It's a question many hunters and gun enthusiasts across the country have been asking for months: Where's the ammo?
Subsistence hunters in Alaska usually spend this time of year preparing for the return of seals and migratory birds to the Bering Straits region. But this year many are preoccupied by the state-wide shortage of .22-caliber shells, one of the most popular and common types of ammunition in the world.
Along with low supplies of other ammunition, such as 300-, .303- and .243-caliber shells,"We've also been having a hard time getting some .22 shells," Mary Ungut, manager of the Native Store in Gambell, on St. Lawrence Island, recently told KNOM radio. "It seems that the price is increasing, too."
That lack of ammunition has been a problem in the lower 48, too. Some gun enthusiasts have published updates on YouTube and other social media keeping fellow gun-owners updated on ammo availability. But retailers are also biting the bullet, when it comes to supplies.
"Two years ago, when I was buying ammunition, I could buy .22 by the pallet-load," Jonathan Southwick with Ammo Inc., of Otsego, Michigan, lamented to CBS station WWMT-TV, "and now they're putting restrictions on how much you can get and how you get that ammo."
"Every morning, I call one of my distributors and ask him if he got any in overnight," he added. "I email my other two to see if they got any, and throughout the day constantly checking my emails to see if any come in, and then at the close of business I give them a call,"
Gun and ammunition sales have been rising since 2008, largely amid concerns over gun control efforts by the Obama administration. They spiked again in late 2012 and early last year after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.
"There are a lot of wild stories," said Mike Bazinet, public affairs director with the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the gun industry's trade association, in an interview with the Alaska Dispatch news site. "One story we've heard anecdotally is that the government is buying up all the ammo. That is not true. Government purchases have gone down over last three years."
American Rifleman, one of the National Rifle Association's official journals, in December published a detailed article on some of the factors behind the ammunition shortage. One major issue was, of course, the spike in demand.
"Can you imagine what would happen if the demand for your other favorite products doubled in five years?" it asked. "Wouldn't they likely be more expensive and harder to find?"
But the article also pointed to more mundane economic reasons behind the diminished ammunition stockpiles. Those include the rising cost of raw materials in an increasingly globalized and competitive marketplace; concerns about possible over-investment during a market bubble; the costs and delays of upgrading manufacturing machinery; and the need to hire more employees to keep up with growing demand.