Is “Cheap” Factory Ammo Really A Good Deal?

Some things in the firearms world have gotten ridiculously inexpensive over the past couple of years.  Sure some products have experienced yo-yo pricing due to supply and demand driven pricing but others have dropped and seem to have, for the time being, stayed down.  The “modern sporting rifle” or AR15 is one such item and 9mm ammunition is another.  9mm ammunition is important when we discuss reloading because so many shooters are buying 9mm handguns and carbines for competition and self-defense.  One of the draws for new shooters is that they can grab off the shelf ammo in 9mm and go out to shoot for a very low cost.  Some factory offerings are showing up for 14 cents per round.  On the surface this looks like a great deal but once we really start to delve into the practicality of this approach the flaws in the plan begin to reveal themselves.

The various goals that drive a reloader to choose specific components are as numerous as the types of shooting sports and activities.  The point is that reloading allows you to build the perfect cartridge to help you achieve your shooting goals and it does so at an attractive price point.  Can factory ammo do that?  Sure, a lot of the time, but to get what you want you are very likely going to have to spend a lot more money and, in some circumstances, you’ll be sacrificing something just for the sake of convenience.

First up is the issue of quality.  Odds are that the 14 cent per round factory ammo isn’t built of high end components.  At this price point the ammo is frequently built around steel or aluminum cases, both of which have problems, and the projectiles are often bi-metal jackets or just plain, uncoated, lead.  Will these components work?  Sure and there are probably fans of some of these less costly factory offerings who will defend it with their last breath if you dare talk bad about their beloved cartridges.  The point here is that while it can work it may not perform up to your expectations.

You might think the next point is price but it isn’t.  The next point is actually versatility.  When you buy factory ammo, especially the lower priced offerings, you are giving up the control you would have had if you had either made or purchased cartridges that were produced to perform in a specific way.  For example if you buy good defensive ammo you can almost always guarantee that a low flash powder was used in order to reduce muzzle flash and preserve your night vision.  These same sorts of powders are also very popular with competitive shooters who find themselves in low light situations at indoor ranges or shooting night matches.  Conversely a shooter with a compensated pistol, like those used in USPSA’s Open Division, might want a powder that generates sufficient gas to make the comp work and keep that red dot sight on target throughout the recoil cycle.  These shooters can almost never get what they want out of factory ammo unless they go to specialty makers who cater to their needs.

Finally we get to the root of the problem; cost.  At the time of this writing there were several retailers offering factory loaded ammunition at 14 cents per round.  That’s a price point that is very attractive to a lot of shooters but is it the best price?  Well if we use good components and reload our own ammo we can beat that price with a cost of 10 cents per round.  How can we do that?  The big thing to keep in mind is that we are reusing our brass and brass is a big portion of the cost to produce a cartridge.  Factoring in brass as a reusable component that is subject to wear and loss isn’t too tough if we divide our brass cost by 10 when doing our cost calculations.  This allows for loss and wear while still respecting the fact that for most of us brass isn’t free.  If you scrounge the range for free brass you can reduce the cost to zero if you like but the 1/10th trick has worked really well for us.

Another way to look at brass cost begins with the fact that most reloaders started out buying factory ammo and then, at some point, became reloaders.  During that transition many people begin saving the brass from their factory ammo so they have a nice supply of it when they finally take that next step into reloading.  For these reloaders the brass isn’t really free but it sort of feels free and is still reusable many times over in most instances.

The other way we’re saving money is by buying components in bulk.  Buying in bulk can drop the price significantly on primers, projectiles and powder.  Bulk buying also guarantees that we’ll have the components we need on hand when we’re loading up our next batch of ammo.

So now we’re talking about 10 cents per round instead of 14 and we’ve got ammo that we setup to perform the way we like.  I can hear some of you saying “4 cents, that isn’t saving very much!”  Isn’t it?  Well if you don’t shoot much 4 cents isn’t a lot of money for sure.  If you do shoot even a modest amount that 4 cents adds up pretty quickly.  Let’s say you shoot one local USPSA match per week and that the match has 120 required hits.  Then we get into reshoots, makeup shots and all the rest of the ammo consuming fun that goes on at matches and, if we follow the rule of thumb to bring 50% more than we think we’ll need, we end up needing 180 rounds for each match.  Shooting that match every week means you’ll need 720 rounds in a typical month or 9360 rounds per year.  At 10 cents per round that match costs us $936 per year in ammunition.  If we use factory ammo that same match costs 40% more at $1310 per year.  That’s $374 more than we would have spent to reload and that’s just for one little weekly match with no allowance for actually getting out and practicing or any of the other shooting that you are bound to do in a years’ time.  We know a lot of you shoot a great deal more so the savings from reloading are even greater than this simple example provides.

There is one final issue to deal with in this conversation and that is the amount of time you’ll spend reloading.  With a Dillon Precision progressive reloader, like the XL 650 you can load around 800 rounds per hour.  That means your match ammo for the month is done in less than 1 hour.  At the end of that hour you’ve saved money and made better ammo as well.  Not too bad for an hour.

In the end it is important to note that no one is questioning your choices or judgement here.  We’re talking about your time and money and how you choose to spend them is 100% your decision; we respect that.  We just hope you’ll see our point that “cheap factory ammo” isn’t the bargain that it might appear to be on the surface.  If not, that’s fine too; we hope you enjoy your shooting as much as we enjoy ours.

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Reloading for “Western Action Shooting”

“Western Action Shooting” is a name that covers a few different shooting sports all of which promote the use of Western style guns, gear and even clothes. While many of the firearms used in these sports are setup for cartridges and shells that you can buy at your local retailer there is good reason to load your own. This classic Blue Press article from 2011 covers that topic and explores the benefits of “Reloading for Western Action Shooting.”



You’ll find our selection of archived copies of The Blue Press at

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Coffin Rock

The Blue Press is well known as Dillon Precision’s catalog featuring the World’s Finest Reloading Machines.  We also get a bit of recognition for the excellent articles that fill every edition of the Blue Press.  Some people have even commented on the models that grace the cover of the Blue Press.  What we don’t hear too often is mention of the short fiction that has appeared in the Blue Press.  Okay it was really just a couple of stories but they were good and we’ve reprinted them a few times over the years.  The first of these stories was initially published nearly a quarter century ago but the dystopian society the author imagines rings a bit too true for comfort at times.  We hope you enjoy Sundown at Coffin Rock and the follow up story Sunrise at Coffin Rock.

Sundown at Coffin Rock



Sunrise at Coffin Rock






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Classic Blue Press – Is Dillon Worth It?

We’ve posted a lot about our Break Even Calculator, the handy tool that helps you figure out how long it will take to “break even” on your reloading equipment, but not as much about which companies reloading machine you should buy.  Well we think you should buy a Dillon, of course, and this excellent article from October 2006 does an excellent job of explaining why.  We hope you enjoy this installment of Classic Blue Press.



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From Single Stage to Progressive Reloading

Each year we attend SHOT Show, the NRA Annual Meetings and several other shows and events where we get to interact face to face with the public. Of course we also have our retail outlet in Scottsdale Arizona where we get to meet with the public year round. Over and over again we hear “well, I’ve got an old single stage that I use, I’m not sure about all this stuff that’s going on with these progressives…” and then we show them just how easy it is to run a progressive press. It isn’t easy because we already have it all setup and ready to go. It isn’t easy because we are standing there walking them through the process. What makes it easy is that these people already know how to reload from the experience they have had with their single stage press. As they watch our staff and see just how a progressive reloader works we often see their faces light up because they know that they can do it because they’ve already done it countless times. All we did was show them how to do it faster and more efficiently.

So what are the arguments against progressive reloading? Ease of use is one and on the surface a single stage press certainly looks much less complicated but that notion is quickly dispelled once you take into account all of the steps involved in using a single stage press. With single stage reloading you get your initial settings dialed in for each die and then you very likely will use a die lock ring to “lock in” your settings. Then you unscrew that die, carefully so you retain your settings, setup the next die and repeat until you’ve got everything set for each die that you plan to use for that cartridge. Over and over you set the dies and unscrew them for each stage of the reloading process each time you make a new batch of ammo. With a progressive you go through the exact same process to setup each die but when you are done you don’t have to adjust that die again unless you decide to change something. After that initial setup your reloading sessions have fewer steps to keep track of, less to remember, and a higher production rate.

How easy is this setup? Let’s take a look at the instructions from the Dillon RL 550C Instruction Manual.

Station One:

Station One is where we are going to resize our case and remove the spent primer. 

Using the die lock rings provided, screw the sizing die into the tool head. Raise the platform and screw the die down until it touches the shell plate. Lower the platform and insert an empty case into Station One. Raise the platform so the case is in the die, tighten the lock ring on the die. This will keep everything centered.

Station Two:

This photo shows the large powder bar in its fully open (rearward) position. Note the position of the white bellcrank cube

Station Two is where we are inserting a new primer, flaring the case mouth (on pistol cartridges) and where we are dropping the powder charge into the case.

On rifle cases, the die should be adjusted so that the powder funnel will contact the mouth of the case and then fully actuate the powder bar. These adjustments are accomplished with a case in the shell plate and alternately raising and lowering the operating handle, while adjusting the powder die. When properly adjusted, the powder bar will be moved to its full rearward (open) position by the case while the handle is at the full up position. When you have determined that your adjustments are correct tighten the die lock ring. On pistol cases once the powder bar travels fully across you should continue to adjust the powder die for the desired amount of bell (turn the powder die 1/8 of a turn at a time). The desired amount of bell is just enough to allow the bullet to sit on the case mouth without falling off and to keep the case from shaving lead during the seating process. The powder die may be higher or lower depending on the caliber it is being adjusted for. You’ll soon learn to judge the correct amount of bell by simply looking at it. In the meantime, you might want to use your dial calipers to check it. Twenty thousandths of an inch greater (at the mouth of the case) than its original diameter should about do it. Once you’ve achieved the desired amount of bell, with the case in Station 2, raise the platform and turn the die lock ring down hand tight.


Station Three:

In this station the bullet is seated to its proper depth. You need to refer to a loading manual for overall length of the completed round. Overall length (OAL) may vary up to .016”, and this is normal. Put a case into the shell plate at Station Three. Raise the platform up and screw the die down until it just touches the shell plate and back it out two turns. Now, back your seating stem out. Place a bullet on the case and operate the handle. Using a dial caliper or case gage, check for overall length. Keep screwing the seating stem down in small increments until the correct overall length is achieved. Once you are satisfied with the overall length, tighten the lock ring.

Station Four:

The crimping operation is performed at this station. Insert the crimp die and place an empty case in Station Four. Raise the platform and screw the crimping die down until it touches the rim of the case. Now lower the platform and screw the die down an additional one-quarter of a turn. Place a round in Station Four with a seated bullet and cycle the operating handle. You will need to refer to a loading manual to get proper crimp dimensions for the caliber you are loading. A dial caliper is required to take accurate measurements from your crimped round. If more crimp is needed, screw the crimp die down in small increments until you get the desired crimp, now tighten the lock ring.

Setup Complete

Once the dies are properly setup in the removable tool head all you have to do is place a case into station one, pull the handle, and start cycling the brass through each of the four stations that you’ve already setup. Following these steps, and using a recipe from a reliable reloading manual, you’ll be able to produce hundreds of high quality rounds per hour whenever you need more ammo.

But Can I Make Accurate Loads With A Progressive?

Another old saw is that progressive reloading machines are, somehow, incapable of producing ammunition of the same quality, consistency, and accuracy as a single stage press. We actually addressed this very issue in the first edition of Dillon Precision’s Blue Press which came out in October of 1990. The article, which was originally written for the June 1990 edition of Guns & Ammo by Bob Milek, covers the author’s efforts at proving that his varmint hunting ammunition was just as accurate when produced on his Dillon RL 550B as it was from his single stage reloader. We won’t reprint the entire article here but you can read the article in the First Edition of the Blue Press here if you like. What is really striking about the article is the accuracy comparison at the end. The Dillon RL 550B produced more accurate ammunition than the single stage press.

Are there those who might report otherwise? Sure. This happens because of many variables that are difficult to predict or measure in each reloader’s setup and techniques. What this chart does tell us is that it is certainly possible to wring every bit, if not more, of the accuracy potential out of a round made on a progressive reloading machine with potentially better results than you might achieve on a single stage press.

In the end you just have to ask yourself if time spent behind the reloading bench is better than time spent behind the trigger. Whichever way you may go the important thing is safety first. Always consult a quality reloading manual, take careful measurements, and stay focused on the task at hand when reloading. Keeping the shooting sports safe and enjoyable is everyone’s responsibility.

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Give Dad A Library Card?

Father’s Day is fast approaching  (it’s Sunday, June 17th for those of you who forgot and are about to start a panicky search for the perfect gift) and Dillon Precision may just have what the dad in your life wants.  Sure a Super 1050 would be nice but if we are talking about more of a necktie and bottle of Aqua Velva budget then maybe we should change up our search parameters.  As part of our large catalog of top quality reloading machines, firearms parts  and accessories and shooting related gear Dillon Precision also carries some really handy books.  Sure you can find pretty much anything on the internet or you could whip out the old library card and go down to your local branch looking for the information you need but who has time for that?  I know I don’t.  Why spend hours searching through articles or charts full of load data when you can have it all right at your finger tips?  Why read some internet commando’s opinions about the best shooting gear and techniques when you could be reading articles written by true experts in their field?  The Lyman reloading manuals that we carry give you all of those things and more and you don’t even need a library card to enjoy them.

Precision Rifle Shooting is the hottest new shooting sport in the USA.  Just like all the other “gun games” out there you can probably show up with the gear you have and participate but to really be competitive you’ll need to dial in your loads and you’ll probably be buying a lot of new gear and guns just to play the game.  Why not give yourself a head start with Lyman’s Long Range Precision Rifle Reloading Handbook?  This book is full of load data for all the popular cartridges used in Precision Rifle, and articles by top shooters and industry experts.

If you’ve graduated from shooting the budget shells from your local big box store and you need to tune your shotshell loads to give you the edge in the field or on the sporting clays course then Lyman’s Shotshell Reloading Handbook has all the information you need.    This in depth resource covers all of the components from wads, cases and primers to the most current powders and shot.  There’s even a section covering Non-Toxic loads with data, loading instructions and articles on the subject.

Maybe long guns aren’t your thing and you’d prefer to spend your time  perfecting your handgun loads?  Lyman’s Pistol and Revolver Handbook has load data for all the most current powders and projectiles as well as the classics that fans of Cowboy Action Shooting use on the range.   In addition to those classic cowboy loads this manual offers data for modern big bore cartridges like 480 Ruger and 500 S&W. This is all topped off with articles covering varmint hunting, big bore loads and more.

For those of us who are generalists there is a lot to like in the Lyman 50th Edition Reloading Handbook.  Packed with a wide selection of cartridges, bullets, and powder from all of the major manufacturers this manual is the only data source that incorporates multiple brands throughout the entire manual.  Why hunt all over the internet to find that perfect combination of components when it’s all right here in one easy to read manual?  This is a must for any reloader’s library.

So whether you are searching for that perfect Father’s Day gift or you just need the best reloading data and shooting information at your finger tips we’ve got you covered.  Oh, and if you want to buy your dad that Super 1050 just click here to get started 😉







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Classic Blue Press – An Armed, And Educated, Society

As gun owners we are all too aware of the constant assault by forces that would reduce, or remove, our right to keep and bear arms.  One of the more frustrating aspects of this is the often willful lack of education regarding firearms usage, ownership, and even functionality.  We are all better off when we are better educated and, as gun owners, we owe it to ourselves to make sure that we are knowledgeable on the topic of firearms.  The April 2011 issue of the Blue Press had an article, written by not one but 3 authors, discussing the value of firearms education.  This article holds up well and the advice of the authors makes it worth the read.



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Cooper’s Rules, You Can’t Break Up The Set

Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper, commonly referred to as “The Colonel” or “Colonel Cooper”, was known for an impressive array of achievements. Colonel Cooper’s advocacy of the “Modern Technique” for self defense with hand guns has influenced shooting schools worldwide, even if his penchant for large caliber handguns isn’t always shared by others. Cooper’s own school, Gunsite Academy, remains a respected institution among firearms enthusiasts many of whom travel to Paulden Arizona to seek out the finest training available. Cooper was known for writing about firearms and self defense and is often quoted when the topic of firearms comes up. Perhaps his most quoted words are what, at first, appears to be a simple set of rules.

  1. All guns are always loaded.

  2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.

  3. Keep your finger off the trigger till your sights are on the target.

  4. Identify your target, and what is behind it.

As many writers do Colonel Cooper restated those rules several times and there are subtle variations in word choice and even a slightly expanded set of rules that appear on Gunsite’s own “About Us” page. The expanded version reads:

  1. All guns are always loaded. Even if they are not, treat them as if they are.

  2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy. (For those who insist that this particular gun is unloaded, see Rule 1.)

  3. Keep your finger off the trigger till your sights are on the target. This is the Golden Rule.

  4. Identify your target, and what is behind it. Never shoot at anything that you have not positively identified.

I recently read an article in which one rule, the first one, was examined as a stand alone entity to explore it’s meaning. “All guns are always loaded” sounds extreme and the author opined that this rule be expanded to mean that they are always loaded until you personally have checked the chamber. I would state that the first rule does sound extreme and with good reason. We are dealing with deadly force here. No risk is an acceptable one when someones health and well being is concerned. There are no caveats, and there is no “unless” or “but” at the end of the rule. Rule one is extreme, and inconvenient sometimes, because the consequences of disobeying it may very well be extreme and inconvenient.

Another interesting fact to note is that the first rule is different from the others. Rules 2, 3, and 4 all dictate your actions in the physical world. “Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy” dictates where you are allowed to point a firearm. “Keep your finger off the trigger till your sights are on the target” provides you with guidelines for trigger discipline by telling you when you can and cannot have your finger on the trigger. “Identify your target, and what is behind it” pairs up with the second rule and determines not only what we are shooting at but if it is safe to shoot at all. The first rule is unlike these other rules in that it establishes a mindset. “All guns are always loaded” is why we must be diligent in following the other rules.  Of course we have to watch our muzzle direction, keep our finger off the trigger, and be aware of our target and what is behind it because we are holding a loaded gun.  If we accept the first rule the other three are logical and necessary. 

Cooper’s Rules are a SET of rules. To really gain the benefit of following them we have to take them as a whole. If we follow the whole set of rules we greatly increase our safety and the safety of others.  If we break even one rule we open ourselves up to the potential for disaster.

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Classic Blue Press – Is IDPA Training?

If you follow any competitive shooting forums ( and who doesn’t?) you’ve probably read the arguments, which go on ad nauseam, over whether IDPA is a game, or training, or a training game… well, you get the idea.  Six years ago Col. Mark Lisi, US Army (Ret.) addressed this very issue in the pages of The Blue Press.  The game has changed a bit since this article was published but Col. Lisi’s arguments are just as poignant today as they were in 2012 and we think the article is worth a read.


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SHOT Show Shotgun Showdown

Magazine fed shotguns are coming into the mainstream this year with pump action offerings from Mossberg and Remington to go with the somewhat more exotic offerings from companies like Kalashnikov USA.  In the past we’ve seen magazine fed shotguns but they were a niche market with few mainstream offerings and, for most consumers, they were just a bit too gimmicky to be relied upon.  Now major manufacturers are putting their weight behind these guns and we are sure to see more in the years to come.

Mossberg 590M

First up lets talk about the Mossberg 590M.  The 590 has long been a major contender for “Best Pump Shotgun Ever” and the 590M brings a double stack, 20 round, magazine to the already impressive feature list of this model.  Whats better is that the 590 magazine, which itself seems built like a tank, locks into the receiver very solidly with little to no movement.  Some might think this means it is finicky to lock in or difficult to master.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  The magazine locks in just like any AK style mag would by hooking the front of the mag into the receiver and then rocking the mag back to lock it in.  Magazines are also available in 5, 10, and 15 shell capacities. 

The Mossberg 590M is definitely on the “want” list.  It is conceivable that a reliable magazine fed pump shotgun could beat quite a few less reliable semi-auto shotguns in competition shooting.  Sure pumping might be a little slower but a 20 round mag is a nice way to start off the stage and the smaller capacity mags might be perfect for reloading to slugs or buckshot on stages that require multiple types of shotgun shells.  Are there any 3-gunners out there considering this? 

The Mossberg 590 has been in use as a combat shotgun since 1960.  With such a long history the 590 will certainly lend itself to the law enforcement and military communities.

You can read more about this impressive shotgun on Mossberg’s site.  This video, also courtesy of Mossberg, provides an excellent overview of the guns function and features.

Remington 870 DM Tactical

Next up we have the Remington 870 DM Tactical.  While the magazine and it’s lockup were the heart of the Mossberg 590M they seem to be the downfall of the Remington 870 DM Tactical.  The magazine has a lower capacity, feels less “substantial”, and locks in a bit looser.  That last bit may not matter as long as the function is there but the lower capacity is going to be a bit of a problem for some people.  Couple that with the fact that the Remington magazine is a single stack, so any really big magazines that someone might make are going to be really long and unwieldy, and you have an even less desirable setup.

All that being said though the 870 hasn’t been around this long for no reason.  Legendary reliability and durability have kept the 870 going for around 68 years now and it’s fans are many.  The 870 DM Tactical does come with some nice XS Ghost Ring sights, a rail for mounting optics, and a “Tactical REM Choke” that looks a lot like a breaching choke.  So, while this gun may not make it onto a list of potential 3-gun shotguns, it is certainly well suited to law enforcement and military applications.

You can read more about the Remington 870 DM Tactical here.

Kalashnikov USA – Autoloading Tactical Shotgun, KS-12T

The Kalashnikov USA  KS-12T looks like what it is; an over-sized AK47.  That being said it looks like a well made shotgun with a smoothly operating bolt, decent (and also smooth) trigger, and a generally tight build that seemed of higher quality than most AK based shotguns I’ve held in the past.  With the factory 10 round magazines this gun could easily be a contender for 3-Gun competition use but it screams for a drum or other, higher capacity, magazine.  Optics can be mounted via the ubiquitous AK variant scope mount on the side of the receiver.  If this gun runs and is durable it should be a force to be reckoned with.  

You can read more about the KS-12T here.


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