Tom Reiten was 16 years old when he started reloading his own ammo.

It was either that, he said, or not shoot the 7mm Mauser Model 1895 rifle he inherited from his grandfather.

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"It was the sheer economics of it," said Reiten, 67, Grand Forks, who grew up in Petersburg, N.D. "Ammunition in that caliber back in the '50s just wasn't available out in the rural area, so it was a matter of loading my own."

That necessity has served him well over the years. A competitive rifle shooter and longtime member of the Forks Rifle Club, Reiten shoots literally thousands of rounds of various-caliber ammo every year.

Since he started reloading more than 50 years ago, Reiten figures he's reloaded "somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000" rifle bullets.

One look around his basement reloading room, and it's obvious Reiten is serious about reloading. Boxes and boxes of supplies, from bullets and primers to containers of gunpowder, line the shelves, along with an assortment of reloading manuals, scales, presses, powder measurers and other tools of the trade.

"It's interesting to learn the process," he said. "Once you've got the process down, it is relatively simple. The basic thing is consistency and to make sure that your powder charges are correct, and everything is done within the specs of the powder manuals."

Popular choice

Reiten's not alone in his passion for reloading. According to national polling firm Southwick Associates, about one in four shooters who responded to a recent survey said they reload their own ammo. Saving money was a top reason, followed by a desire to improve shooting accuracy, obtaining ammo difficult to find in stores and reducing waste.

Rifle ammo was most popular, the survey indicated, with 79 percent of respondents going that route, followed by 60 percent who reload handgun cartridges and 28 percent saying they reload shotgun shells.

Jim Bjerke, a reloading expert at Cabela's in East Grand Forks, said he hasn't noticed an increase in the popularity of reloading, but shooters of all ages purchase the equipment and supplies. The initial investment, Bjerke says, will be about $500, including the reloading kit and dies, powder, primers, bullets and brass (for those who don't have spent cartridges to reload).

Varmint calibers such as .223, .22-250, .204, and .308 are among the most popular ammo being reloaded, Bjerke said, along with large calibers such as the .338 Lapua because of its limited availability and cost. Top handgun calibers, he said, include 9mm, .40 Smith & Wesson and .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol).

Among local consumers, at least, the reasons for reloading vary, Bjerke said.

"Not all people reload for cost effectiveness," he said. "A lot of reloaders reload for accuracy. However, cost per round depends on the type of bullets and reloading components."

Broad subject

Just as anglers stock up on tackle and gear they don't necessarily need, Reiten has expanded his arsenal of reloading gadgets. Reiten says he typically stocks up on bullets from vendors while attending national shooting matches at Camp Perry in Ohio. He buys powder and primers, the other key supplies, locally and reuses the brass cases as often as 10 times.

"Even if you're not that interested in reloading right now or don't think you're ready for it, save your brass," Reiten said. "That's one of the major savings when you reload."

During a recent demonstration, Reiten walked a newbie through the process of reloading 140-grain bullets for a .270 Winchester rifle using spent Federal cases. A box of the bullets costs about $41 retail, compared with $18.20 for the materials, not including the brass and reloading equipment, to reload the same bullets.

Shoot as much as Reiten, in other words, and reloading just makes sense -- or cents, depending on how you look at it.

"Reloading is a very broad subject," he said. "Some people go to extremes, making it an end unto itself, while others just want to load a box of shells or two for deer hunting."

It's also not a bad way to spend a blizzard, as Reiten demonstrated Monday morning during Blizzard Fiona, the latest storm to hit the region.

"Being a competitive rifle shooter, my objective is to have accurate and reliable ammunition," he said. "I can't spend a lot of time on each cartridge. Once I have developed a load that works, I stick with it."

For hunters, Reiten says there's no need to get too picky about a half grain of powder here or there, as long as the charge is within recommended specs.

"The deer doesn't care," Reiten said.

Dokken reports on outdoors. Call him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1148; or send email to