What if I can’t get enough ammunition for my defensive rifle?

I recently wrote a three part series of articles about the defensive rifle, focusing on the AR-15 rifle or carbine as the most common weapon in this class.  In the third article, I went into detail about what ammunition was most suitable for defensive use.

I’ve had a couple of readers query me about that.  They point out that in their localities, it’s very hard to find any 5.56x45mm ammunition at all, because many gun shops are sold out of it.  Supermarkets that used to sell it (e.g. Walmart) no longer do so, for politically correct reasons.  Some states restrict ordering ammunition by mail, making it difficult to order in bulk.  What are they to do?

Obviously, one alternative is to have weapons available that use different cartridges.  A lever-action rifle firing .30-30, or .44 Magnum, or .357 Magnum ammunition will still be effective in your defense, and you should be able to find ammo for it relatively easily.  However, let’s assume you want to use your AR-15, and need ammo.  What then?

There are a number of alternatives.  The first one I’d try is to contact family and friends in areas where ammunition is still available.  If they can buy some for you, and hold it until you can collect it or they come to visit you, that’s quick, easy and simple.  If you need it in a hurry, that may not suffice;  so, if it’s legal to send you ammo directly, they can make an ORM-D shipment by private contractor such as UPS or FedEx (NOT the Post Office!).  Note that it will have to travel by ground transportation, due to regulations.

The second alternative is to have different upper receivers available for your weapon, chambered for different cartridges.  The standard 5.56x45mm cartridge case has been used to produce different chamberings such as 6x45mm, .300 AAC Blackout, and others (see here for a list of them).  One AR-15 lower receiver (the licensed part of the firearm) can therefore have upper receivers in any of the above rounds.

If one changes the bolt carrier group and magazines, one can shoot even more cartridges through the AR-15 platform.  The Russian 7.62x39mm round, famous in the SKS and AK47 rifles, can easily be accommodated, as can the .350 Legend, .458 SOCOM, .450 Bushmaster, etc.  The latter three rounds may be hard to find on store shelves, but they’re usually available online.

If one needs to use a particular upper receiver for a given situation (e.g. hunting restrictions that forbid the use of 5.56x45mm ammo, but allow a larger round), one can use the appropriate receiver and ammunition, then swap it out for a more general-purpose one when the hunt is over.  That’s very convenient, and often cheaper than having a rifle for each cartridge.  One can also repurpose an upper receiver by swapping the barrel for one chambered for a different cartridge, and if necessary replacing the bolt carrier group and magazines.  It’s not difficult.  That sort of flexibility is worth having, IMHO.



  1. I know this line came right after a discussion of upper receivers: "If one changes the bolt carrier group and magazines, one can shoot even more cartridges through the AR-15 platform." but it may need to be clarified that you also need a new barrel as well when compared to the standard AR .223/5.56 one …

  2. Tom beat me to it, but a 'spare' set of upper receiver and mags isn't a bad choice if one doesn't have other guns to fall back on. 😉

  3. I understand that ammo for the AR-15 can be expensive. If you have an AR-15 you can get a kit to let you fire .22 LR in it. If your rifle is chambered for .300 Blackout, you need to change the barrel. .22 LR is relatively cheap even in quantities of 10,000.

  4. That reminds me, I need to get another case of 5.56, luckily it is not hard to come by in my local right now since I can't get it by mail.

  5. Have a primary long gun, shot gun, and defensive pistol. Have a secondary set in different calibers. The third set can repeat calibers. Reload all. Have a portable backup reloading press. Keep plenty of loading components on hand. For all defensive guns have a couple thousand rounds.

  6. If you can't get enough ammo, unless you just turned 18, you're already three years late to the ball.
    You should have been buying a case of beans, a case of bullets, and a case of bandaids every month since ever.

    A parable about wise virgins and foolish ones comes to mind.

    People need to pull their heads out, and stop screwing around about this stuff.

    Or embrace dying inconveniently.

    The cow around here that gives the Milk of Human Kindness ran dry last January.

  7. You can always have the pile that shall not be used till the balloon goes up.

    I have several 50 cal cans loaded with 30 round magazines that are loaded as well as 3 speed balls, each a single can with 400 round on stripper clips with a loading thingy to quickly reload magazines with.

    That is the stack that is there for prosperity. I have other stuff for practice.

    I also have AR in 350 and 450. as well as other guns. I do not want to be refuge as it would take a truck to haul it all.

    Now I need to work on reinforcing the perimeter so I can defend the castle.

  8. "If one changes the bolt carrier group and magazines, one can shoot even more cartridges through the AR-15 platform. The Russian 7.62x39mm round, famous in the SKS and AK47 rifles, can easily be accommodated"

    Got that one really wrong.

    You need a new upper and lower.

    AR mags that are made for 7.62×39 will not fit the magwell of a 5.56.

    You have to buy a new rifle for 7.62 commie

  9. @EasyCompany: No, you don't. I have a standard upper fitted with a 7.62x39mm barrel, and some AR-15-compatible magazines for that round that fit the standard magwell. It works just fine. Many companies sell complete 7.62x39mm upper receivers. Do an Internet search and you'll find them, and magazines for that cartridge too.

    You can also buy modified AR's that take original AK-47 magazines, but I don't want one of those.

  10. Buying weirdo snowflake uppers for emergencies is silly. 5.56 is readily available online. People who panic buy during an emergency and expect to get good deals are idiots.Prices aren’t good but if you need it suck it up and buy a case.

  11. @Ryan: You may be well prepared for times such as these, but other people are not. They're asking the questions, and I'm doing my best to answer them.

    I agree that 5.56mm is available online, although not perhaps in as good a selection as one might wish. However, the cost of a case of good-quality ammo right now is actually higher than the cost of an acceptable quality complete upper receiver! That's scary. Also, once you've used up that ammo, you need to spend as much again (if not more) to replace it. Spend some money on an upper receiver and you won't have to replace it.

    I like the flexibility that having different uppers gives me. I'm accustomed to what one might call "battlefield pickup" as a resupply method, from my years in Africa. It's comforting to know that I've covered the two or three most commonly encountered cartridges for AR-15's in my selection of uppers. Whatever I "find" is likely to be usable.

    1. Got to say, it perplexed me that people won’t pay .05-.10 cents more a round for 5.56 which puts it in the 38-48ish cent a round range but are taking about getting new uppers and running these boutique rounds like .450 bushmaster that cost 2x or more as much as 5.56! That makes no sense to me. More expensive ammo that is super rare seems like the wrong direction to go for practical preparations.

      This would be like saying you refuse to pay an extra buck a bottle for Jim Beam so you are switching to a 30 year old single malt.

      I love the outside the box thinking, the math just doesn’t make any sense.

  12. Better/worse situation. You've stocked up on ammo for the 'other' gun.

    I have metric assloads of 7.62×39 ammo, but only 1000 or so of 223/556.

    Only to conclude that even the us based commies are running 556 ARs.

    Luckily bought components. ;P

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