Hunting ammunition shortage eases, for now

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DULUTH — Hunters across the Northland are mostly finding what they need for ammunition this fall after three years of severe shortages of some of the most popular gauges and calibers.

Supply chain shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown — as well as an ill-timed bankruptcy and factory closing, combined with a huge increase in new gun ownership — conspired to greatly reduce supply in recent years even as demand was increasing. That led to little and, in several cases, virtually no ammunition being available.

Several buyers hoarded whatever they could find, leaving some hunters to beg, borrow or scrounge ammo for their favorite duck gun or deer rifle.

“It’s a lot better this year. We have most of what people need,” said Matt King, owner of Fisherman’s Corner sporting goods, gun and bait shop in Pike Lake, just outside Duluth.

That includes popular hunting calibers that have been nearly impossible to find in recent years, like .30-30 Winchester, 30.06 and .308. This year, there are also several options in many calibers, King noted.

“We are still having a little issue with the short magnums, but we are getting some in,’’ King said.

Not only was ammunition harder to find for several years, but prices were going up exponentially as supply tightens. Short on basic components, manufacturers used what they had to make their premium-brand, high-price cartridges, in some cases topping $40 per box.

“We’re seeing the price come back down, from over $30 in some cases back into the $20s,’’ King said.

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Pat Kukul, owner of Superior Shooters Supply in Superior, said supply this autumn is “certainly better than previous years,” but that there are shortages in some lesser-used ammo like .410 shotgun shells, the smallest shotgun often used by younger hunters. Even 20-gauge shells have been hard to find in some sizes, she said.

As factories geared production back up post-pandemic, they emphasized the most popular gauges and calibers, like 12- and 16-gauge shotgun shells, and have been slower to restore production of less popular ammo.

“As far as centerfire (rifle ammunition) goes, .35 Remington is really tough, and there are a few more. But, for the most part, rifle ammo is pretty good. The customer may not get exactly what they are looking for, but there is something to pick from,” including a good supply of nontoxic copper ammunition, Kukul said.

Kukul said the .270 “has become a favorite rifle caliber this year, at least in our world. And 9mm remains the most popular handgun caliber.”

The pandemic, combined with civic and racial unrest across the U.S. and the presidential election in 2020 spurred a massive spike in new gun purchases, with record sales of guns, as reported by the FBI, especially among first-time gun owners. An estimated 8.4 million people bought firearms for the first time in 2020, according to an official of the National Shooting Sports Foundation All those new guns needed ammunition.

Then, adding to the problem, in July 2022, Remington declared bankruptcy, and one of the nation’s largest ammo manufacturers stopped production. The parent company of Federal ammunition eventually purchased and reopened the Remington production lines, helping ease the ammo shortage.

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But the adequate supply may not last very long. Experts say the ongoing Ukraine-Russian War and now the volatile Israeli-Hamas/Palestinian war are expected to raise the demand for military ammunition, which can cut off the supply of sporting ammunition as some wars drag on.

“We’re already seeing that with the 5.56 caliber ammunition. It’s almost impossible to find. And that just happened in about the last month or so,” King said.

While uncommon for hunting, 5.56 is a popular caliber for many sporting shooters. It’s also the caliber of many NATO firearms, and the increasing number of shooting wars around the globe have diverted all supplies to military needs, leaving very little available for consumers. Kukul said world events appear to have spurred yet another round of ammunition hoarding by some buyers, apparently worried more shortages, or global tumult, are ahead.

So far, supplies of handgun ammo haven’t been a problem, “but, and I hate to say it out loud, I do see an uptick in 9mm and .223/5.56 purchases. I think this is due to the world events happening now,” Kukul said.

Because shooters know that government military contracts for ammunition take precedence, Kukul said she can already see “some ‘stocking up’ in customer buying.”

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>