The bullet shortage: a self-fulfilling prophecy

It started with a fear of government intervention and ends with hoarding.

 

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.

Hal & Holly Herring
Hal & Holly Herring
Oct 22, 2013 10:01 AM
Always enjoy reading Ari LaVaux. A few suggestions. You need to invest in some reloading equipment for that .270. You will be glad you did, on many levels. The worst of the ammo shortage seems to be over, but of course, prices are extremely high and probably won't go back down- like gasoline, the manufacturers aren't in it for our pleasure. The AR platform semi-auto rifles (which you call "assault rifles") are the best-selling rifles on the market right now (and it was actually standard AR ammo- .223, or 5.56 that was in such short supply, that and .22s which were indeed going to hoarders and speculators). It's only natural that manufacturers are making more of them, and they work really well for hunting, especially hunting hogs, whose populations are exploding and which are wrecking the ecology, native plants and animals and crops in about twenty five states, and offer the biggest new hunting opportunity we've witnessed in the US since Pittman-Robertson funds were used to restore the deer, elk, antelope, etc. Hog hunting is super fun, and hogs can be excellent to eat, which the author, who is a top-notch food writer and chef, should really appreciate. Some hog hunting is done at night- it's a whole new way to go after these animals, and it is supposed to be a very exciting and demanding way to hunt. I hope to be doing some of it in the year to come.