Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Great Ammo Drought of 2013

For the shooting community, things are looking pretty bleak for the short to medium term as far as ammunition supply is concerned.  A few data points:

  • The local branch of Academy Sports has imposed a 'voluntary' limit of one box of ammo per caliber, per customer, per visit.  Their ammo shelves look as if starving shooters had run rampant through them, gnawing buying everything in sight.  Only the less popular calibers are in stock, and even those are looking a bit threadbare.  Anything serious in the way of defensive ammo for popular calibers, from handgun jacketed hollow point rounds, through buckshot and slugs for shotguns, to Evil Black Rifle fodder in 5.56x45mm. NATO, 7.62x39mm., and 7.62x51mm. NATO, are just plain out of stock, and they have no idea when they'll be getting any more.  (On the other hand, if you shoot 10mm. Auto or .44 Special, the local branch has more than a few boxes of ammo for you - I picked up a couple more of the latter for my reserves.)
  • A small gunshop that opened up only a few months ago is struggling to get any sort of stock of either firearms or ammunition.  The proprietor hasn't had time to build up long-term relationships with wholesalers, so he's right at the bottom of their priority list.  He's been told bluntly by one ammo wholesaler to "call back in 2014"!  He has virtually no ammo on his shelves, and is facing the ruin of his business because he can't get any (or much in the way of firearms either) for love or money.
  • The gun show suppliers have some stocks, but at insanely high prices.  Friends and I have checked out three or four shows over the past month, and they're all the same.  5.56x45mm. NATO ball ammunition, suitable for training and practice, is selling at plus-or-minus a dollar per round (it was about a third of that prior to last November's elections), and premium defensive hollowpoints for rifle or handgun are in the $1.50-$2.00 per round range in all popular calibers.  Needless to say, not much is being sold - but since there are no alternative suppliers, those selling it have no incentive to reduce their prices.  They're gambling (probably correctly) that since shooters have no choice at present, sooner or later, if they want ammo, they're going to have to pay what they're asking.  I fear they may be correct.
  • Even the lowly .22LR round is virtually unobtainable at present.  I've been looking for bulk packs (300-500 rounds of the cheap stuff for plinking and practice), but it's nowhere to be found at any of the stores or online ammo sellers where I normally buy it.  When a store gets some in (which isn't often), it's normally sold within a matter of an hour or two.  I've watched shooters assemble at Walmart, waiting for the weekly ammo shipment to come in, bearing wads of cash.  They buy every box even before it hits the shelves, and bear it off in triumph - some to add it to their reserves, others to resell it at gun shows for twice what they paid for it.  That really screebles my nurkle . . .
  • Numerous law enforcement agencies are struggling to buy enough ammunition for their routine training and qualification requirements.  From Texas to Indiana and in many other states, this is becoming an increasing problem.  It's likely to continue for many months to come - and in response, some officials are already calling for law enforcement to be allowed to buy ammunition before any is released for commercial sale to private citizens.  Doesn't that make you, as a private citizen, feel all warm and fuzzy?
  • Many shooters reload their own ammunition;  but now reloading components, particularly powder and primers, are also in short supply.  Here's just one thread on the subject to illustrate the problem.  I don't see it improving in the short term.

The question is:  what can we, as shooters, do about the problem?  I think there are a number of practical steps that will help us get through this.

1.  Standardizing our supplies.  We can standardize on a few calibers.  There's no real practical reason, for example, to have large quantities of six different defensive handgun calibers, and three or four defensive rifle calibers.  If we concentrate on one of each, plus a single shotgun gauge, we can build up a respectable supply of defensive ammunition in each.  This has the added advantage that we can trade our defensive ammo in other calibers with those who have it in the calibers we want, so that both parties end up with more of what they really need.  For example, I'm reducing my supplies of .45 ACP and .40 S&W, in order to build up my supplies of 9mm. Parabellum.  I now have plenty of the best defensive rounds available in the latter caliber.  That should see me through nicely, and allow me to help out friends in need from time to time.

(Of course, we don't have to dispose of all our weapons in other calibers, or all our ammunition for them;  but during shortages like this, it makes sense to put less-used weapons and cartridges into reserve status, to be taken out again when supplies return to normal.  Personally, I reckon I'll dispose of a few weapons too, and use the money I get for them to buy other things I need - scopes, gunsmithing work, that sort of thing.)

2.  Join together for bulk purchases.  If we have a friend who reloads, and is prepared to do a run of a few thousand rounds of training ammo in a caliber we all can use, it makes sense for all of us to chip in money to buy a few thousand bullets and primers, and several pounds of powder, and contribute our own fired cartridge cases to a common pool.  He can reload all of them, retaining a certain proportion for himself for his trouble.  In return for our contributions, each of us will receive an agreed proportion of the reloaded ammo.  Similarly, if one of us comes across a decent supply of ammo at a good price, it's very much to our mutual benefit for us all to chip in money to buy as much as possible, and share it between us.  I'll do this even for calibers that aren't a high priority for me, because whatever I get will probably serve as trade fodder to get me something I do want.

3.  Conserve our supplies.  I'm frankly astonished to find that, at current ammunition prices, I've got the equivalent of thousands of dollars sitting in ammo boxes!  We need to safeguard our supplies, storing them securely and not wasting them on idle plinking.  (I think we should also expect low-lifes to begin targeting those whom they know have ammo at home, as it'll be much more desirable to thieves if it's in high demand, and can be sold for cash with no questions asked.)  Training can be done with sub-caliber rounds like .22LR, or we can use non-essential calibers as training tools for those that are essential.  (For example, if you carry a handgun in .45 ACP, reserve most of your ammo in that caliber for defensive use, and train with a 9mm. handgun for which ammunition is available at a lower cost per round.)  We can also structure our shooting sessions to make the best available use of the ammo we have.  Instead of shooting idly at rocks or stumps, let's plan our training sessions before we go to the range or out into the field, and make every shot serve a purpose.  At current ammo prices, we can't afford not to!

As a longer-term strategy, I've decided that I'm going to cut down on what I keep in stock.  I've currently got weapons in more than 20 different calibers and cartridges.  In an ammo shortage such as we face today, that's probably not sustainable in the long term.  I think I'll cut back to no more than three or four rifle calibers, half a dozen handgun calibers, and two shotgun gauges.  What I no longer need can be sold off, or swapped with other shooters to get me something I do need.

(Anyone need a thousand rounds of .45 ACP ball and hollow-point?  How about a thousand-odd rounds of Hirtenberger [Austrian] and Australian milsurp .308?  The Austrian stuff in particular is like unobtanium, but I've got it sitting in my ammo stash right now.  Let's talk trades!)


EDITED TO ADD:  Doug Ross has some interesting facts and figures.  Here's an excerpt.

AMMO: Every caliber is now Allocated! We are looking at a nation wide shortage of all calibers over the next 9 months. All plants are producing as much ammo as possible w/ of 1 BILLION rounds produced weekly. Most is military followed by L.E. and civilians are third in line.

There's more at the link.  Go read.


Old NFO said...

I was going to post a similar piece, but you've nailed it (and said it much better than I)... And all of the manufacturers are hurting for parts/steel...

Anonymous said...

Hitrenberger .308 eh?
I might be interested in some of that.
What do you need?

Differ said...

For rifle practice I'm using a .22 caliber air rifle; the mechanics of aiming and shooting are the same as with a live rifle, the ammunition is cheap $8/500rds of decent pellets, and I can shoot in my back yard.

ZerCool said...

Peter, drop me an email - zercool/gmail. :)

Anonymous said...

Are the Canadians allowed to export? They used to have a native source for war ammo. If it could be tapped, the Great White North could balance the budget making 5.56 and 9x19!

Who needs to recount his stocks.

B said...

Email me. I might be interested in trading some greenbacks...Or primers for the ,308 and/or .45 ACP.

We can also talk about my large stash of .22LR.

shovelDriver said...

My question is: Why is this happening? Again?

Yes, I know Obama's the reason, but is it intentional or an accidental by-product of his "other" initiatives?

What we need to discover is how many of those billions of rounds going to the military are being stored locally in Guard armories. Oh, and by the way, how many of those Homeland Security rounds are being stored locally? This was we know where to get them in the emergency.

On a Wing and a Whim said...

There's no need for all the calibers? But this one's for my pretty gun, and this one's for my awesome but ugly plastic fantastic, and this one's for my favorite rifle, and this one's for the lever action you're going to teach me to shoot 'cause I want to learn, and this one's "because muzzleloader", which is as good of a reason as "because chocolate", or "because bacon". And that one's for deer hunting, and that one's for turkey hunting, and that one's for clay pigeons, and that one's for wolves on two feet who might try to get in the house like they did down the road in case I'm home, and....

I'll have you know I'm not idly shooting at the target. I'm meditating on the zen of recoil therapy. You can train. I'll sit here with the bulk pack of .22, and go from bitchy to happy. Deal?

-Your Wife

David said...

I'm interested in .45 ACP and .308...

dbc603 at gmail dot com

Peter said...

Folks, I've been swamped with interest in and offers for the ammo I mentioned. It was offered light-heartedly, but it looks as if some trades are likely (in the order that inquiries were received). Thanks for asking, but everything's spoken for at present. If I release more of my stash in future, I'll keep you all in mind.

Anonymous said...

If ammo makers didn't sell to the government, how much would that leave for us citizens?

Ajdshootist said...

Its just the same here in the UK all
of a sudden some ammo is becoming very hard to find, that is why i reload for all the calibres i have
baring .22 rimfire.

Anonymous said...

years ago I standardized on a few calibers, and on good solid performing platforms that had a readily available .22 conversion kit or top end.

my glock 19 has a ciener 22 top end for training.

my cz 85 has a club kadet 22 top end.

my ar has a 22 kit.

there are, or were readily available 22 kits for most 1911's or a full 1911 in 22

I stopped shooting more than a box or two for training in the full power caliber a few years ago and was just stocking my main calibers while training in 22. I saw the handwriting on the wall.

Anonymous said...

I would be interested in .308 or .45
I have a good stock of most popular calibers.

Gewehr98 said...

I have to respectfully disagree. We're not scaling back here at Castle G-98. Multiple firearms in the same chambering keep individual wear and tear down. Last I counted, there were 9 rifles in just .30-06 stashed in the safes. To me, that's a good start. I even rotate the bedside Kalashnikovs from time to time, especially when they go to the range for practice day. Granted, I probably went way overboard during Y2K and 2008, so the reloading room is well-stocked with brass, powder, primers, and bullets. The patented Preacherman ammo cabinet is stuffed full, and I've even got about 900lbs of lead in one corner of the basement for bullet casting. I went to the last local gun show not to buy, but to witness. I nearly soiled myself - 5.56mm NATO rounds were selling for $1.00 EACH. Were it legal to sell the contents of my .50 caliber ammo boxes full of match 5.56mm handloads, I'd probably have my vacation cruise paid for. But they're my stash, I'm good, and I'm hunkering down.