Among avid shooters, the alphanumeric monikers of popular calibers — 9 mm, .45 Auto, .223, 5.56 NATO — may as well read like ticker symbols on a surging New York Stock Exchange. Those holding ammunition are all smiles, while the have-nots feel especially left out.
Many who own multiple firearms chambered for a variety of calibers have turned into the equivalent of day traders to maintain an adequate supply of ammo. Some scour the internet for hot deals on their lunch breaks. Others prospect local gun stores. Knowledge and timing are everything. The good stuff can disappear in hours — and in some cases, minutes — after it lands on websites or store shelves.
Needless to say, if you’re a gun owner looking for ammo, it’s been ugly out there. Yet in many parts of the country, people are reporting encouraging signs — boxes of hard-to-find calibers have been showing up again on store shelves. Where the inventory used to vanish quickly in all-out feeding frenzies, by many reports, ammo is holding on store shelves longer. Could it be that the ammo supply is finally loosening up?
What the Manufacturers Are Saying
Seth Swerczek, marketing communications manager at Hornady, says “not so fast.”
“Hornady is […] still firing on all cylinders and our ammunition production and shipping are at an all-time high,” he said. “We are still pushing the limits of our capacity.”
Swerczek predicted more of the same through the remainder of 2021.
“I wish I had more insightful things to say in regard to the topic, but we really haven’t seen a change in orders or demand since this thing really took off,” he said. “What I can tell you is we are doing everything in our power to maintain our commitment to quality while increasing our production and/or capabilities.”
Sig Sauer, known more for its guns than its ammunition, pushed into the powder, primer, brass, and bullet space in 2014. Tom Taylor, chief marketing officer and the executive vice president of Sig’s commercial sales, said the ammo supply hadn’t changed much from his perspective, either.
“We are not even beginning to keep up with demand,” Taylor said. “Some of the larger ammo companies might be in slightly better shape than us, but, in my opinion, the ammo market is still a mess with no end in sight.”
What the Retailers Are Saying
If the suppliers see no end, why are gun owners reporting more product on store shelves? Nate Roberts, firearms manager for D&R Sports in Kalamazoo, Michigan, said several factors were in play.
First, the mathematics of supply and demand are at play. The more that demand decreases supply, costs inevitably increase. As a result, higher prices on boxes of ammo across all calibers have finally started to deter the hoarders — many of whom, early on in this crisis, scarfed up supply and resold it for profit.
“The cost of ammo has finally reached a tipping point,” Roberts said. “That has forced buyers to prioritize their spending.”
Secondly, like many retailers across the country, D&R has placed limits on the number of rounds customers can purchase each day. This strategy has served to undermine the hoarders.
“We got an earful from certain customers,” Roberts admitted. “But in the end, they’d settle for their two boxes. We’ve also made it a practice to hold some product back in the warehouse, rather than put all of it out for sale. That has enabled us to keep some ammo on hand to sell to our customers who purchase a firearm. No one wants to buy a gun they can’t shoot.”
Third, Roberts indicated his buyers are shaking the bushes to find new suppliers. “We just received several pallets of [ammunition] from a manufacturer in Turkey,” he said.
While the reliability of certain off-brand ammo may be a valid concern for some, the “little guys” aren’t the only ones facing challenges to maintain quality as suppliers are pressured to meet unprecedented demand. Winchester recently issued a recall for certain lots of 9 mm, 115-grain cartridges. According to the official recall:
“Lots of 9mm Luger 115 FMJ and JHP ammunition may contain propellant that does not properly ignite and burn when the cartridge is fired. Ammunition containing propellant that does not properly ignite and burn may result in a bullet remaining in the barrel (i.e., a bullet-in-bore obstruction). Firing a subsequent bullet into the bore obstruction could cause firearm damage, rendering the firearm inoperable and subjecting the shooter and bystanders to a risk of serious personal injury.”
What the Consumers Are Saying
While anecdotal evidence might suggest the end of the ammo shortage is in sight, it’s likely a result of clever action at the retail level rather than a meaningful increase to the overall supply. Higher prices, rations, and some quality concerns have slowed many buyers.
Unfortunately, the economic conditions that created this perfect excrement storm of ammo hysteria — namely, widespread social unrest, a contentious presidential election, and white-hot anti-gun rhetoric — haven’t gone away. Buckle up and learn to reload. That is, if you can find primers and powder.