Blame it on the president, fears of a coming zombie apocalypse or a public easily influenced by Facebook rumors; for one reason or another, ammunition is getting hard to find, both locally and across the nation.
Ammo hoarding has become such an epidemic in recent months that it’s having a negative impact on legitimate sportsmen, a problem that will likely be exacerbated this fall, when hunting season begins.
According to Kevin Martin, owner of Magnum Sports in Greenville, the hoarding began shortly after the Dec. 14 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Subsequent rumors of Homeland Security buying up huge quantities of ammunition — as well as many other Internet-fueled rumors — have only added fuel to the fire.
The problem has become so pervasive, local dealers say, that it has become all but impossible to keep ammo in stock, particularly common calibers like .22 and 9mm.
“It’s been crazy,” Martin said. “We get people in here all the time trying to buy every box of ammo we have on the shelves.”
To ensure a reliable supply for his regular customers, Martin — like many other area sellers — has resorted to rationing. When it comes to the most-hoarded calibers, Martin limits sales to one box per day.
While this policy has proven popular with area sportsmen, it has angered some hoarders.
“I had one guy come in here wanting to buy all my .22s,” Martin said. “When I told him I could only sell him one box, he told me he already had 3,000 rounds at home and wanted to buy it all or nothing.”
That customer left with nothing.
Martin said rationing shells is the only way to make sure there is ammo on hand for use on the store’s shooting range and to go with handguns and rifles sold at the store. Once the “hoarding craze” has ended, the rationing will cease, according to Martin.
That may not happen for a while, however. Some vendors predict the problem could persist well into the summer of 2014.
Ryan Turner, a crew member at GoldStar Outdoors in Edmore, says hoarders are “ruining it for everyone.” The shortage of ammo brought on by hoarding has, not surprisingly, caused prices to climb.
Turner is quick to point out that area stores are not “price gouging,” but only keeping up with increases set by the manufacturers.
“The prices have gone up for us,” Turner said. “We haven’t changed our margins or anything like that. In fact, we just dropped some of our margins so we could try to keep the prices down.”
Like Magnum Sports, GoldStar also has resorted to rationing in an effort to make sure there are shells available for area sportsmen. The store’s one box per day rule has put off a few hoarders, but that’s the price the store is willing to pay to keep its regular customers supplied.
“(Hoarders) are coming in here every day, all day,” Turner said. “A lot of people have .22 long rifles and they’re kind of freaking out, thinking that it’s all going away. Once they find it, they want to buy it all, but then the next guy won’t have it. That’s how the shortage happens.”
Turner adds that the problem is widespread. While at Walmart earlier this year — before that store also began rationing — Turner was in line behind another buyer, who cleaned the store’s shelves of ammo, buying $1,600 worth.
GoldStar also keeps reserves of ammo on hand for sale to new gun purchasers.
Not everyone follows this practice, however. Daryl Johnson, owner of Tamarack Sports in Lakeview, continues to run things on a first-come, first-served basis. Like other area sports shops, Johnson has been finding it hard to maintain supply to match demand.
According to Johnson, even the vendors from which dealers purchase ammo are running short. Many of those vendors predict it will be at least a year before the situation levels out, he says.
Even manufacturers of “reloaded” ammo — shells manufactured from used components — can no longer keep up with demand and are unwilling to take on new customers.
As bad as the situation is, Johnson notes that it is by no means unique. Runs on both guns and ammunition tend to follow political trends.
“We experienced the same kind of thing when Obama was first elected,” Johnson said. “With his re-election and the shooting at the school and everything, it just sort of snowballed into the perfect storm.”
Adding to the problem is the habit of vendors to allow their end of year stock to deplete in order to avoid paying taxes on excess inventory. After the first of the year, they usually begin rebuilding their stocks.
Meanwhile, rumors persist and local inventory remains scarce.
“So many dealers are checking constantly for stock that as soon as it hits the vendors’ shelves, it’s gone in like ten minutes,” Johnson said. “I’ve pre-ordered a bunch already, but it’s been pretty frustrating.”