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Is It Cheaper To Buy .38 Special Factory Ammunition, Or To Reload Your Own With Bought Or Cast Bullets?

Is It Cheaper To Buy .38 Special Factory Ammunition, Or To Reload Your Own With Bought Or Cast Bullets?
By Tom Metcalf-Jackson 8 months ago 4239 Views 1 comment

38 Special: Buying Factory Ammunition, Reloading and Casting Your Own Bullets

Today we’ll compare the benefits of reloading .38 Special, both with bought bullets and home cast, in comparison to buying PPU factory ammunition. .38 Special is one of our most popular rounds, and one of the most popular pistol rounds worldwide. Components are easily available, and .38 Special is an ideal calibre for a novice reloader to start with.

We all know shooting is excellent fun, but it’s not necessarily always the cheapest. Reloading is possibly the best way of turning your hard-earned brass into lead and casting your own bullets can make it go even further.

This begs the question, am I better off just buying ammunition, reloading my own, or casting as well? Let’s have a look at the figures. Bear in mind reloading is advantageous for more than just cost savings, though this is outside the scope of this blog. Here we will exclusively look at the financial implications of reloading and casting your own bullets. All prices in this blog are accurate to February of 2021.

Factory Ammunition

The factory ammunition we’ll be using as a baseline for cost here is:

PPU .38 Special 158gr SWC ammunition. £41 per 100 rounds

The ammunition is of excellent quality and is boxer primed, so you can reload it if you wish.


First, a discussion on the kit you will need. The equipment listed below is, in my humble opinion, the most comprehensive loading set up for the least amount of money. It is not the cheapest method of loading ammunition on the market, nor is it the most advanced, but it fills the requirements nicely for 99% of shooters. This is the finished article to prime, load, resize, trim, clean brass, deburr, and all those little jobs you might need to do. It is also made to my personal preference and is by no means the definitive set up for reloading, but I find it works.

Reloading Equipment you’ll need

Lee 50th Anniversary Kit

This is the bulk of it really. With a single stage press, powder handling equipment, primer feed and case trimmer, this and a die set is a good place to start.

38 Special/.357 Magnum Lee Carbide 4 Die Set

Contains a full-length sizing die, bullet seating die, powder & expanding die and factory crimp die. Everything you need and will even do .357 Magnum if required.

38 Special Quick Trim Die

You’ll need to trim your cases eventually, this die and the trimmer included in the 50th Anniversary kit, mentioned previously, is all you need.

Reloadr Digital Marksman Scale

This one’s personal preference, I prefer an electronic scale over manual, though it’s good to check one against the other just to make sure everything’s as it should be.

Berrys 400 Tumbler/Pan Sifter Kit

An excellent starter tumbler set. Comes with everything you need; including media, sifter and even polish.

MTM Universal Loading Tray

A couple of these are convenient for separating different processes, and they make for easy inspection at each stage.

Equipment for casting

LEE Production Pot IV Melting Pot

This and a mould are the most important components when casting your own bullets, they’re absolutely essential. This pot holds 10lb of lead, more than enough for a day’s casting.

LEE 2 Cavity .38 158gr SWC Mould

Casts two bullets at once, included handles, ready to go straight out of the box.


You’ll also need a couple of candles for fluxing the lead and smoking the mould, a mallet of some kind to open the sprue, a damp towel to drop your cast bullets on to, and some method to lubricate the bullets.

Equipment Cost

This is the base equipment you will need to reload your own ammunition. It doesn’t matter at this point whether you’re casting, or reloading with entirely bought components, you will need every item listed here.

Reloading Equipment

Lee 50th Anniversary Kit


Lee 38/357 Carbide 4 Die set


Lee 38 SPL Quick Trim Die


Reloadr Scale


Berry’s 400 Tumbler/Sifter Kit


MTM Universal Loading Tray (2 of)


Total Reloading Equipment Cost


This is additional equipment required for casting your own bullets. You obviously won’t need this if you are content to buy your bullets.

Casting Equipment

Lee Production Pot IV


LEE 2 Cavity .38 158gr SWC Mould


Total Casting Cost



There are a couple of assumptions made here. Firstly, this assumes that you use the same brass cases throughout, which is entirely achievable with good quality PPU .38 brass and proper care. Secondly, I’ve assumed a cost of £3 per kilo of lead (rough price from eBay).

If you pick up lead from the range, then this cost will fall even further. I’ve also used a sample size of 1400 rounds to ensure there is no wastage of powder to unfairly skew the results. I’ve also rounded some figures for the sake of simple to understand sums, but this doesn’t materially affect the end result.

Cost of components – reloading with bought bullets (1400 rounds)

38 SPL PPU Brass Cases (100 of)


.38 SWC 158gr PPU Bullets (1400 of)


Ramshot True Blue (1lb)


CCI No.500 Small Pistol Primers (1400 of)


Total Component Cost


In this next chart, the 158gr PPU bullets have been replaced with an equal weight in lead.

Cost of components – reloading with cast bullets (1400 rounds)

38 SPL PPU Brass Cases (100 of)


1.4kg lead (bought from eBay)


Ramshot True Blue (1lb)


CCI No.500 Small Pistol Primers (1000 of)


Total Component Cost


As you can see, there is a vast difference in component cost between purchasing bullets and casting your own. In the first chart, the bullets account for 53% of the overall cost of the components, whereas when casting, the cost of the lead accounts for only 3%.

Cost per round

Per first 1400 rounds

Including equipment cost

Excluding equipment cost

38 Special PPU Factory Ammunition



38 Special Reloaded Ammunition



38 Special Reloaded with cast bullets



By the time you’ve reloaded and cast the first 1400 rounds of ammunition, the equipment has nearly paid for itself. As we can see, the difference in cost between reloaded with cast bullets and factory ammunition is 31p/round. The cost for reloading and casting equipment is £495.30, so we will need to load around 1500 rounds for the money saved per round to equal the cost of equipment. So, by the time you’ve finished the whole bottle of powder, you’re very nearly back at cost zero compared with if you’d simply bought the factory ammunition, but you’ve had the same amount of fun and you’ve still got all the reloading equipment to boot. Naturally, it does not make sense to use less than a whole bottle of powder, so you can’t help but save money!

Over time, the cost per round decreases with the more you load, as that initial outlay for the equipment is spread over a much greater volume. There’s a consistent difference between the price of reloading with bought bullets and reloading with cast bullets.

In Short

It is much cheaper to load ammunition with cast bullets rather than buying them. The cost of the projectile accounts for over half of the overall component cost, but with casting, this figure can be reduced to a negligible cost. Here’s a quick breakdown of the cost per round of buying factory ammo, loading your own, and then casting your own bullets. The chart below shows the cost per round after the initial load of components.

Ammunition type

Cost per round (pence)

38 Special PPU Factory Ammunition


38 Special Reloaded Ammunition


38 Special Reloaded with cast bullets


Other blogs of interest:

Price Comparison Of Bought Ammunition v Reloaded Ammunition: 308 PPU

Where can I find reloading data?

Guide To PPU Bullets

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Posted in: Reloading
Stephen Niven 8 months ago at 12:40
How many uses beyond 14 do you expect from the brass, if that? At 20p each assuming an average of 15 loads (10-20?) that adds another ~1.5p each. Still a good deal though.