Shooting is, as most enthusiasts will tell you, not a cheap hobby. In fact, for the serious shooters out there, just about the only thing going faster than the rounds downrange is the rate at which cash is flowing from their bank account into that of their favourite gun retailer. Guns, optics, accessories, gunsmithing work, club dues, storage systems, and training courses all add up, as any significant other will attest to. But if there is one cost on any shooter’s balance sheet that typically outstrips all others, it’s that of their ammunition.
Because unless you restrict yourself to shooting nothing but .22 Long Rifle and the occasional 9mm, chances are you’re pulling the trigger on something that’ll burp out a round that cost you anywhere from .25 cents per up to $5, with even basic rounds like steel cased .223 costing over .30 cents per bang. Now, a third of a dollar doesn’t sound like much unto itself, but even a moderate range day’s worth of shooting will carry a bill of at least $50 in ammunition. And don’t even mention the cost of ammunition to a competitive pistol shooter, unless you’ve got 45 minutes of spare time, and a strong desire to hear swear words used in all kinds of innovative and interesting ways.
But it doesn’t need to be that way. Reloading, although not a terribly cheap hobby unto itself, can heavily reduce the cost of your ammunition while simultaneously providing greater performance accuracy. If you doubt that, consider this: out of my own personal M14s, the cheapest steel-cased ammunition shoots roughly 3.5 MOA and costs anywhere roughly 50 cents per round. Brass-cased conventional commercial ammunition does only slightly better in terms of accuracy, grouping five shots into 2.5 to 3 MOA typically, but costs a dollar per round on average. My own reloaded ammunition, by comparison, is never more than 46 cents per round and turns that Chinese-made rifle into a 1.5 MOA gun. And that’s reloading one of the least cost-effective calibers out there; reloading .338 Lapua Magnum, for example, can save upwards of $4 per round!
But scrounging for deals on ammunition components isn’t the only way to save money while “rolling your own.” Here are a few thrifty tips that’ll put money back into your pocket and help you make the absolute best ammunition you can:
Don’t always buy the cheapest reloading gear.
The budding reloader often bears a striking resemblance to the stereotypical nerd. Perusing every website and store shelf they can, calculator in hand, they too often get wrapped up in the minutia of selecting reloading components and accessories and end up short-sightedly opting for the absolute cheapest of everything. This does little more than ensures that their experience at the loading bench will be fraught with frustration and inconsistent results, to say nothing of the eventual additional cost of replacing parts after they either break something, or realize their gear is holding them back. Instead, consider each component separately. The actual press, for example, is usually the most expensive part of the equation and the one which demands the most attention. Get something that exceeds your expected usage, and is the absolute best you can afford, because it is the device that sees the hardest use and has the steepest learning curve. By comparison many other accessories, like scales and powder dispensers, typically carry price tags commensurate with their convenience factor rather than quality. For example, an old fashioned and relatively cheap balance beam scales are in many cases more accurate than their digital counterparts, but are a lot less convenient. That makes them a great place to save a few bucks, if necessary.
Reduce static for more accuracy
No one likes static electricity. It makes your hair stand up, your clothes stick, and gives you a friendly little jolt whenever you touch anything metal. In short, it sucks. But as a reloader, you’ll soon discover it sucks even more. Due to the constant working and rubbing of powder granules against one another and the various plastic containers they’re stored in, smokeless powder has an insatiable ability to pull static electricity out of the air and wreak havoc with your equipment. Instead of pouring out in nice uniform charges from plastic powder measure spouts, some grains will cling to the measure or the funnel, or clump together in the measure itself. Thankfully, this can be easily avoided by grounding out the metal components of your powder measure with something as simple as a length of wire or a set of alligator clips, and wiping a dyer sheet (such as Bounce) over the plastic components. Some also profess that cutting a 2″ wide strip from a dryer sheet and draping it into the powder measure prior to filling it works well too to completely eliminate static cling. Also, If you use a digital scale to weigh powder charges, apply some Static Guard clothing spray to it (just lightly spray the whole thing down; top, bottom, and sides) to reduce the chances of it losing zero throughout a loading session. Seriously, it works.
Use a toothpick to clean primer flash holes
While case prep for most involves the simple task of trimming, swaging, and cleanin g the primer pocket, the actual primer flash hole typically goes untouched. However, due to their tiny size, they can be easily obstructed by either residue from firing or by dirt and grit that somehow gets in there during the act of reloading. Thankfully, in most cases a toothpick is precisely the right size to clean them out, and since they’re softer than brass there’s no risk of changing the size or shape of the primer flash hole. This is an especially important step if you’re using brass that has hit the ground as dirt can enter the case through the neck and end up in the primer flash hole as it is handled. Conversely, if you use a media tumbler, this can be handy for removing small media fragments that can easily get lodged in there.
Use nail polish and a q-tip to seal primers
Ever looked at military ammunition and noted the dot or ring of colour around the primer? That’s a sealant designed to keep moisture out of loaded ammunition; a method used by armies around the world to literally keep their powder dry. Some commercial ammunition also features this, but it’s less common as commercial ammunition does not typically see the same adverse conditions as military ammunition, nor is it stored for nearly as long. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, especially if you either stockpile reloaded ammunition for extended periods or if your reloaded ammunition will be subjected to a lot of damp or wet conditions. And it’s not hard or expensive either; simply use the cheapest nail polish you can find that isn’t your wife’s (that’s key), and dab some around a loaded primer with a q-tip. If you want to get really fancy, you can use different colours of nail polish to organize ammunition by batch, as well.
Hit up your local pet store to save money
One of the most important steps to effective reloading is cleaning the cases. Thankfully, the modern era of media tumblers have made this process not only much easier, but also much more effective. However, the cost of tumbling media from the various manufacturers has led to many reloaders trying to use their media for as long as possible, which in turn compromises the media with too much dirt and media that’s breaking down. Instead, find a local pet store or department store that carries walnut or corn cob pet bedding, and use it. Cheaper than dedicated tumbling media, it accomplishes the same task, and means you can afford to replace your media more frequently. Also, while you’re at the store, look for a cheap litter box with separator, as they make excellent media separators. Simply dump your tumbler’s contents into the litter box, lift the separator tray, and dump the media underneath back into the tumbler. Conversely, a litter box scoop works just as well, if you don’t mind combing through your tumbling media. Just make sure that if you own a cat you don’t get your litter boxes mixed up, lest you find yourself with some crappy reloads!