When fear and uncertainty hit—whether from a pandemic, financial crisis, or a good old-fashioned natural disaster—handloading your own ammunition ensures you can keep hunting regardless of what ammo is left on the shelves.
This past weekend I went to the range with some friends from out of town. We sighted in a few rifles and practiced up with our bear-defense handguns, churning through a couple hundred rounds in short order. Given the crazy reactions from people stocking up on toilet paper and bottled water like it’s the end of civilization, I figured the sooner I got to the store to replenish my ammo supply, the better. But I was too late. Walking the aisles, I found there wasn’t a 9mm, .45, or 5.56 left. People had begun stocking up on ammunition to protect themselves and their families in the (very unlikely) event looting became a problem.
Although most people looking for ammo were out of luck, I’ve been handloading my own ammunition for some time. I buy components—bullets, powder, and primers—and reuse spent brass, then assemble them at home using a few basic tools. While at the store, I found the components section was fully stocked. Not only were 55-grain, .22-caliber bullets (the most common 5.56/.223 bullets) in stock, I had three different varieties to choose from. And those were only the Hornadys (my favorite bullet manufacturer). There were other brands available, too. Same for the 9mms. Every powder they carried was in stock. If you had the tools for handloading your own ammo, there was basically no limit to the amount of ammo you could produce from the available components.
Handloading your own ammo has other benefits, too. Because you can mix and match components, you can customize your loads to your particular application and even each specific gun you own. You also are in charge of quality control; if you’re diligent, that can be a real boon to consistency and accuracy. When I am loading my hunting rounds, I load them all using the same system and the same scale. This ensures no two rounds have more than 0.1 grains difference in powder charge. The customizations you can make to a round to get better performance are nearly endless and you will certainly learn your gun well during this process.
Finally, reloading your own ammo is often far less expensive than buying factory rounds. It’s not uncommon for me to be able to reload precision rounds for half the cost of buying the cheapest factory loads.
With all of this said, you are dealing with explosive powders and essentially creating miniature bombs—safety must be first and foremost on your mind. Make sure to learn what you are doing from a reliable source and never, ever, load a round above the SAMMI maximum charges prescribed in a loading manual.
If you are interested in getting started handloading, here are the basic tools you’ll need:
- Turret press like the RCBS Rock Chucker
- Dies for your particular caliber
- Powder dispenser
- Scale – manual scales like the RCBS M55 are acceptable, but I would highly recommend an electronic scale and dispenser like the RCBS Chargemaster scale/dispenser combo, which will also eliminate your need for a separate powder dispenser.
- Hand priming tool
- Deburring tool for case preparation
- Hex key set
- Case lube
- Powder funnel
- Reloading manual
You can even buy prepackaged kits like the RCBS Rock Checker Supreme Master Reloading Kit. I listed all RCBS otions as that is what I personally use, but Hornady, Lymen, Lee, and Dillon all make excellent products. While it is possible to mix and match between manufacturers for some things, others need to be the same brand, so it’s best to stick with one when you are getting started.