column By: Terry Wieland | August, 20
As this is written, I’m in my office/gun room, listening to Rachmaninoff and working away in what I always thought of as splendid isolation, but which is now called “sheltering in place.” One would think, under these virus-threatened circumstances, that working would be easier than ever. Alas, such is not the case. E-mails, texts and phone calls keep coming in from friends and acquaintances who, finding themselves confined to quarters, are at a loss for something to do.
Herewith, a few suggestions. You know that bucket of grubby brass you keep meaning to sort out, clean, resize, prime and generally get ready for loading? Now is the time. For one thing, you have nothing better to do; for another, you may need the ammunition sooner than you expect.
In spite of the relentless march of technology, there is still a strong element of drudgery in the ancient craft of handloading. Not every cartridge begins with a shiny new case and a precision jacketed bullet pulled from its protective wrapping. Shooting older guns, especially, we often find ourselves down on all fours searching the grass for wayward cartridge cases. With one semiauto pistol with a particularly enthusiastic ejector, I have even found myself taking my eyes off the target in order to spot where the empty case came to rest. I often lose the case anyway, but I always miss the target.
One of the downsides of owning a lot of different calibers is that you become a hoarder of brass that fits anything you own, even if you don’t shoot it much, and even if you don’t handload for it. In the back of your mind, there is a little voice saying “You never know . . . .”
The upshot of all this is that – in my case – there are three buckets, one containing handgun brass, another containing rifle brass and yet a third for shotshells that look like they could be reloaded in a pinch. After every trip to the range, one of them, and sometimes all three, will have a handful of scrounged and salvaged cases thrown in, to be sorted out “later.” Later, of course, never comes.
There are men of my acquaintance – and, it must be noted, no woman has ever done this – who gather up brass even if they don’t have a gun for it. The intention is, and I am not making this up, that once they retire, they will be able to put together a thriving little business, sorting, cleaning, reconditioning and selling the brass in little plastic bags on eBay. Lacking a retirement fund, that’s probably as good a plan as any. It beats collecting empty cans along the road.
Right now, in contravention of various state ordinances, gubernatorial proclamations and the urgings of every health service from the surgeon general on down, it seems that desperate buyers are clearing ammunition off the shelves everywhere it can be found. As recently as February, my inbox overflowed with daily missives from online ammunition dealers offering bulk savings and special deals on 9mm, .223 and .45 Auto. Suddenly, those have dried up. Instead of deals to clear out unwanted surpluses, order forms began growling “out of stock” every time a handloader tried to buy something. According to those who have braved Walmart in these perilous times, the cupboard is bare, especially for anything that might be considered a survival or self-defense load.
Ever since a pro-gun Republican entered the White House in 2017 instead of an anti-gun Democrat, the gun and ammunition business has been suffering. The drastic shortages we saw in 2014 and 2015 were replaced by surpluses and overruns, and for a long time people could get excellent ammunition at bargain prices. The smart money ordered it by the case and tucked it away.
There was a general feeling in the industry – usually whispered for fear of being thought subversive – that the 2020 election might usher in a turnaround if it looked like one of the anti-gun candidates would win, but at best that was not expected to come to pass until summer. No one anticipated a global modern-day “plague” in which the unlikely trio of sardines, toilet paper and 9mm Luger ammunition would become black market commodities traded in back alleys for fistfuls of cash.
One friend of mine has a private 300-yard rifle range, a Bianchi Cup-quality pistol range, his own private trap range and steel plates he can practice on from his back door if he doesn’t feel like driving a few hundred yards down the road. He also suffers from a chronic lung condition that puts him at great risk. For some reason, he never laid in a real hoard of shotshells, since he picks them up by the case at a local range. That range is closed for a month, and every gunshop around is out of shotshells. Fortunately, he has an old loading press and a scattering of hulls and wads and primers and shot, but now finds himself having to reload shotshells for the first time in years. He is far from unarmed, having one of the larger gun collections I know of, and I’ve never seen him without a pistol on his belt, but when you want to shoot trap, “you want to shoot trap.” This feeling of deprivation is new to him.
This paragraph was supposed to begin “On a less apocalyptic note…” but it didn’t work out. First, I received an article from the Miami Herald, reporting that gun sales in South Florida now exceed all previous records, including after “9/11 and category 5 hurricanes.” It’s interesting to see the different approaches depending on the proclivities of each state. Some – California and New York especially – are ordering gunshops to close as “non-essential,” while others, such as Missouri, allow them to stay open because their service is essential. In such times, it is comforting to be independent of such vagaries in public policy.
Then, looking ahead to a reloading article I’m planning on the .32 ACP (7.65mm), I decided I needed to lay in some bullets and brass. Hornady generously provided me a bag of new brass to work with, but when I logged on to Graf & Sons’ website, I found the company was out of stock on about half of the suitable bullets for .32 ACP. I ordered some of what was available, counting my blessings. The website did advise that, due to volume of orders, it would take “8+ days” to ship, a far cry from Graf’s usual 36 hours or less.
The next morning, I logged in again to find that several more .32 bullets were out of stock (including the Lehigh 50-grain Extreme Cavitator that I ordered the day before) and shipping was now expected to be “10+ days.” Obviously, the orders were piling up! To be on the safe side, I ordered some Berry’s plated bullets and Prvi Partizan brass. I expect they will arrive eventually. Meanwhile, I’m glad I’m not depending on those supplies to ensure my security.
To give some idea of the level of near-panic some people have reached, or perhaps it’s just that, as the genuine news gets wilder, we automatically believe what we hear. I sent a message to a friend who shoots a .38 Special, asking if she needed any more self-defense loads. As a joking tag line, I added that there were “rumors of cannibal outlaw bikers on the back roads of Jefferson County.” She replied that I had scared her with that, and it took her a minute or two to realize I was joking. At least, she “hoped I was.”
Cannibal outlaw bikers? Obviously, zombies are next. Sorry, have to run. I need to replenish the cleaner and get another load of old brass into the hopper.