No ammo

Gander Mountain has all ammunition in stock right now, including the hard-to-find .223 caliber ammo used widely by the military. But sporting goods stores and law enforcement say the demand for ammo by the military is making it harder to get, and the ammo is costing more.

Demand for ammunition caused by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has left sportsmen and law enforcement paying more for shells and waiting longer to get them.

Hunters sighting-in their guns or practicing for the fall hunting seasons are getting sticker shock when they go to buy ammo.

“It’s insane. The prices are skyrocketing and they’re going up again the first of the year,” said Jeff Devens, of the firearms department of Gander Mountain in Mankato.

“Hunters think we’re stealing from them but we have to pass the cost on.”

The military demand affects the costs of ammo as well as supplies people use to load their own shells — from brass casing, to lead and powder.

“Lead was 40 cents a pound now it’s $1.50 a pound. A 25-pound bag of lead shot was $19.99, now it’s 50 bucks a bag.”

Local police are ordering ahead and, in at least one case, asking other jurisdictions for some extra rounds.

“I placed an order in March and still haven’t received the bulk of it,” said Nicollet County Sheriff’s Investigator Kip Olson.

Mankato Deputy Director of Public Safety Matt Westermayer said he’s already looking at an order for 2009.

He said shortages have led a few other jurisdictions — Westermayer declines to say which ones — to ask to borrow ammunition from Mankato. Once, the city made an exception and granted a request.

“(But) we also have the obligation to citizens to make sure we have a necessary supply.”

Westermayer said the department fires off thousands of rounds per year for training.

“We can’t afford not to train,” he said, because of federal requirements and the obvious need to hone marksmanship skills.

Officers’ time at a new shooting range north of Mankato hasn’t been cut back, Westermayer said.

Nicollet County Sheriff Dave Lange said they are waiting longer for ammo orders.

“And the price is significantly higher. The County Board, when the bill (for ammo) came through this year, they were kind of shocked.”

Olson said the department uses about 13,000 rounds a year. This year’s ammo bill is about $3,800 and prices have gone up for next year. He, like most police agencies, order through a state buying pool to get lower costs.

Like most departments, Nicollet County orders shells for shotguns as well as rounds for handguns and rifles. The most common calibers for handguns are the .40 and .45 caliber and for rifles it’s the .223 and .308 caliber.

The .223 has especially been hard to find. That’s because it’s the ammo used in the AR15 rifle widely used by the military. The military shoots about 1 billion .223 rounds every year in training and combat.

Devens said that while Gander Mountain is currently stocked with all types of ammo, they have had shortages, particularly in the .223.

“The .223 is a popular varmint gun for coyotes and things. They’ve been hard to get at times.”

Olson said the wait for .223 ammo has been one year.

Lange said law officers must qualify on the shooting range twice a year to keep their license current — once in daytime and once in low-light conditions. Each qualifying event can take close to 100 rounds from the handgun, shotgun and rifle tests.

Officers on tactical teams use considerably more ammo for training, Lange said, and they must qualify monthly.

The sheriff said most officers like to train on the range occasionally, but Lange tries to keep an eye on ammo use.

“As long as it’s reasonable I’ll give them a box or two extra.”

—Staff Writer Dan Linehan contributed to this story.

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