Reloading: The Cost Of Components

Reloading: The Cost Of Components
Handloading remains financially viable, but costs sure have gone up. Photo: Massaro Media Group.

The cost of reloading components just took a significant uptick, is bullet building still worth it?

I was checking the availability of a particular powder that my .300 Winchester Magnum enjoys very much, when I did a double take. While available, the price was $69.99 per pound. Reeling from the dramatic price increase, I turned to my wife, opened my mouth and heard my father’s voice come as I gave an uncontrollable dissertation on the cost of ammunition and components. Why in the world would there be such a drastic increase in the cost of powder, and why does it seem that the amounts of available powder is diminishing just as quickly?

Vista Outdoor announced a price increase just before the 2023 holiday season, indicating that not only would loaded ammunition of all sorts—from rimfire to centerfire to shotshell—see an increase in price, but the components would be going up commensurately. Now, I don’t pretend to be an economist of any sort, but a simple trip to the grocery store will show you exactly how far our dollar doesn’t go anymore, and it seems that this has translated to the shooting world as well.

Some cartridges, like the .338-06 A-Square, need to be handloaded to be kept alive. Photo: Massaro Media Group.

Once upon a time in the not-so-distant past, a guy could use the same components as the premium ammunition brands, and handload his own ammunition far cheaper than it would be to purchase it. Slowly but surely, that price gap has shrunk to the point where it may not even exist any longer.

The Cost of Reloading Components

Using the popular .300 Winchester Magnum as an example, you will find that purchasing new brass cases will cost anywhere from $1 to $2.25 per piece, and, yes, I am aware that these are the one part of the equation that can be reused, so I’ll adjust costs at the end for that factor. A 180-grain Nosler Partition, a very popular choice for the .300 Winchester, will cost $87 for a box of 50, or $1.75 a bullet.

Large rifle magnum primers are running between 10 and 12 cents per piece, and powder—depending on what you choose—is now priced somewhere between 0.6 and 1 cent per grain. With a powder charge of 70 grains, we’re looking at a cost of between $0.42 and $0.70 per cartridge. If I were to ignore the cost of dies, presses, scales, trimmers and the like, and I were to average the component costs—I figured the cases would cost $0.25 per loading based upon reloading them six times or so—I get a component cost of $2.67 per cartridge, not factoring in your time and labor.

Primer prices have gone up commensurately, now ranging from $0.10 to $0.15 each. Photo: Massaro Media Group.

Looking at the price of a box of Federal Premium 180-grain Nosler Partition ammo for the .300 Winchester, I’m seeing a street price of $65.99, or $3.30 a round, and if you were to purchase the same load from Nosler, you’ll pay $119.95 a box or $6 a round, so there’s a definite savings in comparison to that.

If a guy wanted to shave prices further, a more economical projectile could be chosen, but when you add in the cost of equipment, even averaged over time, the cost of reloading has probably risen to the point of the more affordable premium factory-loaded offerings. Certainly, precision shooters will still opt for the control that reloading offers, allowing them to customize their ammunition to their rifle.

However, considering the improvement in performance of factory ammunition in the past 2 decades, a big-game hunter who shoots less than one box of cartridges per year might not need the handloaded ammunition. But even then, there’s the question of availability.

The author’s .318 Westley Richards loves Alliant’s Reloder 16, but a 1-pound canister now costs $70 before tax … or shipping. Photo: Massaro Media Group.

Despite the return of most components after the huge crunch of 2020 to 2021, where COVID-19 and millions of first-time gun owners combined to both reduce supply and radically increase demand, I’m seeing an awful lot of “out of stock” on various supply houses. Whether this is attributed to the multiple military conflicts around the world, our own governmental agencies buying large amounts of both loaded ammunition and components, or other factors like the explosion at the Minden, Louisiana, blackpowder factory (which had more ramifications than even I realized), the bottom line is that our supplies are once again dwindling.

Fewer available products plus a dramatic increase in the costs of what components are available equals a terrible time for reloaders. The bottom line, at least for me, is that I’m actually shooting less as a result of this situation, and I’m considering the amount of product I’m running through for certain projects. It means that I buy in bulk when I find those components I know I am going to need going forward, especially for those cartridges which aren’t currently loaded in factory ammunition.

Primers are once again drying up, powder is either expensive or unavailable, and projectile prices are climbing as well. Without getting into conspiracy theories or delving into a political debate about the cause of the component/ammunition shortage, it seems to be a real thing … once again. But what the current situation means to me is that I am, once again, actively concerned about the amount of the components I will need for my own shooting regimens.

Marked at $17.95 and $39.99 respectively, these prices may never be seen again. Photo: Massaro Media Group.

What’s the End Game?

I’m often asked by prospective reloaders, who have neither experience nor gear, if delving into reloading is worthwhile. Twenty years ago, I would’ve unabashedly answered in the affirmative. Today, I would have to ask about their goals. If they were the 2-weeks-a-year deer hunter, I might point out the possibility that it might not be fiscally wise.

But, if the inquisitor wanted to participate in competitive shooting, be that precision rifle or a timed handgun competition, reloading still maintains a definite value. If you like shooting and hunting with big-bore rifles, reloading is definitely a value. Factory ammunition for my .470 Nitro Express costs between $12 and $16 per cartridge, and I can easily cut that in half by hand-loading. But for the .308 Winchester, .30-’06 Springfield, 6.5 Creedmoor and other common cartridges, the margin is much slimmer.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the May 2024 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

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