Vern Rollins sounds frustrated. Manning the gun counter in Brady's Sportsman's Surplus in Missoula, he talks about the stick in the craw of many local hunters: the national ammunition shortage, and specifically the paucity of primers.
"We're out of large rifle primers," he says. "They've been coming in slow—a dab here, a dab there."
"Hoarding," he says. "That's the number one problem. It started quite a while ago. We put a limit of 200 per customer, and a lot of people want to know how come they can't buy a brick of 'em, which is a thousand."
Hunters need primers—the small caps on the bottom of ammunition cartridges that ignite the charge—to load their own ammunition. Many local hunters prefer to self-load rather than purchase preloaded ammo to save money and for better accuracy. But that's becoming increasingly difficult with primers in short supply, and with Montana's general deer and elk season set to begin Oct. 25.
Cabela's website shows an eight- to nine-week wait for a box of large rifle primers made by Federal. Misty Browning of Bitterroot Valley Ammunition & Components says her customers' orders are backed up four to six months. And the wait only makes the shortage worse.
"Everybody started putting in orders," explains Browning, "and then everybody started tripling their orders just in case this ever happened again."
ATK, one of the top ammunition manufacturers in the country, is experiencing unprecedented demand and running its factories 24/7 to keep up, says Bryce Hallowell, vice president of corporate communications.
The ammunition demand is largely due to a general paranoia first sparked by the election of a presumed anti-gun president in Barack Obama, and fueled by rumors of sweeping gun regulation.
According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, domestic ammunition production could jump more than 50 percent over last year.
And that accelerated production, it appears, may soon meet the unprecedented demand.
"[Primers] are filtering in now," says Rollins, "so I think the manufacturers are starting to finally catch back up and get some stuff back in the pipeline."