Editor’s Note: This post was an entry in the Prepper Writing Contest from Matt W in January of 2017. I am re-posting it because I have had many questions of late on the cost effectiveness of reloading vs stockpiling commercial ammunition and I am still on the fence on the subject in general.
Being a “doer” like most preppers I have always been fascinated with the idea of loading my own ammo. Perhaps caught up in the advertising that shows a rugged individual working a re-loader in a nice wood-paneled room full of hunting gear and trophies, wearing a plaid flannel shirt, a steaming cup of coffee (or hot chocolate) on the bench, with trees in autumn colors outside the window, and of course, his favorite hunting dog laying at his feet in anticipation of time in the field filling his head.
The cold hard fact from my point of view is that I did not do enough shooting to really justify the initial investment. I once actually had the whole deal in a shopping cart at a favorite supply store. I love hunting upland birds and shooting skeet and trap, but life has gotten in the way of that almost daily. Am I the only one who realizes the more time-saving gadgets I have the less time I have to take advantage of them? So I returned everything to its rightful place back on the shelf. I was looking at $900 and couldn’t justify it not having shot that much commercial ammunition in the preceding 18 months. Of course I would be ahead now, 6 years later, but just barely. And now, looking at favorite pistol and rifle calibers, I see some sense in it as I once had a 264 Winchester Magnum that was a GREAT varmint rifle but commercial ammo was expensive, still is. Traded it away when $$$ was tight. Don’t know that I would have shot it enough to recoup the investment but I would love to have that rifle back. The clarity of hindsight.
In any case I would love to hear what other preppers think on the subject. Wild Bill
With the interest in the preparedness lifestyle growing at an explosive rate, one important skill is often brushed aside: reloading ammunition. Often, persons embarking on their own personal prepping journey will procrastinate on learning to reload their own ammunition. The reasons to put off learning to reload are understandable. Often, many people would rather just buy more firearms and more ammunition than put the time and money into learning reloading. People usually are put off by the expense of reloading equipment, feel that they do not have the time to learn reloading, or they do not have a person available to teach them.
Learning about all the reloading equipment and techniques can seem daunting at first but the skill is worth the effort. The initial investment in equipment and supplies for reloading can cost as little as about $300 or as much as one is willing to spend. However, there are many benefits to making the investment. First, a person can save a lot of money reloading, quickly recouping the startup costs. Second, by reloading ammunition a person can get much improved accuracy over using only factory ammunition. Third, for many rifle and pistol calibers a hand-loader will have many more choices available than solely relying on factory offerings, the combinations of components are near infinite. Fourth, reloading will allow a person to have ample supply of hard to find ammunition for a favorite pet caliber, unusual and rare cartridge, or old hunting rifle. Finally, when the next ammo shortage happens the reloader will be able to maintain his / her stockpile. As can be seen, there are many good reasons for preppers to take up reloading and each one will be looked in more detail.
Without a doubt, one of the most popular reasons that persons learn to reload ammunition is to save money. Ammunition is expensive and it is not getting any cheaper! However, anywhere from 65% to 80% of the cost of ammunition is in the cartridge case. Therefore, a person should always pick up their spent cartridge cases. That reusable brass case ties up a bunch of money, too much money to just leave laying on the ground like garbage. For example: if a box of rifle ammunition cost around $20 then about $15 of that is likely tied up in just the cartridge cases. No one would walk by $15 laying on the ground and not pick it up but people will leave perfectly good cartridge cases laying all over the range. A person could reload that box of ammo for $5 or less. That savings adds up fast and recoups the initial investment in equipment. The amount of money saved can be used to buy more ammo, more guns, optics, range time, training, prepping supplies, and on and on. If shooting those big safari rifles is appealing, the savings to the reloader are truly amazing. Some big game rifles cost the shooter anywhere from $5 to over $25 every time the trigger is pulled. This cost can prevent any frequent or meaningful target practice, often even impairing properly sighting in the weapon or zeroing a scope. Reloading can make shooting these big guns affordable and fun. As mentioned earlier, cost savings is a major motivator for reloaders. As a person living the preparedness lifestyle, allocating money and resources properly to maintain a regular life while preparing for the worst events is an ongoing process. Reloading is a good way to help preppers cut cost and spare resources.
Obtaining greater accuracy is another good reason to learn reloading. Many people who start reloading just to save money quickly discover this benefit. The quest for peak accuracy is what gets many people really fired up about reloading. Once a person experiences how easy it is to increase accuracy for a given load, they are well on the way to a life time of reloading. Firearms are expensive. Many times, people have been very disappointed with a new firearms shot groups, assuming there is a problem with the expensive new weapon. After hand-loading some ammunition, they have discovered there is nothing wrong with the weapon and that factory available ammunition is causing this sub-par performance. For example: this is very typical for 45 Colt revolvers. Historically, there has been some variation in bore diameters of production revolvers in this caliber. For safety reasons, the major ammunition manufacturers will produce loaded ammo with bullets in the smallest produced bore diameter. In some guns, these too small bullets will not engage the rifling’s and just rattle down the barrel, flying erratically out the muzzle. Accuracy is unbelievably poor when this happens. An easy fix for a reloader is to determine the bore diameter and reload using bullets of the appropriate diameter. This method has been proven to turn poorly grouping guns into tack drivers. Sometimes, the problem with a firearms accuracy is not in the gun but in the ammunition. Loading one’s own ammunition can help correct that.
Reloading greatly improves consistency and uniformity in the loaded cartridges. Hand-loading can definitely help with increasing accuracy over the modest distances of handgun ranges but the most dramatic improvements can be gained over the longer ranges usually shot with rifles. Some factory ammunition is very good. However, hand-loads will give the best and most accurate results over factory loaded ammunition. Much of the accuracy potential in a batch of hand-loads comes from consistency gained through precise attention to detail. With factory ammunition, there can easily be a 5% to 10% variation in muzzle velocity from shot to shot. A careful hand-loader can greatly reduce that variation in muzzle velocity, which will give a more consistent point of impact. Reloaders can also adjust the overall length of the loaded cartridge by adjusting bullet seating depth to better match the specific weapon they are using. This will improve accuracy by reducing bullet jump (distance a bullet travels before engaging the rifling) and more closely aligning the bullet center with the bore axis when the rifling is engaged, resulting in a better spin and truer flight. A careful reloader can more precisely align the bullet into the case, keeping the center of the bullet more closely on the axis of the weapon’s bore. The reloader is in control of every variable of the cartridge. The case lengths can be trimmed to exact specifications. Case mouths and crimping can be uniformed. Any possible variable can be minimized or eliminated to produce the most consistent ammunition, which all leads to better shot groups. Competitive shooters have long known that hand-loading is the way to get out the most accuracy from their weapons.
If a person is not shooting one of the more popular calibers, they may be disappointed with choices in factory available ammunition. Some of the lesser known, newly introduced, or very old calibers will not have enough choices of bullet styles and weights available in factory production ammunition. Some very capable cartridges are no longer offered in newly manufactured ammunition. A reloader will still have the ability to produce ammunition for these discontinued calibers. Dies and cartridge cases can still be purchased for calibers that have been discontinued long ago. Handloading or reloading ammunition is a way to get around these limitations.
The combinations of components are limitless. Bullet weights and shapes can be chosen specifically for maximum efficiency for any given purpose. Different bullet tip shapes, ogives, and base configurations can be chosen to fit a rifle or load for greater accuracy, consistency, or function. A person can load expanding bullets into cartridges for old surplus rifles that are generally only available in full metal jacket configuration, turning that old surplus rifle into a viable hunting weapon. Different propellants will burn with different rates and characteristics. This will affect muzzle velocity, consistency, and accuracy. With so many possible combinations of bullets, propellants, primers, and cases, a person can tailor a specific load for any purpose. If the goal is to get maximum efficiency, maximum utility, maximum accuracy, or effectiveness over a wide range of shooting distances, reloaders can tailor ammunition to any purpose. The sky’s the limit on possible loadings.
One very important thing to anyone living the preparedness lifestyle is securing and maintaining an ammunition supply. In recent years in the United States, we have experienced several ammunition shortages of varying degrees and durations. Everyone knows that is not a question of whether or not there will be another ammunition supply interruption but when the next big one is coming. The author remembers a time when he would give no consideration to leaving the house with a firearm without any ammo thinking “I’ll just pick up some on the way to the shooting range.” It is getting better but not quite back to those days yet. Certainly, anyone reading this article has not so distant memories of going to wally-world and seeing the ammo shelves empty. During the last ammo shortage, reloading components were still available for a time after all the ammo was off the shelves, allowing reloaders to stock up on components before the supply temporarily dried up. Reloading components are easy to stock up on. For example: at the time of writing this article Unique and Power Pistol powders were about $20 a pound. A person could load up around 1,150 rounds of 9mm ammo with one pound of these powders! Store a few pounds of powder and a person is set up to last through the ammo drought. Another way for a reloader to cut cost and extend his or her ammo supply is to cast lead bullets. After the initial cost of equipment, money saved by casting bullets will quickly recover the startup costs. Additionally, lead could be gathered from alternative sources instead of buying it. This will allow the resourceful prepper to make lead bullets at no cost. With some components in storage, the resourceful prepper can spend a little time in the evening reloading and replenishing his or her ammo supply when everyone else is scrounging for ammo or getting gouged by online price hikes.
So, it’s easy to see how reloading is another valuable tool in well-rounded preppers kit. Many people tend to feel rushed and overwhelmed when coming into the preparedness lifestyle. Along with marksmanship, martial arts, archery, fishing, hunting, farming, canning, tanning, mechanics, carpentry, communications, first aid, sewing, sanitation, and land navigation (just to get started) reloading seems like a ton to learn. However, persons reading this already have a great asset: motivation. If a person is willing and motivated to learn, there is a wealth of resources available.
Everyone is different and learns differently. For some people, it will be very difficult to pick up a reloading manual and start off reloading without any issues. For most people, the easiest and fastest way to learn is to have a someone actually show them step by step how to do it. Unfortunately, unless someone already knows a friend or family member who reloads it can be difficult to connect with someone willing to teach. No one wants to deal with that grumpy old condescending jerk at the local gun shop or put up with the know it all attitude from gun show arm chair rangers. This is why I’ve taken it upon myself to bring reloading to the preparedness community. I had no one to help me when I was learning reloading. It was frustrating. There is a whole new crowd of people who are either first time gun owners or have a general interest in firearms but feel isolated because they don’t have good resource people in their social circle. Often these persons are turned off to guns or discouraged because someone at a gun shop or gun show discouraged them or talked to them like they were stupid. That is why I am passionate about teaching others to reload. I offer completely free help, advice, and information in an encouraging, supportive, and nonjudgmental environment through email. Even though anyone could pick up good info from my emails, my emails are geared toward persons who have no or very little knowledge and / or experience with reloading. All you need is an inbox and a desire to learn. I’m not compensated for this service in any way by any one. This is just my way to give back to a great community. I send out emails regularly with reloading related content. Additionally, anyone can send me a message and ask anything they want about reloading. It’s a totally free service. You can follow the link below to sign up to my email list or just message me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can subscribe to my newsletter at https://forms.aweber.com/form/82/515771282.htm
I’ll look forward to your questions,
Matt “Papa Bear” Wooddell
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