Local gun and ammunition dealers have confirmed that they had difficulty keeping deer hunting ammunition in stock this year.

“Nobody can find anything,” said Royce Holland, the owner of Fuller’s Gun and Pawn. “The supply chain has just broke down.”

He finds that people are buying up every round they can get and either hoarding hoarding ammunition or “flipping it” in online auctions, such as gunbroker.com.

Holland doesn’t sell ammo at his store, but he buys it for personal use. “I’ve got one box of shells, I paid $32 at Smokey Hills for it,” he said, “and I was looking on gunbroker a month or so later, there were 60 boxes, individually – 100-packs – they all went for $90 apiece.”

“If we’re talking specifically for deer-hunting calibers, you know, your popular calibers in northern Minnesota, like .270, .30-06, .30-30, .308, all those calibers are pretty much gone, right about the day before deer opener,” said Henry Ernst, owner of Smokey Hills Outdoor Store.

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High anxiety

Jerry Danford, a manager at Delaney’s Outdoors, credits the shortage in ammunition supplies partly to the COVID-19 pandemic and partly to politics.

“At the start of COVID, most of the plants shut down, or they cut back immensely,” said Danford. “And then, basically, ever since the whole election conversation started, everyone’s scared Biden’s going to get in and put that 200-percent tax on ammo, or take away guns.”

He noted that more than 10 million Americans registered as new gun owners during the last half-year, “and everyone’s hoarding the ammo.”

“Everybody just walks in and they buy everything,” Holland agreed. “It’s just ridiculous, is what it is. And they’d get over it if people would just not (panic).”

“It is basically impossible to get it in stock, just because they’re doing that everywhere,” said Danford.

Other supply-side issues, he said, may include a shortage of brass due to a dip in scrap prices, and primers and gunpowder being held up by restrictions on shipping from China. But mainly, he said, people who normally buy one, two or three boxes of ammo “are coming in, buying seven, eight boxes, or buying us out of whatever we have, just because they’re scared they’re not going to be able to get it.”

People wanted to get out

Ernst sees the causes of the shortage as mainly on the demand side.

“We were not shorted; people just bought more,” he said. “I think there was a lot more people that were hunting this year, just because people wanted something to do. They wanted to get out because they’ve been cooped up. So, we have a lot of people that got back into hunting. We also had just a bigger volume of people hunting, maybe hunting more often. And that really took a hit on ammunition. We actually did have a significantly larger supply of hunting ammunition than last year.”

However, Ernst added, “There is a problem with a supply, replenishing it, absolutely. I cannot replenish it.”

But this, in turn, is due to the high demand, he added.

“I just don’t think there was enough capability to manufacture it,” said Ernst. “As far as I understand, manufacturers are producing the maximum capacity of what they are able to run. Every single one of my manufacturers say, ‘We’re making as much ammunition as fast as we can. The demand is just so high that we’re running out.’”

Supply and demand

Holland said manufacturers usually make enough ammunition for deer season. “Not such was the case this year,” he said, because “all their production is tied up with doing the common calibers, most of the handgun stuff.”

Meanwhile, dealers place their orders, thinking that they don’t want too much unsold inventory left over at the end of the season.

“So, the .30-06es and the .30-30s, all the common stuff that they sell like mad at deer season, well, they could have ordered more than what they did,” said Holland. “If they had done it earlier, they would probably have it. But all of a sudden, it’s a glitch in the pipeline, where … basically, what’s happened is, the demand has exceeded the supply.”

Meanwhile, he said, “What’s happening is people are buying more than what they really need. I’ve had guys that I talk to regularly, they’re talking about, ‘I’ve only got 5,000 rounds, and I need more.’ Well, no, they don’t need more. But in their minds, they think they need more.”

Not just about northern hunting

Ammo shortages are worse in the big cities than in the local area, Holland said. “So, it’s just a trickle-down thing,” rippling into local shortages.

Ernst said the hardest-hit areas weren’t the types of ammo used to hunt deer in the northwoods, where “people are probably buying an extra box, maybe, versus the previous year. I don’t think anybody is really buying 100 boxes of .270 ammunition. Maybe 9 mm or .223, people are stocking up a little bit. But not so much on the hunting ammunition.”

Danford believes the fast sales of hunting rounds may also spill over from other interests.

“It’s everything,” he said. “It’s target rounds, full metal jacket, self-defense. Self-defense (ammunition) was the first to go. Then it was hunting rounds, just because they had the Nosler tips, or ballistic tips, that would be better in a self defense (situation).”

More than anything, he said, he sees the political mood influencing this upsurge of demand.

“If we’re going to have as far left a president as they think, then, that’s what everybody comes down to,” he said, “because they’re scared of it. People are getting ready for worse. So, whether they need it or not, they’re going to be prepared.”

Overall, the demand for ammunition “is just 10-fold of what it has been,” said Ernst. “This is definitely not a ‘just us’ problem. I’m seeing this across the state of Minnesota.”

As evidence of this, he cited the number of calls his store has received from customers in southern Minnesota, looking for rifled slugs and sabots, which are used for hunting down there.

Also ensuring that southern issues affect the north, Ernst said, “People are visiting the northern part of Minnesota quite a bit more this year.”

Nevertheless, Holland advised that things will even out if everyone “would just relax and take a pill.”

“There’s really no reason there should be a problem,” he said “We’ll get over it, if people have just a little patience. It’ll get back to normal.”