LEWISTON, Idaho - If the nice spring weather has you in a mood to do a little plinking, you might want to check your ammunition supplies first.
It's virtually impossible to find even a box of .22 long rifle rounds, let alone a brick of 500, on the shelves of sporting goods stores and gun shops. Other tough ammo finds include 9 mm and .223 rounds.
"The plinking guys who are going out to shoot tin cans or ground squirrels, if they run out they are going to have a little bit of a problem; they are gong to have to start fishing or something," said Paul L.C. Snider of Lewiston, the owner of Lewis and Clark Trader, a company that puts on gun shows around the Northwest.
The national debate over gun control that was spawned by a spate of mass shootings last year has fueled a booming gun market. But it's not just guns that can take high-capacity magazines that are being snapped up. Nervous shooters have also been stocking up on certain calibers of ammunition.
Many retailers have taped printed notices on their ammo counters informing shoppers that they don't have some calibers. Jon LeCroy, manager of the Black Sheep Sporting Goods store at Lewiston, said people come into his store several times a day looking for .22 long rifle ammo. Would-be plinkers and target shooters also phone the store on a regular basis.
"We've had calls (from) as far away as Tennessee looking for ammunition," he said.
But it has been six to eight weeks since he has had any .22 cartridges to sell. Before the store ran out, it was limiting customers to two boxes per day and later cut that down to one box a day. He said some people came in every day to pick up their ration.
Snider said it's rare to see bricks of .22 cartridges at gun shows these days, and if people have them they are likely asking 30 percent or more above the standard retail prices seen prior to the Newtown, Conn., school shooting. Last fall, bundles of 500 .22 cartridges, known as bricks, could be purchased for about $15 to $20. Some online auction websites are now advertising bricks for $75 to $100.
Prices are also up for 9 mm and .223 rounds.
"We've had four price increases from our suppliers in the past four months," said Jonathan Hughes, owner of Diamondback Shooting Range in Lewiston.
His business sells ammunition and has been able to keep up with demand, but that's because it only sells to people who are going to use it at the range.
"We still have all the calibers," he said.
Despite the supply shortage, Hughes said business at the range has been robust. There are four shooting leagues at the range, and people are signing up for introductory shooting classes and classes required for concealed weapons permits.
Most serious shooters reload to cut costs. Hughes said interest in reloading is on the rise and the run on ammo has transferred to reloading supplies.
"Brass is really expensive and hard to find, primers - forget about it, and powder is pretty tough," Hughes said.
Jim McConnell of Wenatchee said he had to run all over his hometown just to find some powder. He travels to shoot at bench-rest competitions like the one held Sunday at the Lewis-Clark Wildlife Club Range near Lapwai.
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"I've seen shortages like this before but I've never seen anything like this one. This is the most extensive I have ever seen," he said. "Nobody is comfortable. They say let's get all we can while we can."
The supply shortage has manufacturers, such as ATK at Lewiston, working overtime to try to catch up with demand.
"We're operating 24-hours-a-day to meet the current high civilian demand," said Jason Nash, a spokesman for the company at its Anoka, Minn., headquarters.
Mike Bazinet of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade group for firearm and ammunition manufacturers, said that is common across the industry.
"They are working hard and the trucks are leaving the plants and trying to stock the retainers as best they can," he said.
Despite rumors of huge ammunition purchases by the federal government, Bazinet said the demand is being driven by civilian consumers. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has made some huge ammunition purchases in the past year. But Bazinet said that isn't uncommon; the orders will be filled over a number of years and will likely fall far short of some of the numbers reported on blogs and other social media sites.
"This is not unusual for the federal procurement system to seek (authorization to purchase) way in excess of what they will ever take on," he said. "It is definitely consumer-driven."
He wouldn't guess how long it will be before supply catches up with demand, but said it will.
At Black Sheep, LeCroy thinks the great ammo run of 2013 will soon be a thing of the past.
"I keep telling people, give it six months and you will never know it happened," he said. "Wait it out, that is the best advice I can give."
Eric Barker, Outdoor and Environmental Reporter, Lewiston Tribune
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