The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 9, 2013

Cross: Lead bullets taking on a gold quality

By John Cross
Free Press Staff Writer

— “Did you know,” a fellow asked me the other day, “that it’s impossible to buy .22 ammo anywhere in Mankato?”

He went on to explain how he and a friend had plans to hit the last weekend of the Minnesota squirrel hunting season and were unable to find a single box of .22 long rifle cartridges for sale in Mankato.

For non-shooting readers, .22 rimfire ammunition comes in a wide array of loads but the long rifle cartridge is the most popular for small game hunting and plinking.

“If you want any ammunition other than shotgun shells, good luck,” the clerk at one store told him. “It’s been hard to get and you’d better be here on the day a shipment arrives. They’re lined up when it comes in.”

Hard to believe, when one considers that .22 ammo is to shooters as peanuts are to snackers.

But it’s true.

At the only big box store in Mankato still brave enough to sell ammunition, the shelf was empty, posted with a sign spelling out how purchasers would be limited to only a couple of boxes.

Ditto at the Mankato sporting goods stores whose gun departments include extensive ammunition selections.

Only an odd collection of rimfire birdshot loads, some .22 shorts, remained. Similar signs limiting sales also were posted.

The scarcity of the popular ammunition extends far beyond Mankato. Several Web sites for major outdoor retail stores listed .22 long rifles as unavailable.

Just exactly why there is such a shortage is unclear. No one at retail sites was inclined to talk about the possible causes.

Likewise, a media rep for a major ammunition manufacturer tip-toed around the issue when contacted.

He hinted at increased demand, making an oblique reference to December events, but then quickly backed off. “You can’t quote me on any of this,” he said, instead directing me to the firm’s Web site, which stated the company was operating 24 hours a day, doing its best to meet customer needs.

However, that explanation offered no insight as to why they were unable to meet customer demands, even while presumably churning out ammunition around the clock.

Paul Beinke at Walt’s Sports Shop offered some ideas on possible causes of the ammo shortage, albeit with the caveat that it was only speculation based on rumors circulating around the Web.

“Rumor has it that the U.S. Government placed an order for the Homeland Security Administration for 25 million cases of 9mm and .223 centerfire ammunition,” he said.

While it’s true that 9mm, .223 and .308 centerfire ammunition — all common loads used by military and law enforcement agencies — also are extremely scarce, perhaps offering a shred of credence to the government purchase angle, he’s skeptical.

“We’re talking about gun people and rumors like that are always out there,” he said.

But those cartridges also happen to be the most popular loads utilized in the so-called “assault-style” firearms at the center of the gun control debate.

There might be, he speculated, a some ammo hoarding as gun owners fret about potential legislation limiting their availability. “Gun people worry a lot about what might happen, not necessarily about what will happen,” he said.

The current scarcity of rimfire ammunition, he said, is a bit more curious. He speculated that perhaps the high demand for gun powder — a major component common to all ammunition — might be putting production of rimfire ammunition on the back burner as ammunition makers concentrate on producing centerfire rounds.

“The way it works, the military, then law enforcement get theirs first,” he said.

At Vantage Point Shooting Point, Marie Borglum said nobody can figure out why .22 rimfire ammunition is so difficult to find either.

“The only thing we can figure is that there are so many .22s out there now,” she said, adding that those hoarding ammunition and others hoping to profit from the shortage have made the situation worse.

“It’s just hysteria and we’re hoping that with the legislation that’s happening right now, things let up a little.”

Scarcity and demand at brick-and-mortar and on-line sites have driven up the price of the once inexpensive .22 rimfire ammo.

Much of it is being bought for personal shooting needs, but some buyers likely are snapping it up with the idea of turning a profit in the over-heated demand for bullets, she said.

A brick of 500 rounds of .22 long rifles that not too long ago sold for $15-$20 now sells for three and four times that amount at gun shows and online, Beinke said.

At one online gun forum, a poster wrote about selling individual 50-round boxes of long rifle ammunition normally selling for around two bucks to desperate buyers for $20.

Beinke, who along with his father, Walt, has been in the guns and ammo business for decades, said periodic shortages of ammunition and components are nothing new, depending on the vagaries of world events and politics.

He predicted things eventually would get better, but not before offering one caveat, again based on the ever-grinding rumor mill.

“There are rumors that another government entity will be placing another big ammunition order,” he said.

If that proves to be more than a rumor, while most bullets indeed may be made of lead, by this fall, they just might be worth their weight in gold.

John Cross is a Free Press staff writer. Contact him at 344-6376 or by e-mail at