Concealed Carry & Home Defense

CCW Weekend: Reloading Defensive Ammo


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By Sam Hoober, Alien Gear Holsters

Today, handloading your own carry ammunition is all but unheard of. In days past, you practically had to. Factory defensive ammunition was not once what it is today in any dimension.

The jacketed hollow point didn’t exist until the late 1960s, when it was developed and first released by SuperVel, an upstart ammunition maker that has recently come back into existence.

While it found some adoption, it was never available with great frequency and JHPs that could be commonly found in stores had to wait a bit longer until product lines like Winchester Silvertips and others came onto the market.

The most common defense ammunition a person could find with any sort of frequency was usually 158-grain and 125-grain semi-wadcutters in .38 Special (eventually in .38 Special +P) or .357 Magnum. That’s what most cops carried for many years, as it was basically all you could get.

If you wanted or needed something else, there were bullets you could get (such as Norma hollow points) but nobody making factory ammunition with any kind of frequency or scale. Therefore, if you wanted or needed something other than LWSCHP or Keith bullets you had to load your own.

Read, for instance, “Guns, Gunfighters and Bullets” by Jim Cirillo. Cirillo, a veteran of the NYPD’s legendary and infamous Stake Out Squad, had to do a lot of experimenting to find a .38 Special load that performed reliably.

Is it worth doing so today?

The idea might have crossed a person’s mind, of course, and there is something of an answer which is “it depends on what you mean by worth it.”

Whether it’s “worth” the effort would come down to one of two motivations for doing so.

First is cost. After all, factory ammunition is expensive, and especially the premium stuff like Gold Dot, HST, PDX and so on. Hunters have to deal with the same problem; Remington CoreLokt is cheap (but still works) but something like, say, Winchester’s Expedition Long Range line (loaded with Nosler AccuTip Long Range bullets) will run you $40 for a box of 20 rounds, and that’s for the common stuff like .270 Winchester or .30-06.

In this regard, it can be worth it, provided you do your job as the loader. Ammunition failures due to poor handloads are a known quantity; handloaded ammunition is only as good as the person that made it.

However, let’s examine some costs:

1 box of premium carry ammunition: $25 for a box of 20. You can imagine any brand or box you want; that’s about what carry ammunition I buy runs in stores or online.

Okay. Let’s build a carry load. Let’s make a batch of 147-grain 9mm JHP, using real-world prices and components, parceled out to the same lot: 20 rounds.

Speer Gold Dot hollow points go for $27 for a box of 100, at a cost of 27 cents per, times 20 is $5.40.

A box of CCI small pistol primers is around $30. It comes in a box of 1,000, so if we parse that down, it comes out to 60 cents.

As to brass, let’s get new brass instead of recycled. Starline brass goes for 15 cents per case, so that’s $3 in brass.

Now we get powder.

Speer Gold Dot 147-gr JHP is loaded to 985 fps and 317 ft-lbs of energy at the muzzle. Per their website, a similar loading uses 4.6 grains of Hogdon CDE Pistol powder. Let’s say you buy the smaller container, a 1-lb container for about $25.

Since grains are a unit of weight, there are 7,000 grains per pound, working out to one-third of 1 cent per grain, or 1.6 cents per bullet – 39 cents for a box of 20.

Grand total? $9.39, for roughly the same thing as 147-gr Gold Dot, which costs more like $25 in stores. Not too bad!

Unless, of course, you do something wrong.

Of course, this leaves out the cost of buying the equipment ($40 for a Lee Loader; $300 and up for an entry-level kit) and also whether you factor in the cost of your labor. Just based on components, yes it’s worth it, so long as your ammunition works, and – again – that depends entirely on you.

Modern factory ammunition has a very low failure rate, but predicting hand-loaded ammunition’s failure rate is impossible; there are so many variables that it’s not even worth trying.

Okay, now we get to the second half of the equation, which is getting exactly the bullet you want.

For the concealed carrier, there aren’t too many loadings that you’re “missing out on” by this point for the most part. There are some folks who are going to have a hard time finding factory loads for their pistols, but these are mostly rather occult calibers like 7.62mm Tokarev, 9x18mm Makarov, 9x25mm Dillon or .45 Super. Hardly anyone carries pistols in these chamberings because there are hardly any guns made or sold in these calibers.

Additionally, what we know about handgun calibers is that they basically don’t matter all that much. If you’re carrying .380 ACP or larger, placement is all that matters and the rest can go hang. Is a customized 9mm round, with the perfect amount of the perfect powder and so on, really going to matter?

Not really, so there’s not necessarily as many people fretting about ballistic coefficient and sectional density as with the rifle crowd. For instance, I could tell you about my dream .30-06 load, but I don’t want to even get started.

As mentioned above, it’s different if you’re a handgun hunter but – just like with rifle hunters – there are plenty of hunting loads for the common hunting calibers. There are plenty of companies making .44 Magnum, .45 Colt+P, .454 Casull or .460 and .500 S&W Magnum ammunition. It is quite expensive, but not so terribly rare that you’ll never find any.

So in that regard, probably not, unless you happen to have, say, a .475 Linebaugh. Not in any practical sense anyway.

What are you paying for? First a quality projectile, and it’s made by professionals, and – as a general rule – it tends to work really well. You can depend on it, and you pretty much know you can.

With handloads you have to be able to depend on your work. If it were me doing it, I’d start by picking a good projectile, and come up with a loading based on available loading manuals. Then I’d make and shoot a good number of batches before I’d carry my own load on the street.

But since there’s a Cabela’s down the street from my office, and a sporting goods store a few minutes from where I live I don’t really have a reason to try. But that’s for me. You need to make your own decisions on what’s best for you.

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Sam Hoober is Contributing Editor for, a subsidiary of Hayden, ID, based Tedder Industries, where he writes about gun accessories, gun safety, open and concealed carry tips. Click here to visit