7 by 57 Mauser. I think I can reload a box for 8-12 bucks compared to his paying 30 bucks and up a box.
      he happy with the ammo, get his deer every year with for the last 6 and he even goes and shoots paper without crying at how much it costs and I get great firewood at a great price. like 200 a cord for clean split red or white oak
      with some cherry added in for starting the fire.
      and think, if I didn’t pick up range brass, I may have never met him. we help out each other.

      Filthie · May 18, 2023 at 10:43 pm

      Yes and no, DM.

      A few points of order, if I may:

      You dont buy brass for certain calibres like 9mm, 40 and 45… you pick up the empties you find on the range and they are essentially free.

      For practice ammo, why in the world would you shoot FMJ? I shoot cast lead. You can buy them dirt cheap and cast them yourself for even less.

      I reload for two reasons: I can make top notch match and hunting loads tailored right to my rifle. Bullet casting and reloading are fun hobbies in and of themselves and that is worth your consideration right there.

      As per Dave above… I stockpiled ammo back during the Clinton and Obutthole administrations and the ensuing ammo shortages and didnt even notice them. I had friends starving for ammo getting hacked right off with me because I wouldnt supply them. I get it, friends in need and all that… but when I urged them to do as I did, they made the same arguments you did and blew me off. I am now completely ammo-secure, probably for the rest of my life.

      For the common calibres like 223, 9mm and a few others the economic case for reloading may be hard to make. But for the less common calibres like 45-70, the big magnums and the wikdcats…yeah…you will save a pile of cash and no bones about it – and have more fun doing it.

      If you’re so inclined…I’d refer anyone interested in reloading to check out Johnny’s Reloading Bench on YouTube. If you aren’t reloading…you don’t know what you’re missing.


    Dick Tickles · May 18, 2023 at 4:14 pm

    There’s a flaw in your reasoning with reloading and it’s that you’re comparing the cost of it to the cheapest ammo available in 9mm. If it’s something like a revolver cartridge or .45, the cost per round is significantly less, especially if you shoot a lot.

    There are calibers I would never reload, like 5.7 (nightmare fuel), but in general it’s worth having at least a minimum of a press and the equipment to be able to reload.

    I got into it because .32 and 10mm isn’t as easy to find and for 10mm often loaded stupidly weak, so making my own more powerful 10mm for less thsn factory made sense.

    Also, the fun thing with revolvers is you can load two round balls into a case, like a doubletap with every shot. Two .45 round balls is quite effective.

      Divemedic · May 18, 2023 at 5:04 pm

      I don’t shoot .32 or 10mm, but I HAVE thought about 10mm.
      Volume doesn’t matter. Note my post above- it costs 32 cents per round to load ammo, and 26 cents to buy it. The more you load, the more you fall behind.
      and that wasn’t the cheapest 9mmm. I didn’t go with S&B, Bear, or Wolf. Those are even cheaper.

        Dick Tickles · May 18, 2023 at 6:51 pm

        I don’t disagree with you on loading 9mm, it is so cheap it’s a waste to bother tooling up to load, but I disagree about not loading other calibers. It does depend on the caliber tho, I can load 200gr 100mm to 1200 fps for the cost of the bullet and primer and 2 cents of powder, the brass I get free at the range.
        For me to buy 200gr 10mm at that power level would be over a buck a round.

        10mm is great, more power and capacity than .45 ACP and some of them shoot .40 without issues.

        Back to loading, there’s the factor of being able to make ammo I cannot buy because it’s not made, like the two round ball load for revolvers or the roll crimped .45 ACP that is superior to factory .45 acp in my .45 revolver.

        That said, the cost of primers and shortage of powder right now is bad enough I wouldn’t tell anyone to spend hundreds to get into reloading. Wait until things get better.

    It's just Boris · May 18, 2023 at 8:03 pm

    It seems to me, depending on the ammo in question being reloaded, that reloading is sort of like going fishing on a charter boat to get dinner.

    If the satisfaction you gain from doing it versus just buying from a store is valuable to you, and you really enjoy doing it, good for you. Me, I’m a bit reluctant to add yet another pricey hobby.

Elrod · May 18, 2023 at 3:03 pm

Reloading makes sense only in volume; once the initial capital outlay is amortized – and the “bucks up front” can be substantial – buying components in bulk, and shopping carefully, can save quite a bit of money, at least as long as one doesn’t try to figure on the cost of one’s time pulling the handle.

I don’t shoot as much as I used to, but a few years back I was going through 2.5-4K rounds/month in practice and matches, and buying bullets and primers in lots of 10-25,000 when I found a deal.

Today? I haven’t reloaded a single round in 3 years. I’m still working off my “stash” because now 300 rounds a month gets me through a practice session and the one IPSC match I shoot.

I’ve never reloaded defense rounds because I don’t have the available technology to duplicate what a multi-million dollar ammunition manufacturing facility staffed with engineers can do, and I figure a single 1,000 round case of high quality (and expensive) premium self defense ammo should be a great deal more than a lifetime supply for everyone in the family (if it’s not, we’re all in very deep yogurt, but we’ll see).

Michael in nowhereland · May 18, 2023 at 3:21 pm

I too got into reloading in the early 1990s and used to be able to beat factory prices. Everytime a democrat has been elected i have stocked up on primers, powder AND ammo and have still been able to practice and teach through several shortages. I enjoy reloading and havent ever bought brass.

anonymous coward · May 18, 2023 at 6:36 pm

I would never reload 9mm or possibly .45. But I like to shoot low recoil 30/30, 44mag, 30-06. I’ll hand load that all day.

D · May 18, 2023 at 7:47 pm

You’re forgetting the cost to build a garage on your property because you’re out of space so you can store all the reloading gear… 😉

But I almost did it during the pandemic. 6mm rem used to be all over the place for under a buck a round. I wasn’t able to find it for nearly 2 years straight, and only recently have I been able to pick up a few boxes for well over a buck a round.

I should have saved my brass…and bought reloading equipment…and built a garage to store it in.

SP RN · May 18, 2023 at 8:32 pm

I retired at the end of May 2020, just before my 71 birthday, after 48 yrs as an RN (28 in ER, 20 in Endoscopy… DM when you’ve had enough of the abuse the ER provides, transfer to Endo; you get to use your ACLS and PALS skills, it’s very technical, and on rare occasion you get to save a life)… anyhow I took up reloading because 38spl/ 357mag ammo was unfindable, and now it’s there but at absurd prices. I found a used but excellent Lee turret press, scale, data book, carbide die set, 1,500 158gr LSWC bullets, 600 Hornady JHP bullets, 1 3/4 lb of HP-38 powder, and several thousand used 38 and 357 cases, all for $135. I’ve long since amortized that cost.
When I was working I had no time or interest to reload. Now I do, I enjoy the heck out of it, and it’s become a huge learning experience for me. File this info for when you retire and have the time.
SP RN Boise ID

Tom from East Tennessee · May 18, 2023 at 8:34 pm

There is an intangible benefit to reloading that I don’t think has been considered in your analysis- the benefit of increased understanding of interior ballistics and firearms operations.
In short, being able to experiment and see the effects of changes of various parameters on firearm and bullet performance.
That’s a minor thing for most people probably, but, I suspect that you’d enjoy the aspects of tinkering with things and getting to learn how they work. Being able to test your hypotheses with this stuff is really cool. Tuning a load for optimal performance in *your specific* rifle? That’s hella-cool. Reading about it is fine, but it’s really up there to read about it and to then do it with your own stuff.

I got into reloading about 15 years ago thinking it’d make me more self-reliant and able to save money. I ran into an old-timer at my club then and he just laughed a little when I told him I was reloading to save money. He wisely said (pretty much in agreement with your conclusion) “(laughs) you won’t save money, but you’ll shoot a lot more for the same money”

After a few years I got into casting boolits as well, and since I got free scrap lead and lead alloy from various places it was pretty cool to be shooting something expensive like 45ACP for the costs of primer and powder, about 4 cents a round 10-15 years ago. Primers are 4-5x as expensive now compared to then and powder and primer are probably more like 15 cents a round now, assuming you get the lead and the pick-up brass cases for free and ignoring the $ cost of your time and labor in putting itt all together.

The cost savings can vary from ~ zero to quite a bit for rifle rounds, depending on what it is. If you have the dies and projectiles, it almost doesn’t matter what the round is that you’re reloading, the process is the same for all bottle-necked rifle rounds. 308 and 556 won’t save you a whole lot of money, but the more exotic things reload the same way and you can shoot those for a lot less, if you have the components on hand.

So I don’t disagree with your conclusion, but I spent many years and untold $ getting the experience to come around to it myself. I would say that reloading is still worth learning and doing, along the lines of your post earlier this week about knowing useful skills. I can’t predict all of the ways knowing how to reload will be useful but there are quite a few. (Example- a friend gifted me some Brazilian 308 rounds he got that had a reputation for being unsafe. Just pulling the rounds down that is removing the bullets and powder- I can reload them with uniform amounts of the same powder they were loaded with or just use my own powder if necessary. )

Divemedic · May 18, 2023 at 9:16 pm

As I said, there are reasons to reload, but saving money isn’t one of them, unless you are in an offbeat caliber. Me? I have firearms in the main combat calibers:
.38Spl, .357Mag, .40S&W, .45ACP, .380ACP, 9mm, 5.56mm, 7.63x51mm, 12ga.
There were once other calibers, but I actually got rid of them for logistical reasons. I used to have .32ACP, .30-06, and a few others. Needed to simplify the amount of ammo and spares on hand.
With that being the case, the ammo I have is widely available, cheap, and easy to source. All of the major handgun calibers are covered, and the two most popular rifle rounds. The only rifle rounds I am tempted to add are 7.62×39 and .300 blackout.
I was at a gun store today and saw a 10mm. It was tempting, but what kept my wallet in my pocket (other than promising the wife I wouldn’t spend money until I’m working again) was thinking of the cost of adding spare parts, magazines, and several hundred rounds of ammo.
Anyhow, while I was there, they had three boxes of 50BMG on the shelf. 5 rounds per box, $96. That works out to $19 per round. I wonder if that would be worth reloading.

Slow Joe Crow · May 18, 2023 at 10:26 pm

I started reloading in early 2020 when price and availability went crazy. I’ve loaded 9mm and 5.56 mm once each as proof of. concept because even at the worst both were available enough to practice while maintaining stock. .38 Special pencils out as worth reloading because it’s rarer and more expensive than 9mm and revolvers are easy to collect brass from. Rifle ammunition is similar, factory loads are $1-3 a round so even the fancier bullets are cost effective.
I haven’t tried loading defensive ammo although I’ve worked up a .38 +P soft point because 158 gr .38 loads are rare. I also have some 9mm I could assemble

Bad Dancer · May 19, 2023 at 1:52 pm

Thank you for the time you took to answer and break it down. Makes perfect sense the way you laid it out.

Now having said that I see in above you comments you do not (yet) have a 10mm. Come ooooonnnn its fun!

Only time I ever saved money reloading were the brief periods when I was sitting on a pile of components purchased at pre-panic prices but even then all it did was allow me to shoot more and levels back out right quick.

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