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GETTING RANGE TIME in the era of ammo shortages

September 6, 2021

By John Naese
In the back of your mind, you knew the day was coming.

It was just a matter of the next horrible crime committed by a gun (of course, not by a criminal!), or the next time the perennial gun ban bill came close to passing.

You knew the ammo would dry up and prices would go through the roof – if you could get any at all.

Of course, in the time of plenty, there was no urgency to putting away extra for the future. There were other priorities.

And now we find ourselves unable to find ammo in the popular calibers; and when we can find it, it is often enormously expensive.

For those of us who like to shoot (rather than just have) ammo at regular range sessions, what can we do?

Shoot Unusual Guns
The first thing I did was reach farther into the gun safe and ammo cabinet. Until recently (say, November of 2020) my two favorite calibers to shoot were 9mm and .223/5.56. Then those calibers disappeared from retail shelves. When I could find some, it had gone from 30 cents a round to 90 cents or a dollar a round. I have some of each caliber saved for a rainy day, but it’s not raining. Not yet. What was I to do to get some trigger time?

I decided to see what was hiding in the dark recesses at the back of my safe. There was the .30 Carbine I hadn’t shot for 3 or 4 years.

There was the lever action that had sat there probably ten years or more. There was the SKS I hadn’t shot since Clinton was in office. Oh wait! I forget I had that Moisin-Nagant!

So I decided that with each range trip, I would bring one of the old warhorses out of retirement and give it a workout. But what about ammo, you ask? Well, since I hadn’t shot any of these guns in years, I hadn’t used up any of my ammo for them either. And since none of these are my rainy day guns, I don’t feel bad about using up some of my ammo supply for them.

Part of the pleasure of recreational shooting is taking care of and tuning up your firearms. Before each range trip with one of the old, seldom fired guns, there was a cleaning, an inspection and a tightening of screws. And searching in the nooks and crannies for ammo I knew I had but hadn’t used in years was kind of fun.

Shoot .22s
Yes, .22s have disappeared from the shelves as well. But back when they were plentiful, like many I had put away a few bulk packs. A bulk pack equals a lot of range days, at say 100 rounds per trip. And .22’s are starting to show up again occasionally on store shelves – you just have to keep your eyes open.

Go to an Appleseed event. (www.appleseedinfo.org Look under “Events”) Take a brick of those .22’s you had stashed, and get some quality instruction and trigger time.  Learn to hit your target in addition to how to shoot.  And the stories from the era of America’s Founding will remind you of why we have a second amendment in the first place.

Use your .22 handgun and practice your defensive shooting skills. Not just the trigger pulling, but stepping off the X, looking around, using barricades. It doesn’t have to be a centerfire gun to be useful and fun.

Don’t Forget the Handguns
Just like rifles and shotguns, I’ll bet you’ve got couple of handguns in different calibers that are not your primary guns. Don’t be afraid to get them out and use up a little of the oddball calibers that have been sitting on the bottom of the crate since Bush 41 was president. Bonus points if you have a .22 handgun or two – use them.

Got a single-action pistol? Take that shooting. That’ll slow down your consumption of ammunition, while spreading out the fun.

Change your Style of Shooting
For now, unless you’re independently wealthy or not too bright, the days of a 30 round mag dump, as fast as one can pull the trigger, are over. But there’s a lot of pleasure to be had, and skill to be built, in slow fire and careful planning. In GunNews, we’ve published the 100 round and 50 round sustainment drills for defensive handgun; use them. Google “50 round sustainment drill gunssavelife.com” (or just follow this link) and I bet you’ll find them.

Do a lot of single-shot loading. It forces you to slow down and concentrate on each shot – and makes your ammo last a lot longer. And that’s if you don’t dry fire between shots.

For magazine fed guns, try loading just one, two, or three rounds per magazine. As important as the trigger press, the practice manipulating your firearm during the reloads, while keeping your eyes on the target, builds invaluable muscle memory.

Don’t Be An Ammo Snob
I remember just a few years ago turning my nose up at Remington Thunderbolt .22 bulk packs at $20 for 500 rounds. Well, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld (dating myself once again), you go to the range with the ammo you have, not the ammo you want.

The other day I saw that same Remington Thunderbolt bulk pack on the shelf at Rural King for $36.99 – and I eagerly snatched it up. That’s five range trips at 100 rounds per trip, at 7.4 cents per round. Yes, it used to be 2 cents a round. But I used to be young and good looking, too. Things change.

Another type of ammo snobbery is steel cased ammo, particularly imported Russian and commie European stuff. I’ve heard a lot of people say they will never use steel case in their ARs; it’s more prone to failure, it erodes the chamber more, etc., etc. But look at the current situation. When you can find .223 on a store shelf (it’s rare), it’s a dollar or a dollar and a half a round. But more commonly you can find the steel case .223 for 75 cents a round or less, and the price is going down. Now if the only gun you have is a match grade tack driver .223 and you’re about ultimate precision, then skip the steel case.

But if you’re like the rest of us, you have an AR or Mini-14 you paid a few hundred dollars for, and you’re really just aiming to hit the 8 ½ by 11 piece of paper, not the period at the end of this sentence. In that case, steel case will do just fine. Also, a few hundred steel case rounds will help you keep your skills sharp and let you have fun, but it would take thousands of rounds to do any significant erosion. AR’s run better wet, so keep your gun lubricated like a freshly glazed donut and have some fun with the steel case stuff.

Keep Calm and Carry On
We’ve been through this before. A crisis arises, ammo disappears, prices skyrocket. I hope this turns out like the others – cyclical. Learn your lesson from this crisis. If and when ammo returns to somewhat being available and somewhat reasonable prices, put some away so that next time, you can still enjoy your range trips even when the shelves are bare.