Friday, May 2, 2014

.22 Long Rifle... Has the Sun Finally Set?

The humble .22 Long Rifle cartridge saw the light of day in 1887 after being developed by the J. Stevens Company and as of this writing is an unusually old 127 years old in the sporting arms market. At one time I used to believe that the .22 would exist and be loaded to the end of time (along with the even older 45-70, but that's another story) but today I'm not so sure.

Since the first politician in the wake of the horrific Sandy Hook shooting uttered the words "Gun Control", ammunition supplies have been spotty and nothing has been universally harder to find than the humble .22LR. Why this is so is likely something we'll never know in it's entirety but of late, the accumulated .22 production capacity of the US is running flat out and market demand is apparently far outstripping supplies. Locally up in the Great North, folks unscrupulous scalpers are commonly asking $80 for a 500 round brick that was commonly available for $20 not that long ago. Store shelves are nearly always empty and once in a while a small shipment arrives- it's picked over in a matter of hours, if not minutes, despite various store policies limiting folks to 1 box or perhaps 3 depending on where.

This sharp uptick in demand has got some folks in something of a tizzy, wondering why manufacturers don't invest major capital to develop new production and also many shooters wonder where all this current production is going. This current production certainly isn't being shot up. Hanging out at local shooting ranges in day's past, it was nothing much to see a group of shooters blast off a 500 round brick or more in an afternoon.

Not anymore. Folks shooting .22s might pop off a 50 round box.

As a maker, knowing the near total sum of .22 ammo is sitting on shelves and closets sure wouldn't spur me to invest millions in producing increased volume. Of course, nor would the very low profit margin .22LR ammo has normally carried either. Since .22LR tooling is pretty much dedicated to only .22 (unlike center fire rifle tooling which can be reconfigured to other center fire ammo), I can see where a producer might be reluctant to spend the capital investment to produce the shooting equivalent of the penny which, oddly enough, costs more than it's value to produce.

So, I've got to wonder- will shooters start passing on the .22LR? In days past every serious shooter had at least one or two, but with supply issues plaguing that aspect of the sport, will tomorrow's shooters find something else? Airguns are a natural fit and many of today's samples are easily the equivalent of the .22LR with regards to accuracy and power in the game fields. Oddly enough (or maybe not), shotgun shells are unaffected by this buying frenzy and a lot of small game enthusiasts simply moved to the scattergun. Or will it be something else new entirely?

I believe it's time for some innovation to come along out of the free market and give shooters something affordable and available in the small arms market. Maybe it's time the .22 faded on off into the sunset.


The Suburban Bushwacker said...

Could it be that a relaodable case for roll-your-own 22LR is on the way? I cant be the only person who is wondering how it could be done.

Home on the Range said...

I got 22 LR as a wedding gift. Beat the heck out of a toaster.

Phillip said...

Interesting pondering, Hodge.

As I'd mentioned on the Face(less)Book, a .25cal air rifle has picked up the bulk of my critter shooting these days. I still roll out the Walther .22 for handgun practice, but my rattling old Marlin 60 kind of has a dark niche in the safe... behind the .17hmr.

I'm not sure the .22lr shortage is ever going to completely resolve. With the prices for a box of 50 still running ridiculously high, this turns out good for the manufacturers and the retailers... and that's unlikely to reverse.

As far as rolling your own, as Sten suggests, that's an intriguing thought. You have to wonder what it would take to tool up for rimfire ammo.