‘Tremendous shortage’ of ammunition challenges hunters as fall seasons approach

By: - September 2, 2021 5:09 pm

The Scheels store at Jordan Creek Town Center in West Des Moines has some gaps in its gun ammunition display on Sept. 2, 2021. A shortage has challenged hunters and shooting sports participants. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

A shortage of ammunition is likely to drive up prices for hunters and sport shooters through at least part of next year, industry observers say. 

National reports have indicated that prices are up 30% for some types of ammo. Some prices have quadrupled from pre-pandemic levels, Forbes reported

As Iowa’s fall hunting seasons approach, many store shelves are a hodge-podge of odds and ends. 

Shelves display gaps

A check of 12-gauge shotgun shells online Thursday at Brownells, the firearms and ammunition giant based in Grinnell, found a wide range of prices and many products out of stock. On the first page of 12 listings, half were out of stock. The next two pages were out of 23 of the 24 products offered.

In Ames, Theisen’s was offering fairly typical prices, but had spotty inventory in popular gauges on Thursday, one hunter reported. 

What has become a national story about shortages and price-gouging worsened by scalpers has affected Iowa, a state popular with pheasant and deer hunters particularly.

Theisen’s in Ames had some shortages of certain ammunition on Sept. 2, 2021. (Photo by Mark Beeman for Iowa Capital Dispatch)

“We are in fact seeing the impact here in Iowa not only for hunting but for recreational shooting as well,” said Jamie Cook, hunter education coordinator for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “Certain rounds are hard to get, there are limits being put on how many you can purchase and manufacturers just can’t keep up with the demand due to the spike in interest and the fact that factories were shut down during COVID,” he added.

Cook said manufacturers and retailers are telling those involved in shooting sports to place orders for spring ammo now.

Jared Wiklund, a spokesman for Pheasants Forever’s national office in St. Paul, Minnesota, said more people hunted in 2020 because the sport allowed people to get outside and keep a safe distance from others. The high demand has extended into this year.

Approximately 8.4M people bought their first gun in ’20

The National Shooting Sports Foundation reported that 8.4 million people bought a firearm for the first time in 2020.

“With more people working at home, they had more time to go hunting,” said Wiklund. That was particularly noticeable in hunting for upland game birds, such as pheasants, he added. 

The upside is that the growth in hunting and shooting sports will mean more federal excise tax payments, assuming buyers can find ammo. The taxes go to states for wildlife projects.

While manufacturers are scrambling to add staff and to boost production, the bankruptcy of Remington and the high demand have caused price spikes and shelves with empty spots, said Wiklund, who regularly hunts in Iowa, Minnesota and Utah.

Kevin King, trap-shooting chairman for the Warren County Izaak Walton League and a competitive shooter himself, said the ammunition shortage has been fueled by hoarding and panic buying. 

“I have seen tremendous shortage of ammunition,” King said. “Several factors have contributed to the shortage, primarily the panic buying and hoarding of ammo and components.”

Remington bankruptcy added to shortages

The Remington bankruptcy disrupted supplies. And there have been other supply chain issues.

“Raw materials have been hard to come by for manufacturers coupled with disruptive supply chains,” King said. “For the shotgun sports this means there will be an ongoing shortage of ammo and components. Ammo companies make more money per round on metallic cartridges and hunting loads than they do on target loads.”

Some ammunition components will be in short supply until sometime next year, King said. 

Pheasants Forever’s Wiklund said there is hope for fuller shelves in coming months, at least sometime in 2020. “Eventually, production is going to catch up with demand.”

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Perry Beeman
Perry Beeman

Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.