SHERIDAN — The weather is finally getting warmer. The days are longer. For those who love to go to a local shooting range, however, one thing still lacking is the availability of ammunition.
Despite reports that gun and ammunition manufacturers are back to running at or near full capacity, shelves at local sporting goods stores often remain bare.
“It trickles in. We get a trickle here and a trickle there,” said Matt Slecher, assistant manager at Rocky Mountain Discount Sports in Sheridan. “We have backorders that go back a year and a half.”
Unlike some previous shortages, where ammunition or reloading components for a particular cartridge or cartridges might have been an issue, Slecher said the current shortage has impacted a broader spectrum of ammunition products.
“It’s shotgun, .22s, everything,” he said.
Like others in the sporting goods business, Slecher said he’s heard a lot of different reasons for the shortage — the pandemic, for example, and manufacturers without needed materials to produce ammunition and reloading components.
“We’ve heard everything,” he said.
In a company podcast posted in January, Weatherby CEO Adam Weatherby said the shortage is the product of a variety of factors, including as many as 8 million new gun owners in 2020.
“It’s been record-breaking demand,” Weatherby said. “On top of that, we had record hunting licenses, I think over a million, due to the meat shortage.
“This was really a perfect storm for our industry.”
To help restock store shelves, Weatherby has employed a second shift at its Sheridan plant to increase capacity.
“We’ve had the gas pedal down 100% to the floor from June ‘til now and we still have the largest backorder in the history of our company,” Weatherby added.
When doing the math, Slecher said people really shouldn’t be all that surprised that there’s an ongoing ammunition shortage. After all, if every new gun owner from 2020 bought just 100 rounds to shoot, that’s 800 million more rounds being sold.
“That’s 800 million more rounds off the shelf,” he said. “The cumulative effect is huge.”
Sam Depew, general manager for Shipton’s Big R in Sheridan, said he’s also heard “all sorts of reasons” for the shortage.
“I think it’s a combination of factors,” Depew said.
No matter the reason, all Depew can often tell his customers is to keep checking back, as the store gets a “sprinkle here, a sprinkle there” of different types of ammunition in from time to time.
“We know it’s on order,” he added. “You just don’t see it show up.”
Jeff Hinton, a board member at the Sheridan County Sportsmen’s Association and a 4-H shooting instructor, said the ammunition shortage has been frustrating and even led the club to rationing what it provides for instructional purposes, despite the club’s ability to buy directly from manufacturers.
“We don’t know how long it’s going to last,” Hinton said. “We have to make sure (youth shooters) that they have enough to compete.
“We can’t afford to just give it out and let them take it home and shoot.”
From a personal perspective, Hinton added he’s even stopped shooting some of his firearms over concerns that he might use up any ammunition he has on hand.
“It doesn’t take long (to run out),” he said.
And, to get what ammunition is available, Hinton said timing can be everything. While on spring break, Hinton, a fourth-grade teacher, said he would pass one local sporting goods store just as it opened on his days off.
“The parking lot was packed,” Hinton said. “They’re doing one thing. They’re going back and checking on ammo.
“If you’re not right there, it’s gone,” he added. “It’s almost like the whole toilet paper shortage before. People are panicking and buying it, but they’re not shooting.”
While the local shooting club doesn’t track the usage of its various ranges, Hinton said he’s sure the numbers of shooters on any given day are down from previous years.
“It’s got to be less,” he said. “It has to be.”
Still, despite the lack of ammunition, both Depew and Slecher said the shortage hasn’t seemed to impact the sales of other items, including firearms.
“All in all, I’d say no,” Slecher said.
“Most people who buy a firearm, they either have ammo or they have access to it,” Depew added.