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The 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.
From 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.
For 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
SCI Member Terry B. has been using and testing many different guns and loads since 1961. According to Terry:
“I’ve been to Africa 24 times, and this year took my 500th animal including my 107th blue wildebeest, and my 5th bush pig in daylight.
“In North America, from 1961 to 1983, I hunted all over Alaska for moose and caribou. I hunted elk in Montana, Colorado, and Idaho, and sheep and goats in B.C. In those years, I pretty well used a simple push-feed Model 70 Winchester chambered for either .30-’06 or .270 Win. with a 2×7 Redfield Widefield scope. In those calibers, I reloaded almost everything with either 180-grain Nosler Partition (the old ones) or 180-grain Hornady spire point bullets.
“In 1985, I took my first trip to Zimbabwe and brought a fiberglass-stocked FN Mauser chambered in .375 H&H using 300-grain Hornady roundnose bullets. The rifle was topped with a Burris scope. I also took a .308 Winchester using 165-grain Speer soft-points. That rifle had a Tasco 3×9 scope and yes, I still have the Tasco, but it is on my .22 for plinking.
“In 1986, I took a 7.65 Argentine Mauser firing 174-grain Hornady bullets as well as some 180-grain Sierra soft-points. The other rifle I took was my “then-new” pre-’64 Model 70 Winchester topped with a 2-7x Refield scope chambered for .338 Winchester Magnum. I used 250-grain Hornady roundnose bullets.
“Not long after that, I pretty well switched to 3-9x Var II Leupold scopes and still have most all of them in service. I’ve sent them all in to have click adjustments installed rather than the rubber friction.
“In 1989, I took two Cape buffalo using my .375 H&H and old Jack Carter 300-grain Trophy M Bonded Bear Claw bullets. I also took my .338 Winchester Magnum along for plains game and used 250-grain Bear Claws.
“About 1991-92 I got my first 7mm Remington Magnum and found that it loved only 175-grain flat-base bullets. For the next several trips, I used it almost exclusively with 175-grain Speer Mag Tip, Hornady Spire Point, or Bear Claw bullets to kill everything from impala to eland.
“In 1995, I got my first .300 Winchester Magnum–a Remington BDL stainless. I made many trips to South Africa’s Eastern Cape with it, and used various 180-grain bullets. About that time I also started using 180-grain Swift A-Frame bullets.
“In 2000, I used Barnes 200-grain X-Bullets in the .338 Winchester Magnum for the first time, and that was the beginning of a long and loving infatuation with Barnes bullets. One of the first gemsbok I killed with it really impressed my PH because he could see the bullet hit the dirt after going through the animal. Since then, I have almost always used Barnes X, TSX or TTSX bullets in my .338, and now also the new Vor TX bullets. I always take along another rifle for smaller plains game.
“I still use those Var II 3-9x Leupold scopes and even own one Var III 2.5-8x scope, and have put a Hogue over-molded stock on my Remington Model 700.
“When I went to Namibia in 2012, I took an old push-feed Winchester Model 70 in .300 H&H with a Leupold 6 x 42 scope on it shooting Barnes 168-grain TTSX bullets for longer range.”