William W. (Bill) Gabbard
If you own a firearm and have gone down to your local gun shop to pick up a box of ammunition within the last six months, you have probably asked the same thing - where is the ammo? Unlike times in the past when there have been shortages in 22 ammo, handgun ammo, .223, 5.56 or anything that was primarily used in assault rifles, this time the ammo shortage has hit across the board.
This past November some folks were scrambling to find ammunition for deer hunting. Even a box of 30-06 was nearly impossible to find. I had guys come by that couldn’t find ammo to zero in their rifles. One fellow who knew that I handloaded called me and said that he had looked everywhere, couldn’t find a box of 243 and wanted me to load one for him. The situation for those of us who load our own isn’t much better. I have talked to everyone who would talk to me in the industry, including manufacturers, distributors, and retail sale outlets trying to find out where the ammunition along with reloading components are.
Jason Hornady, Vice President of Hornady Manufacturing, Jeff Hoffman who along with his wife Kristi own Black Hills Ammunition, Keith Enlow, President of Sierra Bullets, along with Aaron Oeler of Hodgdon Powder all pretty much agree that this is a time of unprecedented demand. The first big jump in demand came as the COVID-19 Pandemic got underway. People became concerned that that they might not be able to get ammo. Then along came widespread civil unrest and people started stockpiling out of fear that they might need the ammo to defend themselves and their property. This also spurred a huge spike in the sales of firearms. Estimates range from five to seven million Americans became first-time gun owners, which resulted in even greater demand for ammunition.
Adding to all this, a Presidential Election comes along where one of the candidates is calling for additional gun control measures. As the supply of ammunition dwindled, the interest is reloading and components surged, resulting in a shortage of reloading components also.
Jason Hornady said that they are producing about 30-percent more ammo than would normally be considered full production and 40-percent more reloading components. He said that if orders stopped coming in today, it would take two years to catch up. One concern that the rumor-mill has going is that the manufacturers are only producing law enforcement and military ammo, not regular hunting ammo. Jason assured me that they are running everything - 30-06, 243, even one of my favorites 7 mm-08. He says that they are making everything that they can make while maintaining quality. Jason also stated that they had bought an additional six-month inventory of raw materials early in the pandemic and as of now they are still in decent shape on supplies.
Jeff Hoffman of Black Hills Ammunition says that they are at full production. They are running a full crew for five ten-hour shifts as compared to a normal four ten-hour shifts. I asked him if he had considered increasing employees and equipment. Jeff says that his average employee has been with him for 13 years, and fears that rushing new employees and equipment into service could adversely affect the quality that they are known for. He also added that when things return to normal, the increase could result in layoffs and equipment setting idle.
Keith Enlow says that at Sierra Bullets their production is up significantly and still climbing. They are adding new people and equipment - cautiously, taking care not to allow quality to be compromised in any way. Keith stated, “We aren’t called the Bulletsmiths for nothing.” He stated that they continue to ship to ammunition manufacturers and reloading component wholesalers at about the same percentages as always. He added that they are maintaining adequate supplies of raw materials but that it isn’t easy. Sierra recently acquired Barnes and they are in the process of ramping up production there also.
Aaron Oeler of Hodgdon Powder says that they have never seen this kind of demand. They have produced significantly more powder than they did in 2018 or 2019 and expect to produce significantly more in 2021. One bright spot on the Hodgdon horizon is that with their recent purchase of the Accurate and Ramshot brands they gain additional manufacturing facilities, which should improve distribution and availability of those brands.
Moving on to the distributors, I was able to speak with Adam Braverman of Capstone, who distributes Berger, Lapua, SK, and VihtaVuori in the United States as well as Berger to several other countries. I also spoke with Danny Siegler of Zanders Sporting Goods, a major distributor of sporting goods to retailers all over the United States. Zanders is one of the first places that your locally owned gun store goes to for firearms, ammunition, and components. They echoed the sentiments of the manufacturers as to the cause of the shortage.
Danny Siegler of Zanders says that the ammunition shipments have slowed to a trickle. He says that Zanders stocks over 35,000 items and that right now they are 99-percent out of stock on ammunition, and as soon as he gets a shipment, it is gone.
Adam Braverman of Capstone said during 2020 we have received more VV powder, Lapua and SK rimfire ammunition, Lapua ammunition, bullets, and cases than we have ever brought into the USA. They have increased production in all factories and have orders scheduled out until the end of 2021. While Mr. Braverman could not provide exact numbers, he did state that in the past year they have brought 44-percent more product into the country from Lapua, 88-percent more from SK, and over 100-percent more from VihtaVuori.
I attempted to reach out to several retailers, both large and small. While several of the “Big Boys” simply did not respond. One even using “no comment.” I was able to reach a couple of major retailers - Bryan Richardson of Powder Valley, one of the bigger retail outlets that specializes in reloading components as well as ammunition, and Michael Ryan of Midsouth Shooters Supply that sells just about anything related to shooting. I also talked to the owners of two local privately owned shops - Gary Roberts of Levi Gun and Pawn and David Gabbard of Lawrenceburg Gun and Pawn.
Bryan Richardson of Powder Valley says that although he is getting regular shipments, those shipments are smaller. He felt that a lot of the components (especially primers) that he usually sells are being diverted directly to the manufacturers of ammunition.This is more common with the bigger corporations that own companies making components as well as ammunition. His ammunition sales are up 500 percent this year and his reloading component sales are up 200 percent. It is hard to keep product on the shelf with that kind of demand.
Michael Ryan of Midsouth Shooters Supply said that he is getting regular shipments and for the most part, the manufacturers are doing a good job of allocating the products as they become available. His incoming orders are more than double that of previous years. He also indicated that the orders for reloading supplies have significantly increased. He feels that he is gaining a lot of new customers in ammunition sales. Michael is seeing many new reloaders coming on the scene and is concerned that they are having difficulty finding components – again, especially primers.
David Gabbard, Owner of Lawrenceburg Gun and Pawn said that shipments to his shop are “sporadic at best.” He feels that most distributors allocations are already spoken for before they even receive it. David said that whatever ammo he puts out is gone as soon as it hits the shelf. He does try to hold enough in reserve that if you buy a new firearm, he has a box of ammo that he can sell you.
Gary Roberts, Owner of Levi Gun and Pawn is essentially out of everything except a few oddball calibers. He started buying a lot of ammo years ago from businesses that were closing as well discontinued items. He had a pretty good stock of ammunition when it started getting hard to find and prided himself in having that “hard-to-find” ammo. He stated that if he received a normal shipment today, it might last a week because his location is in a rural area, but if word got around then it would disappear in a day!
Manufacturers, distributors, and retail outlets all seem to agree that the previously unheard of level of consumer demand is the reason for the shortage. Adding five to seven million estimated first-time gun owners to a group of seasoned gun owners who have gone through ammunition shortages previously and then throwing in a pandemic, a little civil unrest, and the threat of increased regulations on buying guns/ammunition, you have created the perfect storm for major shortages. Some estimates show 45 to 50 percent of the households in the United States own a firearm. Estimates indicate there may be as many as 100 million gun owners and 393 million guns! Remember, those are all estimates based on surveys. Nobody has called me asking if I own a firearm or if I do, how many. How about you? Imagine if every gun owner in our great country decided to go out and buy ONE box of ammo!
When will it end? Taking every answer that I received into consideration, one could possibly conclude that barring another catalyst to spur buying, we are looking at somewhere between the fall of 2021 and the spring of 2022 before things show any sign of returning to normal. Until then, don't be careless with the use of your supply.