Should You Avoid Reloaded Ammunition?

Lyman digital powder scale

During war, one of the most common tactics used to fight the enemy is to disrupt their supply lines. During the Vietnam War, U.S. soldiers did this in a different way than just simply stopping supplies from getting to the enemy. This specific operation, code named “Project Eldest Son,” was carried out by U.S. Green-Beret patrols, who captured enemy ammunition stashes—typically 7.62x39mm ammo cartridges—which were used in the AK-47s regularly carried by Communist forces.

.223 NATO Lake City M855 FMJ 62 Grain Steel Penetrator Ammo
Besides guns, what is the second thing a shooter can never have enough of? Why, ammo, of course!

Once the U.S. captured the ammo stashes, the cartridges would be disassembled and then put back together with different components. For instance, the powder in the cartridges were replaced with a high explosive powder that would generate five times the pressure in the firearm. The high explosive powder inside the cartridges would typically cause the AK-47 receiver to explode sending bolts and pieces of the gun backward towards the person holding the rifle.

Once the sabotaged ammo was ready to go, U.S. forces would return the ammo to the stashes, normally putting one bad round in a container full of good rounds. The objective was to put doubt into the enemy’s mind regarding the safety and reliability of their ammo. As an added benefit, since most of the Communist forces’ ammo was coming from China, this also caused the enemy to question the ammo they were receiving from China.

Today, as during the Vietnam War, one simple fact remains true: Our firearms are obviously worthless without ammunition that works. I’m sure you’ve heard how many gun activists want to make ammo harder to come by and there is no question that depending on where you live, it’s becoming more difficult to walk into your sporting goods store to buy ammo. This has led to a continuing growing popularity of reloading your own ammo.

Vietnam became the proving ground for a lighter battle rifle and the Soviets took notice. Although somewhat reluctant, Kalashnikov designed the lighter, faster AK-74.

Now, I know people who have done this for years and are very good at what they do. On the other hand, I have a family member who spent countless hours reloading thousands of rounds, only to find out the powder was a little off and the ammo was unusable. This is why, if you reload ammo, you have to take your time and know what you’re doing. This is not something you want to watch a five-minute YouTube video and think you’re a pro who knows it all. So, if you are considering getting into reloading ammo, keep in mind the factors below and make sure you invest the time to do it right.


As I mentioned, I had a family member who reloaded his own ammo and was slightly off with his measurements. Of course, no one is perfect, but the thing is, the big ammo manufacturers clearly have numerous safety inspections in place that make their ammo much more dependable, which is why quality ammo rarely has any issues.

Cartridge Durability

Unless you keep your eye on every cartridge you use for reloading, you never know how many times the cartridge has been reloaded. The more you reload a cartridge, the weaker it will become over time. Essentially, as it becomes weaker, it will be more prone to failure and malfunctions.


Lyman Cyclone rotary tumbler
The beginning loader will find Lyman offers excellent gear.

I realize this is a big “what if.” However, if you were involved in a self-defense shooting, would you really want to explain your reloaded ammo? Again, I realize this is a stretch, but it is one more thing an aggressive prosecutor or civil attorney could use to try and blame you for what happened. During a trial, the best thing you can do is show the court a box of ammo from the manufacturer and say contact them with any questions.

When it comes to ammo, some of my favorite brands are Speer, Hornady, Remington, Winchester, and Federal. These are all quality offerings and dependable brands that won’t break the bank.

I do realize a lot of folks reload ammo for the huge savings cost. If this is the case, I see nothing wrong with reloading rounds for simple target practice at the range or shooting with friends. However, I would not use reloaded rounds in my self-defense weapon, and I would spend the extra money to ensure you have a reliable round when your life depends on it.

Do you reload or shoot handloads? Do you carry handloads for self-defense? Share your answers or opinions about reloading in the comment section.

Jason Hanson is a former CIA Officer and New York Times bestselling author of Spy Secrets That Can Save Your Life. To get a free copy of his book, visit

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog. "The Shooter's Log", is to provide information - not opinions - to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decicions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (34)

  1. 1966 I was an Army reservist on active duty for (basic) training. One morning 6 of us were sent to a warehouse to draw ammo (7.62) for our company. EVERY crate was marked RELOADED ! Now this may have been used cases reloaded by one of the manufacturers. Just sayin’.

  2. I started reloading to save money, and because the ammunition, 450 Bushmaster, was – at the time several years ago – difficult to find and expensive. After my initial investment in a reloading kit and several hours of YouTube videos and advice from friends, I figured I was ahead of the game after loading between 500 and 1,000 rounds. I started with a straight wall cartridge and followed the cookbook (the Hornady Reloading Manual). I do not experiment with “new” powders or loads. I can match OEM performance, and I have hunted pigs with my handloads.

    I have since reloaded .30-06 and .375 H&H mag. I use factory .30-06 for hunting (Hornady ELD-X) and have tested several manufacturers and bullet types for the .375 H&H mag. That ammo is very expensive, and may be limited on bullet types, though there is a wide variety of bullet types available to the reloader.

    I only pick up .30-06 range brass. What you find on the ground is usually once fired (reloaders do not leave their brass on the ground), and should appear recently fired.

    Recently a range near me has opened a reloading store, and classes, advice, and individual sessions with the owner are possible.

    For personal defense, I use store bought.

  3. Your family member could still use a bullet puller / hammer to safely unload those cartridges. Yes, it would be very time consuming, and yes I would not be happy to have to undo 1000+ rounds and then resize and reload them all properly again. The time involved to redo everything would truly suck. But I would do it because otherwise all of that ammo would be wasted.

    In the end I would still have a bunch of good ammo, AND, I would have learned a very good lesson from having to take such a long way to get there. 🙂

  4. I used to think reloading was a monotonous CHORE done by crabby, cheap, old men that just wanted to save their pennies. Boy was I wrong! When I finally got into reloading, after having the used Lee Pro-1000 sitting around for 10+ years, I found it to be very interesting and rewarding. The dope I bought it from said he had nothing but trouble with it, and it became obvious to me it was all due to operator error on his part. In fact, I have as much fun reloading as I do actually shooting. The press has been updated and kept in top condition since I have owned it. I reload several handgun and rifle calibers, and have my “standard” tested load recipes. This ammo is strictly for target practice and plinking, I use commercial ammo for all defensive purposes.

    1. I have been reloading for close to 3 years now. I hand load .380 ACP, 9×18 Mak, 9mm Luger, .38 S&W, .357 Mag, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP. I clean, inspect, resize, prime, powder and seat each cartridge one at a time. It takes a while but I was made aware of the difference when a fellow reloaded who uses a progressive reloader, asked me if I noticed slight differences between rounds, as in recoil differences. I told him, since each of my rounds is completed by hand, all my rounds give me and my sons the same felt recoil. There may be slight differences due to case size minute differences (I dont measure case lengths for hand gun reloads) but not enough to feel. Progressives may have more variations because not every round is checked. I am particularly strict and watchful over powder measure for each load. I am satisfied all my loads have the same powder measure. I also started slow, making only 10 rounds per powder load, then shooting them to find the most accurate load for each caliber. Then I went to town making rounds. Have not had any issues with any loads. My son had a ftl issue with my reload on his XDm 9mm. After changing out his recoil spring for a lighter spring, all is well. These are all target loads. I made some SD rounds, too, but cautioned my sons to only use commercial SD Hornady Critical Defense in their carry guns and to use my SD rounds only as a last resort at home, if necessary. All my reloads are ver accurate out to 25 yards from all the guns we shoot.

  5. I shoot a lot so yes I reload not only for the cost, but the ability to fine tune loads that will hit the mark every time I pull the trigger. I have been reloading since about 1975 and have loaded thousands of rounds, 38 Special. 357 Mag, 44 Special/Magnum, 45 ACP, .223 Rem, .308, 30-06, 300 Win Mag. In all cases by adjusting the loads the group sized fired were significantly smaller than the best factory ammunition. Have I ever had one of my reloads misfire? Nope, I’m careful when reloading. Have I ever had factory ammunition misfire, yes. When I carry I do so with my reloaded ammunition. I trust it to fire and hit where I aim. Do I buy and fire factory ammunition? Yup simply because, for example I can buy 100 rounds of .45 ammo for around $22. I can also buy quality un-primed cases for around $29. I get the best of both worlds here, cheap factory ammo for practice, which in turn provides reloadable cases. So do I carry ammunition I reloaded, Yes I do. Would I carry ammo that you reloaded, probably not.

  6. I’ve been hand loading since the beginning of 1970 & see no reason to change. Worked as a machinist/toolmaker, since the mid 60s. I trust my reloaded ammo completely. Only once in all that time did I have a misfire. It was because one round had no gunpowder in it. The primer had just enough power to jam a bullet in the throat. Now when reloading… I lock the door to my room for doing anything that pertains to reloading. All loads are weighed to less than one tenth grain accuracy.
    Since my barrel has a “tight necked chamber”, brass work harden much slower. I shoot informal bench rest only. I’ve read that some “bench rest” shooters often get over 100 reloads per cartridge case. I’m presently on my 17th reload for my Bench Rifle chambered for 22-250. The neck portion of my chamber is only .0015″ larger than the neck of my loaded.
    Of course it takes a long time to reload my brass rounds. However I enjoy reloading immensely knowing factory loads can’t be any more precision than mine.

  7. Good article….

    I brought up the issue of hand loads as well as some of the special loads you can buy over the counter and the legal problems that one could face using such ammo in a previous comments on another fine article.

    I’m a fan of Hornady XTP hollow points for my everyday carry ammo. I also reload several calibers with this type of bullet and whether for hunting or other needs it performs extremely well.

    I’ve reloaded for 47 years and had only one mishap where I tried to load two different rounds at the same setting and over loaded some 44 mag rounds that I was able to fire in my Thomson Contender Pistol, which were pretty hot. Other than that one occasion I’ve load ten of thousands of rounds and taught a couple dozen of people to reload their own ammunition.

    I’ve never loaded a single round of ammo, nor has anyone that I’ve taught loaded a single round of ammo that did not go off and perform equal or better than factory ammunition.

    I believe hand loaded ammunition, tailored for your particular weapon is far better than factory ammunition. With that statement and the fact that we live in a law suit crazy world I could not recommend anyone to use anything more aggressive in their self defense weapon than over the counter hollow point ammo.

    When some law enforcement agencies bar certain ammo including reloads, that should give you pause for your own legal security.

  8. The smartest thing you could ever tell a jury in a shooting is that you bought your ammo at Walmart, off the shelf……..

    Patrick Sherril, the postal worker who shot 20 co-workers,, 14 of which died used 2 national guard issued 45s, both with target loads used for his practice on the pistol team. Light loads are common for competitors, depending on the shooting event. 45 acp is usually a 230 gran ball at about 830 fps, his were 200 grain wadcutters at about 700 fps.

    Many of us have spend decades in the military and law enforcement and millions actually reload ammo as a hobby. I reload about 20 calibers, and have never had a bad round, meaning one that did not go down the barrel as expected. However, strict discipline is required. No kids running around the room, no drinking, no smoking, etc. If you are scatterbrained, find another hobby. Now as a lawyer, I have no problem defending anyone reloading conventional ammo and using in self defense, but my question is why would you? You can never have as many safety checks as a factory. I will hunt with my ammo but 99% of the time, I carry factory ammo. I have been the boss of lots of folks who carry in 5 law enforcement agencies and I would never let anyone carry reloads. Why, because just one bad primer or dirty finger on a primer or one darn fly that might crawl into an empty case might cause a round not to go off when you want it to, less likely in an ammo factory. Just saying, reloading is fun, lets you tailor precision loads, and shoot lots more. But when you need to kill somebody which is always the likely plan is self defense (that’s why they call it deadly force), then you want the most consistency you can get. Again, I have no problem, with reloads and juries, unless you do something stupid, like drilling a bunch of little holes in the side of your bullets or painting little skeletons on the meplat. Then you are just dumb. If you want a wicked looking bullet like the honey badger, just buy one. Or use those nasty golden bullets like cops do. Just my 2 cents. One other thought, sometimes I reload and carry multi-ball loads in a 44 mag or 45 colt when I hike, the reason is they are easier to hit things like skunks or coyotes or feral dogs, 2 big balls instead of one and sure they would be devastating on a person. So what, I would just be lucky I had my skunk load if I needed the gun for defense. Now, if I were in New York or LA, I would just carry what ever they sell at Walmart.

  9. Yes, I reload. No, I use commercial ammo for the reasons just stated. If didn’t reload, I couldn’t afford my cowboy shooting.

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