Shortage of .22 ammo hampers hunters in Pa., across country

State College, Pa. — Have you tried to buy any .22 long rifle ammunition lately? Most stores are sold out, creating frustration for shooting enthusiasts.

Rimfire ammunition in .22 caliber is a mainstay for hunting squirrels, target shooting and just having fun plinking tin cans. Usually inexpensive and having little recoil, .22 is also the caliber of choice when it comes to introducing children and adults to shooting.

These .22 shells stand about three-fourths of an inch tall – constructed of lead, a primer, gunpowder and brass. Considering how difficult they are to find these days, they might as well be made of gold.

Last fall, some hunters had trouble locating the .22 rounds that they needed for hunting – this situation continues into 2014. The shortage is statewide and national, as well. When .22 ammo is available, it sells out quickly, even though most retail outlets limit the quantities that can be purchased at one time.

When contacted this week regarding the availability of .22 cartridges, Pennsylvania retailers seemed to be singing the same refrain:

n Walmart, State College: “None in stock, we have had no shipment of .22 ammo in several weeks.”
n Grice Gun Shop, Clearfield: “We have no regular long rifle .22 ammo in stock, only the more expensive match grade.”
n Bass Pro Shop, Harrisburg: “The .22 ammo that we are getting has been very spotty – we never have enough to fully stock the shelves.”
n Dick’s Sporting Goods, State College: “We haven’t had a shipment in six weeks and that ammo went the day that we got it.”
n Cabela's, Hamburg: “We are totally out of it. Our supply has been very sporadic. One week, we’ll get a shipment, and then none for several weeks. It has been this way since the end of 2012.”

Conspiracy theories abound on Internet message boards, speculating about the cause for the shortage – everything from the Department of Homeland Security buying up all of the rounds, to a plot by ammunition manufacturers to drive up the price.

Of course, there is also the ever-popular, “Obama can’t take away our guns so he is taking away the ammo.” 

The ammunition and firearms  industries are uniform in their stance that none of these rumors are true. In fact, according to some retailers, the shortage of .22 caliber ammunition is hurting the sales of .22 rifles and handguns.

'Why buy a rifle that you can’t shoot,” one retailer commented. 

“Conspiracy theories are just that, and I haven’t found even a smidgen of truth in any of them,” said Mike Bazinet, public affairs director for the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

“This is a consumer-driven shortage. Gun sales have been up for five years in a row, with the most popular caliber being .22. Sales in 2014 continue at a high pace, higher than 2012, but not as high as the record in 2013.”

A spokesperson for Federal Premium Ammunition, the largest manufacturer of ammunition in the United States, noted that, “In addition to all of the new shooters, they now have kits to convert other caliber firearms to .22 long rifle. We didn’t have those five years ago.”

This spokesperson added that ammunition purchased by the federal government makes up only a small percentage of Federal’s total sales. The amount purchased by Homeland Security has actually decreased during the past several years. Federal has not raised its .22 ammo prices in response to the shortage.

Josh Wilson, manager of “The Lodge,” at the State College Dick’s store, had this to say: “I think that there is a direct correlation between the rise in cost of ammunition for other calibers and the demand for the less expensive .22 caliber.

“Additional factors include the new Smith & Wesson M&P 15-22 rifle and the continued popularity of the Ruger 10/22. These rifles can be fitted with 25-round clips and you can burn through a lot of rounds in a hurry.”

John Baker, manager of the independent Belding & Mull in Philipsburg, shared his observations about the situation.

“Demand is exceeding supply, and we have to ration it so that we can keep some on our shelves. I don't really like to use the term ‘shortage,’ because saying so perpetuates the situation. The problem is that .22 ammo is being purchased by the wrong people – hoarders, gougers and speculators, rather than the people who need it.

“I had a guy come in last week who told me that he already had 3,000 rounds at home, but he wanted to buy more.”

Spokespersons for major ammunition manufacturers Winchester and Federal relayed that their production is at maximum capacity and they are doing everything that they can to alleviate the shortage.

“Winchester is producing as much rimfire as possible on a daily basis in an attempt to keep up with the high demand and get more ammo on the shelves,” a company representative reported.

“Between Federal and CCI, we are making millions of rounds of .22 long rifle ammunition per day,” a Federal spokesman added. “However, if you divide those millions of rounds per day by all of the stores that sell .22 ammunition, it doesn’t amount to that many boxes of shells.”

If you are lucky or willing to pay a higher price, some .22 ammunition is available. Prices have been stable at many retailers, while others have upped the ante.

“What we charge for .22 ammunition hasn’t changed much,” Wilson said of Dick’s prices, “but some independent dealers are taking advantage and doubling the price.

Our policy [Dick’s] – if the ammo comes in packages of less than 300 rounds, you can purchase three per day. If they are packaged as 300 or more rounds, then our limit is one per day.”

Belding & Mull has a good supply of various types and brands of .22 ammunition. This might be because their prices are higher than other stores surveyed. Like Dick’s, Belding & Mull sells only in limited quantities.

No one has a crystal ball, but the end to the shortage might be in sight.

“The situation actually seems to be getting better,” Bass Pro Shops sales associate Jerry Eversmeyer observed. “Last Thursday, we got in a shipment that included Federal, Winchester and CCI .22 ammo, and [five days later] we still have a few boxes.”

Bazinet, with the National Shooting Sports Foundation, predicted, that the shortage will likely continue for awhile, but things will come back into balance.

“Except for a few small areas, the shortages that we had in some of the other calibers have been alleviated and the same thing will happen for .22s,” he said.

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