HELENA — A warehouse in south-central Montana serves as headquarters for one of the nation’s largest ammunition suppliers, a business that can ship an order for 100,000 bullets without missing a beat.
The Hunting Shack, a few miles outside the small town of Stevensville, is the primary supplier of ammunition to 3,000 police departments and ships 250,000 rounds of ammunition a day. And despite a nationwide shortage of .223-caliber rounds, largely due to the war in Iraq, The Hunting Shack is still able to ship 35,000 of the sought-after bullets each day.
General Manager Darren Newsom said the business has largely been able to insulate Montana police departments from the nationwide shortage because they typically request small amounts.
It’s harder to fill orders for the big customers who ask for 100,000 bullets at a time, he said.
‘‘There’s just a major shortage on ammo in the U.S. right now. It’s just terrible,’’ Newsom said.
On the surface, it’s hard to see much of a slowdown at The Hunting Shack. The wholesaler still has more than 500,000 rounds in stock at any given time and can make as many as 300,000 rounds a day on a campus that includes a 10,000-square-foot warehouse.
An Associated Press survey of dozens of police and sheriff’s departments around the country found law enforcement agencies are struggling with delays of as long as a year for both handgun and rifle ammunition. The shortage can cut into training time for police officers.
The Army ordered 1.5 billion rounds last year, roughly triple its 2001 requirement, and has placed a big load on ammunition suppliers.
Newsom said he is working from a backorder of 2.5 million rounds of the .223.
But he said the war is only one problem facing suppliers right now. Costs for raw materials are also going up due to increased demand from China for copper and lead — main ingredients in bullet-making.
‘‘When they take our copper or lead, it never comes back in as ammo, it comes back in as something else,’’ he said.
Newsom predicts the shortage won’t go away even if the war ends. He said the military has used it’s three-year supply of ammunition, something it will have to refill once the war ends.
And he suspects the military will want to return to the seven-year, on-hand supply they used to have, now that they felt the effects of a shortage. It will take a lot of bullets to fill up the shelves.
Newsom said a new problem is also cropping up. Other countries are overpaying small manufacturers, draining some of the supply.
Montana police departments, unlike many other agencies around the country, have had little trouble during the shortage. A few Montana agencies said it takes a little longer for the bullets to arrive, but they always come in as requested.
Missoula Police Sgt. Ed McLean said his agency primarily uses the ammunition for training. Even the SWAT teams that require .223 rounds have been able to get them without trouble from The Hunting Shack — a 40-minute drive down the highway, he said.
It doesn’t hurt that officers can pick up the ammunition on their way into work, orders that can sometimes be as big as 10,000 rounds each.
‘‘We’re fortunate to have them where they are,’’ he said. ‘‘We haven’t had the need to shop around.’’