Yes, the shortage is real. Very real. And it isn’t going to get better any time soon.
And while there’s a shortage of ammunition, there’s no shortage of contributing factors.
Why? You can put these on the list: last year’s civil unrest, political and legislative uncertainties, the increase in hunting licenses, people having more time on their hands, and last but not least… the COVID-19 pandemic.
It became a culture-driven buying frenzy, not unlike toilet paper. Rather crappy, but real. Hoarding, just to be sure to have some when you need it.
Jason Hornady, vice president of Hornady Manufacturing, flatly stated that when it comes to hoarding-induced shortages, “Ammunition is the new toilet paper. Last week I met a guy on a deer hunt who was shooting Hornady .33-378 loads. He said he’d managed to buy 20 boxes of it—expensive stuff, by the way—and in fact had bought 20 boxes for each of his guns. I asked ‘how many guns?’ and he said, ‘I have 12, so 2,400 rounds. It cost me over $3,000’. I think the average gun owner doesn’t have the means to go quite that deep in the wallet, but many have bought as much as they could afford. “Just in case…”
Americans are purchasing firearms at a record-breaking pace as well as the ammunition to go with it. Through October 2020, 7 million people bought their first handgun. That’s a 145% increase versus 2019. Not 45% ... 145%. If each new gun owner bought two boxes of bullets (probably a low estimate), that’s 14,000,000 boxes. 280,000,000 rounds. And this is just for the handguns! Rifle and shotgun sales have all experienced skyrocketing increases.
Small Arms Analytics and Forecasting reports gun sales surged 65% just in October versus the previous October. They receive data from the FBI’s Federal Instant Criminal Background Check System.
Although there are no statistics that I can find to confirm this, it is widely believed that many of the first-time gun buyers did so to protect their homes and families. Gun training classes and carry permits are more popular than they have been in years.
The Second Amendment is under fire, if you’ll forgive the pun. Both sides of the issue have strong supporting arguments. Gun owners are buying and hoarding ammo over concerns that the incoming left-leaning federal government may attempt to overturn the amendment and confiscate all firearms.
Contrasting with recent downward trends, sales of hunting licenses increased last year in almost every state. It is estimated that 14% of this past season’s hunters were new to the sport, including an amazing 12% increase in women first-time hunters. Data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Society indicates that the typical hunter is a 45-year-old white male, but that stastic is quickly changing with youngsters and women entering the sport as well as older people getting back afield. More hunters, more ammo sold.
So how has COVID exacerbated the shortage? There are fewer manufacturers of pistol, rifle and shotgun ammunition in the U.S. than ever, and they were not the only industries hit hard by the pandemic. Factories were closed, employees were furloughed or laid off, and when they reopened, they found their materials suppliers had also been forced to reduce or even terminate production. Shortages of copper, lead, primers, even the federally-required type of cardboard for packaging and shipping boxes! This has all contributed to the ammo shortage, which some predict will continue for as long as two or three years.
To be more profitable, or even to stay solvent, manufacturers have tried to become more efficient by reducing inventories. Make it one day, ship it the next. Without product on the shelves, even a minute blip on the order screen leads to backorders, and people go nutso, buying up when they can finally get their hands on the product.
Last fall, a week before deer season, Harry the hunter, sauntered into his favorite outdoor shop to buy a box or two of bullets for his grandfather’s old 30-30 and chew the fat with his 80-year-old friend who ran the joint. But the shelves were bare. No bullets to be had, no way, no how.
So they just sat on the rickety old stools, jawing about hunts of yore, and arguing whether Harry could take his deer this year with just the only bullet he had left in the box from last year.