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Riding It Out: Ammo Shortages, SHOT Show and Scrambling to Shoot

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Some of you may have noticed that everything’s gotten a little weird in the firearms world over the last 9 or 10 months.

In many areas, it isn’t just that guns have jumped in price; it’s that there aren’t any guns to be had at all. And ammo? Unless you run truly obscure chamberings, you may not have been able to get any rounds for weeks or even months. Even the reloaders, who so often claim to be immune to shortages because they make their own ammo at home, are just as out of luck when it comes to finding brass, bullets, primers and powder.

How did this happen? How did we get here?

Well, if everyone decides they want a month’s supply of emergency canned food, and they all decide they want it this week, every grocery store in the nation runs out of canned food in anywhere from a few hours to a few days. That isn’t the kind of supply that any grocery store keeps on hand, and more importantly, that isn’t the kind of production schedule any manufacturer follows. Food companies have a schedule of what gets made when and what goes where: they have x million cans that, several years ago, were contracted to be sold to the federal government this quarter. They have y million cans that are contracted for state government and institutional sales this quarter. And the rest will go to retailers.

Ammunition manufacturers follow the same model, and so does everyone else in the consumables business. It’s how everything’s worked since the 1950s. And it’s a large part of why it’s so hard to buy ammunition right now: Ammo companies can’t just “ramp up production” to meet an almost unbelievable jump in demand — literally millions of first-time gun owners — while still fulfilling their obligations to existing customers who’ve already signed contracts and cut checks.

This Isn’t Just Bad For You

Though some bitter consumers would accuse gun and ammo manufacturers of crying themselves to sleep on giant piles of money, believe me, they don’t like this either. Every gun and every round of ammo that can be manufactured or brought into the country is selling like crazy, but on balance we are in a far-from-ideal situation.

First, it’s never good to have your customers — specifically new customers, who are forming lifelong buying habits — angry at you for your products never being available. If a new gun owner goes to buy some of that “Winchester White Box” he or she has heard is such good training ammo, and it’s never in the store, guess what he or she is going to stop looking for … possibly forever? Ammunition companies want to sell you — yes, YOU — ammunition. They just can’t right now.

Second, market booms and busts are never the goal. When it’s a boom, the consumer can have a hard time getting what he or she wants. When it busts, the manufacturer is often left with a glut of product. All you have to do to understand this is to look at what ammunition was going for in the years between Trump’s election and COVID, the period our industry refers to as the “Trump Slump.” I was getting 115-grain Speer 9×19 delivered to the editorial offices for what worked out to less than $8 per box of 50 with free shipping. Now, when it can be found, it’s going for three times that or more.

Third, the industry’s largest event was canceled. The Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show, held every January in Las Vegas, is where tens of thousands of firearms-industry professionals debut and browse the year’s new items. But Nevada deciding that such events would not be allowed to happen upended everyone’s plans. Usually, “Range Day” alone supplies countless gun writers and YouTubers with the opportunity to create the media we all love to consume. But not this year. The tens of thousands of videos about the newest and most impressive guns and gear that would normally be shot in Vegas will have to be made elsewhere and at far less convenience to all involved. SHOT being canceled was a massive blow to content creators, on both the consumer and the marketing ends of the shooting and tactical worlds.

‘Okay, But When Will I Be Able to Buy Ammo?’

Word around the campfire is that the situation should stabilize by July. You’ll see a lot of advice online and in print about how to save money on your ammo-buying, but a lot of it will center on what to do once ammo-buying is actually possible again. In most areas, there just isn’t any. As one friend told me, “At this rate, were I still running the shop, I’d stop updating tags and just mark ammo ‘Market Price, Ask.’ I have to be able to order replacements at God-knows-what cost, so it’s market rate plus 10 percent.”

So the bad news is that in some ways, there isn’t any good news — at least not in an immediate sense. Everyone tried to buy a month’s worth of canned food in the same week. But now that the panic-buyers have their guns and a few boxes of rounds, they might be done buying guns and ammunition forever. And now that regular shooters have cut back since they don’t feel like spending jacketed hollow-point money on ball, I am confident that the ammo situation will get sorted out, maybe even before July. But the harsh reality is that if you don’t have any ammo now, you likely won’t have much more than that until summer without paying through the nose for it.

There isn’t anything I, or anyone else, can do about this for you. You had your chance at “Trump Slump” gun and ammo prices for four years, but those days are gone. Moreover, we suffered similar shortages between 2008 and 2016, and it would seem that some decided not to learn from those experiences. It’s one thing if you’re brand new to shooting, but if you were a gun owner the last time this happened, and if you didn’t fill every available nook and cranny in your residence with as much cheap “Trump Slump” ammo as you could afford, I don’t know what to tell you other than mistakes you continue to make aren’t mistakes; they’re decisions. For now, all you can do is keep your eyes open for when supply does arrive at your local shops and buy it when you see it.

Better Times Are Ahead

Hopefully, you’ve been training. Because guess what? These are the times for which we train. When it’s not prudent (or possible) to burn through 100 rounds a month like you did back in the good old days, you hunker down and wait it out. Don’t worry TOO much about not being able to keep up your pre-lockdown training regimen either. Missing a few trips to the range won’t rot your skill sets all the way back to beginner status. And never lose sight of the fact that if you’ve been training regularly, you’re in much better shape than the individual who bought his or her first gun six months ago and still hasn’t put a single round through it. Just double down on the dry-fire drills and keep moving forward.

I wish I could tell you something else. I don’t like that my answer to “When can I buy ammo again?” is “The next time you see some ammo for sale.” It is extremely frustrating for gun owners who didn’t stock up while the gettin’ was good, and it is almost as frustrating for the companies that would like nothing more than to sell you all of the ammunition that you want. But this isn’t anything that we can’t handle.

These shortages will pass. Manufacturers will catch up with a demand for ammunition and components the likes of which we haven’t seen since the invasion of Iraq. Supply will return. Prices will stabilize.

And you might even be able to take the grandkids shooting again by July.


About Ed Combs

Ed Combs is senior editor of Concealed Carry Magazine and a former educator and law enforcement officer.

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