The ammunition shortage and what’s causing it


Those who’ve tried to buy ammunition recently (particularly those millions of new gun-owners who purchased their first firearm over the last eighteen months or so) know that it’s difficult to the point of impossibility to buy what they need in popular cartridges like 9mm or 5.56x45mm.  As stocks come in, they go right out the door, sometimes within minutes of being received.

A lot of people have conspiracy theories about why this is, but the reality is much more mundane – if no less frustrating.  It’s simply that the demand far exceeds the supply.  What’s more, the supply chain disruptions affecting all other business and commerce are affecting ammunition too, making the bottleneck worse.

“Emily Posts” recently interviewed the head honcho of Hornady about the problem.

“Everyone thinks it’s a conspiracy not to ship more. They think we’re lying about not selling a box of ammo,” [Jason] Hornady told me on the phone while driving across Nebraska from a meeting to his home.  “We have two years on order today. I promise we are making more. Everybody is.”

. . .

The ammo shortage has been so dramatic — with empty shelves and online stores — that some people believe the manufacturers are holding back supply to increase prices and take advantage of people. Jason, who is vice president of Hornady Manufacturing, said that is not true. It’s just impossible for the industry to keep up with skyrocketing demand.

“It’s the same for all of us in manufacturing. No one has an extra factory sitting around waiting for that big of an increase,” he explained. “We were able to sell and ship 30 percent more last year from our plant by throwing more people and hours at it.”

Hornady said demand has tripled in just a year and a half. He said their business had been flat for four years until December 2019 when Walmart stopped selling guns and ammo due to the civil unrest around the country. Demand continued to increase when the pandemic began in early 2020 and has continued to increase since then.  

“Everybody has a subliminal low-level paranoia that they will have to fight for food and guns and gas,” he said about the COVID lockdowns and restrictions.

I said it seemed like people were panic buying ammo, like they did toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

“Exactly, throw that on top,” he replied. “The customers aren’t going in and buying one box or two. They buy cases. And now they buy whatever is there. They call it shortage, but it’s a self fulfilling prophecy.”

. . .

I asked him about the conspiracy theory that the federal government was buying all the ammo to keep it from people. He said that Uncle Sam is just 2 percent of all their business.

What about the primer supply issue that people keep asking me for reloading? “We too are having a hard time getting primers. And we’re trying to get more than ever before , while those guys are trying to keep up with their own ammo companies.” He explained to me that a manufacturer that also makes primer will try to fill the ammunition orders first, which is why primer is harder to get now.  “You can’t blame them,” he added.

There’s more at the link.

In a second interview, this time with the President of Winchester Ammunition, she learned:

More than twice as many Americans have guns and do shooting sports than have golf clubs and putt on a green.

. . .

Demand for ammunition rose with the pandemic for people who wanted a safe, outdoor activity, but then stayed at record levels. Flaugher said there are a whopping 52 million people in the U.S. who participate in shooting sports. Flaugher said demand for ammo has more than doubled in the past year and a half. In particular, gun club recreational shooting is “off the charts right now.”

. . .

The reason for the ammo shortage is that all the inventory was depleted in the first three months of the pandemic, Flaugher explained.  The stock of ammo in the warehouses, wholesalers and retail shelves sold fast. The manufacturers can’t build it back up because people are buying whatever they can find.

“I’m highly disappointed we can’t offer every consumer a good experience in buying ammunition. It’s not fun for us to have a situation where a customer wants to go out and hunt or shoot or buy ammunition for personal protection but can’t. It’s frustrating for us as well,” he said.

“What they need to really understand is that Winchester and every other ammunition manufacturer are doing everything we can to get more to that consumer. Just like they got caught off guard with this level of demand, we got caught off guard too. It just takes a lot of time to be able to get to the level of production based upon the level of demand today. So, hey, we’re frustrated as much as they are. We do not like disappointing our customers.”

Flaugher points to three factors that led to the dramatic increase in those early months that depleted the back stock of ammunition. The first thing that caused the supply chain to dry up was the increased level of concern that people have for their personal security because of the pandemic and civil unrest. 

The second factor was the increase in people doing shooting spots, hunting and outdoor activities. The third issue is the public’s heightened concern about new gun-control laws and actions by the Biden administration and a Democratic-controlled Congress that would limit their ability to buy what they want.

Again, more at the link.

I recommend Emily’s Web site as a good place to keep up-to-date with trends in the firearms industry, and interesting articles about aspects of it that other correspondents and outlets don’t always cover.




  1. I don't think it's the pandemic causing the run on ammunition sales.

    I think it is people watching the antifa/BLM riots and the defund the police movement. It is making a lot of people nervous and not very confident that their police will be there when they need them.

    It's got a long shelf life, and like a lot of things, it is better to have it and not need it than it is to need it and not have it.

  2. The people who are selling .22s to newbies are doing them a great disservice. .22 ammo is crazy expensive and isn't readily available in stores, in small boxes. If they are looking for a first .22 rifle for the kiddo, it makes more sense to start them with airguns, cheaper to buy, cheaper to feed. Most newbies have no idea how much the ammo USED TO COST, nor do they realize how much they will need, just to get a moderate level of skill.

    Nine mil OTOH is just as easy to shoot once you get the hang of the slide and the ammo is everywhere if you know what you are looking for. I bought 2000 rds of JHP this am. from Lucky Gunner on their Father's Day sale (roughly 70 cents a rd). No restrictions on quantity, although they only had about 50 cases available when I logged in. That usually means they have more coming in. Shipping and taxes are horrible and getting worse so buying small quantities of anything is not cost-effective.

    Over the past year, I have bought about a dozen different calibers, with no trouble finding anything other than .410 low numbers and it was hit or miss on 20 gauge. Last week, I found plenty of .410 triple ought shells. Bought 4 cases, 250 to a case. Middleish expensive, but it is 000.

    I buy online (with Credit Card, of course) from Cheaper than Dirt, Lucky Gunner, Ammotogo, Midway, etc. I compare prices and availability on an almost daily basis, so it does take some dedication. Fenix sells out, literally, in seconds, for only about 4 calibers, but they give you 24 hour warning on the sale if you sign up with them. Checking between 4 and 6 am. for really hard-to-finds also helps if you are having problems with sell-outs.

    The ammo is out there, just not in the stores.

    Virginia Granny

  3. My ‽meter just went through the roof and sounded the bell.
    A while back not too long after the 2nd Ohoh election I remember reading a report about the Dept. of Agriculture buying millions (wish I could find the link and that's millions, not thousands)of rounds of 9mm).
    Immediately thereafter I purchased several cases of 9mm (I shoot the 10mm) for my wife and quite a few thousands of 9mm 125gr JHP RN bullets for the Luger round (as well as the 9×23 Win, including the necessary CCI #450 primers, which she enjoys shooting).
    It wasn't that I didn't trust the Ohoh people, but I'm an old Boy Scout.
    If people haven't yet taken up reloading, I hope they'll reconsider in these times.

    1. The problem with taking up reloading is you can't find components right now. I started reloading just before the pandemic, bought small amounts of components to figure out what works best in my rifles & pistols. By the time I figured out what works can what didn't, I couldn't find my first, second, or third choice powders for rifle, first or second for pistol (third choice I could find, but for 20x normal price) and bullets or even just castable lead don't exist.

  4. Old NFO –

    I didn't mean to imply that there was anything wrong with having/using a .22 (isn't it the weapon of choice for professional hit men, according to Hollywood?).

    I, myself, have (snort) more than one, but I also have plenty of ammo, bought in another lifetime for $7 a brick. And bricks were 555, not 325.

    I still think that people who are new to the game, and esp. if they have immediate self-defense concerns, it is much more important to have a caliber that you can actually find without busting your budget.

    Virginia Granny

  5. all that makes sense, and i'm inclined to believe the manufacturers but for one problem. i never see american name brand ammo, but i see tons of russian, yugo, italian, phillipine etc on the shelf. if they're making it, SOME should show up ONCE in a while. i don't believe the govt. is buying it all up either. those that do need to do some basic math. that said i know several first time gun buyers with a mag full of ammo or less. i try to help them out when i can. meanwhile i still grab the foreign stuff when i find a good deal.

  6. Supply and demand. Your demand is so high the retailers are running with it.

    I’m in Canada. We get our ammo from the same manufacturers you do. 9mm ammo is going for $17-20/50, 22 ammo is up a bit in price but not outrageous. I paid $89/brick for Aguila subsonic 60gr the other day.

    I’ll be honest, though. There are some idiots online who seem to be panic buying, but there’s no reason to.

    Component prices are pretty high, but I am able to buy 1000 rd 9mm reloads for $200 (I supply the brass) from the guy who supplies practice ammo to our local police.

  7. so the skeet shooters are buying all the AA target loads?
    there are no flats to be had. so what is up with that?
    just sayin' sumpin is going on.

  8. New owner late 2020, yes tough to find ammo but it's not unavailable. Pricy? Sure that's economics.

    Over the past 6 months, price has come down on 9mm to just below $0.50/rd on the decent brands (Federal/Magtech). Most long timers complain but add 25-30% to some of the prices I've seen quoted and you have "today's" prices. Inflation or supply/demand?

    Anyone that can't find a standard common caliber isn't looking or doing their research they're just parroting back the same story. I can buy any regular caliber today and have it shipped even to the People's republic of MA. Even TSUSA has ammo, green checkboxes everywhere…

  9. Ruralcounsel is right – people are reading the signs of the times. I'm a hardcore procrastinator, but I got my LTC and a .38 in a few short months. I'm stocking up on water purification tabs and food as well.

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