CAMBRIDGE — Each day Dan Yaeger walks by empty cases and shelves at his gun shop near Cambridge to answer the phone.
He receives about 20 calls a day from customers wanting to know if any guns or ammo have come in at his store, Mountain Man Guns. But the answer usually is the same — “we’re all out.”
There only are a few guns left, he said of stock at his store, with pistols, revolvers and shotguns all gone.
When the pandemic started last March, there was a rush to get toilet paper. By the time last summer hit with protests in Madison and across the country, there was a rush to get guns and ammo, setting a record in sales for 2020.
Election years always are big in sales, Yaeger said. Gun owners often fear new legislation coming in from a possible change in president. But this year was different. By the time the election happened in November, shelves were stripped clean. And getting ammo has been near impossible.
“There’s no shotgun ammo right now for trap shooters,” Yaeger said.
He only was able to obtain two boxes of shotgun shells recently from one of his top distributors. And those shells are like gold.
Last year, slightly more than 39 million background checks were completed in the United States for someone wanting to purchase a gun, Yaeger said. That’s 10 million more than the previous year, according to the NICS Firearm Background Checks, the federal system used.
But Yaeger said that’s not even the total number of guns sold in the United States last year because items like handguns go through the state Department of Justice and are not part of the federal data.
Yaeger estimates as many as 50 million guns could have been sold last year alone.
And this past month, when the Capitol insurrection happened on Jan. 6, there were 4.3 million background checks to purchase guns. That’s 1.6 million more than the previous January.
But locally, Yaeger said, most guns were sold long before this year.
“There’s nothing left,” he said. “Even last fall, a normal time we would sell a lot of ARs and pistols before an election, would have been huge.
“There was nothing left by then,” Yaeger added. “You even couldn’t buy a hunting rifle. By the time stuff happened in Washington, there was nothing.”
But that doesn’t stop people from calling each day. Yaeger still receives calls looking for ammo or any guns he has left. There are a few Glock pistols he was able to get. But most of the shelves are bare.
Most of the stuff he is able to get in, he said, are back orders.
“Kind of like the toilet paper thing,” Yaeger said. “Buy it all. Now, things have not changed much.”
Shelves along the wall, where stacks of ammunition had been stored, now hold only a few scattered boxes. And cases that usually display a wide variety of handguns only have a few left. When he got into the business about 40 years ago in Fort Atkinson, Yaeger looked at the gun business as a hobby. But when he retired from a factory job, he opened Mountain Man Guns near Cambridge in 2013.
From gun repair to sales, customers have not stopped calling or showing up.
People have been driving hours to find ammunition for handguns and shotguns, only to face empty shelves at chain stores like Cabela’s in Sun Prairie or even smaller shops like Mountain Man Guns. Ordering almost is impossible for many items, said Yaeger, who has had a record year selling 10 or 15 times what he normally would sell.
Something he noticed last year also was that people who were buying guns were not his regular customers. Rather, they were people who never before had purchased a firearm.
In a normal week before the pandemic, Yaeger would put orders in for supplies every other day. “Those days are gone,” he said.
But gun dealers are not the only ones seeing a huge spike in demand. Tom Bergey, owner Bergey Jewelry and Archery in downtown Fort Atkinson, provides the paperwork part of the business with background checks and gun transfers.
“Still strong,” he said of demand. “Just as many (as last summer) if not more than ever.”
Bergey said in January of this year he saw a higher uptick in demand. That same month also was marked by the Capitol insurrection.
March 17 will mark one year since the pandemic shut down many businesses in Wisconsin. And with that, there has been no turning off the demand for guns and ammo.
And for gun shop owners like Yaeger, there is no telling when supply will catch up with demand.
“I think it will take a few years to fix this,” he said. “Back to somewhat normalcy.”