December 20, 2021
These are the times that try men’s souls.
The peak of the migration is here. Northern birds are descending in droves. Gaunt. Desperate. No circling once they’ve eyeballed your spread. Just necks-out, wings-cupped, toes-spread, waterfowl-fantasy PLUMMETING into the kill hole.
Yet in the local sporting goods store, there’s not a box of ammo in sight.
This is not an exaggeration. I just returned from my neighborhood big-box retailer to check this out, first-hand. The ammo shelf is barren. Eighteen feet of empty space behind dusty labels advertising steel shot of a dozen different varieties. A cobweb hangs in one corner. As I lifted my phone to take a photo, a tumbleweed skittered past.
“Panic buyers,” the clerk explained, “After the ‘rona and the riots, people snatched up everything we had. For home defense. Even birdshot.” I nodded. Unrest always leads to a surge in ammo buying. And I guess if you’re hoping to defend your eight-month supply of Charmin from roving looters, a couple boxes of 3” #6 Blindside would probably do the trick. But why are the shelves still bare now, 20-months post-pandemic? With the urban riots of 2020 a fading memory?
Two icky words; supply chain. A major ammo manufacturer explained the problem to its customers via email last fall. “The ammo shortage is real,” they declared, and then detailed how rising metal costs, plastic shortages overseas, and even the production of gunpowder was months – if not years – behind schedule. “In short,” the email concluded, “Powder is tight. Metal has doubled. Hulls are becoming non-existent….as we get deeper into the season, we will run out of one of those three. We just can’t predict what or when. Yes, friends. It’s grim.”
So, is it time to panic? Time to despair? Time to hang up your waders and put on your quarantine sweats?
No, my friends. Remember, you didn’t take up the pursuit of waterfowl because it was easy. And it’s gonna take a heck of a lot more than an ammo shortage to keep the WILDFOWL readership out of the blind. Because when the going gets tough, duck hunters get resourceful. Here’s some inspiration to keep you going.
Look to History
This ain’t the first birdshot shortage our country has faced. My Grandpop used to spin yarns about hunting mourning doves in West Texas as a boy of twelve during the height of World War II. Then, like now, shotgun shells were hard to come by. So instead of pass shooting doves like the pre-war days, he and his cousin would cruise backcountry roads until they found a line of grey birds loafing on a fence.
His cousin would park the sedan a hundred yards away while my Grandpop belly crawled up the ditch row. Once in range, my grandpop would carefully line up the beaks of the mourning doves behind the bead of his 20-gauge Model 12 and…poof! Six birds in the bag.
Some of the best public waterfowl units near my home in Washington State impose their own ammo shortage all the time. Fifteen shells per hunter, per day is the max allowed in these units (a rule designed to reduce sky-busting). These limits are strictly enforced, and if you’re going to whack your seven-duck Pacific Flyway limit (not to mention any geese that may fly by), well…you don’t want to be wasting shots swatting cripples.
I once watched a grown man in waders chase a one-winged intail drake full-sprint in circles on a sheetwater field for 15 minutes before both of them, man and bird, collapsed to the mud in exhaustion. After a five-minute rest, the pair staggered to their feet, nodded in grim recognition, and the chase resumed. I’m not sure if he got his bird in the end, but he sure as heck didn’t waste a shell.
In 1997, when my parents were out, my teenage siblings and I ordered two Meatlover’s pizzas. Only when the delivery guy arrived, we were $3 short. So, we proceeded to tear open every drawer, rip apart every couch cushion, and explore every pocket of every pair of jeans till we came up with the difference. In change. (Delivery dude, if you’re reading this…sorry we tipped you in nickels).
I found myself in a similar frantic scenario with my ammo supply late last season: scouring every nook and crevice, shaking out every old hunting jacket, even groping under the wheel wells of my vehicle till I came up with 22 passable looking shells for the next morning’s hunt. If you haven’t brought an eclectic ammo grab-bag afield lately, let me tell you — there’s nothing that will keep you on your toes like loading two 2 3/4” #6 shells for your first and third shots with a random load of 3 ½ Kent T’s sandwiched in the middle. Boom…! BOOM!…boom.
A recent national survey by Southwick Associates found that only 17% of the hunters they talked to reported being “satisfied” with the amount of ammunition they had on hand. Without a doubt, my buddy John was in that 17%.
John has more ammo than anyone. Buckets and buckets of it, in his basement. On a recent goose hunt, John stuffed his pockets with three boxes of 3 ½” BBs. He then slipped a fifty-round bandelier of 3” #2’s over one shoulder. Then another to balance it out, like an “x.” When I informed him on the walk to the blind that he had the equivalent of twenty pounds of metal on his person, he just smiled. Then offered to share if I ran out.
If my assumptions about the readership of this magazine are correct, then John isn’t an outlier. In fact, many of you had to stifle a “guffaw” when you read that survey from Southwick Associates. 17%?? What kind of waterfowler in his right mind would ever admit to being SATISFIED with his ammo on hand? There’s always room for another case. Heck, you’re still working through the nine flats of Federal you bought with that off-season rebate in 2009!
So, for all you ammo fat-cats sitting on thrones of steel amidst mountains of Tungsten…I implore you: think of generous John. Then go and do likewise.
Remember the Bright Side
If the summer breeding estimates prove correct, there are fewer ducks to shoot at anyway. Maybe this is the year to shoot less and smile more, cause every day in the marsh — even with a camera — is a day to treasure.
Then send your extra ammo my way.