Bare shelves at a gun range
Shelves lay bare at a Virginia gun store / Stephen Gutowski

Manufacturers Say Ammo Shortage Will Stretch Out for Years

America is more than a year into the latest ammunition shortage, and it appears supply will not catch up with demand anytime soon.

As store shelves lie barren and prices for the most popular ammunition hover at two, three, or even five times their pre-pandemic levels, manufacturers said they are still scrambling to bring enough product to market. They said they are still working through several years’ worth of orders that have already been placed.

“On certain products, we are certainly seeing backlogs that stretch out two years and beyond,” Brett Flaugher, president of Winchester Ammunition, told The Reload. “For those who shoot 9mm and 5.56 ammunition, which are both in high demand, it’s very uncertain how long it will be before people will consistently have ammunition readily available.”

“I’m looking at two and a half years’ worth of demand already on order,” Jason Hornady, vice president of Hornady Manufacturing Company, told The Reload. “So, I’m not seeing a slowdown for two and a half years.”

The shortage has become bad enough that many gun owners have simply stopped shooting for months on end. Some ranges have even run out of ammo to sell not just to customers who want to take it home but also those who want to use it on the range.

“People have been saying for a long time they haven’t shot guns because there’s no ammo to shoot,” Brandon Wexler, owner of Wex Gunworks in Delray Beach, Florida, told The Reload. “And they don’t want to shoot what they have right now.”

Retailers like Wexler said they still have trouble stocking their shelves. Lucky Gunner, one of the largest online ammunition dealers in the country, said it faces wait times to get ammo unlike anything it has experienced before.

“At this point, the total amount of ammo that we have on backorder from manufacturers is up year over year and sits at an all-time high for us,” Anthony Welsch, a spokesman for the company, told The Reload.

A Demand Problem

He said the issue was less about supply slowing down and more about demand continuing at a pace the industry hasn’t seen before.

“We’ve seen manufacturers continue to deliver product at steady intervals, but once it’s available for sale, it just doesn’t last long,” Welsch said.

Flaugher said the industry is simply struggling to keep up. He said three main factors have driven sales and continue to drive them beyond the industry’s ability to expand supply. The first was pandemic-induced safety concerns that drove millions of Americans to purchase guns for the first time. The second was the increased participation in recreational shooting and hunting during the lockdowns. The third was concern over new gun-control legislation after President Joe Biden won the 2020 election and Democrats who favor new restrictions took control of the Senate.

“We have certainly experienced unprecedented demand for all categories of ammunition over the past year—rimfire, centerfire rifle and pistol, as well as our shotshell products,” Flaugher said. “Over the past year, we’ve seen more than 21 million firearms sold, with over 9 million to first-time gun buyers. This is an incredible number. Overall, more than 52 million people in the U.S. participate in the shooting sports, which is actually 2.5 times higher than the number of people who golf.”

Hornady estimated demand jumped to a degree that most industries could not keep up with, let alone a centuries-old one built around physical manufacturing.

“If General Motors or the NFL, or you pick the industry, all of a sudden had 9 million new customers, how would they react? What would they do?” he said. “I mean, if the NFL all of a sudden had 9 million more people who want to go to games, what the hell are they gonna do? They’d have to build new stadiums. If they had to build new stadiums, how long is that going to take?”

And he said the surge only got worse as the year went along.

“Last year, we were up 30 percent-ish,” Hornady said. “Our whole industry was up 30 percent-ish. In the short term, you do what you can to maximize hours and maximize what you can. We got that 30 percent, and now the market is asking me for another, not just 30 percent, it’s asking for 80 percent.”

Numbers from one of the world’s largest ammo makers back up Hornady’s estimate.

Ammunition sales are the largest part of Vista Outdoor’s shooting sports business which, in turn, is the largest segment of the publicly traded company. Vista’s combined ammunition brands, including Federal Premium and newly acquired Remington, represent the largest share of the commercial market in the United States. Vista Outdoor did not agree to an interview with The Reload but did provide links to the company’s latest earnings reports, which show its sales were up more than 27 percent in the past fiscal year. Sales increased even further in the quarter that ended in March 2021.

“Sales increased 37 percent to $403 million compared with the prior year quarter, primarily driven by strong demand for commercial ammunition and hunting and shooting accessories,” the company said in a statement.

Like Winchester, Vista said it expects “continued increased demand” for ammunition due to the pandemic and political atmosphere in the United States. It said its customer base had expanded as well.

The company said in its SEC filings that the broadened consumer base “has resulted in a much larger total addressable market opportunity for the industry and for our company. We expect to see continued increases in participation as consumers look to local outdoor activities as a substitute for travel and other competing pursuits impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

No Easy Fix

Hornady said the industry is already at max capacity, and increasing supply is difficult.

“I can promise you, even though they’re my competitors, every guy I know in the ammo business is trying to make as much as possible,” he said. “We don’t want to make 30 percent more. We want to make 50 or 100 percent more. And every one of us wishes right now we had an extra factory sitting around ready to go. But that’s not very practical.”

Spinning up a new factory involves buying dozens of specialty machines and custom installing them into a new space. It’s a process that costs a great deal of money and can take up to a year. Hornady Manufacturing Company had actually finished building a new factory in the lead up to 2020.

“We just built a new factory 18 months ago, which we moved into and more than doubled our space,” Hornady said. “We’re very rapidly filling the space we have. We were doing that whether there was an election, a pandemic, or a riot. We were already planning to grow.”

But the problem for manufacturers who are considering building new plants is uncertainty about where demand will ultimately settle out. If a company like Hornady, which has more than 500 employees, bets big on building another new factory and demand flattens back out before it’s finished, they could lose millions and be forced to lay people off. That’s why Hornaday relies on long-term plans instead of trying to react to the peaks and valleys in demand.

“I remember my father having to lay people off as a young person,” he said. “And that is something I don’t want to do. I want to keep everybody busy as long as we can. That’s important to us.”

Neither Winchester nor Vista Outdoor provided details on whether they planned to open new factories in the coming months or years.

Prices on the Rise

The imbalance of supply and demand has dramatically affected ammo prices. But it’s not just the reduced supply of finished rounds creating the problem. It’s also the reduced supply of basic materials being felt across many industries, including construction and computer chip manufacturing.

“The unfortunate part is we had to take our first mid-year price increase across the board starting June 1 of this year, and it was roughly a 10 percent increase,” Hornady said. “But we didn’t have a choice. Material costs are through the roof. Copper was $2.45 a pound a year ago. Today it’s trading at $4.50. And that is, in my career of 51 years, the all-time high. We go through several hundred pounds of copper a month. Zinc is the same way. Steel is the same way.”

Hornady had bought eight months of supplies for ammunition making when the pandemic began to make sure they could keep going regardless of where the market went. But shortages have popped up where the company never expected to see them.

“Where we’ve been caught off guard is things like tape and cardboard,” he said. “There’s a cardboard shortage right now. The other one is freight. There is a definite freight shortage occurring in the United States and, actually, globally too. Even just truck freight is overwhelmed and in short supply.”

Wexler said he’s gone from selling 9mm ammunition, one of the most popular handgun rounds in the world, for about 22 cents per round to 60 cents per round. And he’s actually undercutting the rest of the market.

“I’ve seen 9mm at ranges for a dollar a round, straight up,” he said. “It’s ridiculous.”

Welsch said anyone “looking for a specific load or bullet” is going to face long waits or exorbitant prices.

Prices for the most desirable ammunition have been pushed beyond reason.

“We saw a case of 6.5 PRC, which right now if you have that it’s going like cocaine laced with gold, go for $1,800 the other day,” Hornady said. A case used to go for around $550.

A Summer Cool Down?

The onset of summer could offer a reprieve. Demand for firearms and ammunition has traditionally followed a seasonal pattern, with summer experiencing the lowest levels. If demand wanes as temperatures rise, manufacturers could get some breathing room.

“This summer should tell us a lot about what to expect moving forward,” Welsch said. “[The slowdown] could afford the supply side of the market a chance to catch up.”

Wexler said he’s already seen supply creep up a bit.

“I feel like some ammo is being put out there,” he said. “I’m not saying in any large amounts, but when you’re used to getting nothing, it’s noticeable.”

But neither man was confident things would return to normal. Welsch said even with a slowdown, “it would not be surprising to see hunters struggling to find some of the more niche rifle calibers this fall” because “supplies of .243 Winchester, .22-250, and .30-30 ammo are incredibly tight with little sign of change coming quickly.” Wexler said a self-perpetuating cycle of buying, shooting, and re-buying driven by pent-up demand makes it hard see when things get back to normal even after the ammo supply increases.

“It’s such a hard prediction,” he said. “I think the ammo that comes out, people are going to suck up because they want to build their supply, and they want to be able to shoot. And if they shoot, they’re going to need more ammo.”

Hornady was more certain and even less optimistic.

“This business is going to continue on the pace it is for the next 18 months to two and a half years,” he said. “That’s how long it’s gonna be before you walk in and find a box of .223, and come back tomorrow and buy a box of .223 or 9mm, or you pick the caliber.”

If you want to read about another factor driving the shortage, check out this exclusive piece for Reload members on the rise of ammo hoarding.

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019


Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

Comments From Reload Members

19 Responses

    1. The same here. I, too, ow wish I had bought even more while it was available.

      I feel for all those who finally woke up and bought a weapon, but now have no ammunition for it to test and break it in or to train with it. Most empty weapons make poor clubs and owning a weapon while having no training is, in my opinion, somewhat dangerous, to both the untrained owners and to those around them.

  1. “The Ammo Shortage Created the Ammo Hoarders Who Now Perpetuate it”

    We are our own worst enemy so we get what we deserve. This is as it should be. So, rush out and buy more at high prices. Idiots. No pity from me.

    1. True but who wants pity>> It does not put any lead in my guns?? Yes! its a natural act to hoader but damn if I do and damn if I don’t . I’m a damn proud idiot and I’ll hoader as much as I want! With all due respect! My worst enemy is not having enough money to buy a entire ammo warehouse so that I can help others catch up on their stock! We can’t limit ourselves but instead we need to improvise! This is America; What’s left of it anyway Thanks to those with no tactical vision! The secret to everlasting peace is eternal vigilance! END OF LECTURE with all due respect SIR!!!!!!!!

  2. Ammunition seems to be merely trickling in to Utah and is gone very quickly. People here have learned the delivery dates for some sporting goods stores and line up before opening just to get a store-imposed limited supply. There have even been reports of fights breaking out. I used to shoot two to three times a week and, due to this shortage, I haven’t been to my local range in months. Signed up for a class with the legendary Massad Ayoob in July and I’m not sure I’ll be able to get the requisite 300 rounds to complete the course. One can only hope!

    1. That’s rough! Try some of the online retailers or ammoseek to find what you need. It’ll be expensive but you might be able to scrounge some to get to that 300 round count.

  3. I think the biggest single factor driving the shortage is the unwillingness of the US Ammo companies to make major capital investments, due to the aperiodic, oscillatory nature of demand. Nobody wants to dump half a billion dollars into something that will take a year or more to get up and running when they have no clue if the demand for the product will still be there when they start production.

    Smaller manufacturers can’t truly take up the slack either, because of one component especially, primers. With consolidation, only two primer manufacturers are left in the US (Vista and Win), and foreign primers seem to no longer be imported. All the increase in demand means that the big 2 aren’t going to be willing to sell primers if it’s going to constrain their own ammunition production. So no matter how many boutique start-ups there are, without primers nobody can make ammo.

    It’d be nice if Hornady would bite the bullet and start producing their own primers.

    1. I’m certainly no supply chain expert and I’ve never worked in manufacturing. Perhaps someone with that background could educate me.

      I understand that it is expensive and time consuming to increase manufacturing capacity, and we don’t know what the market will look like in a year or two. But it seems like there’s an ammo shortage (perhaps not this severe) every several years, pretty consistently. Demand may taper off in 2022 or ’23, but it’s all but guaranteed that it will go back up again before too long. Maybe because of rioting, maybe because of a prominent Democrat running his mouth. But there is always another shortage around the corner.

      Knowing that a period of high demand will always follow a period of low demand, is there not some cost-efficient way to adjust manufacturing capacity accordingly? While the severity of the current shortage is unprecedented, the fact that there is a shortage is not. I wish someone with more knowledge could find a solution. These cycles were getting old even before COVID.

  4. I bought a reset trigger for the Glock 19 and set up a pistol with a laser. Now, my wife and I at least can get in some aiming and trigger control practice. Not optimal, but better than nothing. While I do have a supply of ammunition for all my calibers, under current and anticipated conditions, I am unwilling to expend any of my current stock for practice sessions. My stock is for trade in SHTF circumstances and home defense only. I believe that under conditions of severe social and economic stress, common calibers will be in greater demand than precious metals.

  5. I don’t think that saying the shortage will “stretch out for years” is very helpful.
    Some manufacturers have a deep backlog of orders that will take quite a while to fulfill.
    The claim that the round price of 9mm at 60 cents is undercutting the market is not accurate. I’ve been watching the per-round price of that caliber for a while an have observed it hovering between forty and fifty cents, depending on whether you are buying steel or brass casings.

    Every time I’ve read a comment from Hornady, it has sounded like he enjoys the turmoil that his customers are going through. His response in an interview about the last shortage was “what shortage?”.

    I’ve read the comments of others that ammo continues to become more available, and the prices are slowly settling into levels which are less abrasive. My own experience includes the recent purchase of .22lr and 9mm, at prices which were not wonderful, but certainly not exorbitant and certainly less than suggested in this article. Hopefully others are experiencing something similar.

  6. Debating over “Who shot John” is a waste of breath. Citizens are hurting for ammunition. Not because they can’t go plinking and burn off a thousand rounds but because they fear they don’t have enough to keep their home and their family safe.

    There always have been ammunition cycles because the ammo companies refused to go chasing the aftereffects of presidential elections because they know there’ll be another one in another four years and it’s all likely to change again. And that tactic served them well in the past.

    But this time it’s different. This time the turmoil that’s driving the spike in interest in firearms was custom manufactured, and those who are behind it appear to have the means to keep the trouble brewing indefinitely.

    And calling it a “shortage” when many stores only have ammunition on the shelves for a few days in any given quarter just doesn’t convey the depth or the breadth of the problem. I’d say the words “famine” or “drought” serve better because they give you to understand that not only is there no hope of more arriving today or tomorrow, but maybe not for weeks or months to come.

    And we need to to be referring to this in apocalyptic terms because this has gone on for long enough that it threatens to kill “gun culture” by slow starvation.

    It’s starving to death for the simple reason that the best way to grow a “gun guy” is to raise him that way from childhood. Take a child and instill in him a respect for firearms, raise him in a culture of firearm safety, teach him to love the function of firearms — both the elegance of its mechanical operation and the utility of the services it can render to him — and the physical beauty of them, and you’ve got yourself a gun guy in the making. Then it becomes a self-perpetuating generational tradition.

    But that’s a plan not likely to be implemented when it’s hard to find a box of .22 rimfire cartridges, much less a brick. And if you should find a stray box or two, they want 25₵ a round for it.

    Lots of families used to have the tradition of giving their sons a firearm on some landmark occasion, but who’s going to give a kid a 10/22 to commemorate his matriculation into Middle School when all you’ve got — or have any reasonable expectation of finding before his 14th birthday — is one 50-round box of cartridges (and which cost you $12). It’s a much more challenging prospect to try to convert an adult who at best is gun-ambivalent into a gun guy than to raise a kid that way to begin with, and we are on our way to losing an entire generation of gun guys for lack of ammunition.

    So here’s the upshot, in two parts. Firstly, MidwayUSA’s website shows that, when available, it carries handgun ammunition from 38 different manufacturers. If there was ever any hope that all 38 of those companies collectively could convince the tens of millions of firearm owners in America to stop the panic buying, that hope long since has been ground into dust.

    People fear not only for the safety of their families but also for the survival of the Republic. They’re not going to stop buying unless and until the manufacturers can produce it faster than they can snatch it up. It’s not how much they have (or don’t) that inspires the panic, it’s the fear that there might not be any more.

    Once they can walk into gun stores and see shelves stacked to the brim, they’ll stop the panic buying. Not before.

    I know that’s not rational but if you don’t understand that, you don’t understand the nature of the beast. Which is no different from toilet paper shortage when the coronapanic first set in. People who’d never hoarded anything in their lives walked out of Wally World with ten 48-roll packs of toilet paper, and people who exercised restraint and civic-mindedness and didn’t panic buy ran out and had to find creative alternatives to Charmin. And for months after, everybody who went into any store that sold toilet paper bought as much as they were allowed of any TP that was available, regardless of the brand, texture, scenting or number of plies. People only stopped hoarding when they went to the store and saw shelves full of TP.

    Got that? The ONLY way to halt the panic buying is to assure the gun community that ammo is available IN BOUNTY.

    Secondly, the gun community can’t (or won’t) moderate its buying habits in an effort to help alleviate the problem. The TP shortage proved that. And if the ammo manufacturers don’t recognize that they’re the only ones who can stop this, and realize what’s at stake, they’re going to let the current young generation of “gun guys in the making” wither and die on the vine.

    So they might have preserved their financial health in the short term but they’re cutting their own throats for future prospects because in 20 years time, “gun culture” will have contracted significantly because A) an older generation will have died off without being fully replaced by a younger one, and B) a lot of “casual” gun owners will just have given up on it because it got to be too involved and was too much hassle, spending time to keep tabs on who had ammunition available, and then having to pay unrealistically inflated prices to own some of it.

    So the ammunition companies can blame the consumer all they want but in the end their tone-deafness is going to cause all of us to lose out.

  7. I understand that problems the manufacturers are having. I have seen however that when they fill an orders, it is to the big box stores and leaving the little mom and pop shops behind. I understand that is easier to ship to one place instead of having to send to several places. History has shown us however big box stores can change their minds on products due to image or whatever reason and all the sudden pull it off the shelf. The little stores support local communities and programs. They need support and supplies as well.

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