Guns and ammunition have joined the list of items in short supply during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“People are hoarding it,” said John Cragin, owner of Cragin’s Gun Shop in Rutland. “I’m going into deer season, and I have no .308 ammo at all and no 30-30 ammo. .308 is one of our biggest sellers. The hunters are going to be cranky.”
Cragin said guns are going out the door quickly, as well. While he normally sells 350 to 360 in a calendar year, he said he is already approaching 400 sales.
“We haven’t been able to get a steady supply of ammo for three or four months,” he said. “It’s getting worse.”
Chris Bradley, president of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs (Vermont’ National Rifle Association affiliate), said the phenomenon is a national one, with a spike in gun sales driven by the unrest during the summer.
“Large, violent protests, people being attacked — first-time gun owners are purchasing firearms en masse to protect themselves,” he said.
While Bradley cited the specter of rioting, Eric Meyer of the Liberal Gun Club — who noted that while conservatives do outpace liberals in gun-ownership, roughly a quarter of people who identify as liberal are gun-owners — said that organization’s paid membership has grown by 25% in the past six months.
“I would largely attribute that to the rhetoric coming out of the White House,” said Meyer, the national organization’s director of membership and training. “Seeing a lot of the right-wing responses to the (Black Lives Matter) protests has driven things.”
Meanwhile, state officials say Vermonters are showing an increase in interest in hunting mirroring the spike in other forms of outdoor recreation through the summer.
“Across the board, you’re seeing roughly a 20% increase in hunting participation year-to-date,” said Vermont Fish & Wildlife Commissioner Louis Porter.
Unlike how out-of-staters flocked to Vermont’s hiking trails during the summer, though, Porter said the increase in hunting is driven largely by Vermonters. Even before the pandemic brought travel restrictions, Porter said, people traveling to hunt were more likely to go to places with more deer, like Pennsylvania, or larger deer, like Maine.
“The Vermont hunting culture and tradition is more about family, hunting near your home, procuring food,” Porter said. “We’re very glad to get people participating in hunting — Vermonters and nonresidents. It funds the preservation work we’re doing, it connects people to the landscape and their food. ... These are all good things.”
But will they be able to get ammo to hunt with?
While Bradley said he expected it wouldn’t be an issue because hunting ammunition tends to differ from self-defense ammunition, Cragin countered, saying everything was in short supply and the distinctions were blurring in the face of the shortage.
“We’re having a hard time getting turkey loads because people were buying them for self-defense,” Cragin said. “The goose and duck hunters are having trouble getting steel shot.”
Cragin said the pandemic disrupted production, creating a “trickle-down” effect now being felt at the retail level.
John Sanborn, manager at R&L Archery in Barre, said there are distribution issues, as well.
“There’s a lot of various factors that are messing with us this year,” Sanborn said. “I have a supplier in North Carolina and all summer long they’ve been running six weeks behind because the state restrictions there ... haven’t allowed them to have a full staff in the warehouse.”
Sanborn said it was hard to tell whether they would meet the demand created by an increase in hunting, but he had some cause for optimism.
“We’re not barren on the shelves,” he said. “We have something for almost any caliber, but if you come in for something specific, you might not be able to find it. ... The established hunters have the round they’ve used for 10 years, and they don’t want anything else. The new hunters are a little more flexible and a little more open to suggestion.”
Much of the shortage has been concentrated on pistol rounds, according to Bradley.
Drew Bloom, director of administration at the Vermont Police Academy, said the shortage had yet to interfere with training.
“We usually do one or two orders a year,” Bloom said. “It’s a little bit different from an average Joe going into a store to buy a box of ammo. We have a distributor and a contract.”
Similarly, Rutland Police Chief Brian Kilcullen said his department’s supply has seen no disruption. Kilcullen said the city police go through roughly 8,000 rounds of .45 ammo a year in training.