There are some good signs during what has been a nearly year-long shortage in ammunition.
At stores, handfuls of boxes of even some of the most sought-after calibers are spending some time on the shelf before being snatched up. And an indoor range has been able to lean on longtime relationships and a unique business model to keep plenty of ammo available for those who use the range.
But the ammo shortage, which began with fears of COVID-19, continued through a summer of demonstrations and a fall presidential election, is still frustrating customers and ammo sellers alike.
Rocky Mountain Discount Sports manager Madison Pendley said while she had seen some improvement by December, ammo for common self-defense weapons in particular was still both hard to acquire and to keep on the shelves.
“It’s starting to get better, but not a huge improvement,” Pendley said. “With any of the self-defense calibers, when we find any we jump on all we can get.”
Jessi Toohey, manager at Cody Cartridge and Carry, said the combination of crises, alongside the bankruptcy of top primer manufacturer Remington, has made this shortage particularly difficult.
“Just everything has been hard to find,” she said. “I’m hopeful, but everybody’s pretty uncertain right now.”
Ammo suppliers are working to fill the demand.
“We appreciate your business and want you to know we are doing everything possible to continue to respond to the record level of demand for ammunition, bullets, cartridge cases, reloading presses and accessories,” ammo manufacturer Hornady announced.
Paul Brock, owner of Cody Firearms Experience, credited long-term relationships with suppliers and reloaders, a sales model different from stores and buying bulk far in advance, as ways his business has remained stocked with even the most in-demand calibers of ammo.
The range only actually sells ammo to people who come in to rent a lane and practice, while much of the ammo is expended in the summer when tourists visit to shoot a wide variety of weapons.
Brock said he also benefits from having purchased months before his bulk load of ammo for this May.
So he’s got plenty of rounds of 9 mm and .223/5.56 available for people who want to practice, but not risk whittling away at their reserves.
“We’ve got good relationships with our suppliers,” he said. “Right now we’re fine. We feel we will be fine as we head into next year.”
He said when he and partners were putting together the business they were doing so during a shortage of .22 ammo and therefore had a plan for dealing with an ammo shortage.
“The stores sell ammo to pay the rent,” Brock said. “We sell ammo to get you to shoot – shooting pays my rent. We can make the money in other arenas.”
There’s only one firearm he’ll soon have to put away due to lack of ammo: an FN 90 bullpup submachine gun that shoots a 5.7x28 round, one only made by a handful of manufacturers.
Toohey said this shortage is unique in the breadth of ammo that’s been tough to aqcuire, although the top handgun defense caliber – 9 mm – and .223/5.56 rounds used in popular AR-15 rifle variants have been uniquely hard to acquire or keep on the shelves.
She said in early January the best selection was .308 rifle ammo and 12 gauge shotgun shells, but mostly just in the target rounds not suitable for most hunting.
“All that we have available is what we call plinking rounds,” she said.
It’s not for lack of trying, Toohey said, adding they frequently get asked about when the crisis will end or the secret to getting ammo, but she said at this point they too are wondering when this will end.
Pendley said even the true workaround, reloading ammo, is tough to get in the current climate, with supplies being gobbled up by new and experienced reloaders alike.
“You want reloading supplies?” Pendley said. “Good luck.”
She said one positive for the region is Wyomingites are more likely than almost any other state residents to already have guns and ammo.
“A lot of people are clearly stocked up,” she said.