Sitting in my Jeep at the Exxon station at the intersection of highway 80 and highway 42 in White Oak, Texas, I watched the people coming and going, gassing up at the pumps, and waited. I was looking for a fellow named Chad, whom I’d met at the Academy store in Longview the night before. We had agreed, mostly by text message, to a clandestine meeting at this gas station, so I could slip him some cash and he could hand me a package containing one of the most sought-after commodities in the country today - .22 ammo.
This is what we’ve come to, I guess, in America. The most (supposedly) ubiquitous firearm food in the world is so difficult to find that I ended up feeling like a criminal, watching for a guy who claimed to have about 2,000 rounds of Remington Golden Bullet Hollowpoint .22 ammo. He’d agreed to sell me three 225-round boxes for $20 each, which is a bargain compared to what it sells for in stores these days.
The problem is that it isn’t in stores these days. It’s almost impossible to find .22s at any price, because of The Shortage. Shooters hate to say ‘The Shortage’ out loud the way farmers and ranchers hate to say ‘The Drought’ out loud, for fear it will make things even worse. Like a self-fulfilling prophesy, going around talking about how hard it is to find ammo might cause more people to hoard it, and then it will be even harder to find.
But The Shortage is real, and it’s engendered what you might call hysteria, or what passes for hysteria among gun owners. I’m probably representative of the group, and everywhere I go, I check to see if there are any .22 shells for sale. Everywhere. I go to the counter and ask, because some places don’t even put it on the shelves anymore. The folks at gun stores, Wal-Mart, and Dairy Queen are getting tired of seeing me show up.
A good source of ammo, sometimes, is online sites like www.gunbot.net. You can search for many popular calibers and see if the ammo is available, in realtime. If it’s listed, it’s there, and if you call right now, you can buy it. Sites like that probably prompted the popular meme that shows a little girl, about 9 years old, sitting at a computer with headphones on, with her mouth wide open in mid-shout. The caption says, “DAD! I found some 22 LR in stock!”
But why are we having this shortage? That’s a good question, and you’d think I’d’ve written about it before, since it’s been going on for five years or so. But I haven’t, because I have no real idea what’s happening. I’ve heard lots of stuff, but so has everyone else.
The iron law of supply and demand is obviously in effect, but the question of what caused all the demand is hard to answer. Some claim the gubmint is buying up way more than usual, but that’s not happening. Government ammo purchases are actually down from a few years ago.
My theory is that, because of the steady increase in gun sales since late 2007, there are just more guns in America to feed, and that takes more ammo. Not only that, but a great many people are first-time gun owners, and they’re just learning to shoot, so they miss a lot. Which makes them want to practice more, which helps with the missing, but the practicing eats up a lot of cartridges. It’s a vicious cycle.
But that only accounts for some of The Shortage, and it doesn’t really explain why, although many popular calibers are showing up on shelves a lot more regularly lately, .22s are still conspicuously absent. I have a theory on that, too. I think it’s Chad’s fault.
Well, not just Chad, but people like him, who are hoarding ammo. And when people buy ammo to hoard, they buy the calibers they have guns for, and everyone has a .22 or two. Or ten.
Plus, .22 ammo is cheaper, even now, than your larger calibers, and it’s smaller, so a hoarder can buy more of it, carry it easier, and store it in less space. And even if the hoarder doesn’t actually own a .22, if such a person exists, .22 ammo can be sold or traded easier than any other caliber, because so many people have them.
Chad is not really the problem, though, since a guy with 2,000 rounds of .22 ammo can hardly be called a hoarder. That’s what we refer to, in Mason County, as a ‘Sunday Afternoon Box.’ A fellow would need at least 2,000 bricks (500 rounds in a brick) to get in at the bottom of the hoarding category. But there are plenty of those guys out there.
The people who make ammo are turning it out just as fast as they can, 24/7, and even building new plants, but until folks quit buying all they can find, The Shortage will continue. One ATK plant, in Lewiston, Idaho, by itself, can roll out 4 million rounds of .22 long rifle ammo a day. And there are lots of big ammo plants.
If you want my official opinion on The Shortage, here it is: Sooner or later the ammo supply will catch up with demand, and things will go back to normal. Or else they won’t. And you can take that to the bank . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist who also buys other calibers at gas stations and in back alleys. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or firstname.lastname@example.org