Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Reloading Ammunition, part 1: Why, and is it worth it?

Erin has talked at length about guns and why they are a vital part of a prepper's kit. A major weakness of guns, though, is that they require a stock of ammunition to operate. Under normal circumstances this isn't a problem, as you can just pick up a couple boxes at your local sporting goods store. Under less-than-ideal circumstances, however, ammunition can be unavailable, or extremely expensive. One major way to lower these costs is to load your own ammunition.

Loading your own ammunition has many benefits. In addition to lowered costs, rounds can easily be "tuned" for a particular gun or purpose. Hard-to-find ammunition can easily be assembled, keeping in service guns  that might otherwise be unusable. Some people even see reloading as a relaxing hobby in and of itself.

Save money, you say?
Yes, very easily. Round for round, my reloads cost me between 1/3 and 1/2 the cost of factory ammunition. On the rare occasion I buy factory .30-06 hunting ammo, it costs me roughly $1/round. My reloading costs go like so:
  • Primer - $0.035
  • Powder - (Roughly 53 grains, depending on specific powder) - $0.225
  • Bullet - Sierra Gameking bullets are representative of an average price, and run about $0.31
  • Brass - around $0.70, buying new.  Brass can be reused many times. I don't know that I've worn out more than a half-dozen pieces of brass in a decade.
Finished round cost with new brass: $1.27 each, but I can re-use that brass.
Finished round cost with used brass: $0.57 each, roughly half of factory.

Don't you have to buy a lot of equipment?
The rabbit hole of gear can be bottomless, but the basics are quite reasonably priced. The kit I started with includes everything except dies and consumables for under $130, and can often be found for an even lower price on sale. Dies start at roughly $30 per set, with a set required for each different caliber you intend to load. Even loading only one commonly available caliber, the initial investment pays off within 300 rounds. For uncommon calibers or special loads, the investment pays off even faster.

Isn't it dangerous and difficult?
While there are dangers that can arise from loading ammunition, these can be mitigated though strict attention to detail and care in your work. Stick to published load recipes, don't load with any distractions around you, and don't cut corners, and your handloaded ammo will be perfectly safe.

Handloading is also a fairly simple process, with very basic steps to follow. The first few rounds can be intimidating, it's actually no more difficult than baking. The ABC's of Reloading breaks those steps down into as foolproof a process as possible.

I'm not sure I have the space for all that.
My reloading bench is 5'x2.5'. I could easily load in a space as small as 3'x3', and possibly a bit smaller. Some inventive folks have even found ways to mount their press on a board, which is then clamped to a table they already have handy, so that they only have their equipment out when they're actually using it.

Tell me about these other benefits.
Certain guns perform better with particular loads. Specific bullet weights, velocities, and shapes perform slightly differently in each gun. When you load your own ammunition, you can select the components your gun likes best.

Older guns, or less common guns, may also use ammunition that is difficult to locate. With the exception of brass cases, even the most obscure calibers are likely to have consumable components that are relatively available. This allows you to keep virtually any gun, even an antique, running today. In addition, assembling your own ammunition can give you a greater understanding of how cartridges work, and greater understanding is valuable in itself. 

Next week: We'll look at the particular steps involved in reloading.

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