Local sportsmen and gun enthusiasts looking for ammunition are coming up empty handed, as a national ammunition shortage leaves gun barrels and shop shelves empty.
?It?s scary when ammunition is sold out and you don?t know how you?re going to get any,? said Ben Fox of Santa Rosa, a disabled single father with three young children. ?It?s nerve-wracking. It?s my home defense.?
Ammunition for firearms including pistols and rifles is exploding off store shelves in Sonoma County, where gun shop owners said they can?t keep bullets in stock.
The problem with ammunition is that ?there isn?t any,? said Guy Markell, of Markell Inc, a Santa Rosa-area gunshop.
His ammunition stock is down 50 percent and his orders for more are not being filled by manufacturers. It?s hurting business and driving away customers, Markell said.
?When they see that there?s nothing, they walk out,? he said.
Various explanations have been given for the shortage, from rising material costs, increased demand due to military uses, and people stocking up as federal legislative proposals requiring ammunition to be engraved with a serial number move forward.
?Folks have been experiencing shortages all over the country,? said Rachel Parsons, spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association. ?Since the election there has been a great increase in firearms sales as well. Background checks are up, enrollment in training and safety classes is up, concealed weapons permits are up, gun sales are up. And ammo manufacturers can?t keep up with demand.?
Major ammunition manufactures including Winchester, Glock and Colt did not return calls for comment and no information was available on their Web sites.
A spokesman for Federal Premium, based in Edina, Minnesota, another ammunitions manufacturer, said his company was not commenting on ammunition shortages.
A statement from the company, however, said there is an unprecedented demand for law enforcement ammunition and commercial and hunting ammunition demand is ?strong.?
?But product availability is not an issue,? the company?s statement read.
While not all police agencies report problems stocking ammunition, the Sonoma County Sheriff?s Department does.
Sheriff?s Sgt. Rob Douglas said that availability and delivery are concerns.
?We?re still waiting on a bunch of stuff that was supposed to be coming in August or September,? he said of department?s ammunition order. ?We have some empty shelves.? he said.
Empty shelves, however, have not influenced training or use of ammunition in the field, Douglas said.
Some sports shooters though have cut back.
Fox, who lost the use of his legs in a car crash four years ago and had to forgo old hobbies like camping and fishing, has dramatically cut back his time at shooting ranges.
?I used to go three times a week because it?s something I can do,? he said. ?Now I have to hang on to what I have.?
Hunters are struggling, too said Tim Lockwood, owner of Lockwood Hunting Services in Windsor. ?Pig hunters are having the most trouble finding the right caliber.?
While supplies typically run low at the end of the calendar year, lasting several weeks into the new year, this year?s shortage has been more intense, Tom Nelson said.
?I tell them that I?m out of stock,? Nelson said of his recent conversations with customers. ?We try to find what we can and buy up whatever we can, but it?s been hard.?
Nelson said shoppers are infrequently surprised to see stocks so low: they?ve likely visited several of the other dozen gunshops in Sonoma County looking for the same ammunition. Or, they?ve driven even further.
?I drive to Nevada, stock up, buy in bulk,? Fox said. ?But even there they are short.?
Among the most difficult calibers to find are pistol and home defense types, like 9mm and 45-caliber handguns, Nelson said. When ammunition is in stock, customers are buying several cartons more than they need to safeguard against future shortages.
That?s putting more pressure on what supplies are on the shelves.
?When we do have it, there are people who panic and don?t buy out of need but out of greed,? said Mel Helm, of Helm?s House of Guns.
With all Helm?s ammunition pushed to the front of the shelves, there are still large empty holes where bullets should be. Currently 26 percent of his orders are being filed by manufacturers, he said.
?It?s disappointment for a lot of people that come in,? he said, adding that the situation doesn?t look like it will improve any time soon.
?It?s going to get tougher every day,? he said.