Reloading: Home Economics
- By Pete Moore
- 17 Comments
- Last updated: 16/12/2016
BOGOF’s, discount vouchers, summer sales, winter sales and even price matches; none of them apply to us! Sadly, Brit handloaders don’t have critical mass, or to put it another way, ‘consumer power’. Grey importing is fraught with danger in terms of both supply chain failure and warranty support. So, in the face of stalled income and increasing living costs just how do we balance our shooting books?
THE REDUCED BANG DIET
I guess the most obvious form of saving is to simply spend less. We can do that in one of two ways, either shoot less or shoot the same FOR less. I prefer plan B. With the supply vacuum created by demand in the USA our options are really rather limited. Our main importers and distributors have done their best to keep supplies flowing but at a price, their list price. Just shopping around for your usual materials can prove a false economy. Great, you find a tub of powder a couple of pounds cheaper in a shop fifty miles away, but unless you can use a bus pass to get it the fuel cost will exceed the saving. To make some sense of the dilemma we’ll take a close look at all the consumables in turn, with a view to viable alternatives as well as the possible economies of scale.
THE BEST CASE
The life expectancy of our cases is the result of quite a few variables, most of which are within our control. The initial quality of the brass is the first factor. Quality commercial brass from Remington, Star, Federal and Lapua (amongst others) will offer many more cycles than that intended for military use. If you’re buying loaded ammo to fire and forget then cheap military product can make sense, but as a source of reloadable brass you really must invest more. The temptation to buy ‘oncefi red’ brass does not appeal to me as its true history is not always obvious.
As we repeat our shooting and reloading cycle, so the cases will begin to deteriorate. If the chamber is even marginally oversize then your reloading procedure can have a dramatic impact on the longevity of the cases. Start by marking a point on the head of a fired case with a red or other bright felt tip marker and then re-chambering it in 30° rotational increments. If the bolt closes cleanly throughout a full 360° then we can probably limit our subsequent reloading process to neck sizing only. If the case only chambers cleanly in a limited angular range we may still be able to neck size only, but will have to hand chamber each round with the head mark in the appropriate angular position. The second means of limiting case stress is to examine the viability of using reduced loads. We must still keep a careful check on case growth and the need for trimming. Case annealing to extend case life? Well, we looked at it about a year ago. A lot of work for a limited and variable return was my conclusion, then and now.
Primer performance varies significantly from one brand to another and one power rating to another. Many of us have a preferred make and model for each of our applications. Our favoured selection made by trial and error or more usually, by third party advice from a manual, mate, or the man in the gun shop. Their price variation represents such a small percentage of the cartridge build cost that the only practical savings to be made will come from negotiating a bulk discount. Buying 5000 instead of 500 or 1000 may get you a better deal.
The key component for potential cost reduction is propellant. By percentage it represents the greatest cost per cartridge. We all have our favourite recipes, often the result of experimentation over time. However, there is no reloading Holy Grail - there will always be other recipes that achieve the same results. I took a fresh look at my .22-250 assembly and, after some wayward results, I’ve found a second recipe that makes the grade and saves me just over 6p per round on the powder alone. My H380 charge worked out at about 25p a pop whereas the equivalent performance from Vectan Tubal 5000 is less than 19p. I nearly missed the obvious price point between the two as the Hodgdon is sold by the pound weight (7000 grains) whilst the Vectan is packed in half Kilo tubs (7716 grains). I asked my retailer why he had not stocked Vectan until recently and he explained that it was all to do with its classification and carriage conditions. It used to be classified as Explosive 1.3C but has recently been reclassified as 1.4G, now allowing it to be shipped on pallets together with cartridges or other product.
Not that the powder savings stop there. I then asked the million dollar question, what sort of distances am I really shooting at? I’m working on a downloaded design at present, that’s another few pence I could save. Why not check your ballistic charts for shorter range data, after all, the reduced load should equate to decreased recoil as well as less wear and tear. But do remember to re-zero your scope or sights!
Most of us have applications that demand the best bullets available, whether its bench rest or bambi bashing. However, for fun use, action events and close range pest control we may well be using bullets that are ‘overkill’ in terms of cost benefit. Cheaper brands or designs may well be perfectly capable of meeting our needs. For most applications and with most rates of twist in modern firearms the viable range of bullet weights is surprisingly high. Lighter bullets generally equal smaller charges. It’s worth a thought. With pistol/revolver cartridges the use of hard-cast lead or copper-washed products could provide considerable savings over jacketed designs. If the volumes are sufficiently high and you can afford the time, why not consider swaging or casting? Just remember that to recover the capital cost you’ll need to commit to the process for quite some time.
Bullet bulk buying is a worthwhile practise. Forming a club consortium can give you even more buying power and help spread the cost. Just remember that 50,000 x 100-grain bullets weighs almost as much as 4 large blokes. More than that and you’ll wreck the springs on the car!