The high cost of factory ammo and scarcity of .223 Rem rounds has sparked a modern-day handloading resurgence.
This year marks Lee Precision’s 50th anniversary. Lee is celebrating this milestone with the introduction of a special kit that includes everything a beginner needs to get started handloading.
It couldn’t have come at a better time. Ammunition prices have skyrocketed, due mostly to the cost of raw metals. Making matters worse, factory .223 Rem ammo has become hard to find because our military is using it up at a rapid rate. Brass, lead and copper are still not as expensive as gold and silver, but they are becoming precious metals. This has sparked a resurgence in handloading.
Lee says the upswing is not just due to folks loading .223 Remington and other standard hunting cartridges. He notes that unusual cartridges like 7x55 Swiss and 6.5x55 are getting a lot of attention.
Lee is in a good position to track this by virtue of the sale of reloading dies. Regardless of which cartridges are being reloaded, “The sale of equipment supporting rifle reloading is up dramatically for 2008,” he says.
Kurt Nelson at Redding Reloading reports his company is having a banner year as well. “It seems a lot of shooters are dusting off old presses and upgrading to top-of-the-line or more modern equipment.” Doug Phair with Ramshot Powders agrees, saying they have seen a spike in the sale of powder, especially rifle powders. Carroll Pilant of Sierra Bullets reports a corresponding boom in the sale of rifle bullets.
There are good reasons for all of this. You can save money by building your own ammunition, and it is an enjoyable way to extend your fun with firearms from the range or hunting fields to home. Just how much you can save depends on what you are reloading and, of course, how much shooting you do.
At this writing, MidwayUSA’s online store lists a box of .223 Rem 55-grain Pointed Soft Point ammunition at $16.29. If you buy 1,000 rounds, the cost is just over $800, plus shipping. Using the same online source, I calculated the cost to reload 1,000 rounds of .223 Rem ammunition with the same bullet, Remington brass and Remington primers. The total, less shipping, came to $501.91.
Considering you have to make the ammo, that may not seem like a big savings, but $200 of that cost was for the Lee 50th Anniversary Kit, dies and 1,000 pieces of brass. This means the next 1,000 rounds will only cost you about $200 because you can reload the brass multiple times and you only need to purchase the equipment once. So, for your second 1,000 rounds, you will realize a 260 percent savings!
It’s not just varmint or prairie dog hunters who do high-volume shooting who can save money. Midway sells a box of Federal .300 WSM ammunition loaded with 180-grain Nosler Accu-Bonds for $48.99. Not counting shipping, that works out to $2.45 per round. If you already have a reloading press and brass, you will just need to purchase a shell holder, dies, bullets, primers and powder. Based on Midway’s current prices, you could load 100 .300 WSM cartridges with the same Nosler AccuBond bullet for about $103 or $1.03 per round!
Because powder and bullets aren’t available in quantities small enough to load just 20 cartridges, the cost for reloading just a box of them would be about $79 or $3.95 per round. A pound of powder will load about 100 .300 WSM cartridges, and bullets typically come 50 per box, so comparing the cost of only 20 loaded cartridges to a box of factory ammo is not really appropriate. With handloading, volume matters, but you don’t have to load thousands of rounds to save money.
The term “reloader” or reload used to be popular because many shooters got into making their own ammunition to save money, and reloading is much like reusing or recycling. But thriftiness is not all there is to it, which is one reason it is now better known as handloading. “Handloader” better identifies shooters who craft their own ammunition, because they can cook up loads with certain bullets or of a certain performance level not commercially available. Or maybe they need ammunition that’s not available across the counter for wildcat or antiquated cartridges.
A perfect example could be the hunter who wants to use a rifle in .300 Savage but also would like to reap the benefits of modern bullet technology. Factory .300 Savage ammunition is loaded with standard bullets like Remington Core-Lokts or Winchester Power Points. Now that Remington is offering its Core-Lokt Ultra and AccuTip bullets as components, a handloader can use those or other premium bullets in his .300 Savage.
Another example is a rifle chambered for a wildcat cartridge. I designed a .416-caliber dangerous-game cartridge based on the .325 WSM case and another round, based on the .35 Remington case, I call the .35 Super. A rifle in .35 Super will still chamber and fire Remington factory ammo, but handloads can provide an additional 400 fps with the same Remington bullets found in factory ammo or with premium bullets. Without handloading, neither of these rounds or the countless other wildcat cartridges would be possible.
If you’ve reloaded in the past, now’s a good time to start again, and according to the representatives with the companies I talk to on a regular basis, that’s what many hunters are doing. If you’re thinking about getting into reloading for the first time, one thing you should know is that the technical service departments for the powder, bullet and reloading equipment companies are superb and are there to help you. In a matter of minutes, you can have a professional on the phone to answer any questions you might have. The same can be said for customer service with regard to broken or damaged equipment. You will be amazed at how well these companies treat their customers.
Handloading adds a new dimension to hunting, and you will feel a little more pride when you take a big buck with ammunition you created on your own.
This article was published in the September 2008 edition of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine. Subscribe today to have GunHunter delivered to your home.