In 1965 I worked up my first handload, took myself to the range, and sat cowering behind the rifle for five minutes before I got the nerve to pull the trigger. I was convinced that I was about to splatter important parts of my person up and down the firing line.
Many thousands of handloads later, I’m still intact. I’ve also saved a ton of money, become a better rifle shot than I would have otherwise, and gotten superior accuracy from legions of rifles.
I got into handloading because I wanted more accuracy than I could get with factory ammo, and I simply couldn’t afford to buy the stuff in the quantities I needed. These are still the reasons most people get into it.
If you shoot up a $30 box of .30/06 ammo and then leave the brass at the range, you’ve just lost $18. Brass can be reloaded again and again, and if you also contribute the labor and the powder, primers, and bullets, the cost goes way down.
A pound of smokeless powder costs about $23. There are 7,000 grains to a pound, and if you use, say, 55 grains in a single cartridge, that gives you 127 reloads. A box of 1,000 primers is $30. A box of 100 nonpremium bullets is around $25. I leave you to do the math, but you’ll see that it adds up to much less than even the heavily discounted, off-brand stuff that was loaded in the Balkans in 1947.
Getting started requires less money than you’d think, and the equipment never wears out. (I’m still using a lot of the gear that I bought in the mid ’60s.) You need: a press, a powder measure, a die set, a powder trickler, a caliper to measure case lengths, a case trimmer, a deburring tool, a primer-pocket cleaner, case lube, a powder scale, a powder funnel, and a loading manual. That’s the basic gear list. If it all seems like too much to keep track of, Hornady will sell you its Lock-N-Load Classic Kit. It contains almost everything you need and costs $300.
How Hard Is It?
Loading your own ammo requires no mechanical aptitude and no manual dexterity. It’s a series of half a dozen very simple steps. You can find out what these are by buying a loading manual from Nosler, Barnes, Hornady, or Sierra. If you can find an experienced reloader, he can take you through the drill.
How Safe Is It?
Handloading is considerably safer than driving. When assembling ammunition you do not have to share a road with homicidal maniacs texting away at 70 mph. What the hobby does require is that you understand what you’re doing; do not assume that you know more than the loading manuals, and pay attention. I feel a lot easier about smokeless powder in my house than I do about gasoline cans in the garage. Primers are very stable; all they ask is that you handle them with the respect they deserve. It’s both unwise and unnecessary to keep a lot of powder on hand. Some municipalities have ordinances as to how much you can keep on hand and how it has to be stored. And if you have kids around, keep all your reloading gear (including primers and powder) locked up.
Reloading requires very little space. I use an old darkroom about the size of two broom closets put together. A workbench in the corner of a basement or garage will do fine.
Keep good, thorough records of what you do, because while you may remember from week to week, you won’t from year to year. Almost all my sorrow, and wasted money, has resulted from not writing down, in intelligible form, what I handloaded and how it did.