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Is It Worth It To Reload Your Own Shotgun Shells?

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Shotgun ammunition can be quite costly to get your hands on. As great as shotguns can be, for the power that they offer, they can be expensive to maintain and to keep sufficiently loaded. Shotguns make use of shotgun shells of varying calibers, which contain small pellets that are fired out in a wide fan-like direction. These shells largely become useless once they have been used, so many choose to simply discard them after use.

With ammunition prices varying so wildly year by year, many are starting to take matters into their own hands, by making the most of every shotgun shell they have. Some even choose to manually reload their shotgun shells with new pellets to make use of materials that would otherwise be thrown away!

But is reloading a shotgun shell actually worth it? What kinds of benefits could it possibly have? These are questions that are often asked, especially as shotgun ammo prices continue to rise. If you’ve found yourself asking any of these questions, then you are in just the right place. Join us as we explore the benefits and potential drawbacks of refilling your own shotgun shells!

Refilled shotgun shells

How Do You Refill Your Own Shotgun Shells?

Before you attempt to refill your own shotgun shells, you should be sure that you are comfortable and confident in your ability to do so. Reloading shells can be quite difficult and time-consuming, and if not done properly could lead to unimpressive or even dangerous results.

If you want to refill your own shells, then you should aim to have a guide handy or have someone that knows what they are doing accompany you, to advise you throughout the process. Guides can take the form of online articles or even loading manuals. Loading manuals are well trusted amongst shotgun enthusiasts, and can give you up-to-date information on what different shells can take, and the amount of each material you will need.

Once you have a trusted person or guide close to hand, you will need to get a hold of everything that you need. These include Shells, Primers, Powder, Wads, and a shotgun shell press.

Let’s go through each of these materials, to find out which ones suit you best, and how you can get a hold of them!

Shotgun Shells

Shotgun shells, obviously, are an important component in reloading shells! You may have a collection of your own leftover shells that you have accumulated over the course of using your shotgun, you can use these, provided they are still in good condition. You may also be able to get ahold of used shells from people you know, who may otherwise choose to throw them away.

And don’t forget to check your favorite ammunition depot, to see if they have a selection of leftover shells. If you are unsure whether or not a shell can safely be refilled, you should make sure to check the hull of the shell. The hull is another word for the case, the plastic part of the shell that is commonly colored red.

You may be able to find empty shotgun shells for free if you have your own, or you know someone with a set of them. If not, you may also be able to get a hold of them for free at your local ammunition depot, or if they charge, it will likely only be a small fee, as refilling shotgun shells requires specialist knowledge to refill!


The primer refers to the small area towards the bottom of the shell that is made of metal. You can usually make it out by its golden color, which contrasts with the red color of the shell. This part is responsible for creating the initial ignition which is used to scatter the pellets. These often have a one-time use, due to their explosive nature, but they can occasionally be repurposed.

If you need new shell primers, then you can easily pick them up at your favorite ammunition depot. They come in a range of sizes, so make sure that they are suited to the size of the shells that you have. These primers come in bulk, with some boxes containing as few as 50 primers, and some containing upwards of 400 primers.

You should decide how many shells you plan to refill to work out which box to buy. Primers can vary massively in price, depending on how many you buy at one time, and the value of them at the time of purchase. However, primers will often always be less expensive in bulk than buying fully loaded shells that are pre-made.


The powder works in tandem with the primer to create the initial blast that sends the pellets flying. The powder is situated just above the primer, within the average shell, and is made to be highly explosive, to give the pellets the force they need to really travel.

When the powder burns, it quickly creates a gas that increases the pressure inside of the shell, which causes the pellets to fly out. Obviously, this is an essential component in making any shotgun shell work efficiently.

You can get a hold of your shotgun powder at your local gun store, where they will likely sell sets of it in bulk, so you can get a certain amount for a lower price. How much powder you need will depend on how many shells you plan to refill, so make sure to only buy the amount you need, as buying too much could become very expensive.

Make sure that you only buy high-quality powder, as, though it is the most important component, it is also potentially the most dangerous, since it has explosive properties.


Wads are used within shells to keep the pellets separated from the powder. This is important so as to give the pellets a consistent spread for every shot fired. The wad is a spring-like structure commonly made of biodegradable plastic, that helps to force the pellets out. The wad also keeps the explosive gas from leaking out, which would cause the pellets to shoot out inefficiently, which you definitely don’t want.

Unfortunately, you likely cannot get your hands on used wads, as they tend to be a single-use component. You will need to buy yours brand new. You will likely be able to find them at your nearest gun store, or via online retailers. They can often be bought in bulk, so decide ahead of time how many shells you want to reload, to ensure that you do not overspend for wads that you don’t need.

Shotgun Shell Press

This is a very important element in the shell reloading process, but you may not need to buy your own. Shotgun shell presses can be very expensive, due to the specialized components used within. Before you invest in one, you should decide on whether the investment is worthwhile.

Remember that reloading your own shells is a great way to save money that is spent on buying fully loaded shells, so you won’t want to buy your own shotgun shell press if you only plan to reload a few shells.

If you are certain that you will be reloading a high number of shells frequently, then it might be well worth purchasing one of these presses. If you plan to reload a lot of shells then you will easily recoup your potential losses in purchasing the press, thanks to the money you will save by reloading your own shells.

If you don’t have your own shotgun shell press, and you aren’t sure that it would be a worthwhile purchase for you, then it is worth looking to rent one, to make use of one at your local ammunition depot, or to use one belonging to a friend. This will save you a lot of money.

The press works to compress all of the essential components into the shell in a tight and compact form to ensure that the pellets can work at their best. It is an essential part of the reloading process, and it is highly recommended that you avoid reloading your own shells if you do not have access to this device, as you may create useless or potentially dangerous shells.

Shotgun shells being refilled in press

How Much Could You Save By Reloading Your Shotgun Shells?

So now that we know what components you will need in order to reload your shotgun shells, it’s worth taking a look at whether the potential price for each component could really save you more money than buying preloaded shells.

Each component varies in price quite wildly. The shells can cost a very low price when purchased brand new, and they can even be reused, which means that you can save a lot of money by purchasing used shells. You may even have saved your own used shells, which means that you won’t even have to spend a penny on shells to reload.

Components that could potentially be more expensive are such things as the wads, the primers, the powder, and the pellets. Many of these components can only be used once, and others are highly specialized for use in shotgun shells, which can increase their value. Their prices might also vary depending on how many of each you buy at one time.

If you choose to buy a large number of each component in bulk each time, while it may look expensive on the outside, it can save you a great deal of money, as bundles often significantly reduce the price of each individual component. You will likely only buy lots of components if you are planning on reloading a high yield of shells. If you are, then you will save a lot of money by putting the components together yourself. When you buy pre-loaded shells you are often paying slightly more for the labor that was involved in putting them together.

If you don’t plan to reload your own shells as often as you buy them, then you likely won’t save much money. In order to save money, you would need to completely replace pre-loaded shotguns with your self-reloaded shells, as buying a high number of components but then not using them fully would be a large waste of money.

How Do You Reload Shotgun Shells?

If you’ve decided that it would be worth your while to reload your own shotgun shells, then you’ll likely now be wondering how you actually go about doing it. Reloading your own shells can be quite difficult or time-consuming, especially if it is your first time doing it.

If you are reloading your own shells for the first time, you should have some kind of guide handy, to check that you are doing everything right at every step. It is also worth asking for assistance from someone you know who may have knowledge of reloading shells so that you can depend on their knowledge in case you encounter any trouble.

Let’s take a look at some of the important steps involved in reloading your shells, and how you can do it best, to get the most desired results.

Step One – Depriming Your Shells

The first thing that you will want to do is to deprime your shells. This involves separating the shell from the spent primer. You only need to follow this step if you are making use of used shells.

You may be able to remove the primer, by carefully coercing it out of the shell. Make sure to take care when doing this, as the primer can be very tightly packed in. You don’t want to end up damaging the reusable shell in the process. There are optional tools that you can purchase which are built to make separating the primer and the shell much easier. You may want to consider buying one of these tools if you plan to use reloaded shells from now on.

When depriming your shells, you may also need to resize the shells themselves. The shells may have become slightly deformed when previously fired, or they may become slightly deformed when removing the primer. All you need to do is ensure that the shell has a smooth shape with few imperfections or protrusions. This process can be done with certain shotgun shell presses, so check to see if the press you have at hand can help in this process.

Step Two – Add Your Components In Order

From here, you can begin to put together each shell component in the intended order. Start by adding your new primer to the shell. You may be able to carefully insert your new primer by using a little bit of force. You should feel it comfortably slide into position and lock itself in. Remember that your primer needs to hold in many of the extra components, so you want to make sure that it is snuggly sealed in. Be careful when inserting your primer, as they are a volatile component, and thus require some care. Some shotgun shell presses may be able to assist you in adding your new primer.

From here, it is time to add your powder. How much powder you need to add will depend on the size of your shells. This is a good time to break out your trusty reloading manual. This manual will have up-to-date information regarding how much powder should be in a shell, and can help you to find the value for any individual shell or shell type.

If you know the details of your shells, such as the original manufacturer, and the size of the shells, you may also be able to look online for the appropriate amount. However, results on the internet can vary, so you should be sure to properly verify whatever results you find before you follow them.

After you have added the appropriate amount of powder, it is time to insert the wad. The wad should comfortably slide in on top of the powder. You might notice that it is somewhat of a squeeze to get the wad into the shell, this is because the shell is made to tightly hug the wad so that the gasses from the powder do not leak out and impact the quality of the firing. Check to see if your shotgun shell press can assist in this step, as it can be quite difficult to get it perfect, and it can be easy to do it incorrectly.

Finally, all you need to do is to add your preferred projectile, whether it be pellets or a shot. A standard 12-gauge shell can hold up to 8 pellets at a time, and this amount decreases for smaller shells and increases for much larger shells. You should make sure to follow the recommended number of pellets for your shell, and avoid overfilling any of your shells, as this can be extremely dangerous, and could very well do irreversible damage to your shotgun.

Step Three – Close Up Your Shell

From here, you will want to seal up your newly reloaded shells. You should notice that spent shotgun shells, as well as brand new and unused shells, have a distinct star-shaped section towards the top, made up of small unique folds. These are designed to be folded down comfortably to keep all of the components contained. This section also requires no kind of sealant or glue to keep the shell closed, needing only to be folded. This is great for the efficiency of the shells, as it means that the pellets can easily be dispelled from the shell for maximum power when firing.

Closing up the top part of the shell is a process referred to as ‘crimping’, as it involves folding down the top securely. This process will usually be handled by the shotgun shell press, as it can apply the correct amount of pressure evenly, to ensure that the top is evenly closed without breaking or bending unusually.

If any of the shells have imperfections towards their tops, such as small cracks, or missing parts of the crimp section, then they should be discarded, and should not be reused, as they will not fire properly, and will likely be dangerous.

This is the final step of the process, and now you have your own freshly reloaded shells! Make sure to check them each after you have reloaded them, just as a final check to ensure that they meet your standards before you use them.

What Benefits Are There For Reloading Your Own Shotgun Shells?

Reloading your own shotgun shells can be useful in a wide number of ways. The first benefit that reloading your own shells has is its ability to save you money. Reusing shells and just buying the components individually saves you the cost of pre-loaded shells, which cost more thanks to the labor involved in constructing them.

Reloading your own shotgun shells can also be highly rewarding. Seeing shells that you personally put together operating at maximum efficiency is extremely satisfying, and will have you wanting to reload all of your own shells! You can also adjust certain parameters when reloading your shells, to create unique effects that you might find useful. However, before you attempt to adjust any of the steps or components used in reloading the shells, you should be sure that you have the right knowledge and that you are confident in what you are doing, to avoid a potential accident. It is always recommended to follow reloading guidelines wherever possible.

In a world that values environmental friendliness and the reuse of resources, reloading shotgun shells is also the right thing to do. Reusing spent shells is environmentally conscious, and makes use of plastics that would otherwise be considered ‘single-use’. As well as this, by producing shells yourself, you also reduce the need for factory production of pre-loaded shotgun shells, which helps to significantly reduce carbon emissions.

To Conclude

Reloading shotgun shells is an incredibly efficient way to make use of disposable shells that would otherwise be sent to rot away in landfills, as well as to save you a massive amount of money.

Reloading your shells Can be incredibly rewarding, thanks to the involved process that helps you to gain a much richer understanding of the inner workings of your shotgun. It is also rewarding when you see the final results of your efforts; the completed shells, and how they look and feel when they are fired.

As you can clearly now see, there are so many benefits associated with reloading shotgun shells, which makes it a highly recommended alternative to paying loads for fresh and pre-loaded shells. However, it can have some drawbacks, especially if you are inexperienced with reloading. When you first start reloading your own shells, you may notice that you receive unsatisfactory results, which are usually caused by inexperience, or improper care for materials.

As well as this, if you are only reloading a few shells, but still buying a large number of pre-loaded shells, then it is unlikely that you will save much money at all. In order to save the most money, you should aim to give it your all, which can be daunting to those reloading for the first time, or with little experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many times can I reload a shotgun shell?

Shotgun shells can be reused quite a few times before needing to be disposed of. Shotgun shells are purpose-built to deal with high temperatures and explosive materials, so they can be used multiple times.

However, you should be sure not to push a shell too far. If a shell starts to look worn out, or you notice cracks or other problems, you should dispose of it, as it may be risky to the health of your gun if it is reused. You should aim to stop reusing a shell after around seven uses, in order to prevent unexpected accidents.

Is a higher grain bullet better?

Higher grain bullets refer to bullets that contain more powder, or that can contain more pellets. They can be considered better than lower grain bullets, as they offer more power, and more spread, thanks to the increased pellet count.

However, though such bullets can offer more power, if there’s no actual need for that power, such as if you are shooting a close-range target, then having more spread and more power is entirely useless, and would be considered a pretty significant waste of your money.

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