The Shootingwire.com FEATURE Ammo-Again
After reading a lengthy email exchange between a group of friends that includes competition shooters, writers, law enforcement and instructors, on "what's causing the ammunition shortage" yesterday, it seemed high time to wander out and some decidedly un-scientific research for myself. My first stop was the closest Walmart. I wandered into the sporting goods section and there on the shelves was ammunition-including .22 LR in boxes (no bricks) and virtually any handgun caliber ammunition I wanted, so long as I didn't want the "premium" ammo lines. No dice there.
There was also a decent selection of rifle calibers for hunting (including .223 and .308) although there a two box limit was still in effect.
It was a similar story at two local gun shops, although inventory and product selection was considerably reduced. Lacking the buying power of big box retailers, many local shops are offering lesser-known brands of accessories.
If they didn't, one owner told me, he still wouldn't have much to sell. Since he took a month off last spring because he had nothing to sell, he felt the situation was improving- slowly- but said he would still be looking -hard- at the numbers before renewing his lease.
Plenty has been written about ammunition shortages over the past year, but having physically driven across the country, I've been enough different places to say the shortages are not the same everywhere.
They appear to be centered in areas sharing two vitally important things: a concentration of shooters (existing and new) and easy access to places to shoot.
Where I spend much of my time when not on the road, there are only three handgun and/or rifle ranges in a hundred-mile circle. There's only one shotgun club, and it's only open three or four days a week.
People don't have lots of places to shoot, so they're not using ammunition. Because they're not diminishing their supplies so rapidly, they're not so concerned about replenishment. So they're not panic buying everything on the shelves. I spoke with two guys buying ammunition and they told me they were only buying ammo because they'd noticed they had "a box or two" less hunting ammo than normal at their hunting camp.
Neither had shot anything except .22s since last hunting season, but both owned more than one rifle and handgun. Those, they said, were around "just in case."
Speaking with managers at bog boxes in the area, I asked if they'd increased their ammo orders over the past few months. Their responses didn't surprise me, but did help explain why some stores across the country have inventory while others don't.
It seems Walmart's guidelines for increasing restocking quantities aren't discretionary at the store level. Those are based on turn times on inventory. If your location didn't sell inventory faster, it wasn't getting an increase. Quick sellouts, however, reallocated inventory- including portions earmarked for the slower-selling store. That helped in high-demand areas, but eventually led some short-term availability at slower-demand stores.
In that retail model, less demand did mean diminished supplies - eventually, and not the suddenly bare shelves of high demand areas.
That helped me understand why I was unable to buy .380 ACP ammunition anywhere in Birmingham, Alabama - an area with several public/private ranges and shooting clubs, but walked into an east Tennessee Walmart and left with two boxes of premium defensive loads.
So where is all the ammo going?
If you buy the supply/demand model, it's going where it has always gone - where demand is the highest.
But only in the quantities dictated by manufacturing capacities. Walmart would ship more -if it had more. Ditto other big box retailers.
If that's the case, at least some portion of the ammo shortage would actually be the result of the shooting community's self-fulfilling prophecy.
After all, we talk - incessantly- among ourselves about ammo supplies and shortages. It's vitally important to every one of us.
That stokes a feeding frenzy whenever ammo hits the shelves. The resupply is snapped up, and the conversation returns to the shortages. As the shampoo instructions read: Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
But I'm not saying there isn't also the "new normal" when it comes to shooting. There are lots of new gun owners -and they're buying more ammo than new buyers of old.
They add to the shortages- again primarily in areas where they have ready access to places to shoot.
That assertion isn't so difficult to accept if you think of it as anything other than the visceral issue of firearms and their ownership.
If there are no bowling alleys in your area, you have a tough time finding bowling supplies or other bowlers.
What makes firearms different is the constant pressure of a government trying to outlaw an activity Constitutionally- guaranteed to every citizen. Bowling doesn't have dedicated "anti-bowlers" constantly campaigning to have alleys closed down and balls outlawed because of artificial weight and/or color concerns.
So here's my unscientific observation on the ammo question: ammunition is not as widely available as it was a couple of years ago. But not due to a government conspiracy or manufacturers artificially creating demand.
The most acute shortages are concentrated around areas where there are the largest numbers of a) gun owners/shooters and b) ranges.
Ammunition makers are still going as fast as two key factors allow: component supplies and equipment capacities.
Component manufacturers are constrained by raw material issues. There is a higher global demand for brass, copper, lead and other raw goods because there are more consumers worldwide. Industries in China, India and other "developing countries" are competing for the same raw goods- and driving up both demand and price.
Ultimately, whatever the cause, price increases wind up being paid by consumers. That's another reason we're seeing higher prices for most ammunition across the board.
Finally, as my friend Michael Bane points out, shooters have finally used-up most of the surplus ammunition for those surplus foreign guns we used to consider cheap to own -and shoot.
Those "exotic" calibers aren't being made in the United States because ammo makers can't reduce output of bread-and-butter calibers. Foreign ammo makers aren't shipping huge quantities of that formerly-affordable ammo here because their domestic demand gets priority. And in case you haven't noticed (and thanks, Michael for pointing this out), today's world isn't a terrifically stable place.
But ammunition wasn't the only section where I saw more product selection. Shooting accessories seem to be creeping back onto retailers' shelves.
That's encouraging news for consumers, because product supply may have finally caught up with demand. Not such good news for manufacturers who find themselves way ahead of orders and are still cranking out product.
Again, rising supplies are good news for gun shoppers- for a couple of reasons.
First, it means you may have choices when you're shopping.
Maybe more importanly, some companies are telling me- quietly- that they're preparing to actually launch new product.
With NASGW coming up next week, wholesalers and distributors may see the first new products from some companies in more than a year.
Demand for existing product forced some manufacturers to delay new introductions. Now, as orders slow, they're able to offer new stuff. And new stuff always catches the attention of existing - and potential- shooters.
As always, we'll keep you posted.