If you are putting off buying your shells for deer season, you might be in for a surprise.   Across the country the demand for ammunition is drying up the supply.

"Anything related to the firearms, the guns are short, magazines for the guns are short, holsters for the guns are short.  The whole industry is running behind," said Dave Helms at Marstiller’s Gun Shop in Morgantown.

The story is a familiar one in gun and ammo shops everywhere.  

"There’s been several times where we’ve had to allocate one box per customer," said Tom Millay who runs Valley Guns II in Inwood.  "A lot of it has to do with the military and government buying it up.  There’s a panic in the civilian market, people are hording it and it’s really putting a pinch on the manufacturers." 

Helms has had to limit his customer purchases also in order to keep his on-site shooting range in business.

"If somebody comes in to buy a firearm, they’ll want a box of ammo.  If they come in to shoot on the range they would want a box of ammo," said Helms. "We have to keep our customers supplied, so that’s why we’ve had to do it."

Dan Kessel at Spring Hill Rod and Gun in South Charleston saw the writing on the wall back in January and put in orders far larger than usual.    The forethought paid off. 

"It’s harder than ever before," said Kessel. "If people had a bunch on back order they’re still getting it.  There’s some stuff that I have, but maybe not in the quantity and selection I normally would.  Some people are really hurting if they didn’t get a bunch of stuff on backorder back in January. You can’t just pick up the phone and order .22 long rifle or anything like that."

The first calibers to clear off the shelves were .380.   Kessel theorizes it may have been the result of several new gunmakers coming out with widely popular .380 models.   Ammo companies didn’t anticipate the popularity and didn’t produce enough shells.   The .45 ACP’s are also in short supply.

"People buy it by the case when you get it, instead of the box and it creates a bigger stir," said Kessel.

Millay says for his inventory it began with the military calibers like 9mm, .45, and .223.   He says the shortage eventually transferred to the law enforcement calibers.

"Now what we’re seeing is hunting rounds are getting hard to find," said Millay. "I know the local Wal-Mart and Dick’s Sporting Goods’ shelves are bare.  That’s because of primers.  Primers are the key component to all types of ammo and if you don’t have primers, you don’t have bullets."

Reloading supplies, especially primers are extremely difficulty to find say dealers.

All three agree that primers are definitely the hardest thing to find in the firearms industry.   Primers, powder, and bullets are the three key ingredients for reloading, another area where many are buying in bulk.

"In 2009, I’ve had three times more primers than I did in 2008 for the whole year," said Kessel. "They don’t last.   I’ll get 200-thousand primers off the big rig from Federal, everybody finds out about it, tell their buddies, and we’re out.  I don’t have a primer in the shop right now."

Millay says his reloading supplies have been equally depleted. 

"We actually just got in a shipment of reloading supplies that we ordered four-months ago and we only got about 25-percent of the order," said Millay. "I’ve shipped primers all over the United States."

The run on ammo actually began with a run on guns last November, following the election of Barack Obama as President.   This summer, most manufacturers caught up with demand on firearms, but the ammunition has been a lagging problem.    Millay attended a conference in Texas addressing the shortage.

"They told us they are at full capacity, running three shifts 24/7.  The volume of primers and ammunition they are turning out is staggering," said Millay. "ATK, which covers about four different manufacturers are pumping out 100-Million rounds a week and still can’t meet the demand."

The shortage remains unpredictable.   Dealers say it’s hard to tell when the demand will subside and the supply increase to level things off.   Originally the prediction was for this fall, it’s now pushed back to perhaps next spring or summer.    The pinch will undoubtedly put the squeeze on hunters in search of popular hunting calibers this fall.


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