LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
The prospect of tighter government controls on guns and ammunition has put many gun owners on high alert. Ammunition has been selling at historic levels - and historic prices - in recent months. From Wal-Mart to mom and pop gun shops, stores have not been able to keep bullets on the shelves. As Scott Graf of Boise State Public Radio reports, that lack of availability has led more and more shooters to take up a new hobby.
SCOTT GRAF, BYLINE: Boise gun shop owner Cliff Poser's business has been crazy lately. So much so, he has to keep a special stash of ammunition. That's so customers who buy guns from him can also buy bullets.
CLIFF POSER: This is the worst that I've seen. You know, I've been doing the business for 33 years, and, I mean, as big as we've gotten, we still can't take care of all the people that are coming in.
GRAF: One of these people is Robert Nicholson. He says buying his target practice ammunition is difficult and expensive.
ROBERT NICHOLSON: Before, you could just, no worries about buying cheap ammo off the Internet. You know, buy a thousand round steel case .223 for 150 bucks. Now, you can't touch it for less than $400.
GRAF: So, Nicholson, like thousands of other shooters, is going a different route. He's making more of the bullets he shoots. He and Poser stand in front of a rack of gunpowder.
POSER: These are going to be max loads here. It's one of the best powders out there. It's a very popular powder.
GRAF: Poser says he's not able to stock all the powders he used to.
POSER: Under normal conditions, we try to keep approximately 125 different kind of powders on hand. And at this time, we only have approximately 20 kinds of powders on hand.
GRAF: Poser says the scarcity of readymade bullets has frustrated shooters to the point they're spending between $200 and a thousand dollars to get into the hobby known as reloading. Derek Emmert is one of them.
DEREK EMMERT: Partially for hobby, something to do. But as well, the cost of ammo off the shelf is just outrageous right now. So, if I can reload my own ammo, it's going to cut costs and make shooting a little more cheaper.
POSER: Like I said, any time you guys feel like you need to get up and stretch your legs, whatever, feel free to.
GRAF: Emmert sits with several other men around tables set up in the back of Poser's shop. They're here for a Saturday class on reloading. They listen as the instructor goes over the importance of adding just the right amount of gunpowder.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Huge difference between 2.7 and 7.2. OK? That's a catastrophic failure. That will blow up your gun.
GRAF: But this increased interest in reloading has also led to shortages of the equipment and components needed to make bullets. Companies haven't kept up with demand.
MARK PIXLER: It's been a challenge because we're used to operating at a certain level.
GRAF: Mark Pixler is a spokesman for Arizona-based Dillon 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.
PIXLER: We were literally unable to make outgoing phone calls. So, we literally had to go and buy some prepaid cell phones so that we could conduct essential company business on the telephone.
GRAF: 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 sees as a few people hoarding.
(SOUNDBITE OF FROG CROAKING)
GRAF: 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.
POSER: We hope the business continues to grow. But having business that's expanded by people that are not being necessarily sound minded is not going to be solid business, it's not going to continue.
GRAF: Poser thinks there's been a bubble in the ammunition world that will soon burst. 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've been signs the last few weeks that's already starting to happen. For NPR News, I'm Scott Graf in Boise, Idaho.