I'm number 24. That's not my age, my agent number, a badge number, my waist size, or my IQ; it's my number in line outside of the Big Box Sporting Goods Store. Luckily, it's a Thursday, which means the line isn't that bad. I'm a regular here and I see lots a familiar faces. We aren't lined up for the latest Christmas items, or sales ad promotions.
We're just lined up for ammo. And it sucks.
Why the line?
You see, before the Great Gun Panic of 2013 got good and rolling, this local Big Box Sporting Goods Store came to town and effectively muscled out the competition with prices that the small gun stores just really couldn't compete against. Supply and demand, I get it, capitalism works but is impartial to the little guy. Therefore, by default this large store is now pretty much the sole-source locally to buy ammunition. In 2012, they had an immense assortment with dozens of choices in almost every imaginable caliber, flavor, size, type, and manufacturer. If you wanted 223, you had to choose between 55-grain, 62-grain, 71-grain, et al, then make your choice between Hornady, Remington, Federal, well, you get the point.
They had a lot of bullets. Even though you had to pay sales tax, you still wound up cheaper buying it locally than if you bought it online and had it shipped. Moreover, you had the luxury of touching, feeling, and smelling the actual ammo itself before you put it on the counter with your debit card.
Now that's changed. With the huge spike in demand, supply has evaporated. What used to be piles of ammunition spread out on 72-feet of shelving on three aisles is now down to about 12 feet. But! - - They get a truck in every night but Tuesday and Saturday, and said truck usually has a small supply of ammo on it. Its first come/first serve, still at the same prices as before this artificial panic, and it's hot off the shelves. Hence the line every morning.
The Doors Open
At 0700, the manager comes to the locked door and nods at the growing line. A flick of a key, a tight-lipped smile, and the doors part open to let the tide of hairy shufflers into the door. We are quiet and sedated, peaceful and respectful of all the procedures. Hindu cows are not as subdued. We have all been through this before.
Well, most of us anyway. A few oddballs are here on their first day. Usually some of the old timers tell the new guys, the gun line virgins, the low down, but many wont, thinking these interlopers will beat them to the small manna from the bullet gods. These newbies immediately make a break for the hunting section, where pre-2013, all of the ammo was kept on display.
What they don't know is that the store management, in an effort to get the ammo sold and the lines gone a.s.a.p. in the morning, is now bringing all new shipments of cartridges right to the customer service desk by the front door. The new people must have not gotten the memo. I feel bad that I didn't tell them, but then again, the person who was ahead of me in line was among them, putting me that much closer to the payoff. If it's there...
The new stuff that came in last night is laid out on the counter. I realise that I have shot more at the range in a good day than what they have on hand currently.
There is some Remington green box 38, a few cases of 12 gauge shells, Winchester white box .45, some Federal hunting ammo. What I am looking for wasn't on the menu, but I have a couple friends who I texted that asked me to pick up what I could of this, and a little of that. Through the little network of local gun guys we usually have at least one of us at the store each morning, which cuts down on missing too much of your personal life.
Of course, quantities are limited, and the store has a ration system to make sure that no one customer cleans them out, but of the 75 or so prospective ammo shoppers in line at 7:01, most leave empty handed. I see one of the newbies, the guy who was in front of me in line that broke for the hunting section. He is staring at the two boxes of winny .45 in my hand like he wanted to marry it. Normally they wont let you have but a single box, but today the manager allowed me two. I give the newbie one of the pair I picked up for my buddy.
It was hard on me my first day too. It was hard for us all.
I go to the hunting section and see the racks of empty shelves, the mute long arm display cases in which a few single shot 22s and expensive clay shotguns remain, and the handgun case with the same random guns that no one wanted last week.
On the ammo section, sleeping bags, coolers, and other items have now taken up most of the empty space so that the dead air has something in it. The only rounds here are some Steel shot, a box of 35 Remington, a nice stack of .222 (not to be confused with .223), several different loadings of 25-06, some 7mm Mauser, boxes of 6mm Rem, one of 257 Roberts, and enough 204 Ruger to start a war. All of which does me no good.
Oh well, there is always tomorrow.