One skill that will be in great demand by almost everyone in a post-TEOTWAWKI environment will be a skilled and resourceful ammunition reloader. Equipment is relatively inexpensive and downright cheap if you know where to look. Pawn shops almost never buy reloading equipment because it is slow and, or difficult to move. I have made arrangements with a few pawn shop owners and when a batch of reloading stuff comes available from estates they just give them my number. No matter how much gear there is, a pawn shop will only offer, if they even make an offer about a hundred bucks. I usually try to offer the widows a fair price but in the end you are still buying for pennies on the dollar. Often reloading gear will be given to you if you show an interest and a little respect.
It is an opportunity to acquire odd caliber dies, bullets, brass and often large stores of powder. The old reloading books are great references for older powders that will still be usable if stored properly. Always store your powder in a cool, dry and dark place. I am using some 30 year old powder that was stored this way and it works just fine. One can never have too much powder, [too many primers,] or too many reloading manuals.
Any gun shop that sells reloading equipment has free loading data provided my the powder and bullet manufactures and these small books can be acquired by writing, calling or going to the powder and bullet companies web sites. These are invaluable resources as they try to show case how versatile their products can be and the large reloading manuals will leave out some less than ideal powder, bullet, caliber combinations that we may be forced to try some day simply because of space limitations and the large manuals are somewhat expensive although necessary. Remember that we are trying to make safe reliable ammo that will suffice for the purpose at hand and we are not trying to come up with the perfect powder, bullet combo that will better factory ballistics.
JWR is right when he suggests that you stock only common caliber ammo in large quantities for yourself. However, there are still going to be quite a few .32 Winchester Special, 38-55 and especially 30-30 Winchesters around that will need ammunition and all three of those caliber cases can be made from fired .30-30 cases. A host of calibers can have their brass cases formed from the very common .30-06 such as .270 Winchester and .25-06 just by sizing the necks down. The.308 Winchester (7.62x51mm) is the parent case for .243 Win,..260 Rem, and 7mm-08. Simple neck resizing is all that is necessary and all it takes is a little knowledge and the correct dies.
Much more elaborate cartridge conversions can be done by annealing the cartridge brass (necks only–never the bases) simply by standing the cases in an inch of water, heating them until red with a torch and then knocking them over to cool in the water. This softens the brass and makes splitting case necks less likely. Brass work hardens as it is reloaded and this process is a useful skill to prolong case life even for common calibers. Calibers like the 7.5x55mm Schmidt Rubin in the well made Swiss [K31] rifles that have flooded the market the past few years are easy to fabricate from the very common .308 Win cases if you know where to look for specs and the place to look is “The Handloaders Manual of Cartridge Conversions” by Donnelly & Towsley from Stoeger Publishing. It is a great resource and it covers more than 1,000 cartridges in detail with accurate drawings, capacities and dimensions. With this book a set of good calipers, micrometer and reloading data there are very few calibers that one can not reloaded.
Anytime someone asks you if you want a small lot of odd caliber of brass take it and clean, sort and store it. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a gun in that caliber, someone, somewhere will or it might be used to create cases for another caliber There are only four sizes of boxer primers so stock up on those. Large rifle, small rifle, large pistol and small pistol and don’t worry about magnum primers just use one of the hotter standard primers such as Winchester ‘s Stainless. The only caveat here is gas auto loading rifles should only use CCI #34 or #41 hard military primers to prevent slam fires.
There are some powders that are very versatile and can be used for many calibers, for example Unique handgun powder can be used for just about every pistol caliber. It might not be the perfect choice for certain cartridges but it would certainly serve the purpose.
Reloading skills can be bartered for other things because a firearm without ammunition doesn’t even make a good club. As charity you might be the only person that can give a family a means of self defense by reloading ammo for them that is impossible to obtain any other way.
Since you can’t reload .22 rimfire ammo, buy a couple of the 550 round boxes every time that you are at Wal-Mart, or mail order 5,000 round. cases. This is something that almost everyone can afford. While you are making connections at the pawn shops pick up some used .22 rifles, I often can buy Glenfield and Marlin autos for less than 50 bucks apiece if I shop in the spring and avoid the 1st and 15th of the month and go on the first of the week. Pawn shop owners are more likely to cut you a deal at these times because of cash flow. What a great trade item or gift to some deserving but unprepared family
Bullet casting equipment is often included with reloading equipment and this simple skill is another arrow in your quiver. The Cast Bullet Association has a free forum that has a wealth of knowledge and any question that you have will be answered by the top experts in this field in an informative and entertaining way. Cast bullets were used for all hunting and war purposes for centuries before jacketed bullets came along in the late 1800s. You will notice that some of the cast bullet rifle shooters are getting 10 shot groups around an inch at 200 yards! I assure you that my efforts have never been that amazing but then I’m not a top competitor.
Making bullets and reloading ammo could make your talents very sought after over a fairly large geographic area so be prudent about your security measures. Word of your skills might bring about many barter opportunities that otherwise might be impossible. As charity, you might save an entire family’s lives for very little investment of resources and we all want to help the good guys out if we can. Folks will want to insure your safety if you have built up a relationship with them and provide a necessary service.
I have an extensive list of reloading equipment but have invested less than the cost of a FAL or M1A. I’ve been at this for almost 40 years now and have taught Boy Scouts, housewives, service veterans, preachers or anyone that asked the necessary skills to produce quality ammunition. Several times I have been given firearms simply because ammo was unavailable and I haven’t failed to produce good safe ammo for any gun yet. Get your beans, bullets and band-aids in order first, and then get started looking for the tools and acquire the skills to become the community Ammo Cobbler. – East Tennessee Hillbilly