Where’s All The Ammo?

bullet-through-target-062613The current shortages of ammunition, brass, primers and powder are stretching into the longest in living memory–with every possibility they will continue well into next year.

At gun shows, individuals are selling smokeless powder for three times its retail price.  They’re asking it, and they’re getting it.  On the Internet, bricks of .22 Long Rifle are being auctioned off, with ten cents per cartridge being about the going rate, and some premium ammunition selling for considerably more.

On the centerfire ammunition side, which is what big-game hunters care most about, the shortages are spotty.  That is to say, some things are impossible, others are fine.  Among the impossibles, we find .308 Winchester and .223 Remington.  In fact, anything that is chambered in an AR or similar semiauto seems subject to hoarding due to fear of either the rifles being outlawed or personal stockpiles limited by fiat.

Otherwise common calibers, such as .270 Winchester or .30-06, are in short supply, but they can be found if you’re willing to pay the price.

More obscure calibers, which are available from companies like Norma, are hard to get, but then, they’re always hard to get.  Not much seems to come into the country–at least, not enough to meet demand–and there always seems to be some kind of delay at the border.  I have heard from at least two ammunition importers (one of shotshells, the other rifle) that they are running into inexplicable delays in clearing customs.

The conspiracy theorists are having a field day.  One says government agencies are buying up all the components.  Another says the manufacturers are holding back supplies, waiting to cash in as prices skyrocket.  Anyone interested in looking at the full range of human paranoia and dementia has only to log on, run an Internet search, and sit back in amazement.

winchester-22-ammo-062613From what I can tell, however, the reality is considerably less exciting.

According to one powder-company executive, they are filling orders as fast as the powder comes in, gets re-packaged, and sent back out the door.  The problem is that retailers who normally place one or two orders a year are replacing inventory every month; when they get a shipment, they call up their friends, sell it all in a few days, then place a new order.  The lucky customers, meanwhile, cart the powder off to the next gun show and sell it for three times what they paid.

“Until people stop paying those prices, and that trade dries up, the situation will continue,” I was told.

In other words, there is no simple event that will bring this to an end–no favorable election result, for example, or the defeat of a bill in Congress.  It will be a gradual realization either that enough is enough, or that everyone has an adequate stockpile and doesn’t need another $60 canister of Unique to go with the 20 pounds already in the closet.

ammo-on-target-062613For that reason, I expect we’ll see these shortages continue into next year–for powder, certainly, and probably primers.  Brass, not in such short supply, will recover first.  The great thing about brass is that it’s reusable, and available as once- or multi-fired brass, traded in bulk for a fraction the cost of new.  Bullets fall somewhere in between.  They are not reusable, but they also take up less space.  Shooters of my acquaintance have more of them in reserve simply because they use a part-box here, a part-box there, and the residuum builds up.  There is not the same element of desperation.

Every few years, we go through something like this.  In between times, when demand slackens off, all the handloading suppliers bemoan the death of handloading.  Then comes another Democrat in the White House, or another gun-related outrage, and components become the hottest thing on the market.  Everyone suddenly realizes it is a lot easier and cheaper to assemble the wherewithal to produce a thousand rounds yourself than it is to buy a thousand rounds of factory ammunition.

And for those who learned their lesson from four years ago?  They are sitting on a gold mine of powder and primers–a gold mine they daren’t sell if they want to keep shooting themselves.–Terry Wieland

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