As hunting season approached, I began shooting my rifle a lot at the range, with the goal of hitting the target at 300 yards.
But then something surprising happened: I wasn’t able to find enough bullets. The gun and hunting stores had bare spots on the shelves where boxes of ammunition used to be stacked, and hunting bullets were among the scarcest. That could make it tough for hunters like me to put meat on the table this year.
"It's not looking good for hunting season," one wholesale ammunition dealer told me. But bullets for assault rifles, he assured me, were plentiful.
According to the Remington website, of the company's six new bullet offerings, three are in AR calibers. Two are for pistols, and only one is for hunting. Remington's new hunting bullet is called the Hog Hammer, and of the seven calibers in which Hog Hammer bullets are available, four are for assault rifles such as the 450 Bushmaster, mentioned in this Hog Hammer blurb:
“For whacking and stacking swine, nothing delivers like our new Hog Hammer.™ It penetrates even the thickest-skinned pigs with a Barnes TSX® Bullet at its heart. With all copper construction for 28 percent deeper penetration than standard lead-core bullets, it's the toughest expanding bullet on the market, offering near 100 percent weight-retention on-hog, while expanding rapidly to deliver devastating wound channels. Hog Hammer utilizes a flash-suppressed propellant for nighttime or low-light hunts…”
The recent push for hunting with assault rifles gives those weapons a more noble purpose than what they’re generally known for: war game fantasies or perhaps the occasional killing spree by a deranged individual. Assault rifles are touted as good hunting setups for game as big as buffalo. And if you do plan on hunting at night, an idea that Remington seems to endorse, you would probably want a target as big as a buffalo.
Meanwhile, another new AR ammo goes by the name Zombie, and it comes in a case that appears to have been designed by a comic book artist. It includes the ironic warning, "This is not a toy," and the slogan: "Just in case." The implication is that zombies might really attack, though consumers are free to substitute other enemies – including, perhaps, federal officials. Ask some gun lovers, and they’ll tell you that the shortage of ammunition is definitely caused by “the government.”
Lee Matthews, host of the Oklahoma radio show Firearms Fridays, told KFOR, an Oklahoma City television station, "I get a lot of phone calls, a lot of literature, from people thinking it's the government buying all the ammunition and not letting us have any."
Matthews, however, isn’t buying government conspiracy theories. "(Ammunition) is just being swallowed up for unrealistic reasons," he says, noting that many factories are producing ammunition "24/7." The shortage comes from a fear of government intervention which translates to, “Well, it's getting hard to find so I better stock up as much as I can."
As best as I can tell, hoarding is to blame, such that the bullet shortage has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. At first glance, the shortage doesn’t appear to be coming from the supply end. Remington's third-quarter earnings report shows a 30 percent increase in ammo sales, from $79.7 million to $110.6 million.
An ammunition specialist at Remington wouldn't comment on the causes of the ammo shortage, but did say that wholesalers determine what the manufacturers produce. He also said that Remington was done making .270 caliber bullets – the kind I need for hunting -- for the year. The wholesale dealer I spoke to saw it differently, saying that he gets to sell what the makers supply. Whoever is at fault, there may be a lot of angry hunters this year.
At first glance, hunting might seem like a good use for an assault rifle. If you really want to get something, what better way than mowing it down? Sprayed bullets, of course, would riddle the animal from head to toe.
The real issue is that assault rifles open the door to irresponsible and unethical shooting, such as the unfathomable practice of hunting at night. (I wouldn't want to be in that hunting party.) Even by day, a few hunters accidentally shoot and kill their hunting buddies.
It's sad that ammo makers are tilting the playing field away from meat hunters who want to feed their families, and toward the insane practice of hunting with assault rifles. That, along with market forces driven by fear, turns paranoia into reality.
Ari LeVaux is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He writes about food in New Mexico.