Where is all the ammo?

TGW examines the shortage of affordable ammunition.

I walked into a gun shop the other day. It looked like it had been burglarized.

Gone was everything tactical, from guns and gear to ammo — all the popular calibers.

There was nothing left.

My question about 5.56/.223 availability was met with a polite smile and a shake of the head. The owner, who’s been in the business for decades, had no idea when things would change.

“This is the worst I’ve ever seen,” they said.

It certainly wasn’t a surprise.

Of all the emails I get, and there are more than a few, the number one question is: When will I be able to find and afford ammunition?

Unprecedented cost

To be clear, there is ammunition available — even the tactical stuff — but you’ll need to mortgage the house to be able to afford much of it.

Cheaper than Dirt is offering 200 rounds of Lake City By Winchester M193 5.56 NATO FMJ 55 Grains WM193200 for what they claim is “Our Low Price” of $299.89.

Even my bad math tells me that’s $1.50 per round, or as I tend to think of it, $45 per magazine.

Lucky Gunner had 150-round boxes of the same ammo for $150.

Sportsman’s Guide had the 150-round box priced for non-members at $139.99.

At least they had ammo.

As of Monday, other big online ammo retailers — Palmetto State Armory, Brownell’s, Cabela’s and Academy — were sold out.

I should point out that I’m not a fan of the Winchester “white box,” but it’s a good yardstick for price comparisons.

The most expensive ammo I found was on GunBroker.com, where a guy in California wanted $130 for 48 rounds of 223.

Sad, that.

Manufacturers at full capacity

Federal Ammunition President Jason Vanderbrink and Jason Nash, Federal’s vice-president for marketing, recently recorded an interesting podcast, in which they explained the reasons why tactical calibers are so scarce and expensive, even though their factories have never produced as much ammo, and they’re running shifts around the clock.

Vanderbrink said Federal has “added capacity,” by hiring hundreds of workers for their plants in Minnesota, Idaho and Arkansas, yet to the consumer, it seems to have little effect.

Vanderbrink blames the supply chain — a shortage of brass and raw materials — for the ammunition scarcity, as well as an influx of new gun owners, which he estimates could be as high as 10 million.

The surge of new gun owners, he said, is a good thing in the longterm, because it will provide longterm sustainability for the firearms industry.

“This is good for everyone,” he said.

Vanderbrink shot down the biggest conspiracy theory out there — that ammunition manufacturers are filling government orders first.

“That’s all bull,” he said. “There’s no conspiracy.”

Vanderbrink explained the current primer shortage by saying that the reloading market is usually stocked by excess primers not needed by manufacturers.

Nowadays, however, there are no excess primers to be had.

“The excess (primer) capacity was sold to the reloading community. We’re making more ammunition, so naturally our primer needs went up,” he said. “The factories were fed first. They’re taking more than they used to.”

Primer trickle down

T1 Ammunition in Sarasota, Florida is the only female-owned ammunition manufacturer in the country.

Owner Deb Sullivan is on the cutting edge of ammo production, with a long list of professional shooters, instructors and a gun writer as satisfied clients.

“For us, the biggest thing is primers,” Sullivan said. “We are not having problems getting bullets or casings, and we have a good amount of powder, but we can’t get primers. The big guys making primers are keeping them all for themselves.”

As a result, T1 is forced to buy primers in small batches, whenever and wherever they can get them.

Their most recent purchase was 25,000 CCI small-rifle primers.

“I’m glad we got them, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s nothing,” she said “We’ve had no 9mm since January, and we’re lucky to get a small bunch of 223.”

Sullivan and other small manufacturers have lately been forced to go to Eastern Europe, specifically Bulgaria, and to Turkey for primers. It’s not a reliable supply chain — far from it.

“We ordered three million small pistol primers and one million small rifle,” she said. “They were estimated to get here in February, but it’s already March and we haven’t heard anything.”

A primer that cost 1-2 cents prior to the pandemic now costs 7 to 15 cents, she said. As a result, her prices increased.

“It might look like gouging, but we have to pay double or triple for components,” she said. “As a small business, I can’t eat that. I have to pay my one employee. I, myself, don’t take a salary.

“I have to be able to buy the next round of components if I want to stay in business.”

Toiletpaper syndrome

Fear sells, especially during a pandemic, and the experts say what’s really fueling the shortage is hoarding and, like the Californian on GunBroker.com, scalping.

We all know this is the main reason for the shortage, and given President Biden’s anti-gun history, recent actions and campaign promises, fear and uncertainty show no sign of abating.

“Biden and his group of anti-gunners are chomping at the bit to pass as many things as they can,” Sullivan said. “Ammo — especially online sales — is on the chopping block.”

The reason Sullivan and other small manufacturers are able to compete against the big guys is that they’re able to sell online, direct to the consumer. Because they can cut out retailers and distributors, their prices are competitive.

But if the administration is able to ban online ammo sales, this will all change.

“We may just have to take orders over the phone,” Sullivan said. “It would be a return to the dark ages.”

Local dealers

While some dealers are out of black rifles and ammunition, some aren’t.

Will Meade, owner of Shark Coast Tactical in Sarasota, has lashings of ARs, AKs and the ammo to feed them.

Keeping stocked during a pandemic, Meade says, is not an easy task. He’s constantly on the phone.

It requires a dealer who’s financially nimble — able to stroke a large check when he finds ammunition in stock — and one with a ton of personal connections.

On Tuesday, Shark Coast Tactical had both .223 and 9mm in stock and priced competitively, which is unheard of during the pandemic.

“It takes a lot of personal connections and the ability to use unconventional means to get ammunition for our customers,” he said.

He’s still waiting for ammunition to arrive from his usual pre-pandemic suppliers.

His shop was buzzing, Tuesday.

Customers were scooping .223 from a barrel, which was then sold by weight.


Shooting, especially defensive shooting, is an extremely perishable skill.

I’ve never shot less often than now, but I’ve never dry-fired more at home.

In my humble opinion, if you carry a defensive handgun or rely upon a weapon for home defense, it is vital to keep your skills sharp which, admittedly, is difficult to do at a buck a round.

We will have some dry firing tips and a training plan coming soon.

As always, thanks for your time.