Fixed costs: In order to reload ammunition, the shooter needs to invest in equipment to get the job done. A bare bones setup consists of a press, caliber-specific dies, and a powder scale. With a little ebay persistence you can spend anywhere from $100 to $1500, depending on the bells and whistles. A press and dies will last several lifetimes if care for. Possibly a table and other hand tools might need to be purchased, but any sturdy workbench will do.
Variable costs: A round of ammunition has 4 components: bullet, shell casing (a.k.a. “brass”), primer, and powder.
For our purposes I’ll take a quick look at .223 rifle reloading for my High Power competitions.
- The most expensive component are the match-grade bullets, so first I’ll discuss some of the options and issues. The main issue is that the heavier the bullet, the less susceptible it is to being blown by the wind. The wind is a big factor in the 600 yard stage of a High Power match, but not a big factor at the 100 yard reduced courses that make up most of the matches in my area to shoot. Heavier bullets cost more. The second major issue is quality and uniformity. I’m told this makes a difference, but I have not tested it myself. The idea is you buy from a quality bullet maker and you are assured your bullets will be closely uniform in weight, shape, etc. The overwhelming consensus among High Power competitors is that a 77 grain weight bullet is the right bullet for 600 yards. 77 grain bullets cost roughly $100 for 500. That works out to $0.20 a bullet. For 100 yard courses, many use a lighter 52 or 53 grain bullet, which cost about $80 for 500, or $0.16 a bullet. A cheap 55gr bullet can be found for about $0.08 to $0.10 in bulk, so I find this idea attractive but need to do some research if other shooters have had success with cheaper bullets at 100 yards. The only brand of rifle bullets I use currently are Sierra.
- Powder is cheap, an 8lb. tub will cost $130 or so, yield about 2400 charges for roughly $0.05 a round.
- Primers run $20 per 1000, or about $0.02 a round.
- Brass cost is a little tricky to analyze, because brass can be reused many times before it cracks or otherwise becomes unusable. If you pay $200 for 1000 pieces of new brass, it probably costs about $0.01 or less each time you fire a given piece. Also, cheaper once-fired brass can be bought in bulk, or your buddies who do not reload might just give it to you.
What does factory manufactured .223 ammo cost? A lot depends on quality and application. Match grade ammunition is around $0.80 to $1.00 a round. Cheap bulk steel cased ammunition is about $0.20 a round, but steel cases cannot be reloaded (from what I hear), and bulk ammo is usually only 55gr. bullets which will not perform as well in the wind at a 600 yard match. The cheapest brass-cased bulk ammo, again usually 55gr., goes for around $0.32 a round.
For pistol reloading, the same principles apply except the brass can be used many more times, and bullets are cheaper. For example, an un-jacketed 200gr. .45ACP bullet I use in Bullseye competition is only about $0.07. I have not looked at pistol ammo prices in a long time, but I have no doubt one saves a ton of money by reloading pistol ammo as well.
Of course, there are the immeasurables. Time for one, as ammo does not reload itself. It takes most folks about an hour or two to crank out 100 rifle rounds, maybe half that for pistol. When you are buying equipment, some of the premium you pay for is time-saving. On the plus side is the fact that you end up producing ammo that is better than what just about any factory is producing these days, and you can fine tune certain variables to your firearm for maximum accuracy.