Sager: The long and shortage of it

These empty boxes are sad indicators of our recent ammo shortage.

It seems that shooters and hunters are in the middle of another ammunition shortage that’s dragging on longer than may be expected. We’ve been through several of these droughts in the past couple of decades and sooner or later, I guess it affects most of us in one way or another. Those of us who reload most of our ammo and keep ahead on supplies of components might not notice the extent of these interruptions in available guns and ammunition; I didn’t until I got several phone calls and visits from friends who are concerned with the current situation.

Typically, the first empty shelves in the gun shops are the spaces designated for the common and popular handgun and rifle calibers. No surprises here; calibers such as the 9mm, 45 auto, 308 (7.62), and 223 (5.56) are usually the first victims of hoarding, inflated prices and “panic” purchases. Recently, I’ve heard of problems finding other calibers, as well. In spite of all this, I find it strange that several ammo companies, including Federal and Winchester/Browning, have recently announced new lines of ammo for specific uses in addition to their usual products, which are hard enough to find.

Depending on where you shop, you might find a very limited supply of ammunition for your gun, even if it’s not exactly the brand name or bullet type you wanted. One friend mentioned that he bought the last three boxes of 308 ammo available at his gun shop a while ago. It wasn’t the brand he prefers, but he felt he should buy it since it hadn’t been marked above retail price by then. I understand his concern; along with the shortage, you can bet that prices in a lot of stores will creep (or jump) well above the suggested retail prices. There will always be folks who stockpile large quantities of ammo (especially .22 rimfire) and I certainly understand it, since I tend to sock away a bit of extra ammo myself.

Similar to the stores limiting the quantity of toilet paper last year, I guess a lot of gun shops are only allowing customers to purchase a small amount of ammo or reloading components at a time, probably not a real bad idea at that. I got a phone call from a friend in the Pittsburgh area who said he could only buy one box (100) of pistol primers at a time and the price was nearly double the usual amount. Bullets for reloading, especially pistol calibers, have been scarce for months now. Firearms, in general, have been in short supply also, depending on your wants. Some models seem to be on perpetual backorder, even though the manufacturers advertise them regularly. Like ammunition, guns in demand appear sporadically, but at inflated prices.

One guy recently told me about stopping into a sports shop near him to keep up on what’s available. He found out that any delivery of guns or ammo was celebrated as a good day.

None of this will be shocking news to the folks who follow the shooting sports, since we unfortunately seem to go through these shortages periodically, for whatever the reasons at the time. With each of these incidents, some well-meaning folks will provide us with conspiracy theories to explain where the guns and ammo have gone. I won’t comment on a lot of these ideas, other than to acknowledge that even the most elaborate rumors sometimes contain a bit of truth and we have to decide what makes sense to us. In the end, the result is still a lack of guns and ammo.

With our current real-world situation, dealing with a lot of civil unrest, a deadly pandemic and a recent presidential election, I guess it’s understandable that people are a bit (or a lot) uneasy about issues that affect their personal safety and rights. That’s not meant to be a political comment, just an observation of some common concerns. Whatever your personal beliefs, we do have some solid statistics which we can refer to, some of which help explain our current shortages. It seems that gun sales in our country set a new record in 2020, with about 21 million background checks conducted for firearms purchases in the past year. This is a significant increase from 2019, with about 13 million. One study shows gun sales for a single month, January 2021, are up 60% from last January. Another interesting, but not surprising, statistic shows dramatic increases in ammo sales in 2008 and 2012.

This, of course, corresponds to the shortages we experienced at those times; draw your own conclusions.

It stands to reason that if there was a big increase in the purchase of guns, the buyers would want some ammo to shoot out of their new weapons. This alone would contribute to the shortage, without considering any other factors, such as government contracts, hoarding, etc. The ammo companies say they are cranking out their products as fast as they can; that makes sense because that’s how they make money. I can imagine that restrictions put on manufacturing workplaces because of the virus might also affect the amount of daily production. In any event, most shooters probably feel that we are once again holding our breath to see what happens next that might impact our shooting, hunting and personal defense concerns. As they say, “keep your hands and feet inside the ride and hang on.”

(Roger Sager, an Era outdoor columnist, can be reached at