What cartridges should we select so that we can optimize the cost of frequent trips to the range? Last we went through our study results for ammunition availability, and found that, after investigation and filtering, we had a list of 26 cartridges for which availability was adequate. When we researched the availability of ammunition at the two online retailers that we selected for this study, we also averaged the ammunition cost. For each cartridge, we picked the 3 cheapest SKUs (available choices) within each retailer, and averaged price across all 6 (or less when there were less than three choices available).
Average pricing for our full cartridge list follows below. Pricing in the chart is for 20 cartridges. In some cases, such as rimfire ammunition, common box size is 50 rounds - in these cases we calculated what the cost for 20 cartridges would be, based on cost for a 50-cartridge box. Because pricing varies across the seasons and locations, the numbers below are indicative, and should be used primarily for relative comparisons between cartridges. Cartridges are listed by increasing caliber.
It is immediately apparent that there are wide discrepancies between the prices for cartridges which may potentially substituted for each other - although, of course, no two cartridges are exactly similar. For instance, 223 cartridges are half the price of 22-250, while 22LR cartridges cost about one third of the price of 17 HMR or 22 WMR. The price of 270 Win cartridges is less than half of that of 270 Weatherby Magnum. The price of rounds for 243 rounds is 25% lower than that of 257 Roberts.
A detailed analysis is required for groups of cartridges with a similar purpose. However, we can already note some important points:
- the most cost effective round overall, by far, is 22LR
- all rimfire cartridges are much more cost effective than any centerfire cartridge
- of all centerfire cartridges, the two most cost effective ones, by a large margin, are 7.62x39 and 223
- magnum cartridges are generally more expensive than non-magnum ones (although there are some few exceptions)
- cartridges with low or spotty availability are in general more expensive than similar cartridges with good availability
- while price tends to rise with caliber, it is only a very general trend which suffers a very large number of exceptions - to the degree that they are not really exceptions any more...