Ammunition Shortage Drives Idaho Shooters To Make Their Own

Jul 2, 2013

A sign at Cliff's Guns, Safes and Reloading in Boise tells customers of sales limits on reloading components. Similar signs have become common in recent months as U.S. shooters endure the worst ammunition shortage in modern history.
Credit Scott Graf / Boise State Public Radio

Ammunition has been selling at historic levels in recent months.  Fears of tighter government gun and ammunition control have meant retail giants like Wal Mart all the way down to mom-and-pop gun shops haven’t been able to keep bullets on their shelves.  That lack of availability has led more and more shooters to take up the hobby of reloading.  

Cliff Poser is the owner of Cliff’s Guns, Safes and Reloading in west Boise.  His business has been very busy lately.  So much so, he has to keep a special stash of ammunition in his back room.  That’s so customers who buy guns from him can also buy bullets.

"This is the worst that I’ve seen," Poser says of the rush to buy bullets. "I’ve been doing the business for 33 years, and as big as we’ve gotten, we still can’t take care of all the people that are coming in.

There's also been a run on components used to make bullets.

"Under normal conditions, we try to keep approximately 125 different [gun] powders on hand," Poser says. "And at this time, we only have approximately 20 kinds of powders."

Poser says the scarcity of ready-made bullets has frustrated shooters to the point they’re spending between $200 and $1,000 to get into the hobby known as ‘reloading’.  Derek Emmert is among them.

"I’ve always wanted to reload my own ammo," Emmert says. "Partially for hobby, something to do. But as well, the cost of ammo off the shelf is outrageous.  So if I can reload my own ammo, it’s gonna cut costs and make shooting a little more cheaper."

An instructor discusses reloading safety during a class at Cliff's Guns, Safes and Reloading in Boise. Owner Cliff Poser says he's offered more classes to accommodate the growing number of shooters who want to make their own bullets
Credit Scott Graf / Boise State Public Radio

Emmert is among the dozens of shooters who've signed up in recent months for reloading classes Poser has offered during the spike in interest.

But all the new attention on reloading has led to shortages of the equipment and components needed to make bullets.  Companies haven’t kept up with demand.

"It’s been a challenge because we’re used to operating at a certain level," says Mark Pixler, a spokesman for Arizona-based Dillion Precision.  His company makes presses that assemble ammunition components into a finished bullet.  Pixler says calls have come in so quickly, customers crashed the company’s phone system.

"We were literally unable to make outgoing phone calls," Pixler says. "We literally had to go and buy some prepaid cell phones so that we could conduct essential company business on the telephone."

To try and keep up with demand, Dillon has hired back retired salesmen, asked parts suppliers to ramp up production and added a second shift at its factory. Pixler says his company is doing more business than ever before, but thanks only to what he labels a few people’s hoarding and profiteering.   

Back at Cliff Poser’s shop in Boise, a motion-sensor in the shape of a frog croaks when customers walk through the door.  It’s been busy lately and that’s good for the bottom line.  Poser says he surpassed his 2012 sales totals this year by early May.  But he's also cautious.

"We hope the business continues to grow," he says. "But having a business that’s expanded by people who are not being necessarily sound minded, is not going to be solid business, it’s not going to continue."

Poser thinks there’s been a bubble in the ammunition world that will soon pop.  Once shooters stop fearing new restrictions, they’ll start to use up their surplus of bullets.  And when that happens, he’ll see less business.  Poser says there have been signs the last few weeks that’s already starting to happen. 

But he says in the short term, demand for most of his products remains very high.  And he thinks it could take up to 18 months before all of his supply shortages end.

Copyright 2013 Boise State Public Radio