Got bullets? Nationwide run on ammo felt in Jackson Hole

JACKSON, Wyo. — Gun sales are skyrocketing; that’s no secret. But along with the surge in firearm sales is a scarcity of ammunition for nearly any handgun in most popular calibers.

The implications range from bothersome for individual users looking to stay supplied for home defense or hunting purposes, to worrisome for law enforcement and other organizations relying on a ready supply of ammo.

“It started getting tight a year ago. Now, it’s impossible,” said Wilson resident Brad Lemon. “All local and regional stores are out. Every website is backordered. I can find no 9mm, no .45ACP, no .357 Mag.”

Shepard Humphries, who founded Jackson Hole Shooting Experience with his wife, Lynn Sherwood, says finding ammo may not be impossible but it has gotten expensive.

“It’s not as plentiful or inexpensive, that’s for sure,” Humphries said. “From an economics standpoint, it’s like gold—both are available but they are really expensive.”

Humphries estimates his outfit goes through some 50,000 to 75,000 rounds a year teaching, training, and holding events for shooting enthusiasts. So far, he has not had to pass along escalating costs of doing business to the end consumer by raising his prices, but it’s getting spendy.

Jackson Police Chief Michelle Weber concurred. Her department is getting ready to put in an order now for next year knowing growing lag times means they won’t see any bullet deliveries for some 8-10 months.

“Bottom line is the department will always have enough ammo, but we’ve had to factor increased costs into the budget and make orders far ahead of time,” Weber said.

Law enforcement agencies often have an inside track on industry wholesalers, but even with that the police department has found the high demand on handgun munitions to be challenging.

Weber said most of her officers use .45 caliber handguns, provided free of charge by the department. Many, though, are moving to a smaller the 9mm after that model was approved two years ago. In either case, the caliber is tough to find anywhere.

Shepard Humphries (R), who founded Jackson Hole Shooting Experience with his wife, Lynn Sherwood, says finding ammo may not be impossible but it has gotten expensive. Photo: Courtesy Jackson Hole Shooting Experience

More buck for the bang

What has brought on the latest run on ammo is part pandemic, part politics.

The nation went through a similar shortage of ammunition beginning in 2008 with the election of President Barrack Obama. Fearing a tightening in firearms regulation, panic buying ensued and was only made worse after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012.

Humphries remembers he was paying around 21 cents a round for .22 long rifle cartridges—a cheap to shoot caliber that normally averages around 7 cents a bullet.

This time around, the run on ammo is worse, Humphries says.

FBI background checks for firearms have skyrocketed since the pandemic took hold. The FBI conducted more than 3.9 million background checks associated with the sale, transfer or permitting of firearms in June 2020, making it the highest month on record for background checks since the bureau began keeping statistics in 1998. July and August were much the same.

Now, with everyone looking to load their firearms, local retailers have imposed buying limits if they can stock their shelves at all.

“A lot of it is home defense gun sales,” Humphries said. “People from big cities who have always thought guns were a bad thing are now prioritizing gun ownership.”

Humphries said his company is better prepared this time around but he is still paying double for 9mm and .223 than what he was in January of this year.

Humphries has a wholesale connection he buys from but says “they have been bone-dry since April or May.”

For Lemon, he’s limiting his “plinking” and thinking about reloading his own ammunition.

“If Biden wins, I expect things will get worse before they get better,” he worried.

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