Jerry Nelson of Walter Brothers True Value, Menominee, said Monday he is dealing regularly with customers who are disappointed with the shortage of ammunition for sale — a problem locally and throughout the country. EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
Jerry Nelson of Walter Brothers True Value, Menominee, said Monday he is dealing regularly with customers who are disappointed with the shortage of ammunition for sale — a problem locally and throughout the country. EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
MARINETTE - Ask any gun owners who have gone out to purchase ammunition over the course of the past six months and they'll likely tell you one thing - ammo is very short supply.

If you don't believe them, make a few calls to ammunition retailers large or small and ask if they have any .223 or .308 caliber cartridges in stock. The responses on the other end will likely sound like a broken record - "sorry, we're all sold out right now," - "no, we don't know when it will be back in stock."
The unprecedented ammunition shortage gun owners are dealing with now is not a local issue - it's a national one - from coast to coast, supplies are depleted and ammunition manufacturers are working around-the-clock in an uphill battle to catch up to the demand.

But what exactly has caused the ammunition shortage of this magnitude in the first place?

According to U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Wis., a number of factors are playing into the equation. 

The EagleHerald interviewed Wisconsin's 8th Congressional District representative on Monday and asked his take on the ammo shortages, as well as his outlook on the situation moving forward.

For starters, Ribble explained that one of the key factors in the current situation is by no means a new issue. 

"Every time the government talks as if they're going to make a move restricting gun rights, you see these spikes in purchasing - not just of guns, but of ammunition," he said.

However, Ribble was quick to point out that the current shortage is a bit more complicated than were the smaller-scale shortages of years past.

"This case is little different because some of the ideas being floated around have been limiting the rounds of ammunition that you can buy to a certain number of pieces at a time, and also potentially adding a tax or surcharge on ammunition - so consumers are a more jittery than normal."

The added uncertainty has caused a larger spike than would have normally occurred, and has been exacerbated by consumers' reaction to the recent bid from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to purchase one billion rounds of ammo.

According to Ribble, the Department of Homeland Security's ammunition purchase is not a one-time buy, but rather, it is stretched out over a period of five or six years. "They (DHS) buy for a whole bunch of different agencies, but that got out in the press that they were buying all this at once - when in fact they weren't - but it, I think, spurred on some of the additional consumer buying," Ribble said.

Jerry Nelson, sporting goods manager at Walter Brothers True Value in Menominee, said he's heard customers talking about the DHS ammo purchases, but he agreed with Ribble in saying that DHS has a standing contract with ammo manufacturers that runs for several years - and it just so happened that the contract was up for renewal this year.

Nonetheless, it has put additional pressure on ammo makers that have been running at an increased capacity and are still losing ground in the effort to keep up with demand.

At a recent guns and ammo buying show in Atlanta, Nelson said spoke to the Remington Firearms Co. representative who was in attendance. 

"He told us that they took more orders in January than they'll be able to fill for the entire year," Nelson said, even though Remington is currently putting out 1.5 million rounds per day and running at full production. 

"They just can't keep up with demand," Nelson said. Neither can Walter Brothers, despite having placed timely ammunition orders with seven or eight different manufacturers.

"It's not just the .223, it's not just the .308 (rifle cartridges) - any pistol ammo right now is pretty hard to get," Nelson said. Even the .22 LR ammo that used to readily available for purchase by the brick from any retailer has been become nearly impossible to get, Nelson explained.

Ribble, a longtime outdoorsman and shooting enthusiast, agrees he's never seen anything like the current ammo shortage, yet he says he understands why it is happening.

"I've been a sportsman for most of my life - in my memory, I can't think of a time when the government was actually talking about the potential of adding a tax on ammo or really restricting how much ammo a person can buy at a specific place and time," Ribble said, adding that all of the conversation has gun owners wary. And the congressman said he is not blaming those people who are buying up ammunition in response to what is going on.

"I don't think it's an irrational response," Ribble said, explaining that folks are keeping a close eye on what is happening in states like New York, as well as all of the talk about taking action at the federal level.

"This is a market response to that action," said Ribble, adding that he is very much against any taxes being imposed on ammunition sales.

"I don't think you get illegal trafficking by putting a tax on legal buyers - I don't think those are the solutions," Ribble said.

Yet so long as the lingering cloud of uncertainty hanging over gun control and ammo sales exists, people will likely continue buying up ammo at a rate quicker than it can be produced.

According to Nelson, Walter Brothers hasn't had any .223 or .308 (the two rounds used in the so-called AR- style "assault weapons") on their shelves since the first of the year. And in terms of ammo availability, he doesn't anticipate any dramatic change for the better anytime soon.

"It's going to be tight all year ... people just have to be at the right place at the right time when it comes in," Nelson said.
EagleHerald staff writer

The unprecedented ammo shortage being experienced nationwide is not only affecting civilians, law enforcement agencies are also feeling the pinch - including the Marinette and Menominee police departments.

"Ammo is expensive and lot tougher to get. People don't have it in stock and it's backordered," Marinette Police Chief John Mabry said Monday.

The situation on the other side of the river is very much the same.

"For our .223 ammunition, which is for our rifles, it's a 12- to 14-month wait. And for our 9 mm and .40 caliber handgun ammunition, we're looking at a four- to nine-month wait," said Menominee Police Chief Brett Botbyl.

Fortunately, both chiefs planned ahead for an expected shortage, and their respective departments should be able to weather the storm. 

"We have extensive wait times on ammunition, but we also did some preparation ahead of time," said Mabry, adding that the Marinette PD, like Menominee, uses .223 and .40 caliber ammo for its rifles and pistols respectively - the only difference being Marinette does not use 9mm.

Said Botbyl, "I tried to prepare last year - I tried to buy a little bit more so we have some. As of right now, we'll have enough to do our spring qualification shoot and then hopefully we'll be able to stock up for our fall shoot."

Mabry said his department has never "wasted ammo" at the range, but is being a little more cautious now to avoid running low this year.