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The Cost of Handloading vs. Match Ammo

I regularly get asked by friends, family, and readers for rifle and cartridge recommendations. The answer depends on many factors, but it’s happened so frequently that it caused me to create a structured process to help someone narrow it down to a few great options.

We tend to focus on the rifle first, but many under-estimate the role ammunition plays in consistent hits at long-range. So I start by picking the ammo first. Recently, I saw a video featuring Army Sniper Jim Gilliland, and he suggests the same approach.

Most precision rifle shooters handload their own ammo. Mic McPherson tells us “Contrary to common usage, the terms handloading and reloading are not interchangeable.” I couldn’t agree more. They look similar on the surface, but have very different goals:

  • Goal of Reloading: Produce functional ammunition at a low cost
  • Goal of Handloading: Produce the very best ammunition possible (better than what is otherwise available in factory-load), with each component carefully selected, examined, and refined to be of the highest quality, and then meticulously loaded for extreme consistency. The loads are often tuned for a specific rifle, incorporate a bullet better suited to an intended application (which may not even be available in factory-load), and may provide increased muzzle velocity (and therefore improved ballistics). The number one priority that overshadows all other factors is simple: precision.

Handloading used to be the only way to get the consistency required for reliable hits at long-range. However, over the past 10 years, the quality of factory ammo has increased dramatically. Today you can buy factory match-grade ammo off the shelf that is more consistent than the ammo produced by the average reloader. In fact, some factory match ammo is so good that it’s challenging for a seasoned handloader to improve on. Manufacturing tolerances are much tighter than they used to be, and improving every day. The number of rifles capable of shooting sub-MOA groups is growing at an unprecedented rate, meaning the customer base for match-grade ammo is growing too. It’s simply a different world than we used to live in … which means we have more options.

When selecting a cartridge, here’s the big question I always start with:

  1. Are you planning to buy factory match ammo or meticulously handload? Even if you plan to handload, do you want the option to buy factory match-grade ammo off the shelf? Are you prepared to put in the time and monetary investment it takes to handload precision ammo?

This is no longer an obvious choice. In this post, we’ll look at the cost of each option.

The Real Cost To Handload

Many feel like handloading is clearly cheaper, and if you solely look at the cost of components … it usually is. Most “Reloading Cost Calculators” look at it that way. But there are significant hidden costs in handloading most people ignore. I did a quick inventory of the equipment I use handloading, and that price tag is pretty big. I also timed how long it took me to do all of the different operations involved in making match-grade handloads, and multiplied that by the average hourly wage … and that cost is significant too.

Cost of Equipment & Consumables

Let’s take an honest look at equipment costs. I own over $1,500 in general reloading equipment (pictured below). That may sound high to some and low to others. To put that in perspective, I know guys whose powder scales alone cost more than that! I originally started many moons ago with a $150 RCBS Partner Press Kit, and just upgraded and added tools over the years. With this type of slow, organic growth, we may not realize how much we’ve invested. I’m not claiming all of these tools are essential, but many are. Based on the guys I know doing this, I’d expect my equipment roughly represents the average precision rifle handloader.

Reloading Equipment

Then for each cartridge, I typically have at least $350 in competition-grade dies and other cartridge or caliber specific equipment. The majority of the cost is from the sizing and seating dies, which are critical to producing consistent ammo.

Reloading Dies and Other Cartridge Specific Equipment

In addition to all that, I typically have over $100 in consumables on-hand related to handloading.

Reloading Supplies

Cost of Reloading Components

Then I calculated how much 1,000 rounds of match-grade components would cost, which came out to $840. This is based on current competitive market pricing for things like match-grade Berger bullets, Hodgdon powder, Lapua or Norma brass, and Federal match primers. These costs were based on popular mid-size 6mm and 6.5mm cartridges, like the 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5×47 Lapua, and 6XC. This puts the direct material costs for 1,000 rounds of ammo at $0.84 per round. It does assume that you will reuse brass cases multiple times.

Reloading Components

Cost of Time Spent Handloading

Then I carefully totaled up the amount of time it’d take to handload 1,000 rounds of match-grade ammo. This doesn’t include the time cases spent in a tumbler or time to change out tools, but simply the time actively performing various operations in brass prep (resizing, trimming, etc.) and loading a round. I actually timed how long it took me to perform each operation. I’ve been reloading for several years, and have become efficient at these operations. While some may be faster, these estimates represent a relatively aggressive pace. The total time to perform all the brass prep and loading for 1,000 rounds was estimated to be 1,540 minutes (25.6 hours).

I looked up what the average hourly wage was in the U.S., and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics that sits at $22.71 (as of May 2014). So if you apply that hourly rate, it cost me $583 in time to load 1,000 rounds of ammo.

Now some people may throw a flag on the play here. But, do you not value your time? Is 25 hours of your time worthless? What would happen if you spent those hours practicing at the range instead of tinkering with loading equipment? Would you be a better shooter?

I’m well aware of how expensive long-range rifles can become. And I understand that some shooters simply don’t have the discretionary income to be able to participate, unless they throw in some sweat equity by loading their own ammo. That’s a reasonable thing to do, and often a good decision. But, that doesn’t mean your time is free. By doing that, you’re making a conscious decision to trim some monetary costs in exchange for your time. I’m simply suggesting it is shortsighted to overlook the cost of our time when evaluating “how much money reloading saves.”

Here is a summary of the costs:

ItemCost
General Equipment$1,500
Cartridge-Specific Equipment$350
Reloading Consumables$100
Components for 1000 Rounds$840
Time To Load 1000 Rounds @ $22.71/hr$583
Total Cost To Load 1,000 Rounds From Scratch$3,373

This puts the average cost per round of our handloads at $3.37. Surprise anyone? Handloading might not save as much money as we originally thought!

Okay, Let’s Get Real (or Optimistic)

The cost above assumes you’re starting from scratch, and some of us have already made the investment in reloading equipment … so for the sake of argument, let’s completely ignore general equipment costs. Let’s act like you already have great equipment, but you’re thinking about building a rifle on a new cartridge and are wondering whether you should handload or buy factory match-grade ammo. You’re also planning to really shoot it, so the economies of scale are in your favor. We’ll even assume you can keep up with your brass and get a lot of life out of it by reusing each case about 12 times. And maybe you don’t value your time that much, so we’ll change the cost of your time to be calculated at minimum wage ($7.25). Here are those revised costs spread over 3,000 rounds of ammo:

ItemCost
Cartridge-Specific Equipment$350
Reloading Consumables$180
Components for 3,000 Rounds$2,520
Time To Load 3,000 Rounds @ $7.25/hr$560
Optimistic Total Cost To Load 3,000 Rounds$3,610

Based on these revised (arguably optimistic) calculations you could handload 3,000 rounds for $3,610, which averages out to $1.20 per round.

Even if you feel like some of those figures are bloated or you have a hookup to get components at a lower cost … it likely wouldn’t affect it as much as you think. I’d challenge you to put pencil to paper and do an honest assessment. I bet you come out close to $1.20/rd. Oh, and by the way … none of these numbers include tax, shipping, or hazardous materials fees. It also assumes you’re buying Hodgdon powder at $30/pound, which is optimistic these days.

The Cost of Factory Match-Grade Ammo

Did you know you can buy factory loaded match-grade ammo for $1.20 per round … or even less?! At the time this was published, I was able to find a 20 round box of Hornady 6.5 Creedmoor 140gr A-Max Match Ammo in stock from a reputable dealer for $23.45. That’s just $1.17/rd! I was able to find a 200 round case of that same ammo in stock for $1.14/rd! You can find the same Hornady 6.5 Creedmoor match ammo loaded with the 120gr A-Max for $1.09/rd. In case you want options, Winchester also offers 6.5 Creedmoor 140gr match ammo for $1.17/rd. (Search current ammo prices on AmmoSeek.com)

I was also able to find the very popular Federal 308 Gold Medal Match 168gr MatchKing ammo in stock for $1.10/rd. HSM offers match-grade ammo for the 308 Win loaded with the 155gr A-Max bullet for $0.95/rd. But, 308 is a common cartridge, so you’ll usually find 308 ammo lower than most. Of course, you can also find 223 Rem match ammo for well under $1/rd as well.

Hornady match ammo for the 6.8mm SPC was just $0.83/rd. I also found HSM match-grade ammo for the 30-06 at $1.25/rd, or Fiocchi 30-06 match ammo for $1.30/rd. Lapua’s match grade ammo for the 6.5x55mm Swede was $1.35/rd. I even found a 20 round box of the renown and highly sought after Black Hills Gold match ammo for the 243 Win in stock for $1.42/rd, which still isn’t much off our optimistic cost to handload 3,000 rounds!

And one more thing to keep in mind … you can also sell the once-fired brass from your match ammo. At least one I mentioned used Lapua brass, so you may even be able to recoup up to 1/2 of the ammo cost by selling that once-fired brass.

The Take-Aways

You can’t find reasonable factory match ammo for every cartridge … which is exactly why you should start by selecting the ammo you’d like to use. If you’re handloading, this isn’t as critical. But many shooters build a rifle without even thinking about what ammo they’ll use, and it just isn’t a decision that is easy to undo once the rifle is in your hands.

Now we can start to understand how the 6.5 Creedmoor quickly became such a sweetheart in the precision rifle community! Not only does it provide improved ballistics over the legendary 308 Win, but you can buy good, match-grade ammo for less than what it costs to handload!

While the information presented here may be a news to some, we probably should have seen this coming. Doesn’t it make sense that at some point a machine would be more efficient at such a well-defined and repetitive process? We simply had to wait for manufacturing tolerances to catch up with us. It’s the dawn of a new age in the precision rifle world. Now we just have to worry about the machines turning on us. 😉

Understand, I’m a die-hard, card-carrying, OCD handloader … but this hard to ignore. My next rifle build will likely be a 6.5 Creedmoor, just so I can exchange my handloading time for more range time. I’m starting to think of this in terms of return on investment. I have a finite amount of time to invest. Would I see more of a return (i.e. improved performance) if I spent that time in my shop attempting to achieve a marginal advantage over the factory-loaded match ammo by handloading, or would I see a larger return if I spent that same amount of time practicing at the range? At least for me, there is still a lot of room for improvement and value to be gained with more practice. At some point, it’s possible you could reach a point of diminishing returns and suddenly spending the time carefully perfecting loads would help get more rounds on target than spending another afternoon at the range … I’m just not there yet. I may not be alone on that.

About Cal

Cal Zant is the shooter/author behind PrecisionRifleBlog.com. Cal is a life-long learner, and loves to help others get into this sport he's so passionate about. His engineering background, unique data-driven approach, and ability to present technical and complex information in a unbiased and straight-forward fashion has quickly caught the attention of the industry. For more info on Cal, check out PrecisionRifleBlog.com/About.

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99 comments

  1. Reloading=confidence=addiction=time involved=more money spent on equipment. Go to the next level…..Giraud, Prometheus II, and STM (methanol rinse)=more time with family members. How fast you wanna go? Money today can buy all of the above.

    • Ha! Thanks, Wade. Like most hobbies, you can certainly spend as much as you want. One of my friends I was talking about in the post just got his Prometheus Gen II. He has a 20 year lease on the equipment, which sounded funny to me at first … but with equipment that expensive, that actually makes a lot of sense. It all adds up pretty quick. I’m just trying to take an objective look at where the biggest return on money and time is. There isn’t a “right answer” here, and I hope I didn’t come off that way. I’m just trying to help others see there are new options out there that weren’t there just a few years ago.

      Thanks,
      Cal

    • Giraud is a case trimmer, Prometheus II is a powder measure, and STM (Methanol rinse?) is a brass cleaner… do I have those right?

      Wade, do they allow for more precision? Or are they automated so you can spend more time with family members? Or both? Part of why I haven’t reloaded yet isn’t cost but mostly time and space.

      • I’ve heard the Prometheus Gen II can throw a charge within 1 kernel in 10 seconds. That’s precision and a time saver. I have a friend that just got confirmation on his. It’s an amazing piece of equipment, but it’s a one-man-shop … so they’re hard to get and super-expensive.

    • Never heard of those before, but they’re really interesting equipment. Very intriguing.
      They all seem to be on the case prepping side of reloading. What would you recommend for the actual assembly of the ammo?

  2. Nice write up! One of the reasons I hand load is the ability to fine tune a round for the particular rifle by adjusting powder charge and distance to the lands as this usually allows me to gain significant advantages in decreasing my group size. Since I handload I have not tried factory match grade ammunition. In your experience what are the differences in group size between custom hand loads to factory match on average?

    • Excellence question! I actually will address that in a very objective way in the next post. I almost combined it into this one, but it would’ve made it really long. So stay tuned!

      Thanks,
      Cal

      • So maybe I should just buy match ammo…use a collet bullet puller then reseat at desired thousandths off the lands / slide my Limbsaver De-resonater for barrel harmonics AND BE DONE WITH IT . Hell maybe the seating depth adjustment can go too.?.?.?

      • Ha! I thought the same EXACT thing. But we might still be splitting hairs. In the next post, I’m going to examine what happens to our accuracy at long range as we make little improvements to group size. I think it’s a clear and objective way to see if you should make the extra effort for that step or not. Great point. This stuff gets you thinking, doesn’t it?

        Thanks,
        Cal

  3. There is no doubt that you could handload your own ammo with far greater precision than most factory loaded ammo until just recently. I’ve been handloading my competition ammo for years and buying the components and equipment to do it to the point where I’ve invested thousands of dollars in the equipment alone. I was sponsored at the CMP portion of the National Match’s last year and my 30-06 ammo was provided for me. The ammo was the new Creedmoor Sports 30-06 Match. The ammo shot as good or better (probably better) than any I could handload. The major components are Lapua (167 gr, Scenar bullet and Lapua case). I shot that ammo like a house on fire. I was very pleased with it’s performance as the match results attest to. I would buy and use Creedmoor ammo in liue of my own handloaded ammo any day because it is so good.
    Ken

    • Wow, great info Ken! Thanks for sharing with the rest of us. That’s powerful coming from a veteran handloader and serious competitor.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  4. Lol, dry tumbling, consumables… Glad I got away from that nonsense when I did. There is really one way to do it now.

  5. Reblogged this on blog Uvsonmidrange and commented:
    Pour ceux qui se débrouille dans la langue de Shakespeare, on trouve dans cet article, deux notions intéressantes que l’on ne retrouve pas en français.
    Reloading: recharger des munitions pour être en dessous des prix du marché.
    Handloading: faire des munitions suivant ses specifications afin d’obtenir la munition la plus régulières et précises.

    Dans le dernier cas, l’atteinte du résultat dépasse le coût d’une munition Match.

    • FYI, TRANSLATION

      Reblogged this on Uvsonmidrange blog and commented:
      For those doing in the language of Shakespeare, we find in this article, two interesting concepts that are not found in French.
      Reloading: reload ammunition to be below market prices.
      Handloading: ammunition according to its specifications in order to obtain the most regular and accurate ammunition.

      In the latter case the result exceeds the reached cost of an ammunition Match.

  6. As a young man I worked at a Cost Accountant…you could easily have run the TRUE costs on up as you mentioned with the reality of taxes, shipping, hazardous materials but also…the cost of fuel driving to gun shops or the range to do load work up is real and you could reduce your cost for factory ammo by selling your once fired brass for at least a dime a piece or possibly twice that.

    • Great point. I thought about recouping some of the costs by selling once-fired brass, but I didn’t think about the fuel and range fees. Some of the match ammo I mentioned was Lapua, so I know you could sell that brass for a high price. Honestly, its possible that you might be able to recover the majority of the cost by selling brass. But I know that can be extra hassle, so I didn’t want to muddy the waters in the post. I might go back and add a quick note, just to make sure people think about that option. As always CR, I appreciate the feedback!

      Thanks,
      Cal

  7. OCD Handloader is the key point in your great article I believe….. Days I can’t get to the range for numerous reasons my way of busting stress , relaxing, etc is to attempt to be very precise in my preparation and orchestration of the launcher and its fodder and all extraneous physical and environmental goblins that may cause me grief on the range in competition or hunting. Handloading is something I “enjoy” …..

    Great Read, ……stay safe !

    • Great point. And I also enjoy tinkering and the confidence that comes with handloading. I know beyond the shadow of a doubt my ammo won’t be the cause of a miss. Confidence and mental preparation goes a long way! I appreciate the feedback.

      Thanks,
      Cal

      • Excellent article. I found your blog via the scope review, which may be the best summary/write-up/in-depth review of optics that I’ve ever seen on the net. Very well done. I too am really interested in the performance benefits of reloading. With my very standard, off-the-shelf Rem 700 I get 0.6 MOA groups at 300 yards, with FGMM in .308. The velocity spread I’ve measured with FGMM is only 29 fps – could I really do better? At what cost in time and money (and together, with time as money)? I’ve considered handloading, but your article is really bringing that into question. There are certainly reasons to reload/handload, but cost may not be one of them. It’s like flying small airplanes (GA) – there are a lot of reasons to do it, but saving money isn’t one of them and even saving time, there’s a pretty small window in which it’s the most time-efficient means of transportation (in my experience, anything that’s more than about a 2 hour drive, but less than about 4 hours, driving, you’ll save time by flying GA – otherwise you’ll save time driving or flying commercial, respectively). Again, really great write-up and I’m loving your blog.

      • You’re spot on Mike, and I’m glad you found this helpful. I never really got into handloading to save money. It was all about better accuracy, but we’re entering into a season where the difference between factory match ammo and my own handloads is shrinking. I’m not saying it’s nothing … but factory ammo is getting better every day. It’s hard to notice the incremental improvement, but it’s happening. The next post will look at what the impact of the potential accuracy improvement of handloading does in terms of increasing the odds that you’ll get hits at long-range. Stay tuned!

        Thanks,
        Cal

  8. ” I have a finite amount of time to invest. Would I see more of a return (i.e. improved performance) if I spent that time in my shop attempting to achieve a marginal advantage over the factory-loaded match ammo by handloading, or would I see a larger return if I spent that same amount of time practicing at the range?”

    The clincher!

    Congrats on another great article. Just when I was wondering where that PRB guy was….

    • Thanks, Tex! Sorry I’ve been missing in action. I’m putting a lot of time into planning an upcoming field test that I’m really excited about. So that has consumed most of my energy for the blog. But stay tuned! I’ve spent a ton of money on testing equipment, and I think it’s something that has never been done before. A lot of manufacturers are excited to see the results for themselves, and they’re even excited someone is putting the effort into gathering the data. I can’t wait to see what shakes out!

      Thanks,
      Cal

      • try not to keep us waiting too long next time! some of us were having withdrawal symptoms haha.

    • TEX you have defined the Law of Diminishing Returns..I like the way you think…very pragmatic

  9. I too am an OCD handloader! (great descriptive term) I’m not doubting your calculations but your basic equipment cost estimations are way on the low side from my perspective. Mitutoyo ball micrometer, digital calipers…man that stuff adds up. You are also echoing my same thoughts on building a 6.5 Creedmoor for long range fun shooting. I’ve been traveling to the western US for 16 years to hunt big game/varmints and never used a factory cartridge…I love the confidence that comes with hand loading. But for banging steel at 1000yds the factory match stuff sounds like a good option.

    Congratulations on a fine, fine article.

  10. I have been saying this for YEARS, people keep saying that reloading 223 or 9mm for plinking is a great way to shave off 10-15 cents per round. But realistically its actually cheaper to spend the time you would be reloading, working overtime at your job, and spending that money on ammo.

    I mean using your number for the 3k rounds, and screw it, lets even throw out cartridge specific equipment, we see its 1.09 per round. Even if the equivalent ammo is 1.40 per round, you save 0.31 per round. With an initial investment of about $5000, it will take you 16,129 rounds to BREAK EVEN. not save any money, just to not lose anything.

    • Exactly. When you actually take a minute to take an honest assessment of the costs … it can be eye-opening. I’m not sure most people in the shooting community have that view, so I wanted to present the real numbers in a clear way … which is what I was attempting in this post. A friend actually challenged me to look into this a few months ago, and I know it’s changed my view.

      Thanks,
      Cal

    • Adith, you and Tex have clarified some aspects of Cal’s thought provoking article…I am assuming Cal did not want to be too judgmental so he went easy on some of these crystalizing concepts…thanx

      • In all my posts I try really hard to not overstate one position or the other. My goal is to present the data, and leave it up to you guys to draw the conclusions. In my view, there isn’t a “right” or “wrong” answer here. As many guys have already said, some enjoy handloading as a hobby. That’s awesome. I can say that I times I enjoy handloading as well. I don’t like having to work up 300 rounds for a long weekend match, but I like the tinkering and trying to continually improve. I also like the control and confidence that comes with my handloads. I couldn’t be more confident behind the trigger when one of my handloads are in the chamber.

        But, I was at a match a couple weekends ago and out of 80 competitors … I really only noticed one guy that was using factory match ammo. The fact is, virtually all of us handload. So I’m just trying to help make sure we’re aware of the unique era we’re entering into in terms of factory match ammo. The quality is going up and the prices are going down … we all win. But once again, I’m not saying that is the “right” choice. Just that it is a valid option that people should consider. I personally will probably continue to handload for all the cartridges I currently shoot … but my next rifle might take advantage of this new factory match ammo.

        Thanks,
        Cal

  11. I started loading to reduce cost and improve quality of my ammo. Now loading is about as much of a hobby as shooting.

    • Definitely understood. Lots of people enjoy the process, and it’s become a hobby in itself. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  12. Another selling point on the Creedmoor.

    • I just ran some numbers for my creedmoor 65 to compare handload to nosler premium hunting ammo at my component cost .77 per round so 15.40 a box compared to 46.95 per box of nosler premium hunting ammo. My loading cost offset the machinery the first year based on 700 rds per year and 12 reloads per nosler cartridge. I quite sure, however that loading cost can vary and depend on circumstance. I just eenjoy the entire process of custom loading for my rifles.

      • Absolutely. It certainly depends on your situation. If the factory match ammo is above $2/round (like that Nosler ammo is), then it may not make sense. I’m just trying to get people to see that if you think about what cartridge and ammo you want to run (before you build the rifle), then factory match ammo might be just as viable of an option as handloading. If it’s not in your application (needing premium hunting ammo), that’s great. Keep plugging away. I personally plan to continue to handload for many of my cartridges. I’ve just never seen anyone that took a hard look at the TOTAL cost to handload, including the equipment and time costs. So I wanted to take an objective look at that, and when you combine that with the relatively affordable match ammo that is now available … it just isn’t as obvious of a decision as it used to be for every application. 5 years ago, I’d bet 99% of precision rifle shooters used handloads … my bet is 5 years from now, that might by a measurable amount. It might ALWAYS be over 50% … but I think the factory match ammo is a viable option for some guys, and that is all I was trying to say in this post.

        If you enjoy it, carry on. You certainly aren’t wrong for doing that. I still mow my lawn. I could hire someone to do it, but it’s therapeutic for me (and I have a tiny yard, so it doesn’t become too much work). But I wouldn’t be dumb for hiring it out if I wanted to do other things with my time. Lots of people do that. All I’m saying is you don’t have to mow your lawn if you don’t want to. Especially if you’re new to this, and haven’t already invested in an expensive riding lawnmower. 😉

        Thanks,
        Cal

  13. Thanks again for great insight on a topic that I am deeply considering right now. That was more honesty than most will admit to with the cost of reloading. I have been shooting hornady factory 6.5 creedmoor for matches due to the time factor. someone who is respected in the shooting world told me in order to get to the next level you need to start loading. Mainly for the bullet and higher bc. Most of the equipment you show above is easily recognized. Can you post a list of everything in the pics? I havn’t used Some of the brass prepping tools and neck tools. I have seen posts of crono results from guys who are getting lower extreme spreads than I am getting standard deviations. Clearly there is another level of brass prepping and sorting that I am not doing… Yet

    • Thanks! I definitely tried to be as transparent and pants-down as I could … even if it makes my decisions not look very wise! I’ve also been planning a post for a while that includes a more detailed breakdown of reloading tools. That is actually not all of my equipment! But it is the tools I use most often.

      The next post will take an objective look at what kind of improvement you can expect from a performance increase you can expect by handloading (high BC bullet, higher muzzle velocity load, lower SD’s, tighter groups, etc.). I’ve found a very clear and objective way to put that in perspective. So stay tuned!

      Oh, and if you want to know how important brass prep is to extreme accuracy, you should check out the Secrets of the Houston Warehouse article.

      Thanks,
      Cal

    • The most informative article I have ever read on “brass prep” was by Jacob Gottfredson, in the extinct Precision Shooting mag { Has not Cal filled that void with this blog } I know Jacob turned me onto this blog, so perhaps he will see my comment and share a reprint IF we buy his exciting new E-book Dancing-in-the-Jungle. Cal you probably know of or perhaps know Jacob [ ex-SF turned engineer occupationally with avocations in benchrest, long-range benchrest, tactical competition, LR hunting ] all while being a contributing shooting author to many of the big name outdoor magazines. I respect him too much to plagiarize his work but think this crowd should be aware of its existence.

      • Wow, CR. To be mentioned in the same context as Jacob is a huge compliment. I don’t know him, but I’ve read his work and have a lot of respect for the guy. I don’t think I could ever fill the void left by Precision Shooting mag. That was an exceptional piece of work, and I still reference old issues. It’s a wealth of information. I think I’ve read articles from Jacob in GUNS magazine as well.

        Thanks,
        Cal

  14. archeryandparadox

    Is this new field test the lower priced scope tests? My grad student stipend does not put most of the high end scopes within reach, save maybe the Bushnell DMR3.5×21, so while doing research on potential scopes, I am also eagerly awaiting your lower end scope test!

    • No sir. I have no immediate plans to test more scopes at this point. I may do it in the future, but it won’t likely be this year. I do have two other field tests in the works, and am right in the middle of one of them. I don’t want to give a lot of detail at this point, but stay tuned.

      Thanks,
      Cal

    • great options to look for

      SWFA SS
      Vortex
      Primary Arms

      just make sure to they are FFP and any sort of measured reticle (not BDC!!!). Also make sure the turret matches the glass, either MIL/MIL or MOA/MOA.

  15. Great article, really appreciate your efforts! In order to get the most out of the discipline, one needs to look at it objectively. Most importantly, I agree with Paul in regards to reloading as a hobby. Some people collect expensive stamps, I like making (precision??) bullets. To each their own.

    That being said, I have to side with some of the other posters. “Fine tuning” the loads seems to be a major upside to reloading by hand. Would the next step in commercial manufacturing be the ability to augment a cartridge (overall length etc.) or specify particular charges? Who knows. The advent of Berger’s Hybrid bullets seems to take a step in that direction where seating depth is not as sensitive, and therefor, could become a non-issue. Until then, I’ll keep learning my second favorite hobby.

    Please keep cranking these out. Really enjoy your insights.

    • Thanks, Clete. And you’re definitely right about the ability to tune the load to your rifle. That can often tighten groups some. In the next post, we’ll take an objective look at how that impacts your probability of getting more hits at long range. It is essentially going to compare how much return you’ll experience by spending time finding that perfect load your rifle loves. I’ll try to get it up ASAP.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  16. I was hobby working in a gun shop a few years ago and received the employee discount on anything I purchased so, I bought powder, primers and several thousand 9mm bullets to reload. After I was finished turning the components into cartridges (Dillon 650), I found a hand-loading web site that calculates the cost of your hand-loads. I had my own brass so I didn’t calculate the cost of it into the final product. The results were not what I expected and I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry, but what I found was for the same type and bullet weight cartridge, is was cheaper to by commercial ammo in the same quantity, in some cases, much cheaper. I did not calculate the real cost of transportation, tax and fuel. However, even with what I found out about the buy it or hand-load it, I still prefer to hand-load.

    • Wow, Ken. I’m with you. Honestly, one of my friends that uses match ammo challenged me a couple months ago to take a real honest look at my costs to see if handloading really was less expensive. And I remember that moment where I started to realize that maybe it wasn’t as good of a deal as my gut said it was. But, I’m not saying I won’t continue to handload. It is fun to tinker and experiment. I’m an engineer at heart, so I love that stuff. It’s just that running 100% match grade ammo may be a valid option too. It may just come down to personal preference. Do you want to have full control over every detail or just buy ammo by the box? It just isn’t as easy of a decision as it was 10 years ago. I love it either way. It just means we as precision shooters have more options, which is never a bad thing.

      I appreciate you sharing your comments. It’s hard to admit those kinds of things sometimes, and I even felt myself struggling with it as I wrote this article. So thanks for giving us another example of that objective, transparent approach.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  17. Good article.

    I think one of the less used arguments for reloading is that with components, you can slowly bring in “raw” materials at smaller individual costs (which are less noticeable to your significant other and your bank account), and soon you are sitting on the capability for several 1000’s of rounds (depending on caliber). Where as if you went out and paid out for 3k worth of 9mm rounds up front, that might not work out as well.

    The biggest expense is generally the bullets themselves, and those generally have to be bought in large qtys to make sense (3k-4k at a time).

    • Yes sir, definitely something to consider. For those that go the match ammo route, I typically recommend they buy 6 months worth of ammo. That might mean 200 rounds for some or 2000 rounds for others. As I mentioned, I’m thinking about building a 6.5 Creedmoor, and I plan to lay in a supply of 2000 rounds at once (hopefully the same lot). That means I’ll drop over $2,000 at one time. But then there aren’t any expenses for ammo. I don’t live check to check, so that isn’t a big deal to me. But I totally understand it could be a deal breaker to some guys. With match ammo you typically should buy it when it’s in stock, because it might not be next week. So that is a risk you are introducing to your shooting. I appreciate you bringing it up.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  18. Can you and would you actually get paid for the time you would otherwise spend reloading? If you couldn’t or wouldn’t, then it doesn’t make sense to give it a monetary value.

    • I value my time, regardless of whether I’m “on the clock” being paid for it or not. In fact, I’ll always get more money … but I will never get more time. If you don’t value your time … do your own calculation, and take that number to $0. If you include the cost of your equipment, handloading still doesn’t save you a bunch of money. I’m not trying to tell you what you’re doing is wrong … just that there are new options. This article can be especially helpful for new shooters that haven’t made that HUGE investment in good reloading equipment. If you don’t feel like it’s applicable to you, feel free to ignore it.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  19. http://www.handloads.com/calc/loadingCosts.asp

    match 260
    hornady 140 BTHP $115 per 500
    h4350 $190 per 8#
    CCI LR $130 per 5000
    LC Brass $18 per 100 “since brass is reloaded dozens of times, its not figured in”

    my time is free, loading is my “quiet time away from the family”

    cost per 1000 $374.57

    … factory match 260 is $2500 per 1000

    • Sure, if you view your time as free … handloading may be a great value. But your consciously deciding to donate your time, and a lot of people might not realize how much time they’re spending. This post was just intended to help people realize there are now other options, and it’s not as obvious of a choice as it used to be.

      Factory match ammo for the 260 Rem is higher than some others. This is EXACTLY why I was suggesting that you start by deciding what ammo your going to use, and let that play into your cartridge decision. That is what I started the post saying, and what I closed with as well. Once the rifle is chambered, you’re kind of stuck with what you’ve got (at least until you rebarrel). I will say that you can find match ammo for less than $2.50 a round. I found Black Hills Gold match ammo for $2.17, and that is EXCELLENT ammo. But … it’s still significantly higher than the 6.5 Creedmoor, and there isn’t a ballistic advantage over one or the other. That’s why so many people are chambering in the 6.5 Creedmoor. It gives you very similar ballistics to the 260, but you have the option to buy factory match ammo for just over $1 per round.

      I’m not trying to convince you it’s the “right” decision. I plan to go handload ammo this afternoon for some of my cartridges. I’m not wrong for doing that. I’m just trying to help people realize that we’re entering into a new time for precision rifle shooters. We have new options that weren’t there just a few years ago. Hope that makes sense.

      Thanks,
      Cal

    • I clearly agree with you Russr!

      Even if I do understand the need for Cal to list all cost here, I do think they’re not really representative of real situations (or at least, not for me! YMMV).

      The cost of tools or dies, etc… are just silly since you can literally use them for decades and hundreds of thousands of rounds, making their cost quite irrelevant in a long term. Not even mentioning we can use some tools for multiple calibers, nor that we really need some of them. Some long time reloaders/handloaders over here know they don’t necessarily need tools such tumbler and such. There’s plenty way to get the job done as good and quickly without the extra-cost.

      Another point, counting labor doesn’t make sense to me. It doesn’t impact on your range time, since you can reload/handload your ammo on your non-shooting free time (unless you have a range that is open 24/7 and you’re shooting 24/7). On their free time, some people just like to watch tv or sports, drink beers and such, and some people just like to spend their by doing ammo.

      Also, you can easily store and find components to make your own ammo than finding Match-Grade ammo. Therefor, not been as much exposed to all “ammo crisis” here and there right after elections or mass shooting. If you can’t find some components for any reasons, you can always switch other ones from another brand and keep doing your own match-grade ammo. And, in my very honest opinion, by doing your own ammo, you definitely learn A LOT about ballistics, that will surely help you to become a better precision shooters.

      Nonetheless, it also comes down to the number of rounds you’re shooting. If you’re only shooting 200 rounds a year, you will never find any proper ROI even after decades and decades. However, if you’re like me, doing/shooting easily 1,000 rounds a month (all centerfire calibers together), you might easily find some good economic reasons to reload/handload, test plenty of different components and settings that will get you the best results for your rifle, way beyond what you’ll generally get with Match-grade factory ammo. Otherwise why can’t we find Benchrest shooters that use match-grade ammo?

      But again, to each his own. YMMV. And everyone can find more reasons to choose to reload/handload… or not.

      My 2¢

      • Thanks for the input, Spidouz. I agree with some of it, and don’t agree with some of it … but that’s precisely why I encourage comments. It allows people to get more than one person’s view on it. I know my view is not the only one that’s valid. I really do appreciate your thoughtful feedback.

        If you shoot 1000 rounds per month, I can certainly sees you recouping the capital expense quickly. But understand, 99% of shooters in the world don’t do that. I’d bet 95% of shooters shoot 1000 rounds or less in a year.

        My time loading DOES affect my range time. I have a young family, and don’t want to be an absentee dad. So I limit how much time I spend on this hobby. I could trade time in my shop for range time. And I value my time highly. I can always make more money, but I can’t make more time. It’s the only truly finite resource I have.

        Also, I agree you can get better accuracy handloading, and the next post will look at what that improvement does to your probability of getting consistent hits at long range. I just wanted to focus on costs in this post, just so it didn’t get too long. People attention span for blog posts is extraordinarily short!

        And remember … I still handload personally. But I’m just saying there are new options that weren’t there just a few years ago. You certainly aren’t “wrong” if you continue to handload. To each his own.

        Thanks,
        Cal

      • You’re right Cal.

        As mentioned, I’m not saying it’s “wrong” or “right” to handload or not. Each one is different, with different factors that will definitely shift the balance to one choice or the other (sometimes even both). What I actually often do, it’s buying good quality factory ammo at first to get an idea and see which result I can get and then keep the brass to reload them and compare the results and try to work with different components to try to find the perfect sweet spot for my rifle. But, that’s just me.

        Also, note that the 1,000 rounds per month is for all centerfire ammo together, not only my precision rifle ammo. I count all calibers together, because I can use the same tools, only dies and such are caliber specifics. It was mainly to explain that once you did invest for the tools, you can quickly recoupe the cost by using them for virtually everything that you shoot, not only your precision rifle caliber. If I would count my precision rifle ammo only, I would probably be around 200 rounds a month, so yeah around 1,200 rounds a year, across 3 calibers. So, that’s about right.

        Regarding the “time”… again, it’s up to everyone to valuate its “cost”. To me, as long as you’re not professional, meaning you’re paid for something as your day job, your time has not cost. For instance, if you are a professional shooter, paid to shoot, and handloading would be on your “working” time (therefor shooting time), then it would have a real impact. But as long as it’s not your job, it’s just a hobby. Like riding motorcycle, golfing, fishing, watching/playing sports, playing music, or any hobby of your preferences. Therefor, it’s done during your “non-professional” (non-paid) time.

        Then, we might have other factor, such family, other hobbies and such… that’s fair enough and that’s up to everyone to decide about his priorities. But that doesn’t add up regarding cost. More about life choices (which are just as important, don’t get me wrong).

        Personally, over the years I got quite efficient I guess. It generally takes me around a hour for 100 rounds to make. But even at 2 hours for 100, it would mean less than 1 hour a day. As said, some people spend more time watching their favorite sport game, or TV shows every evening (or even reading gun blogs, LOL). I do prefer to spend this time doing ammo. It’s even therapeutic and really help to clean your mind sometimes.

        So for that matter, handloading does not impact my shooting time. Mainly when we consider that I can only go to the range 3 times a week (two afternoons during the week and the Sunday morning), because the range is closed the rest of the time (and even then, we start to have some complain about the noise by some neighbours). THAT is a factor that definitely impacts my shooting time, because it’s not just like a gym place open 24/7 that I can go whenever I want. I need to work my schedule around that. But handloading… at 1 hour a day or less, it’s manageable… for me.

        Again, that’s my experience and everyone out there will surely see it differently because everyone is different. I’m just trying to give another perspective that would maybe correspond to some people out there.

        And finally, I should also mention that I come from a Benchrest shooter family. Both of my parents handload for a long time now (over 40 years for my dad, and probably around 15 years for my mom). So, my dad taught me quite early about handloading and I learn precision with his 6PPC rifle (generally shooting 5 shots between 1/3 and 1/4 MOA, or even 1/8 MOA for the best ones). My interest for longer range, more tactical shooting such PRS, or even F-Class shooting only came few years ago and I’m still considering as a beginner for that kind of shooting. But I surely kept a lot of habits from Benchrest. And handloading is surely one of them 🙂

        Sorry for the long comment, but I surely didn’t wanted to sound negative about your very nice post, nor even claiming it’s wrong or such. I’m just trying to give my opinion and argument why I do believe so. Nothing else!

        Cheers,
        Phil

  20. It is probably worth noting that for some larger calibers, such as the 338 lapua, handloading is going to be cheaper by a large margin. High quality 338 match ammo will run you $6 per round. You can find once fired brass for $1.50 or less, a 300 SMK is about $0.65 a bullet, primer will be a couple of cents, and powder will be a bit under $0.40 per round. That means you are paying in the ballpark of $2.50 for your first loading, and after paying for the brass you will be paying just over a dollar per round until you burn out the brass.

    If you reload 200 pieces of brass 5 times, getting 1000 rounds, your total component cost is about $1,300, compared to $6000 for buying the same in match ammo.

    Even if you add in the $716 from your optimistic example, in equipment and time costs, it brings us to $2016, compared to buying the cheapest match grade stuff you can find in bulk, about $3500, we are still way ahead.

    • You’re absolutely right, Adam. Thanks for bringing that up. These numbers reflect most mid-size cartridges, but as you step into the large magnums or more exotic cartridges handloading can quickly become a significant cost saver. The numbers you presented seem to be inline with what I’d expect for those kinds of cartridges. For those extended range cartridges (targets beyond 1 mile), the accuracy difference you could achieve with handloads might also be worth the extra time. At those distances, even tiny flaws are magnified to the point that they could result in a miss.

      I’m planning a post that will list out the price ranges for match ammo in different cartridges, to help show how much of a variance there can be out there … and also help people see what cartridges they have to choose from if they want to go the factory match ammo route. That info is kind of spread all over the place, so I’m hoping to try to consolidate it and present it in a summary format in an upcoming post.

      Thanks for the thoughts,
      Cal

  21. Does Hornady give out the best blue print dimensions for precision chambering a 6.5 Creedmoor ? 6mm Creedmore ?

    • I don’t believe Hornady does, but I have seen some reamers that are specifically designed for their 140gr A-Max ammo. You could probably call Pacific Tool and see if they could give you dimensions of their popular 6.5 Creedmoor reamers. One great thing about the Creedmoor is that it is a new cartridge design, so the specs are well-defined and there aren’t that many variants of it (yet). That is an issue with older cartridges, because ammo manufacturers essentially have to make their ammo work in any chamber. So the chamber fit of factory ammo in a newer cartridge design will likely be more snug, and closer to what a handloader would do when they tune a cartridge for their chamber.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  22. Excellent article. I frequently get asked about ROI for handloading. Then have to explain risks, attention to detail, equipment set up costs, etc.
    For those of us that like to tinker, it’s therapeutic as well, so you can calculate that in as an additional cost saver.

    • Thanks, Andy. I find myself doing the same thing, so I thought this could be a post I just point people to in the future. Hopefully that can serve you in that way as well. And I can understand the therapeutic side. I’m a leader in a mid-size company (unrelated industry), and sometimes I just need to go to my shop and load some ammo to relax. Therapeutic is a good way to view it.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  23. Very timely. I was going through this same exercise myself trying to figure out how “cost effective” reloading is as a .223 and soon to be 6.5 Creedmoor shooter. The table below shows how much $$$ invested in reloading equipment needs to be added to cartridge cost to determine true cost of reloading. Column on left represents amount spent on reloading equipment/supplies and the header across the top is how many rounds you reload with that equipment/supplies:

    Rounds Reloaded

    1,000 1,500 2,500 3,500 4,500 5,500 6,500 7,500

    $250 $0.25 $0.17 $0.10 $0.07 $0.06 $0.05 $0.04 $0.03
    $500 $0.50 $0.33 $0.20 $0.14 $0.11 $0.09 $0.08 $0.07
    $750 $0.75 $0.50 $0.30 $0.21 $0.17 $0.14 $0.12 $0.10
    $1,000 $1.00 $0.67 $0.40 $0.29 $0.22 $0.18 $0.15 $0.13
    $1,250 $1.25 $0.83 $0.50 $0.36 $0.28 $0.23 $0.19 $0.17
    $1,500 $1.50 $1.00 $0.60 $0.43 $0.33 $0.27 $0.23 $0.20
    $1,750 $1.75 $1.17 $0.70 $0.50 $0.39 $0.32 $0.27 $0.23
    $2,000 $2.00 $1.33 $0.80 $0.57 $0.44 $0.36 $0.31 $0.27
    $2,250 $2.25 $1.50 $0.90 $0.64 $0.50 $0.41 $0.35 $0.30
    $2,500 $2.50 $1.67 $1.00 $0.71 $0.56 $0.45 $0.38 $0.33
    $2,750 $2.75 $1.83 $1.10 $0.79 $0.61 $0.50 $0.42 $0.37
    $3,000 $3.00 $2.00 $1.20 $0.86 $0.67 $0.55 $0.46 $0.40
    $5,000 $5.00 $3.33 $2.00 $1.43 $1.11 $0.91 $0.77 $0.67
    $7,500 $7.50 $5.00 $3.00 $2.14 $1.67 $1.36 $1.15 $1.00
    $10,000 $10.00 $6.67 $4.00 $2.86 $2.22 $1.82 $1.54 $1.33

    The numbers above ONLY reflect how much your reloading equipment adds to the cost of reloading an individual round. IMO reloading isn’t about saving money, it’s about creating optimized loads for each rifle.

  24. Don’t let our wives get a hold of this. It always seems to work out better if I use the reason for reloading is it’s way cheaper.

    • Absolutely! Here is one of the best shirts I’ve ever seen! Wiebad makes it.

      If I die, someone tell me wife what my guns are really worth

      I guess it’s the same case with reloading equipment! This is an expensive hobby, but it’s cheaper than a bass boat … probably.

  25. I reload because I live in Australia. We get ripped off big time with anything firearms related. To buy anything in Match .308 168grain, we are looking at $50+. I can handload using Bergers for around $1 a round, or $0.70 if I use 168gr Zmax’s.

    A 6.5CM will be the first calibre precision rifle I buy when I move back to the USA next year!

    • Wow, Greg. That’s robbery! You should move back to the US … they only rip us off on suppressors here! 😉

      I actually bought 300 rounds of that Federal Premium 308 Win Gold Medal 168gr Sierra MatchKing Match ammo this morning for $360 after shipping, and I bought 200 rounds of the Hornady 6.5 Creedmoor 140gr A-Max Match Ammo for $240 after shipping. It’s all for an upcoming field test I’m preparing for. Should be a lot of fun. Stay tuned!

      Thanks,
      Cal

      • At least you can purchase those mythical ‘suppressors’ you speak of! Those are as rare as unicorn farts in AUS, as our govt. decided that we are not responsible enough….

        Those are pretty good prices for factory match if they shoot well in your rifle! At ~$50+ per box of .308 match here, cost recovery on all my reloading gear was achieved in the first 400 rounds if I had to buy factory match – so reloading is easily justified.

        Unless that factory .308 168gr SMK & 6.5CM didn’t give you the accuracy you wanted for the $$ you’re paying, then if I was in the US right now, and had to buy everything over again, it would be hard to justify the total cost to reload. The factory match .308 & 6.5CM are two of the cheapest match offerings though.

      • Oh, sorry! I just always think of Great Britain where you can buy a suppressor over the counter. In fact, I’ve heard it’s viewed as rude there if you don’t use a suppressor. In the US, they treat you like a serial killer of you want to buy one. It’s as fun and easy as a rectal exam!

  26. I totally disagree with the inclusion of a labor factor. If I were doing it for money that would be different but I am doing it for many other reasons so it is a cost benefit. I don’t charge for mowing the lawn or washing dishes or surfing the net either.

    Since staying at home handloading keeps me out of the bars and other costly addictions, how much can I deduct for that?

  27. This was a great article. I have told people that I reload. And they always ask how much I save. Usually I’m like “eehhh… not really.”

    There are some advantages. A box of 338-06 ammo is nearly impossible to find and when you do find it there is the sticker shock that doesn’t occur with 308 ammo. Reloading/handloading brings rare cartridges to life.

    Now that I have all of the components there is no reason not to reload 308 if I had one. The savings is nonexistent, but the equipment would just go to waste if it didn’t get used.

    Let’s not forget that with handloading we can create things. If you have a beast of a rifle, you can create light(er) loads for it. We all know about the reduced recoil loads using H4895 powder. Or vice versa. The 45-70s are an example of a commonly uploaded cartridge. Then there are the “odd” creations. Round nosed bullets come to mind.

    As others have stated, there is the joy of reloading/handloading. That alone has intrinsic value. Think about it. It serves zero purpose for a person to rebuild a car from the 50s or a tractor from the 30s. But people do. And it’s costly. But between the work itself and the finished product, the value has worth.

    Then there is time. It’s raining outside. What else are you going to do? Watch Desperate Housewives?

    Should reloading and handloading be justified solely by cost? No. There are too many other variables.

    • I appreciate your well thought-out and articulated feedback. All great points.

      You mentioned “the equipment would go to waste,” and that is a huge reason so many continue doing it. That is actually referred to as the Sunk Cost Fallacy. Here’s an example: Let’s say a few weeks ago, you bought a $100 ticket to an outdoor concert. When the day finally came, it was cold and rainy outside … and you just really didn’t want to go. We often feel obliged to go, because otherwise we’d have wasted our money and the time we spent in line to buy it; we feel like we’ve passed the point of no return. Economists would label this behavior “irrational”: it is inefficient because it misallocates resources by depending on information that is irrelevant to the decision being made. Sure, you spent the money already. But you can’t get it back. If you aren’t going to have a good time at the concert, you only make your life worse by going.

      I know that’s hard to accept. It’s why most of us give in to the sunk cost fallacy all the time! See if any of these sound familiar:

      • I might as well keep eating, because I already bought the food and I don’t want to waste it.
      • I might as well keep watching this terrible movie, because I’ve watched an hour of it already.
      • I might as well keep going to a useless class, because I paid for it.
      • I hate my job, but I’ve worked there so long.

      I’m not trying to say it doesn’t ever make sense to continue to handload. Guess what, tomorrow night … I’m handloading. But it’s because loaded match ammo for a 6XC is over $2 per round. You won’t catch me loading 308 or 223. And my next rifle will be carefully chosen based on what I can buy reasonable factory match ammo for … that means 6.5 Creedmoor. It is just too compelling for ammo you’re able to buy for $1.14/round. Oh, and you can sell the once fired brass and get that price to under $1!!!

      Once again, thanks for the comments. Several points you made are completely valid and well-received.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  28. This is a great article. I am fairly new to precision shooting and currently shooting .308. I have been considering handloading for a while but wondering is it really worth the initial investment cost. I have a r700 varmint with few mods that I can consistently get 1/4″ groups at 100 yds and best is 1/8″ shooting Federal GMM 168 SMK’s. With my current shooting ability I can consistently hold 1/2 moa out to 700 yds (my max distance at any local range). Is it worth it to handload? Am I going to get a vast improvement over that? At a local supplier I can get the Federal’s for around $21 per box. I kinda see more benefit in spending more time on range with this set-up. Not to mention I have four kids 8 & under and time is ultra-premium. Thanks for some great points and thoughts and great site!

    • “Is it worth it to handload?” That is a loaded question! I don’t think there is a clear yes or no. At some point it does, it just depends on what you’re trying to do and how much spare time and discretionary income you have. If you’re trying to hit sub-MOA targets at long-range … yes, you should probably handload. If you’re trying to compete at a national level for competitions where you have lots of time to make a shot at long-distance targets … yes, you should probably handload. If you are getting 1/8 MOA groups out of factory ammo … I bet you won’t be able to improve that with handloads. What you will probably improve is standard deviation of muzzle velocities. Are you missing a lot because of vertical dispersion on those long-range targets (i.e. missing high or low)? If so, you might consider handloading. Most of us miss left and right, so I figure you are similar. In that case, since handloading won’t tighten your group size … you won’t realize much benefit. The only benefit would be the ability to select more consistent brass (Lapua 308 brass is exceptional), and you could also use bullets that have a slightly higher BC (like those made by Berger Bullets). All those things will have a very small increase in hit probability, but maybe combined it would be noticeable.

      I don’t want to try to talk you out of a 308, but you can see in this data-driven approach how much improvement you could expect by switching to a 6mm or 6.5mm cartridge like the 6.5 Creedmoor. If I were you, that’s the direction I’d head, but the 308 is a legendary cartridge for a reason. It just isn’t ideal for long-range, because of the heavier recoil and poorer external ballistics compared to similar 6mm or 6.5mm mid-size cartridges. You can still buy the Hornady 140gr A-Max Factory Match ammo for the same price as the Federal GMM 168 SMK’s. I just bought two cases of both of those for the muzzle brake test I’ve been working on, and there were both exactly $1.14 per round. So you have quality factory match ammo choices at affordable prices on both cartridges, which is very rare. With kids in mind, I can tell you I’m about to build a 6.5 Creedmoor myself so that I can spend less time out in the shop handloading, because I want to spend the precious little time I can on this hobby out at the range practicing. I try not to push my own decisions on anyone, but it sounds like you are in a similar boat.

      Hope this helps!
      Cal

      • Hi Cal,

        Thanks so much for the reply. I really appreciate your input and feedback. I totally get you about the 6.5 creedmore. I have been considering doing a build and will probably take one up in the next year. I have a 300 wm in an XLR chassis and will probably use one for the 6.5 build. As for the 308…I just love shooting it. I enjoy the challenge it presents, the history of the cartridge, the cost of shooting, barrel life, and good factory ammo. And it has a wealth of data to pull from for all the years its been around.
        Most of my deviation on targets is left to right with an occasional high flier…which is more times than not a hot round…being factory loads. I really would like to take up hand loading and one of my shooting coaches has offered to teach me. But right now it really is a time factor more than anything. I usually can go out shooting about once a month and sometimes a few more. As my boys get older (and they already love shooting), I can see taking them along to teach them….and the outings will probably increase. But with all that said…when would I have time to load now? Like you I don’t want to waste this time with my kids and be an absent father. The accuracy I get from factory loads now is sufficient enough I think.
        I was at a precision rifle course this past weekend and a number of the guys are all chatting about your blog. All are very impressed with the approach you have taken and you have done a great service for all of us shooters.
        A side note…someone above mentioned about Creedmore factory ammo. My shooting coach is a former Marine Sniper…and he has been really talking up the Creedmore ammo. I think its definitely worth a try.
        Keep on keepin’ on. Love the blog and looking forward to learning more! Thanks again.

      • All great points. The 6.5 Creedmoor ammo is good, but not great. A friend fired 300 rounds over a chronograph recently from a bunch of different lots. There is lot-to-lot variation in muzzle velocity, but the average standard deviation was around 15 fps like I presented in this series. 300 rounds from few different lots gives me a lot of confidence in that number! 😉

        Thanks,
        Cal

  29. This is a great article. I am fairly new to precision shooting and currently shooting .308. I have been considering handloading for a while but wondering is it really worth the initial investment cost. I have a r700 varmint with few mods that I can consistently get 1/4″ groups at 100 yds and best is 1/8″ shooting Federal GMM 168 SMK’s. With my current shooting ability I can consistently hold 1/2 moa out to 700 yds (my max distance at any local range). Is it worth it to handload? Am I going to get a vast improvement over that? At a local supplier I can get the Federal’s for around $21 per box. I kinda see more benefit in spending more time on range with this set-up. Not to mention I have four kids 8 & under and time is ultra-premium. Thanks for some great points and thoughts and great site!

    • “Is it worth it to handload?” Wow, that’s a loaded question! I’d say it depends on what you’re trying to do, how much spare time you have, and how much discretionary income you have. If you’re trying to hit sub-MOA targets at distance … yeah, it is probably worth it. If you are trying to compete at a national level in a competition where you have plenty of time to make a careful and calculated shot … yeah, it is probably worth it. Otherwise, it depends on your personal situation and how much you like to tinker.

      If you really are getting 1/8 MOA groups, handloading isn’t going to do a lot for you. It may help you get more consistent velocities, but are you missing a lot of shots because of vertical dispersion (i.e. do you miss high or low a lot)? Most of us miss left to right because of wind. The other thing handloading can do is allow you to pick the best and most consistent components for each part. For example, you could use Lapua brass (outstanding for 308) and the really high-BC Berger Bullets. Both would be an improvement over the Federal Premium Gold Medal 168gr Sierra MatchKing ammo. If you combined all those things, you might notice an increase in hit percentage at distance. That’s just seems like a lot of stuff to do and buy for a marginal improvement.

      I don’t want to try to talk you out of the legendary 308, but you can see in this analysis how big of an improvement you could realize if you switched to similar sized 6mm or 6.5mm cartridge. It’s a significant improvement in ballistics, as well as reduced recoil. That is probably the direction I would head first, instead of starting to handload.

      I’m about to build a 6.5 Creedmoor myself, so that I can spend less time in the shop handloading and more time practicing out at the range. I actually just bought 2 cases of Hornady 6.5 Creedmoor 140gr A-Max Match Grade Ammo and 2 cases of Federal Premium Gold Medal 168gr Sierra MatchKing Ammo for the field test I’ve been working on … and they were both exactly $1.14 per round. So both the 308 and the 6.5 Creedmoor have outstanding match grade ammo for very affordable prices. I’m not sure you can make the same case for any other long-range cartridge. That is why so many guys are moving to a 6.5 Creedmoor. That factory match ammo is good and affordable. It isn’t as good as handloads … but it is way better than standard ammo, and I think it is good enough for me at this point … that is at least until I significantly improve in my ability to call the wind. I may be in a old-folks home before that happens!

      And, on that last point about kids … I’m just really sensitive to how much time I spend on this hobby. I’d love to do it all the time, and go to all the matches. But I know if I looked back on this season of life 20 years from now, I’ll remember spending time with my kids … and I won’t wish I was able to spend more time shooting long-range. It’s just about perspective. I’m just trying to keep myself from becoming selfish absentee dad. So as for me, I plan on shooting a 6.5 Creedmoor with factory ammo for the near future. I’ll likely still use my 6XC in competitions running my handloads, but I bet I shoot thousands of rounds more out of that 6.5 Creedmoor each year. That will let me practice more at the range, and still spend quality time with my family. Seems like the right compromise for my situation. I try not to push my own decisions or opinions on anyone, but you seem like you may be in a similar situation.

      Hope this helps!
      Cal

  30. This is an interesting write up, but I would make one observation on reloading vs shooting time. They probably aren’t completely interchangeable. You can do reloading at night – in the winter, during a storm, or just any night after work. Would you really be at the range with your chronograph at 9 PM Tuesday night in January when there is snow on the ground? Or would this just be instead of America’s Got Talent (or whatever)?

    I’m mostly in the dreaming stages right now. I have a number of things I have to buy (several gallons of exterior paint for house, for example, and car repair) before the “discretionary” items can be obtained. But I guess I will start looking at 6mm and 6.5mm offerings.

    • Yep, spot on. It depends on your circumstances. I personally would spend more time behind a rifle if I didn’t handload, but I realize that isn’t everyone. I bet most people haven’t ever thought about the costs like I presented here, so hopefully it at least gets people thinking about the potential trade-offs you’re making or maybe hints towards a more wholistic view of “how much reloading saves.”

      Thanks,
      Cal

  31. Good eye opener article. I started reloading metallics in 1973. Like many reloaders I started small with basic tools and upgraded as money and needs warranted. Its like mission creep, as you add little by little you don’t even notice it. If I had to buy all my equipment today, all at once, I’d probably think twice.

    Recently I’ve been picking up more precise equipment to get into F-class shooting. Wow, costs have really gone up! Paid more for a case gage than for many die sets in the past.

    On the flip side our all too short summers are followed by 8 months of cold. So it gives me something to do.

    It could be worse. You could get into racing or airplanes if you want spend real money. 🙂

    • Great points, Bill. “Mission creep” …that’s a good analogy.

      And yeah, there are more expensive hobbies out there. Bass boats are expensive, but race cars are even more so! Makes the cost of rifles seem pretty reasonable. I should tell my wife that! 😉

      Thanks,
      Cal

  32. I have just discovered this web site and am very happy I did. As a Newtonian physics geek, as well as an aspiring long range shooter, I appreciate Mr Zant’s quantitative process.

    However, he didn’t really capture the essence of why you should or should not reload.

    The bottom line is that if you don’t enjoy reloading and aren’t willing to embrace it as a supporting hobby/passtime/passion in its own right, then you should not be reloading.

    As I’m typing this, I’m wet tumbling 1000 .223 cases that I’m going to reload using my Dillon 650. This is bulk ammo that is not made for ultimate accuracy. But I still get excellent accuracy out of it with a standard deviation in the 12 fps range. I achieved this by testing several powders in the Dillon powder drop. And while Varget gave the best SD when charges were weighed individually, Alliant TAC, with its very small grain size gives me consistent drops within .1 gr.

    If your eyes are glazing over as you read this, then I’m sure you get my point. If you aren’t willing to get as obsessively meticulous about reloading as you are about everything else, then you are better off shooting Federal GMM or Eagle Eye.

    I recently took a class at Sig Academy. In it, we went from 200 yards to 1000 yards over the course of 2 days. This class assumed decent fundamentals and nothing more. At the end of the first day we shot over an Oehler chrono. The instructor used this data along with our optics height above bore and bullet BC to create range cards to use for known distance shooting.

    During this testing, my .308 ammo measured a 6 fps SD. (175 SMK over IMR 4064 at 2720 fps) I was proud to see. At the end of the class, when our instructor was giving out awards for most improved, best shot, etc. He noted that if I wanted a job in the ammo dept at Sig, I should apply today.

    Why am I telling this story. Hopefully I have conveyed some of the interest and satisfaction that you can get from reloading accurate, precise ammo. Oh yes, and I save money also. Well, not really. I just shoot more.

    Don

    • Thanks for the feedback, Don. I actually do enjoy it, but for me it comes down to where do I want to spend my time. Honestly this blog takes up more time than I originally intended for it to, so I just don’t have as much time to obsessively handload as I used to. One of my friends challenged me to think about whether $1.20/round really isn’t saving me time and money, and I thought that was ridiculous … but it rolled around in my head for a few months until I finally thought I’d do the calculations and this post fell out of this. Honestly, I think I’ll continue to handload for some of my cartridges and buy that Hornady factory match ammo for lots of the tests I run for the blog (I go through cases and cases of ammo in those) and for some of my own practice, but then I’ll use handloads in competitions using my 6XC and hunting and shooting out to 1 mile using my 7mm Rem Mag.

      I appreciate your thoughtful comments.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  33. My process for getting 6 fps SDs was pretty basic and did not involve sophisticated equipment. I needed 300 rounds for the class.

    I started with 500 pieces of new Winchester brass, because thats what I could get. The cases were full length resized and then trimmed to length with a Giraud case trimmer, but they could have been done on a $60 RCBS. Once trimmed, I weighed all 500 cases and selected the 300 that grouped closest together in weight.

    Then I weighed 500 175 gr SMKs and used the 300 that grouped closest together in weight. The cases were primed with Federal bench rest primers. Then I loaded them with a RCBS Chargemaster. And finally the bullets were seated with a Redding micrometer seating die. No crimp was used.

    None of this is voodoo, no concentricity gauge, no neck turning, or any of that really obsessive stuff. I just measured the powder precisely and picked my components from the middle of my sample set.

    Don

    p.s. If you run the numbers with an external ballistics application you will see that a 30 fps variation in MV at 100 yards produces a couple of hundredths of an inch vertical stringing. At 1000 yards, if memory serves me right, its about 2 ft. (assuming a 175 gr SMK leaving the muzzle at 2720 fps)

    • Hey, Don. That is REALLY helpful information. Thanks for sharing with the rest of us. If I could load ammo with 6 fps without a lot of hassle … I think I’m in. That’s interesting that you didn’t neck turn or use an expensive scale. Do you anneal?

      Thanks,
      Cal

  34. Very timely for me. After a move I was able to get my reloading equipment back up and running this weekend. Only reloading pistol loads for IDPA matches and practice. I have a Savage 6.5 CM that I enjoy shooting and was searching for dies when I ran across your article (very well done). I’ve changed my mind, for me it’s a no brainier…factory ammo. I’ll be lucky to shoot 400-500 rounds from my CM. Thank you!

    • Hey, Buck. Glad you found it helpful. It was a paradigm shift for me, and it took me several months to come around to this idea. At this point, I’ve built a 6.5 Creedmoor and shot it for a couple months. I’ve already fired 1,000+ rounds of Hornady’s factory match ammo, and it’s been nice shooting a lot and taking a break from reloading for a minute. I’m just in a season where I don’t have time to do both. This blog takes a lot of time, and I do all this on the side in my spare time … so something had to give. I certainly haven’t regretted the decision.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  35. Why didn’t you add it the possibility of loading brass multiple times? I’ve been able to get 15-24 reloads on average out of Lapua brass for my 338. And yes, I’ve been pushing 285gr pills at ~2815fps. with minimal pressure signs. Proper annealing and case prep can get your costs per round very low. I’ve been able to load my .338 Lapua Magnum for around $1.73 per round. Depending on the type of projectiles I use.

    • You might read it again. I am including multiple loads. It even says the calculations do “assume that you will reuse brass cases multiple times.” Not 15-24, but you’re the first guy I’ve talked to that has ever claimed to get that many out of 338 brass. If you anneal regularly, that is plausible. But I didn’t include the cost of annealing equipment in these calculations either.

      When you’re talking about the 338 Lapua, it probably is more of a clear winner because loaded match ammo starts around $5/round. There aren’t $1.20/round options on that cartridge like the others I mentioned. Most people who read this website are using the cartridges that I gave the examples of (6.5 Creedmoor, 308, 243, etc). That class of cartridges is far more popular among the precision rifle crowd (see the data).

      Hope this clears things up.
      Cal

  36. I am brand new into handloading and reloading and this really was an eye opener. Of course the costs are different for each caliber for match grade and loading purposes, but this article did a great job of looking at it stricltly as a monetary value and not opinionated. Match grade ammo may be something I look into but also I find handloading to be fun and something I can tinker with when it’s 1 am and can’t sleep.

    • Thanks, David. I try really hard to keep my posts from being overly opinionated, so I appreciate your comments. It seems like most people in this industry are very dogmatic, and often overstate their view … so I’m trying to be something different, and take a more objective approach while suppressing my own opinion. And I’m a tinkerer too, so I still have my handloading setup. Logic and money don’t apply to everything! Sometimes it’s just find to tinker.

      Thanks,
      Cal

      • I completely agree and appreciate the work you did spelling it out. I will definitely be following from now on. Tinkering can sometimes cost money but it’s learning to be proud of your work that makes it worth it.

  37. I’ve been hand loading for my 6.5×55 for a while and the cost benefits for these rounds are noticable. I use a Lee loader (not a press) which only cost about $50 (AUD) and I use a cheap scale when starting out for larger adjustments, then a home made balance (It’s extremely consistent) for fine tuning, so now that I know my load I just use the balance. The odd bits and pieces tools were either cheap or already laying about.

    Decent, roughly equivalent to my load, factory ammo will run me about $2+(AUD) per round (bulk on sale $2 per, while normal 20 box is about $2.5.. when I first started handloading it was over $3). My loads cost about $1.17 (AUD). That doesn’t include time or equipment and is based on 3.5 uses per case though I usually get over 5 before I lose faith in a case.

    I don’t really consider the time for two reasons. First; I enjoy loading. Secondly; I do most of the work during down time (another benefit of a little Lee loader is it being portable) so while my completely manual method is slower the only time I’m doing nothing but loading is when I’m measuring the powder and seating the bullet but I’ve got that down to a fine art. Cleaning and prepping the brass I do while watching TV, it’s good to do during sport, or at work if I know I’ll have that kind of time (I don’t take primers or powder out of the house but I can still do the rest of the work).

    All That being said I wouldn’t ever reload 22lr and I wouldn’t jump to reload more common ammo but with the less common ammo it is definitely worth it… While I said I don’t consider the time element I suppose that I do, to an extent, I would buy factory if the dollar margin was better but that could be laziness more than the cost of my time.

    • Great! I’m glad that’s working out for you. I’m not sure everyone would be up for your pragmatic approach to loading (i.e. Lee loader and homemade balance), but if it’s working for you … stay at it! There is certainly not a one-size-fits-all “right” approach to this stuff.

      That is the kind of factory ammo prices I’d expect for the 6.5×55. $2/round is too rich for my blood, too. Really the 6.5 Creedmoor is the only cartridge other than the 308 that you can easily find affordable match-grade factory ammo for. And I’m not sure that holds true outside the US. I don’t have a clue what you guys can buy stuff for. Factory ammo certainly isn’t an option for just any cartridge. For example, I love my 6XC. David Tubb sells awesome loaded ammo for it, but it’s $2/round. Norma started selling factory match-grade ammo for it as well, but it’s $3/round. So I still handload for that cartridge. But a few months ago I built a 6.5 Creedmoor. I’ve been shooting the Hornady and PRIME ammo for $1.20/round. Sure is nice. I find myself shooting it 10 times more than my 6XC, because I just always have boxes of ammo ready to go. So although the 6XC has a slight ballistic advantage and I enjoy the reduced recoil … I wonder if I actually shoot better with my 6.5 Creedmoor because I shoot it so much more often?

      And if you enjoy loading, then by all means … do it man! Whatever floats your boat. You’ve found a way to decrease the cost to get started, and you don’t mind spending the time doing it. It sounds like you’ve overcome the two major barriers I presented in this article. But then again, not everyone is like you … just like not everyone is like me. I’m just trying to present the full-story with total cost of ownership approach. I just want new shooters to have an objective view before they just automatically dive head-first into handloading. 10 years ago, handloading was the only way to go … it just isn’t anymore. You can buy good ammo off the shelf that can likely perform as well or better than most shooter’s handloads. If you’re willing to go super-OCD and have good equipment, then maybe you can top it. But there just wasn’t factory options out there like that a few years ago, and the equipment quality and price has skyrocketed in the past 10 years as well. So it’s a new world we live in, and I was just trying to point that out in this article.

      Ultimately, I’m not trying to sell anyone on either approach. I’m just trying to present a balanced view and help people look at total cost of handloading. Most guys just think of it as the cost of the bullet + powder + primer + (case / 10 uses). I know from personal experience, your bank account and free time will experience more of a hit than that would lead you to believe. So I’m just trying to help other people see that before they dive head-first into it.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  38. My point exactly. But I use my overtime rate to place a value on doing something myself (that is how much my time is worth to me when i am not working). With an overtime rate of $78/ hour, hand loading is not a cost worthy option for me. Now if its a hopy, and something one enjoys doing, than the “time” cost is irrelevant.

  39. Regarding the economies of handloading: I haven’t seen any notes on the efficiencies of multiple calibers. I started handloading to make reasonable affordable 300blk rounds. I make cheap plinking rounds for about 22 cents per round and match quality ammo for between 30 and 40 cents per round, depending on bullet. I started with a Lee press kit which paid for itself within the first within the first couple hundred rounds.

    One day I saw a smoking deal on Hornady 9mm bullets and figured I’d start loading 9mm. So I bought a Hornady progressive press. From there, I went to 45ACP, 44 Magnum, and 223.

    Hornady FMJ 9mm loads cost about 8-9 cents per round – about half the cost of cheap factory ammo
    Plated 45ACP costs about 10-11 cents per round – about 1/3 the cost of cheap factory ammo
    Hornady XTP 44 Magnum is between 6-11 cents per round – This isn’t a fair number because all my 44 mag bullets have been free so far.
    Nosler 223 costs about 30 cents per round for match grade ammo.

    *I got free brass for all of the above or saved brass from factory loads.

    I’ll adjust equipment for economy plinking rounds or for total control match rounds; depending on what I need. I’m only starting to get into long range precision – looking to get a rifle in a 6.5mm cartridge… but thus far my “precision” 300blk and 223 loads will produce clover leafs at 100 yards – and that’s off a cheap (but reasonably precise) lee press.

    All that said, my equipment has paid for itself multiple times over – 45ACP and 300BLK made quick work of the pay back. I should factor the time component, but it’s hard to value because I normally tinker with it when my opportunity cost of time is very low, i.e. hour before bed, first thing in the morning on a Saturday/Sunday, time when my choices are limited. If I could load up the computer and work during those hours, I would… but I really can’t generate real income in those off hours. It sure would make the money value of time easier to calculate. I can, however, save money at variable rates around the clock.

    When I started handloading, I was making 300blk ammo for less than 1/3 of the cost of the factory made equivalent. I ran the metrics before I started and factored time, estimating that I saved about $30 to $40 for every hour I put into 300blk. I save about the same amount per hour loading 45 on the progressive press. That’s not a lot but you have to realize those numbers are a post tax equivalent to what would be an otherwise pre-tax earning potential. At a 30% tax rate, I’d have to earn at least $39 – $52 per hour to offset the savings.

    At this point, I’m running analytics for 260 Remington. I’m getting an estimated 70 cents per round ( 30 cents bullet, 1.00/5 uses = 20 cents brass, 3 cents primer, 15 cents powder) with premium components at retail prices from a popular online seller. Factory ammo is anywhere from $1.50 to $3.00 per round from the same retailer. I don’t know how long it would take to load precision rounds for 260 Rem so I can’t comment on the cost of time.

    As far as precision long range shooting and loading is concerned, I have A LOT to learn. But that said, it seems to me that there are (or at least can be) considerable economies to handloading.

    Just my thoughts.

    • Miranda, I appreciate your perspective. If it’s working for you, I wouldn’t change it. There are some efficiencies in loading multiple cartridges, but I did take that into consideration. Look at the section under the title “Okay, Let’s Get Real (or Optimistic)”. It ignores any shared equipment costs, and just looks at the costs related to components for a specific cartridge. So all of that shared equipment like the press, powder measure, trimmer, cleaner, etc. is completely ignored.

      But hey, if you like what you’re doing … keep at it! You mentioned a 30% tax rate, and for that to be your effective tax rate … you’d need to be earning $450,000 per year! So it sounds like your in a position to do whatever you want!

      I honestly don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all “right” answer to this debate. I just wanted to present the side of the argument that most of us have largely skimmed past. When you start using match-grade components and tooling … the price just gets pretty expensive, and with manufacturing tolerances tightening every day because of advancements in technology, it makes sense that at some point they’ll be able to produce ammo that is hard even for a handloader to beat. We’re just in a new era when it comes to factory ammo, so it’s something to consider.

      Thanks,
      Cal