Off the Porch: Where are all the bullets going?

Jun. 16, 2014 @ 03:51 PM

We were on our way to the monthly meeting of our gun club. David, a lifelong friend, was driving and he suddenly slowed and pulled into a store that sells salvage merchandise. David is a thrifty shopper but I was surprised at the diversion. “This place gets ammunition sometimes and I want to see what they have,” he said. We walked in and went straight to the case with the ammunition. There was an assortment of rifle pistol and shotgun ammunition in standard calibers. Prices were good, though not spectacular, but what caught my eye was a row of Remington Bucket ‘O Bullets, plastic tubs containing 1,400 rounds of bulk packaged .22 long rifle ammunition. For a year and half, .22 long rifle has been the most difficult of all ammunition to keep on shelves. I’ve seen Ziplock bags of 50 loose rounds for sale in gun shops for $10, about five times the normal price per round. When we arrived at the counter, there was one guy standing there. He was noncommittal about buying .22s. Our discussion drew a married couple’s attention. There was a limit of one tub per customer, and all five people at the counter wound up purchasing one. By the time we left the store, there were two tubs left. Once we were back in the car, David got on the phone and two of our friends picked up the other two tubs as they came to the meeting.
This week, an outdoor big box store advertised a sale of .22 long rifle ammunition. The price was good, but wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow two years ago. I attended the big box store opening. It was the first time I’ve stood in line for ammunition and it was revealing. I arrived at 8:30 and was ninth in line. When the store opened 30 minutes later, there were 25 people in the line. The store had 50 boxes of 1,600 rounds of a popular brand at a decent, but not spectacular, price and a few boxes were still there when I left 20 minutes later. In line, I was told the line had reached around the building during the peak of the shortage. One thing I did notice was there were a few professional ammunition buyers in the line. Friday is normally the day the ammunition is shipped in and it was obvious these people attend every Friday opening at this store, because they had lots of stories about things they’d seen in ammunition lines. Professional ammunition buyers purchase ammunition and resell it at gun shows and online. It’s become a cottage industry that will only die when the hoarding ends.
I’m a full time gun writer. I know people at all of the big three ammunition manufacturers and most of the smaller ones. One of them is a fairly close friend whom I know pretty well. Every one of them tells me the same story, that they’re making more .22 ammunition than ever, and that the U.S. government isn’t buying it all up. One of the best friends in my life is the firearms manager at the above mentioned big box store. He assures me they’re getting more .22 ammunition than they ever have and that it simply disappears off the shelves as soon as it arrives. People come in, buy their limit, and call their friends who come in and buy their limit and call their friends until it’s gone.
Everyone knows I’m linked to the industry and I’m constantly asked about the persistent shortage of .22 ammunition. There are dozens of sites on the internet explaining how the conspiracy to deprive us of low cost practice and fun ammunition has come about and why. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of worries about the boneheaded policies of those who are in charge of our government, but I see no evidence at all that there’s some conspiracy behind the .22 shortage, though I certainly acknowledge there is a shortage.
For people to line up in front of a store to purchase a product that’s not priced below the normal going price certainly indicates a shortage but it doesn’t reflect the cause of the shortage. The fact that a salvage store that doesn’t specialize in any product related to shooting could sell 9,800 rounds of .22 long rifle ammunition in less than 15 minutes indicates hoarding. There’s no way all seven of the people in that store just happened to be running low on .22 ammunition. The word has gotten around and people tend to buy anything that’s scarce. It turns out to be a vicious cycle since the longer the shortage lasts, the worse the fear.
The ammunition shortage began with all the anti-gun saber rattling that occurred after the Sandy Hook School murders. I use the word murder because shooting is a perfectly legal and respectable activity and murder of innocent children is not. There were internet rumors circulated that all ammunition in the future would be made with a priming system that rendered it inert after six months, and the craze began. Initially, it was primarily the calibers the anti-gun folk always mention, 9mm, .223, 7.62x39, but soon people were buying up extra ammunition for every gun they owned and the shortage spread to everything. Most other calibers have somewhat recovered, though not completely, but the .22 shortage persists.
ATK, who owns Federal and CCI, Winchester, and Remington are all making about 150% of the ammunition they made before this began. The U.S. government isn’t buying up all the ammunition. The ammunition companies are all running at full capacity. Remington, right now, is increasing its capacity even further with a whole new manufacturing facility. The machines that make rimfire ammunition cannot be converted to run other ammunition. They make so much ammunition that it literally flows out of the machines like a liquid and they’re running three shifts. The problem is they can’t fill the pipeline and get .22s on the shelves of stores until the hoarding ends.
I have to end this column now, I just got a call and there’s a store in Kernersville that has .22 long rifle ammunition.
Dick Jones is an award winning freelance writer living in High Point. He writes about hunting, fishing, dogs, and shooting for national magazines and websites.  He recently finished his first book, Off the Porch. If you’d like to have him speak to your group, or would like a copy of his book, he can be reached at offtheporch52@yahoo.com or offtheporchmedia.com.