Is Reloading Worth It?

The signs of reloading ammo.
The signs of reloading ammo.Field & Stream Online Editors

Someone asked me recently if ammo companies kept me in free target loads. Alas, they do not. I reload, I said.

So, he wanted to know, how much do you save?

I hadn't figured it out in a while, and I was curious. Reloading is a pain these days. Powder shortages make it hard to find the powder you want at the price and in the amounts you want.* The local stores only have one pound bottles, not the more cost-effective four and eight-pound jugs, and ordering powder requires paying a hazmat fee. Lead prices are stable right now, but shot is still expensive. I wondered if I was still saving money.

I ran the numbers on an online reload calculator. As far as I can tell, if you're paying full price for components, buying them in small amounts and loading 1 1/8 ounce 12 gauge shells, you are saving a few pennies a box at best. If you have to buy hulls, too, you're losing money in the short term, plus there's that reloader to pay off. Now, if you're reloading 28 gauge and .410 you're saving lots, because those low-volume factory loads cost a lot, yet they use very little powder and shot.

As for me, I have two full-size trashcans full of 12 gauge Winchester AA hulls and a pile of Remington STS as well so my hulls are free. I got a good price on primers and shot from a friend recently, and I load lower priced "clone" wads from Claybuster that are more less identical to the costlier Winchesters I used to load. Most important, I load 7/8 ounce 12 gauge shells and even some ¾ ouncers. Shot is your biggest per-shell cost. Every eighth of an ounce less shot per shell and you save about .30 per box.

All that said, I am loading shells for about 4.45 a box. If I looked hard, I could find ammo for about 5.70 or maybe a little less. That's a significant saving, but not huge. A lot of tournament sporting clays shooters just buy the cheap stuff at Wal-Mart, shoot that, and never bother reloading. A buck and quarter per box is worth it to me. For one thing, finding cheap, low-recoil loads isn't easy. I like the soft-kicking loads for myself and I bring a lot of them to trap practice for high school kids who are getting beaten up by their guns, too. I have a progressive loader that makes a box of shells in about three minutes so it only takes me an hour to save 25.00. And, reloading is fun, especially this time of year.

The best part, though, is once you have several 5-gallon buckets full of reloads it seems like ammo is free, even though you paid for all the components a while ago.

*My understanding that most shotshell powders are going into factory ammo right now as manufacturers continue to play catchup following the gun and ammo buying frenzy of 2012. What's leftover is being parsed out to us reloaders, hence the shortage.