Whenever someone says, “It’s too expensive to shoot,” I think of a former neighbor. He was an engineer who raced cars. He raced in two classes and figured that if he was careful, he could get through a season on two sets of tires each—about $9,000. Adjusted for inflation, that’s about $13,500. That was just tires. It didn’t include travel, entry fees, fuel or oil. He was going to do the engine work himself. Let’s assume you want to be the heavy hitter in GSSF and IDPA matches in your area. You have a Glock (or something else suitable for IDPA), the magazines, holster, etc. The equivalent tire cash gets you 90,000 rounds of factory 9mm. Per year. Yowza!
When I was heavy into competition, I shot about 35,000 rounds a year, got good, got famous and became a gun writer. In factory 9mm, that’s $5,250. How much ammo does that much cash put into reloading get you?
WHAT WILL RELOADING COST?
A Dillon 550B or a Hornady LnL press, plus dies, brass cleaner and the tools to load 9mm, set you back about $600 or so. That’s the first year, because you only need to buy the press and dies, etc., once. Brass? You just scrounge 9mm brass at the gun club until you have enough. There’s always some to be found.
OK. How much does it then cost to reload ammo? First lesson: Buy in bulk. The cost of 100 primers versus the cost per 100 of buying 1,000—or 5,000—matters. Ditto for powder and bullets.
The last time I bought bullets, I bought them from a caster who has since retired. I bought 50,000 150-grain lead flat-points for 9mm/.38 Super. I met him at a match to save shipping. He brought my bullets and the bullets for a bunch of other shooters in his Ford F450 Duallie Crewcab. I schlepped mine home in my Ranger.
Buy in bulk, stash it on the shelves, and load it when you need it. Do not just buy 100 of anything, unless it is a pure and simple T&E effort (“Hmm, does my pistol like these bullets?”). Buy 100 and find out. If it does, order 10,000. If it doesn’t, and you have 10,000 on hand, you are in trouble.
“Sixty thousand rounds per year? That’s what the pros shoot. If you had 60,000 rounds to shoot, you’d be hard-pressed to find the time to shoot it all and get meaningful practice with it.”
Primers by the thousand per carton run about $30. A 5,000 sleeve will be less per thousand. An 8-pound bottle of WW-231 will run $185. When bought online, primers and powder will also cost you the accursed hazmat fee. That’s generally $30 per order, no matter how large or small. So, buy in bulk to spread that $30 cost across as much product as possible.
GET A LEG UP
Bullets are hard on the wallet because of weight; and, shooting a Glock, you can’t use just lead. You have to use coated bullets, and those run you $41 per 1,000. Adjusting the number to the per-1,000 rate, you end up with 9mm ammo for practice and match use, costing you about $85 per 1,000 rounds; plus about five or six hours of loading time per 1,000.
Just to make you jealous (or point out how old I am), I once calculated that I could load lead-bullet 9mm practice ammo for just over $40 per 1,000. That’s when I started building 9mm practice clones of my competition guns. Reloading also allows you to tune your ammo to your handgun. Find the bullet/powder combo that is most accurate in your handgun, and you have a leg up on the rest of the competition. With reloading, the $5,250 per year (refer back to the first paragraph on this page) will net you more than 60,000 rounds per year. We aren’t counting the investment of the press, because that will be amortized over the life of your shooting career. And the brass cost is minimal, because 9mm can be found on every range. You just have to pick it up and clean it.
Sixty thousand rounds per year? That’s what the pros shoot. If you had 60,000 rounds to shoot, you’d be hard pressed to find the time to shoot it all and get meaningful practice with it. If you went to practice at the gun club every single Saturday of the year without fail, 60,000 rounds a year means more than 1,100 rounds of practice on each of those days.
“Reloading also allows you to tune your ammo to your handgun. Find the bullet/powder combo that is most accurate in your handgun, and you have a leg up on the rest of the competition.”
I’m here to tell you that’s too much shooting for one day’s practice. You’d be better off with meaningful practice of about 200 rounds’ worth. At that pace, your practice ammo will only cost you $850 for the year—one-tenth of my neighbor’s tire costs 20 years ago.
Still think shooting is too expensive? We all know people who spend more than that on their cell phone plan. Reload. Practice. Get good. Win. It’s a simple process.
Patrick Sweeney has been a decades-long reloader, competition shooter, gunsmith and firearms writer. He is also a state-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, a court-recognized expert witness—and winner of much more than his fair share of loot and glory.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the October 2018 print issue of American Survival Guide.