Wherever you're accustomed to getting your shooting news these days, chances are you're hearing – repeatedly – that the industry is suffering from chronic shortages of guns, ammunition, and components, most particularly those designed to be used on the modern sporting rifle.
Over the past six weeks, I've been across the country, and I can tell you from talking with retailers in big cities like Phoenix, Atlanta and Houston to small gun shops in Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Mississippi, Arizona, Georgia and Texas that the shortages are real. I've also spoken at length with manufacturers, and they're all telling me the same thing: the shortages aren't driven by a government conspiracy or hoarding. They're being driven by demand. And a lot of that demand is fueled by new shooters, despite some politicians who would like you to believe that the number of U.S. households with guns is dropping.
The shortages most often reported concern the modern sporting rifle and accessories that politicians have targeted since the Sandy Hook tragedy.
Sure, there's unprecedentedly high demand for AR-style rifles, standard 30-round magazines, and the 5.56/.223 ammunition most of them are chambered to shoot.
But there's also a huge demand for standard-capacity magazines for today's modern striker-fired polymer pistols from Springfield Armory, Smith & Wesson, Ruger, Taurus, Glock, and many other manufacturers. Demand is also high for magazines for Ruger ranch rifles and virtually any other gun that accepts a magazine with a capacity of more than 10 rounds. Tried to find any 25-round magazines for a Ruger 10/22® rifle lately? Don't - unless you want to get really frustrated.
Executives at major gun companies, accessory makers, and the major ammo brands tell me they've seen periods of high demand before, but nothing so long-lasting or as widely varied as today's demand. They're doing everything they can to catch up on a growing backlog of orders. But here's the short version of that story: it's going to take time.
We don't realize how intertwined the varied shooting disciplines really are. You may have a hard time figuring out why you can't find reloading components for shot shells. But consider this: all ammunition shares some base-level components - powder, primers and projectiles.
The ammunition to fuel your gun of choice, be it a rifle, pistol or shotgun, is in competition with every other gun and ammo for the basic components and the manufacturer's machine time to assemble them.
Companies don't have independent production lines for every gun they make or every caliber of ammunition they load.
That time is shared across all their lines, and it's tough to pull the tools and computer controlled programming for AR-style rifles to fill other orders. Simple business sense says you have to keep working to meet the highest-demand orders. If buyers give up on buying your gun, they're going to go looking elsewhere.
So your favorite round or gun may be finding itself pushed further down the production schedule. As that happens, existing inventory shrinks - even if the demand isn't anything approaching those uber-hot black rifles.
You might be feeling the pinch, but it's not really some secret conspiracy to keep you from having guns or ammunition. It's the market reacting to unprecedented demand for products.
Some people snapped up guns and ammo when they could find them. They weren't buying them for their own use; they were planning to roll them out during the hottest demand times and make a killing by price gouging. Here's a secret from watching demand periods in the past: speculators very seldom make money. Usually, they lose money because they try to guess prices when they're the highest.
Unfortunately, they can't, or at least they haven't been able to in the past. Speculating is a risky business, especially when the demand will slack off as soon as manufacturers begin catching up. When they do - and they will - speculators will find themselves on the short end of the deal.
Reputable manufacturers, distributors and retailers haven't jacked up their prices. It's not that kind of industry, and the gun consumer has a very long memory. Risking your long-term success in order to make a short-term profit is the equivalent of booking the express train to failure.
Finally, it's not just "regular guys" like us who are looking for ammo. I know several TV show producers and noted gun writers who are out there scrounging for ammo just like the rest of us.
Jim Shepherd is editor and publisher of The Outdoor Wire (www.theoutdoorwire.com) and The Shooting Wire (www.shootingwire.com), all parts of The Outdoor Wire Digital Network.