By Glen Wunderlich
On a recent visit to the local Cheap Mart, I stopped by the sporting goods department and inquired about the availability of .22 long rifle ammunition. The clerk, who must tire of the question, was quick to respond with the same old answer I’ve heard for the past few years: Nothing. I had a hunch thing were changing, and according to the information provided, I was correct. Instead of receiving one shipment per month, the store now gets deliveries twice a month. However, the result is the same: People gobble it up before it can collect dust on the shelves, and therefore, the average consumer never has much of an opportunity to purchase any.
While there are myriad reasons why consumers continue to hoard the most popular ammunition in the world, I’ll not get into conspiracy theories as to their rationale; it doesn’t change the fact it’s about as scarce as hen’s teeth.
At the same time, however, there is reason to believe that we may be on the threshold of some relief. As I scan some of the largest mail-order web sites, I’ve noticed some of the “inexpensive” American-made rimfire ammo in stock. In a mixed up world where boys can be girls and girls can be boys the term “inexpensive” is relative. Compared to any other ammo the diminutive rimfire rounds, the .22 ammo remains the least expensive. But, like the days of the good 5-cent cigar – if there ever really was such a thing – those days are behind us. Run-of-the-mill .22 rimfire ammo from manufacturers such as Remington, Winchester, Federal, etc. is approximately $5 for that same 50-round box, when and where you find it.
Two words sum up circumstances: supply and demand. Mark Keefe of the National Rifle Association explains that demand has increased dramatically yet no large American ammunition maker has added a new rimfire ammunition plant. Remington has one in Arkansas, Winchester has one in Mississippi, Federal has one in Minnesota and CCI has one in Idaho. They have been running full-out since 2008 and have been expanding plants as possible—and they are as efficient as they possibly can be.
Expanding rimfire production is problematic. A rimfire ammunition plant requires a priming area that is something that has not been newly fabricated in the United States probably for 40 years. Of course, the big American ammunition makers have updated theirs, but they have not added any brand-new facilities at new locations. It is the priming operation of rimfire ammunition manufacture that takes the large amount of production time.
Frankly, it’s not easy and there are numerous safeguards in place because this is a fairly dangerous manufacturing operation trying to squeegee the wet priming compound into the case rims of rimfire cartridges. And the manufacture of priming compound, which is highly explosive, is not for the careless or squeamish. Trying to obtain financing and insurance for the creation of a new rimfire plant could be an issue, as well. And if billions of dollars were to be sunk into a new rimfire plant—if a location could be found and approved—would the demand stay high enough to justify it?
The bottom line is that producing rimfire ammo is not as profitable as churning out centerfire ammo and that’s not about to change any more than stout demand.
The good news is that some foreign manufacturers that have existing rimfire plants are putting more rimfire ammunition—imported ammunition—into the commercial market here in the U.S.
If you’re having trouble obtaining affordable rimfire ammunition locally, try some of the Internet ammunition retailers, including Midway USA, Mid-South Shooters Supply, and Brownells, because availability has increased recently.