Those who've tried to buy ammunition recently (particularly those millions of new gun-owners who purchased their first firearm over the last eighteen months or so) know that it's difficult to the point of impossibility to buy what they need in popular cartridges like 9mm or 5.56x45mm. As stocks come in, they go right out the door, sometimes within minutes of being received.
A lot of people have conspiracy theories about why this is, but the reality is much more mundane - if no less frustrating. It's simply that the demand far exceeds the supply. What's more, the supply chain disruptions affecting all other business and commerce are affecting ammunition too, making the bottleneck worse.
"Emily Posts" recently interviewed the head honcho of Hornady about the problem.
“Everyone thinks it's a conspiracy not to ship more. They think we’re lying about not selling a box of ammo,” [Jason] Hornady told me on the phone while driving across Nebraska from a meeting to his home. “We have two years on order today. I promise we are making more. Everybody is.”
. . .
The ammo shortage has been so dramatic — with empty shelves and online stores — that some people believe the manufacturers are holding back supply to increase prices and take advantage of people. Jason, who is vice president of Hornady Manufacturing, said that is not true. It’s just impossible for the industry to keep up with skyrocketing demand.
“It’s the same for all of us in manufacturing. No one has an extra factory sitting around waiting for that big of an increase,” he explained. “We were able to sell and ship 30 percent more last year from our plant by throwing more people and hours at it.”
Hornady said demand has tripled in just a year and a half. He said their business had been flat for four years until December 2019 when Walmart stopped selling guns and ammo due to the civil unrest around the country. Demand continued to increase when the pandemic began in early 2020 and has continued to increase since then.
“Everybody has a subliminal low-level paranoia that they will have to fight for food and guns and gas,” he said about the COVID lockdowns and restrictions.
I said it seemed like people were panic buying ammo, like they did toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
“Exactly, throw that on top,” he replied. “The customers aren’t going in and buying one box or two. They buy cases. And now they buy whatever is there. They call it shortage, but it’s a self fulfilling prophecy.”
. . .I asked him about the conspiracy theory that the federal government was buying all the ammo to keep it from people. He said that Uncle Sam is just 2 percent of all their business.
What about the primer supply issue that people keep asking me for reloading? “We too are having a hard time getting primers. And we’re trying to get more than ever before , while those guys are trying to keep up with their own ammo companies.” He explained to me that a manufacturer that also makes primer will try to fill the ammunition orders first, which is why primer is harder to get now. “You can’t blame them,” he added.
There's more at the link.
In a second interview, this time with the President of Winchester Ammunition, she learned:
More than twice as many Americans have guns and do shooting sports than have golf clubs and putt on a green.
. . .
Demand for ammunition rose with the pandemic for people who wanted a safe, outdoor activity, but then stayed at record levels. Flaugher said there are a whopping 52 million people in the U.S. who participate in shooting sports. Flaugher said demand for ammo has more than doubled in the past year and a half. In particular, gun club recreational shooting is “off the charts right now.”
. . .
The reason for the ammo shortage is that all the inventory was depleted in the first three months of the pandemic, Flaugher explained. The stock of ammo in the warehouses, wholesalers and retail shelves sold fast. The manufacturers can’t build it back up because people are buying whatever they can find.
“I'm highly disappointed we can't offer every consumer a good experience in buying ammunition. It’s not fun for us to have a situation where a customer wants to go out and hunt or shoot or buy ammunition for personal protection but can’t. It’s frustrating for us as well,” he said.
“What they need to really understand is that Winchester and every other ammunition manufacturer are doing everything we can to get more to that consumer. Just like they got caught off guard with this level of demand, we got caught off guard too. It just takes a lot of time to be able to get to the level of production based upon the level of demand today. So, hey, we’re frustrated as much as they are. We do not like disappointing our customers.”
Flaugher points to three factors that led to the dramatic increase in those early months that depleted the back stock of ammunition. The first thing that caused the supply chain to dry up was the increased level of concern that people have for their personal security because of the pandemic and civil unrest.
The second factor was the increase in people doing shooting spots, hunting and outdoor activities. The third issue is the public’s heightened concern about new gun-control laws and actions by the Biden administration and a Democratic-controlled Congress that would limit their ability to buy what they want.
Again, more at the link.
I recommend Emily's Web site as a good place to keep up-to-date with trends in the firearms industry, and interesting articles about aspects of it that other correspondents and outlets don't always cover.