Retailers say they have never seen anything like it. Consumers agree. One look at empty retailers' shelves confirms that ammunition, in virtually every caliber, is in short supply.
The demand for ammunition has followed the political waves and rhetoric of recent months. In response to some politicians demanding new firearms and ammunition legislation, gun and ammunition purchases in the U.S. have skyrocketed to levels never experienced previously. The result has been a shortage, particularly in ammunition.
Popular rifle calibers such as .223 and .308 have virtually disappeared from retailers' shelves. Handgun rounds, from 9mm to .45, have been snatched up too. Even rimfire rounds like the .22 have become almost impossible to purchase. When boxes of .22s do show up on retailer's shelves they are purchased immediately.
"Everyone was scared after the election," said a spokesman for Remington Ammunition in Madison, N.C. "Our Arkansas ammo plant is busy, running as much as they can. We're running as strong as we ever have."
Other major manufacturers are said to have ramped up production in an attempt to meet the unprecedented surge in demand, but the filling of most orders is lagging weeks or months behind regular schedules. In some cases, retailers are being told the delay could be lengthy without any promise of when certain ammunition will become available.
"Basically what I'm hearing at the shows is that manufacturers figure to hit 10 to 20 percent of what is being ordered," said Steve Burton, Sportsman's Loft in Minot. "It is going to come in spurts. We have 3 million rounds of .223 on order, some of it for six weeks or more. So much of the country is completely sold out."
A shortage of reloading components, locally and nationally, is causing some concern for firearms owners who rely upon reloading as a regular source for ammunition. The price of used brass shell casings, shown here, may be one of the reloading necessities to experience a price increase despite little change in the metals market.
Gary Docktor of Gun & Reel Sports in Jamestown said he has been told a similar story by manufacturers.
"I just came back from a sporting goods show in Phoenix. They took orders but couldn't tell me when they'd ship," said Docktor. "Usually you could schedule when you wanted ammunition shipped. I ordered 100 boxes of Hornady .223 but they cut that back to 50. They are limiting each dealer."
Scheel's All Sports boasts 24 stores in 10 states, certainly a large enough operation to command attention from ammunition manufacturers. Nevertheless, their North Dakota stores appear no different from smaller retailers in the state when it comes to ammunition. What ammunition does arrive is sold quickly.
A Scheel's spokesman in Fargo who asked not to be named said, "If we have it we put it on the shelf. You know as much as I do. I don't really understand what you are asking."
One retailer said he recently sold 66,000 rounds of .308 ammunition in less than 10 days. Calibers that are in even more demand, such as .22 and .223, sometimes last only minutes on store shelves.
"I got 50 boxes of .223 and it was gone in an hour," said Greg Knutson, Andrus Outdoors of Dickinson, this past week. "I had to put a limit on it. That's how bad it is. It's the same thing with .22s and other ammo. I've had oil workers come in and say they've stopped in every store from Texas to North Dakota and can't find any .22s. Today alone I've had over 40 calls on ammo. Everybody is looking. It's a big mess right now."
A major player in the .22 market is CCI Ammunition of Lewiston, Idaho. According to a spokesman, their factory is running full force in an effort to catch up with an increasing backlog of orders.
"We continue to work seven days a week, as we have for several years, making multiple daily shipments to meet the current demand and deliver quality products to our customers," replied a CCI spokesman via e-mail.
During a single morning last week three 53-foot semi loads of .22s were shipped from CCI, destined for Gander Mountain stores. What stores will get the product and how long it will last on retailers' shelves remains to be seen.
One of the major players in ammunition sales nationally is Able Ammo of Texas. They have a retail store and do a brisk business on the Internet. Lately, though, like everywhere else in the country, getting enough product to meet demand has been extremely difficult.
"We get two, three or four trucks a day but we never know what's on them. It's real hard to predict right now. We've limited in-store customers to two boxes per caliber," said a spokesman. "It just trickles in. We haven't seen any .22 or .223 at all. It's pretty crazy."
The "craziness" extends to reloading components, too, an activity engaged in by many firearms owners. Primers, bullets, casings and powder are all in short supply. Reloading components that haven't been bought up by consumers are being used to produce factory ammunition.
NoDak Arms of Surrey reloads thousands of rounds annually, meaning they have a pretty good feel for supply and demand. Demand has never been higher. Supply is very tight.
"I'm getting some stuff hit and miss. Powder and projectiles are an issue," said Kelly Turneau, NoDak Arms. "Sometimes they tell me six to eight weeks. We'll wait and see."
According to Turneau the price of brass, the used casings used to house ammunition reloads, is already showing some dramatic increases.
"(Brass for .223s) is going for an insane amount lately, $9 a pound. Normally it is $2 to $3 a pound," said Turneau.
There's another issue that may be influential in driving up demand for ammunition and reloading supplies - hoarding. Some firearms owners want to make sure they don't find themselves without an adequate supply of ammunition for practice or participation in various shooting sports. Therefore, when possible, they are making much larger purchases of ammunition than ever before.
"It's never been this bad before," remarked Knutson. "Some people have 20,000 rounds in their basement and would like to have more. Until the hoarding quits it won't get any better. Another four to six weeks is my guess."
"In North Carolina we are starting to see more ammo on the shelves, but people are still buying it up," said a Remington spokesman. "Another month or two and stuff will come back to the shelves. That's my thinking."
Although many would like to believe the end of the ammunition shortage is in sight, some estimates have it lasting as long as six to nine months. Manufacturers say they are currently concentrating on producing the most popular calibers of rifle and handgun ammunition. Ammo in lesser demand, such as several hunting calibers, may not get into production until the fall hunting seasons approach.
"We were told they are going to make core items that people are using right now - .22, 9mm, .40, .45 and all pistol rounds, not a lot of oddball rounds," said Burton. "It would be really smart to get that .270 and .30-06 now. That's exactly what they said."
Federal Ammunition has already announced a future price increase of 5 to 6 percent depending on the caliber of ammunition. Remington has announced a similar increase. Others manufacturers may follow. One maker that apparently won't increase prices in the near future is Hornady. Hornady has assured retailers that prices in 2013 will remain consistent with 2012 pricing.
In the meantime the ammunition pinch is being felt throughout the fast-growing shooting sports industry. Match shooters need a reliable source of ammunition for practice and competitions. While many utilize their own reloads, reloading components are often placed on backorder with no promise of when, or if, shipments will be filled.