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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Hunters, gun owners facing severe ammo shortage

David Colburn
Posted 11/4/20

REGIONAL- The start of deer season on Saturday ushers in the busiest two months of the year for all types of hunting in Minnesota, but the biggest challenge for area hunters might not be tracking …

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Hunters, gun owners facing severe ammo shortage


REGIONAL- The start of deer season on Saturday ushers in the busiest two months of the year for all types of hunting in Minnesota, but the biggest challenge for area hunters might not be tracking down game to shoot. Instead, it may be finding the ammo they need to bag their prey.
Ammo for pistols, shotguns, and rifles is in short supply nationwide, and those shortages are painfully evident here in the North Country.
“This is the worst shortage I’ve ever seen,” said Doug Ellis, owner of Virginia Surplus in Virginia.
Ellis has a long baseline for making that assessment – he’s in his 30th year of operating Virginia Surplus, and has been in sporting goods retail for four decades.
The shortages come amidst a record-setting year for U.S. firearms purchases. Small Arms Analytics, a company that tracks estimated firearms sales, reported sales of 16.9 million guns in the first nine months of 2020, eclipsing the previous high of 16.8 million sold in all of 2016, the year Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was pushing a strong arms-control agenda. Handguns have been the primary driver, but sales of guns are up across the board.
“This panic eclipses everything because you’ve got what I call ‘the three amigos,’” Ellis said. “You have COVID, you have protesting, and you have the election. When you combine all of that it’s the perfect storm, and it’s created the worst shortages that I have ever seen.”
Gun sales spiked in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic and spiked again during the weeks of civil unrest sparked by the death of George Floyd during an attempted arrest by Minneapolis police officers in May.
And with many gun and ammo factories shut down for weeks by COVID-19 restrictions and then reopened with limited production capacity, shortages in the face of increased demand were inevitable, Ellis said.
“I’ve had calls from Duluth, I’ve had calls from the cities, I had calls from everywhere trying to buy ammo and guns, that’s how bad it is,” Ellis said. “I saw one manufacturer that had $80 million in back orders just in handgun ammo. That’s backorders. That company will never catch up.”
Ellis said that he’s been rationing purchases of ammo for months in order to serve as many of his regular customers as possible, but he’s also had an influx of first-time buyers who’ve been looking high and low with little success.
Long-standing relationships with his distributors have helped Ellis keep some ammo in stock, but despite his best efforts, he’s finding it difficult to obtain the most common and popular types of ammo.
“In the 29 years I’ve been in business, I have never been out of 30-30 shells,” Ellis said. “This year I’ve sold out three times and the last 30-30 shells I had took me two-and-a-half months to get. I had 20 boxes, and of course you know how long that lasted. I have not seen it since.”
It doesn’t take an economics degree to know that when supply is scare and demand is high, prices go up. Ellis said his costs to buy ammo have gone up, but while he cited numerous examples of online price gouging by companies and individuals, he said he’s tried to keep price increases to customers moderate.
The economic downturn resulting from coronavirus restrictions has had an impact on Virginia Surplus, as Ellis said he’s down to just one employee to help run the store. That makes for long days of frenzied activity as he looks for ways to restock his shelves.
“I work the phones five days a week,” he said. “I’m constantly asking, and I take anything, it doesn’t matter. Small, big, whatever you’ve got I’ll take it, and this is what’s helped keep me in business.”
Ellis also worries about the recent increases in positive COVID-19 cases in the area. If he were to contract the virus it would shut his store down for two weeks at one of the busiest times of the year.
And amidst the shortages of ammo, guns, scopes, and virtually anything associated with firearms, there’s another curious anomaly that Ellis said he’s at a loss to explain.
“For some reason, and don’t ask me why, this year there was a major uptick in people wanting left-handed guns,” Ellis said. “I never have had this many people asking for left-handed guns and wouldn’t you know, this is the year everybody’s short of left-handed guns. It shocks me to this day. I mean, I’m left-handed, I understand. If anybody had left-handed guns, it would be me.”


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