CAN RELOADING REALLY SAVE YOU MONEY?
Bryce M. Towsley 2022-05-31 07:54:25
With the current prices of components, does reloading really save you money these days? If so, how much?
Why reload shotshells? Well, a big reason is the satisfaction of “rolling your own.” There is something special about breaking clay birds with shotshells you built. Also, I find reloading to be great stress relief. My time at the loading bench recharges my psyche and helps chase off the stresses and demons of modern life. The primary reason for getting started in reloading shotgun shells traditionally has been cost savings.
But is saving money still a viable option in these crazy times? Let’s find out.
As I write this, we are still struggling with the supply of ammo and reloading components. When will this end? Who knows? There are some signs that it might be easing — gun shops are getting ammo a little more often, and primers are showing up on their shelves now and then. Of course, world events may take charge and change all of it.
We shooters are also dealing with this perfect storm of the convergence of shortages and price hikes of raw materials, supply chain problems, shipping costs rising due to fuel prices and what could prove to be the highest inflation our country has ever experienced.
I know that most serious shooters are still going to find a way to continue to experience our sport. Perhaps reloading is the way, even if it’s more expensive than it used to be.
How much can you save? I am going to do a cost analysis on loading 12-gauge 1-ounce loads. Why 1 ounce? Because it’s a good load, and it makes the math easier. Why 12-gauge? Because it’s the most common and, at least in theory, it will show the lowest savings. Any of the sub-gauges will produce an even higher cost savings benefit. If you want to know how much, it should be easy enough to use my numbers to figure out the cost for your favorite loads. I have done all the heavy lifting here by finding the current pricing for components [current as of this writing in late March 2022], although I will note that 28-gauge and .410 wads are cheaper, around $10 a bag. Just do the math with the rest to find out the exact cost for your loads. Note that the number of shot charges doubles when you are loading ½-ounce .410 loads over the 12-gauge. Powder varies with the specific charge but will probably be around half. Sub-gauge ammo tends to be very expensive, so the savings per box will be pretty high.
So let’s look at the 12-gauge 1-ounce load and see if we can save any money. I am not including shipping, as it is impossible to predict. It’s better anyway to give the business to your local dealers. We are all in this mess together, and they need to survive.
Online, I find that primers are priced all over the place. Several sites list CCI primers for $79.99, even though they don’t have any. It looks to be more or less the middle ground, so I am using that. Although Federal just told me that MSRP for their #209 primers is $60 a thousand, just try to find any for that price. So, I’ll go high and use the $79.99 pricing. That comes out at 8¢ each. Wads run about $15 for a bag of 500, or 3¢ each. The cost of shot rose dramatically after the Obama administration forced the closure of the last lead smelting plant in the U.S. in 2013. A 25-pound bag of shot was about $20 then; today the only bag I could find online was $79.99. I know that shot can be found much cheaper; I actually bought four bags for $36 each a year ago. I would expect to pay $50 to $60 now. So, I am going to go with the $60 price, as I see that online for a lot of out-of-stock shot. Perhaps the price will hold.
Buying online hits you with huge shipping costs, as this stuff is heavy. If you can find free shipping options, great. Otherwise, it’s best to buy it in person. If you keep your eyes open and stock up when you can, the shipping becomes moot. The four bags I have came from a friend visiting Cabela’s, 500 miles from my home. I knew he was going to hit some shops on his road trip, and I asked him to watch out for bags of shot. The secret to keeping your barrels hot is to think like a Marine and improvise, adapt and overcome.
A 25-pound bag of shot will supply 400 1-ounce loads. That breaks down to 15¢ per charge. Hodgdon’s Titewad powder is $26.70 per pound if you buy an 8-pound keg off the Hodgdon website. You can load about 440 rounds per pound of powder, and that breaks down to 6¢ per load.
Again, it’s also best to buy powder locally, because shipping powder is very expensive. The government considers it hazardous. They don’t mind if you ship it, but they gouge you with extra fees. If you are buying online, it’s better for a bunch of shooters to pool their orders. One hazmat charge has a lot less impact if it’s spread over half a dozen shooters.
Powder prices right now are all over the map with a lot of gouging going on. Let’s hope that stabilizes sometime in the future. Prices have risen, but some shops are taking advantage of the situation. Of course, they need to make a profit, and with shortages they are not selling as much product, so a little higher as normal markup is acceptable, but if they are just flat out gouging the customer, remember that. If things ever return to normal, take your business someplace else. Make sure you tell them your plans now and give them a chance to repent.
With the prices all over the spectrum, I’ll use the Hodgdon MSRP for our cost analysis, although even Hodgdon itself is sold out of Titewad. I talked with one of their main guys there recently and he told me that they are shipping record amounts of powder every day, but all the problems of the current situation are not helping. Supply chain is a big issue.
That said, there is powder out there. As I write this in late March, a buddy called and said he had just visited three gun shops and the shelves were well stocked. Lots of powder and some primers, but not the #209 primers that we need. Still, if other primers are shipping, those we need can’t be too far behind. I also hear rumblings of a new primer manufacturer building a plant. Let’s hope they start shipping product soon.
There is simply no way to predict the future of ammo or components because nobody alive has ever seen anything like this before. We have no history to work with, and everything is way out into uncharted territory. The best advice I can give is to keep looking and buy anything you find. Stock up when you can. The only other alternative is to give up shooting and, at least for me, that is not acceptable.
The hull is the most expensive component. The best will come from serious factory-loaded target ammo like the Remington STS, which is the hull I reload most. Those hulls are safe and easy to reload, and they stand up well to multiple loadings. I will assume that you have the hulls, saved from shooting factory loads. I make it a point to gather up these hulls every chance I get. It’s amazing how often other shooters just toss them away. Anytime I am at any shooting range, I watch for opportunities to forage for hulls. Don’t waste your time with the hulls from cheap ammo — pick only the best. There always seems to be a supply and as a result, I consider hulls to be a free component.
When you add it up, you will spend 32¢ per round for the components. That’s a 60% increase over the 19¢ per shell I came up with the last time I did an analysis in March of 2019, almost exactly three years ago.
It adds up to $8 per 25-round box. Most budget-priced 12-gauge target loads run about $10 per box these days, if you can find any, so your savings averages $2 per box if you compare to the promotional ammo. It’s not much, but it adds up.
However, if you look at quality target loads, which is the type of ammo you are reproducing, the cost is much higher. Top-of-the-line target loads run $15 or more per box, and that might be a low-ball average. At $15, you are saving $7 per box. The true cost may be as much as $10 or more a box. But for now, let’s work with the lower number.
As noted previously, with anything other than 12-gauge, the gap is much wider. My 28-gauge shotguns have a caviar palate, with target loads running $25 or more a box. I just looked at some online that were nearly $40 for a box of 25, so reloading makes a lot of sense. The sub-gauges use smaller sips of powder and shot, so a pound stretches even further, making reloading them even more sensible and the savings much higher.
I don’t count my time, as I enjoy the process. However, if you are the type that feels the need to “pay” yourself for the time, I suppose you can figure out the wages. If you use a progressive loading machine like the MEC 900GN, you can expect to load about 450 rounds per hour. With a savings of $7 a box, that’s $126 per hour once the equipment is “paid off.” Single-stage loaders will be less, of course. But if your time is so important, it makes sense to use a progressive.
A single-stage loader from Lee costs $71.99 from Brownells, so, based on the 12-gauge target loads, you cover that cost with 10.28 boxes of ammo. For me that’s a weekend of shooting. You can buy the most popular shotgun reloading press, the MEC 600 JR, for about $250. With that you will need to load about 36 boxes of ammo to break even. That sounds like a lot, but competition shooters can go through that 900 rounds in a few weeks or less.
If you want to go full bore with a progressive press, the MEC 900GN is probably the most popular with serious shotgun handloaders. It is listed at $745.99 from Brownells. Break-even is 106 boxes of ammo or 2,650 rounds.
Just remember, no matter how you choose to do this, after you “pay off” the reloading press, any future ammo is all savings. If you shoot a lot, which is the point of our sport, you are saving about half on ammo. That means twice the shooting and twice the fun.
You can probably find the data and instructions you need online. Just be careful to use only proven source material. Hodgdon Powder has a website that contains a lot of load data, and you can trust those guys.
Better yet, buy a reloading manual. Books last forever, and if the internet goes down, they still work. The Lyman 5th Edition Shotshell Reloading Handbook is an excellent choice, as it provides a lot of information as well as plenty of load data on shotshells. It also has sections on loading buckshot, slugs and steel shot, which might interest you if your handloading branches out into other areas in addition to target shooting. Hull identification is very important, and this book has an excellent chapter on that.
It’s good practice to always double-check the weight of both the powder and the shot charges after setting up your press and before reloading.
Most loaders have a charge bar that is dedicated to a specific shot charge weight, while the powder bushings can be changed to accommodate several powder options. You can change the bushings to change the charge weights, but as a rule, they are not adjustable. The bushings are only approximate, and the charge weights can vary, so it is important to weight-check your setup before loading. For that you will need a good handloading scale.
Either an electronic or balance beam will work fine. Just be certain it has the capacity to weigh shot charges. Most shotgun scales need a weight capacity of at least 1,000 grains to allow weighing shot charges.
AVERAGE COST OF A RELOADED 1-OUNCE 12-GAUGE SHOTSHELL
3¢ wad 8¢ primer 15¢ shot 6¢ powder
= 32¢ per round or $8 a box
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