Anderson: Ammunition shortfall falls short of a conspiracy

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 25, 2013 - 12:22 AM

The realities of supply, demand, delivery and manufacturing are more in line for blame.

It’s unfortunate the challenge, satisfaction and just plain fun of squeezing a gun’s trigger isn’t more widely reported, or known. This thought occurred to me on recent days while shooting at Oakdale Gun Club in the east metro, joined there on given outings by a few score or more of other shooters, each sighting in a rifle, targeting clays with a shotgun, or otherwise plinking away, sometimes with handguns.

Anyone who does it will want to do it again.

On Wednesday, for instance, at Oakdale, I had my .270 with me, and like shooters benched on either side of me, I was profoundly interested in hitting a bull’s-eye 25, 50, 100 and 220 yards out, a feat not as easy as Hollywood movies suggest. Ultimately, a steady hand and Zen-like coolness are required. Also a good gun helps. And good ammunition.

It’s the latter and its relative scarcity that might surprise a lot of deer hunters in coming weeks.

Example: The other night at Cabela’s in Rogers, the ammo supply in some calibers, .270 not least, resembled that of a mom-and-pop convenience store somewhere in west Texas. OK, that’s a stretch. But you get the idea: Ask for a premium Federal or Winchester or Remington brand of center-fire ammunition and in response you might get the same shoulder shrug I did.

“It goes out,’’ a clerk said. “As fast as it comes in.’’

Of course anyone who’s been awake the past year or so has heard, if only generally, about the fast clip at which guns have been selling, particularly ARs, the so-called “assault-style’’ rifles.

A lot of these are chambered .223, and that ammunition has been flying off the shelves. But so have .22LR (“long rifle’’) rimfire cartridges, in part, as Guns & Ammo magazine has reported, because this ammunition is relatively cheap. Also, more ARs chambered .22LR have come on the market in recent years, and target shooters can push a lot of ammunition through these babies fairly cheaply, and minus the recoil and noise that accompany capping bigger cartridges.

OK, but why are Twin Cities retailers having trouble keeping “deer cartridge’’ supplies intact — with firearms whitetail seasons still a few weeks away?

Joe’s Sporting Goods in St. Paul, for example, limits customers to two boxes of rifle ammunition per customer, a practice some other retailers also follow.

That said, some loads aren’t available at all. Looking for a particular .270 cartridge the other day, for example, I called two Gander Mountain stores (Woodbury and Rogers), Fleet Farm in Oakdale and Hudson, Wis., Joe’s, Capras Sporting Goods in Blaine, and Cabela’s in Rogers.

Result: Only one of these stores had the ammunition I wanted — two boxes of it. The others had none.

“Regardless what has been said online, it’s not a government conspiracy,’’ said Mike Bazinet of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearms and ammunition industry group headquartered in Connecticut. “The government is not buying up all the ammunition so the public can’t have it.’’

Ammunition makers, Bazinet said, are running at full capacity, 24-7. Yet demand isn’t being met. And with deer seasons yet to open, one is left to assume at least some hoarding is occurring, whether for fear of the government, fear of higher-still ammunition prices in the future — or whatever.

Said Bazinet: “Cabela’s might say at a given store that customers can only take two or four boxes at a time, but when they pull a pallet full of ammo onto the floor, it goes out the door in a hurry. People get on their phones and spread the word to their friends.’’

Steve Hornady, president of the ammunition company that bears his name, spoofed the shortage and the presumed government conspiracy behind it in a YouTube video.

In the short flick, Hornady suggests his employees are cooking hot dogs and heating pizzas on machines that should be making rimfire and centerfire loads, thus slowing production.

More realistically, Bazinet said, some ammunition companies don’t want to increase production capacity, only to find demand waning in a year or so.

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