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Local hunters affected by ammunition shortage

Ammunition shelves at Smokey Hills Outdoors Store carry less inventory these days. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

By Sarah Smith

A nationwide ammunition shortage could challenge north woods hunters this deer season.

It began about two years ago, said Hendri Ernst, general manager of Smokey Hills Outdoor Store in Park Rapids.

Gun owners began stockpiling ammunition, especially of smaller caliber weapons. Then, due to fears of government crackdowns on firearms, gun sales skyrocketed. With those sales went companion sales of ammunition.

“Twenty-two long rifle supplies are pretty much non-existent,” Ernst said, adding he fields 10-20 calls a day about the scarcity of ammunition.

“We’re trying to get people to buy early,” he said.

“Twenty-two long rifle is a small rifle people usually shoot as fun, squirrels and birds,” he said. “So everybody has a firearm like that.”

Overall demand is exceeding supply, all across the country, Ernst said.

“The amount of firearms being purchased has just gone up dramatically,” Ernst said.

“The government keeps track of how many firearms get purchased so these are not just my numbers.

“Now what we’re seeing is that ammunition is hard to find and now hunting ammunition is getting hard to find. In the two weeks before hunting season all of a sudden it’s getting hard to find hunting ammunition.”

And Ernst said he’s “not the first person they necessarily call.”

There’s a general curiosity about the shortage of ammunition.

“Anyone who has used a semiautomatic rifle or handgun to shoot self-resetting steel targets knows that ammo always seems to be in short supply,” wrote Frank Minitar of Forbes Magazine.

“Nevertheless, finding bare shelves that have always been stacked with boxes of ammo has made some wonder if the government has been up to something,” Minitar concluded.

Gun stores and firing ranges have rationed ammo; the NRA, which has a website claiming 5 million members, looked into shortage conspiracies and even Congress has held hearings.

The Department of Homeland Security even was the target of Congressional scrutiny as lawmakers wondered why all that ammo was needed, even more than branches of the military used, one lawmaker suggested.

One of the biggest ammo dealers is an Anoka County company called Federal Premium Ammunition, outside the Twin Cities.

That company’s website even issued a disclaimer that rumors Homeland Security was stockpiling ammo were bunk.

Ernst agrees.

“You know, everybody’s got their own theory, whether the government’s buying it up or what’s going on,” he said, “But really it’s a supply issue.”

Federal Premium posted this statement on its website to squelch the urban myths swirling around the availability issue.

“We are currently experiencing high demand for our products. We appreciate your patience and support and remain committed to serving all of our customers, from hunters and sport shooters to those who protect our country and our streets.”

Travis Little of Delaney’s Sports Center said, “All I know if that we can’t get any more from our distributors. What we’ve got is what we’ve got.”

Ammunition that is running out can’t be replaced, Little said.

Ernst doesn’t get into the politics of ammunition scarcities and suggests that there may not be a nexus between government purchases and empty shelves.

Government isn’t the only one hoarding.

“We get these guys that come in and buy 1,000 rounds and then put it in their closet,” Ernst said. “Absolutely” people are stockpiling it, he added.

Ernst suggests it’s simply best for hunters to plan ahead.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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