Ammo binge straps stores, cops

Demand forces retailers to ration, police to train less often


Ammunition is in short supply at gun stores across the country as buyers continue scooping up bullets faster than maxed-out manufacturers can make them.

At Cleland’s Outdoor World in Swanton, manager DeeDee Liedel said the store is struggling to keep its shelves stocked with many of the more popular cartridge sizes.

“There is limited supply available,” she said. “We do get some shipments in every week, but there is still a demand from our customer base for ammo that exceeds what we’re able to get in.”

Cleland’s distributors haven’t put any limitations on what they’re able to order, but Ms. Liedel said the store doesn’t always know what it will actually get until the shipment arrives.

To serve more people, Cleland’s is limiting the amount of ammunition customers can buy. Ms. Liedel said the hardest-to-find cartridges are some of the most popular ones, such as 9mm handgun rounds and 22-caliber rounds that can be used in rifles and handguns.

Several factors have contributed to the months-long shortage, but chief among them is continuing fear about gun control, industry experts say.

After the December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., President Obama pushed strongly for new gun control measures.

That set off a buying frenzy on both firearms and ammunition that hasn’t let up, even as the Senate defeated a proposal to expand background checks.

The shortages affect more than just civilian shooters.

Lt. Mark King said the Toledo Police Department is struggling to get the ammunition it needs for training and qualifying at its shooting range.

“It’s been going on for a number of years now,” he said. “We’ve been able to work around it, but it hasn’t been easy.”

Lt. King said officers used to be able to shoot as much as they wanted, whenever they wanted. Now range use is limited to 50 rounds once a month. There are other training options, but Lt. King said there’s no substitute for the real thing.

“We really want to train with what we’re going to use in real life,” he said. “We want to use live exercises and live ammunition to train for reality.”

And with an upcoming recruit class starting in September, officials are concerned with whether they’ll be able to find the necessary ammunition for firearms training and qualification.

People within the industry believe the spike in demand for ammunition, while intense right now, is only temporary.

That has kept manufacturers from pursuing big increases in production capacity.

“It doesn’t make sense for them to invest in larger manufacturing facilities, so they’re focusing on maximizing what they’ve got,” said Nima Samadi, a guns and ammunition industry analyst with IBIS World.

Mr. Samadi said many are working their factories 24 hours a day and have hired temporary employees, but they still can’t keep up with demand.

Earlier this year, Hornady, a leading ammunition manufacturer in Nebraska, posted a statement on its Web site that said the company is doing all it can to boost production.

“We’ve been steadily growing our production for a long time, especially the last five years. We’ve added presses, lathes, CNC equipment, people and space.

“Many popular items are produced 24 hours a day. Several hundred Hornady employees work overtime every week to produce as much as safely possible,” the statement said.

The company didn’t return a call seeking comment on Friday.

It’s anyone’s guess when supply will catch up with demand. Mr. Samadi thinks it could be a year or two.

“It’s very hard to predict,” he said. “The spike in the demand and the subsequent shortages are a question of perception.”

In other words, when gun buyers feel less political heat on the industry, they’re more likely to scale back purchases.

Steven Snyder owns Fremont-based Freedom Manufacturing LLC, which makes several types of ammunition. The company does Internet and phone sales, but it has cut back on walk-in sales because it is so far behind in filling existing orders.

An order placed today, he said, would take six to seven weeks to fill. Under normal circumstances, it would take a week, at most.

“The demand’s consistent, and the growth is just tremendous,” he said.

Mr. Snyder said he’s talked to officials with large companies, including Hornady, who have said it will be late summer at the very earliest before they’re able to catch up with orders.

In the meantime, retailers are doing the best they can.

“We don’t see anything that indicates this is long-term,” said Ms. Liedel, at Cleland’s. “It’s just a minor kink in the supply chain and we’ll work through it.”

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: or 419-724-6134.