Alaskans own a lot of guns, per capita. But finding some types of ammunition has been tough recently, amid supply shortages and rumors of hoarding.
And in a state where hunting is a way of life — not to mention a way to put food on the table — that’s a problem. Just ask Anchorage Daily News reporter Zachariah Hughes, who wrote about the ammo shortage.
Hughes says the problem is putting a pinch on the ammunition that big game and subsistence hunters use the most.
The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Zachariah Hughes: There’s boxes on the shelves, but it’s this weird mishmash of, you know, sort of like the leftover Halloween candy of ammunition. Like big cartridges that really aren’t very popular, and then some smaller cartridges that aren’t that popular and some shotgun shells. And if you’re in Anchorage at least, and I think this is probably true throughout the Railbelt, there’s just not a lot on the shelves in stores. And that situation isn’t very different off of the road system, as far as I was able to learn.
Casey Grove: Why is this a problem for folks in Alaska, maybe a little bit more than elsewhere?
Zachariah Hughes: Well, I think in general, we, just as a state, have a much more intimate relationship with firearms than a lot of other places. Some of that is just how much hunting happens here and how large a share of the population, in one way shape or form, harvests wild food through the use of guns. For some people, maybe that means going out once a year for caribou, and for others that means putting down a lot of caribou and filling your freezer or getting multiple moose in the Interior, you know, all the way to bird hunting out in the Yukon and Kuskokwim regions in the springtime. There’s just a lot of different ways that people are using guns to feed themselves. There’s also a general culture in the state of preparedness and readiness. There are people who think you need to have several thousand rounds in case the supply line breaks down as it’s doing now, or to prevent the zombie apocalypse or government takeover. I mean, there’s just a lot more reasons that people have guns here. It’s part of the reason I think some people live in Alaska, and there’s a lot of enthusiasm for shooting sports.
Casey Grove: So why is this happening? Why are we seeing an ammunition shortage? And are some of the national trends around ammunition — are they happening here in Alaska?
Zachariah Hughes: It’s a good question. And the short answer is, it’s not any one reason. It’s several different reasons that are all converging. Turns out that ammunition, like a lot of consumer goods, is a system that’s been under stress for a long time now. And the combination of the pandemic, along with just national instability that’s happened the last two years — it’s been a really wild two years — just a lot more reasons that have sent people seeking out guns or expecting the worst and stockpiling. The FBI tracks background checks for gun purchases, and there’s something like a 40% increase in the number of background checks the FBI saw in 2020, over 2019. That’s a huge increase that the industry says is coming a lot of the time from first-time buyers. So you have more people that are seeking out ammunition. At the same time, one of the biggest manufacturers of ammunition in the country, Remington, had filed for bankruptcy proceedings for a long time, and in recent years, went under — plants had to close. They were later bought up by, you know, sold off in bankruptcy and started to come back online. So at the same time, as you had more people rushing to stores to stock up on ammo, you had less production capacity across the country. So there’s just not anything like the inventory that has existed in previous times.
Casey Grove: I know there’s probably some overlap in different user groups, whether somebody is a hunter, or they’re shooting targets, or they’re keeping ammunition and guns for personal protection. But is there any, I guess, animosity between those user groups about who is responsible for taking up more ammunition or hoarding it?
Zachariah Hughes: I think there is. I mean, that was an area of the story that I wish I could get into a little bit more, is the ways that Alaska’s shooting culture has really changed. One of the people mentioned in my story said it’s changing from a shooting culture to an owning culture, by which he meant a gun-owning culture — that instead of people buying guns and ammunition to shoot and practice and as, you know, train as functional tools, there’s almost this fetishization and individualistic mentality of: “I want these guns and I want this ammunition even if I’m not going to shoot it, because either I love these guns, I love these machines, or I just, you know, I’m going to get as much ammo as I can. I’m going to cache it. I’m going to keep it and if the world falls apart, it’ll be better than money.” And I think there’s a lot of esteem in Alaska for, you know, hunting and subsistence and being able to provide for yourself, and I think people see it as unfortunate when that is undermined by some of the other shooting cultures.