Looking to Old and Once Obsolete Guns to Beat the Ammo Shortage

IJ-70 Commercial Makarov PM Jim Grant
Sometimes uncommon calibers are easier to find. IMG Jim Grant

U.S.A. -(AmmoLand.com)- I was in a local gun shop the other day, and while I was looking to see if anything odd or unique piqued my interest, one customer after another came in asking for ammunition that of course, was not there on the shelf, or any shelf at any gun shop locally for that matter. They all plead their case, one or two of them said that they only had a few rounds for each of their particular guns and with hunting season about to begin, barely had enough to make it through.

I had to wonder, in the back of my mind, how one allows themselves to get to this point given the non-stop coverage of violence in the news for the last several months, and more than a few stories out there about guns and ammo being in short supply, but there it is. Even now reloading supplies have quickly dried up as well, primers being particularly hard to come by where I have looked and talked to, so that avenue is drying up fast as well. So, what to do as a gun owner now? Well, as someone who for years has collected obsolete and the not so common calibers, I would recommend looking for something that might be of less common variety and maybe a touch on the archaic side.

One of my favorite calibers when it comes to deer hunting is the .38-55 Winchester, and it so happens that they are available again being made by both Henry Repeating Arms and Cimarron Firearms. Henry chambers their Side Gate Lever Action in .38-55 and Cimarron Firearms offers a faithful copy of the 1894 Winchester, in both carbine and rifle version, in that wonderful old round. You can also find it in the Uberti 1885 High Wall rifle.

If older and more vintage guns are your fancy, Marlin chambered the Model 1893 for .38-55, Savage their 1899 at one time, then, of course, the Winchester 1894 and a few commemorative versions of the Model 94 later on. Ammunition for the .38-55 is still readily available and without it being what you would call, “top shelf”, Winchester continues to make it as does HSM and I checked before typing this article, and it was readily available to order, something that can’t be said about many other calibers.

Rifles in .38-55 Winchester work just as well now for taking big game as they did in 1894.

What about .22 Long Rifle, that seems to have dried up faster than a glass of water in Death Valley, except if you want something that doesn’t function in your favorite semi-auto, then you may be in luck. I haven’t had any issues finding .22 LR ammunition that’s Standard Velocity, which while it will make your Ruger 10/22 gag like a toddler eating Brussels sprouts, they function just fine in a bolt action, pump, or a single shot.

The same with those .22 Shorts you ignore that sit on the shelves waiting to be adopted as a stray cat at the shelter. I can tell you from personal experience that .22 LR Standard Velocity rounds work just fine on small game, squirrels and rabbits have never known the difference between them and High-Velocity ammunition when I’ve been hunting them.

.22 Long Rifle in Standard Velocity loads work just as well on small game as .22 LR high-velocity ammunition.

So, what about that shotgun you’ve wanted to get ammunition for, and you seem to be having trouble. I know 12 gauge has been unavailable in many places, buckshot has vanished like a ghost and most birdshot seems tricky as well. Well, for those of us who long ago learned the legend of the 16 gauge, we now seem to be the only ones who can get to feed the guns regularly. I found just the other day a box of #6 and #7 ½ shot with no effort and even buckshot with no competition whatsoever. I’ve seen those same boxes of 16-gauge buckshot rounds sitting beside rifled slug rounds for some time, no one seems to be in a hurry to claim them.

The 16 gauge has long been a favorite of mine, having inherited an Ithaca 37 Deerslayer from my Uncle in 2001. It’s accounted for several whitetails, a large coyote, and a couple of dozen grouse over the years. Recently I acquired a Belgian made Browning Auto-5 Sweet Sixteen and it’s already been squirrel hunting with great success. I’ve learned over the years that anything that can be taken with a 12 gauge can easily be taken with the 16 without the recoil and can be reloaded with steel shot for those waterfowl you’re hoping to go after.

This 16 gauge Ithaca Deerslayer has accounted for dozens of grouse as well as whitetail deer.
16 gauge works just as well on small game as the harder to find 12 and 20 gauges.

So, what about handguns? From what I have seen, 9mm ammunition is as rare as hen’s teeth, and trying to find 45 ACP like hunting for the remains of Jimmy Hoffa. What to do about carrying something for personal defense that doesn’t involve toting a long gun? There again, you may have to go old school.

One of my favorite handguns is an old East German Makarov PM that’s proved utterly reliable and easy to conceal. 9 x 18mm ammunition seems to be much, much easier to come across than other 9mm ammunition that’s currently being sought after, although I admit, the price seems to be stretching up there but it’s at least there to be found.

The 9mm Makarov PM has been a reliable handgun that was in service for years in East Germany, Bulgaria, Russia, and other Com-bloc countries and ammunition is still out there and available.

This is where I would again fall back to the .22 LR in Standard Velocity. If you’re looking for a pocket gun, something in a small .22 revolver that doesn’t have to worry about feeding issues like a semi-auto can still shoot something like the 40-grain bullets that Standard Velocity ammo is loaded with. The Ruger Wrangler, Heritage Arms Rough Rider, Ruger LCR, and Charter Arms Pathfinder will feed any .22 LR round that you can put in the cylinder. While it might not be as desirable as carrying a 9mm or .45 ACP, but if you can’t get ammo for them, they’re little more than paperweights.

Another older caliber out there, that I have no trouble finding ammo for, is the old .38 S&W, not to be confused with the .38 Special. The .38 S&W has been around since 1877 and was in the first truly concealable revolvers that weren’t small rimfire guns. Smith & Wesson pioneered the first real double action concealable guns with the Safety Hammerless models which were popular for decades as they could be concealed in a pocket or purse with ease.

While not on par with modern handguns, Smith & Wesson later went on to produce the five-shot double-action Terrier, which was the predecessor of the J-frame Chief’s Special and is just as concealable and works in the same way. Colt also has the Police Positive, which was made and can be found fairly inexpensively. The 146-grain round has an advertised velocity of 685 fps which is no barn burner for sure, but if you can find some of the 200-grain rounds that were used by the British as they issued their Enfield revolvers in WWII in .38 S&W, that’s a much better round. It’s not perfect, but right now perfection could be many months away.

Revolvers in .38 S&W, while not as effective as more modern calibers, still work in a pinch.

One thing I would tell everyone is to seriously consider handloading your ammunition. It’s exactly situations like this that many turned to handloading their rounds, especially after 2012 when the last ammo crisis popped up, although not anything like we’re seeing today. With the election coming up, the outcome could and most likely will determine how much the demand for ammunition either continues on the way it is or even gets worse. The sad truth is, you shouldn’t be trying to look for ammunition during a crisis, you should have had ammunition before the crisis ever began.

I would tell everyone to think objectively when they’re trying to hunt down ammunition right now and that maybe, instead of paying a ridiculous price for a single box of ammunition, you think outside the box and look at what ammunition you can find and backtrack to what guns may be out there for that ammo you are seeing on the shelves. I know that where I frequent, .38-40, .44-40, .25-20, .32-20, all those older calibers are readily available as are guns that chamber them. Uberti makes various lever action and single-action revolvers for everything but the .25-20 when it comes to those older calibers. There are thousands of good, used rifles out there, not necessarily dating back to the late 1800s either. Marlin made their 1894CL in .25-20 and .32-20 in the late 1980s and into the 1990s and they can be found out there. The trick is to look around, and right now, what’s old is new again and you may have to change your views and opinions of those old and what many would consider obsolete if you want to have guns that you can not just own, but also shoot.

Old calibers like .32-20 are still able to be found and still work well.

About David LaPell

David LaPell has been a Corrections Officer with the local Sheriff's Department for thirteen years. A collector of antique and vintage firearms for over twenty years and an avid hunter. David has been writing articles about firearms, hunting, and western history for ten years. In addition to having a passion for vintage guns, he is also a fan of old trucks and has written articles on those as well.

David LaPell

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DarryH
DarryH
26 days ago

My Ruger 10/22 functions just fine with CCI Standard Velocity ammo.

3l120
3l120
26 days ago

Not sure I will be recommending anyone buy a $400 Makarov because of the amount availability. Ammo is out there but you will pay dearly for it. Still less than a new pistol.

Don
Don
27 days ago

Except not many stores stock rounds in .38-55, .32-40, .38 S&W or most of the odd ball rounds. Under the best of times try to find the odd caliber rounds on a shelf.

musicman44mag
musicman44mag
27 days ago

I am not sure about having the odd ball size caliber. Back in 2011-13 or so when we had what I think was our first rationing by the government I could not find very much 7mm and no 22lr or 38 or 357 or 9mm. I could find 40 so that and the fact that I like it better than 9 is what I bought. 30-06 seemed be on all store shelves too when ever I was looking for rifle ammo. That shocked me, I figured that would be one of the first to go. I have reloaded since 1981.… Read more »

Tionico
Tionico
27 days ago
Reply to  musicman44mag

As t how it is that 7.62 x 57 (.30/06) can still be found, I suspect it is because most newer guns in that range of power have been chambered in the newer 7.62 x 51 NATO. Since the Gerand was switched over to the NATO round during the Korean War, the venerable ought six has been “on the way out”. Suits me fine.. I’ve got quite a few long guns that happily chew on the ought six, and a few that eat the NATO round. I don’t know of an AR pattern long gun that is made today that… Read more »

Don
Don
27 days ago
Reply to  Tionico

7.62x63mm is .30-06. M1 rifles were not re-chambered to 7.62mm NATO except for a small number of Navy rifles. Even the Navy issued .30-06 M1 rifles into the 70s. The 7.62mm NATO round was not in service during the Korean War.

3l120
3l120
26 days ago
Reply to  Tionico

The GArand was used thru the late 50s, as was the Browning 1919a4, both in 30-06. Who knows how late the Guard used it.