Recovering From The Great Ammo Shortage

Product shortages have become all too common these last few years thanks to Covid, political unrest, and supply chain issues. Fortunately, we are seeing a slow rebound from the Great Ammunition Shortage, with ammo on the shelves in volume once again. While it’s great to see the comeback, it’s probably a good idea to do what we can now to recover and even bolster our ammo stockpiles. You never know when another shortage will hit.

So, what caused the Great Ammo Shortage and how can we prepare ourselves should the current recovery reverse? That’s what we’re looking at today. 

The Perfect Storm

As far as ammunition is concerned, the perfect storm hit in early 2020. With an upcoming presidential election, the political atmosphere had people acting cagey. Any time that a Democratic hopeful threatens the Second Amendment, people tend to buy more guns and ammo because they’re not sure what the coming political climate will bring. It’s a given. That was the first part of the storm that would have happened no matter what.

Then Covid hit. The world panicked and shut down. Production of many goods ceased. Panic buying ensued, with people stockpiling toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and other goods. When it came down to it, it was every man for himself.

And ammo. Oh, did the ammo fly off the shelves!! We’ve seen ammo shortages before, but never like this most recent one. At most gun shops, the shelves were empty. Guns and ammo sold as fast as they came into the shops. Demand far outweighed supply.

Empty ammo shelves at a gun shop
For quite a while, this is what gun shop shelves looked like. Few firearms and either little or no ammunition. These were scary times. Photo: Las Vegas Sun.

Prices skyrocketed. .22 LR was selling for what major calibers sold at before the panic. Unscrupulous people bought ammo at gun shops and then sold it on the secondary market at rates many times higher than what it should have been selling for.

No one knew what was happening during the lockdowns. None of us had ever seen such a thing before, and many of us had a very unsettled feeling. We didn’t know when or even if more ammunition would be available in the future, so we tended to grab what we could whenever we were able. I can tell you, I asked myself the question: “What if ammo supplies are completely cut off for years—will I have enough to get through?” I have a feeling that many people were wondering the same thing.

During that time of tremendous uncertainty, a new phenomenon emerged: a record-setting wave of new gun owners who had never before seriously considered owning a firearm. Why were there so many new gun owners all of a sudden? Because they realized a few things that they’d never had occasion to imagine before.

  • The police might not be available to offer protection. Safety could very well be their own responsibility. 
  • The police and officials might close down businesses instead of helping them out.
  • If the lockdowns continued, society could deteriorate into anarchy, and people realized the potential need to be able to protect themselves and their families if it did. 

Those were just a few factors that I heard. Up until that point, it was a given that the police and government would protect them (or so they thought). It took a major event to make people see what can really happen. And see they did!

riot on city street
We saw riots and the plague unfold. Police couldn’t protect themselves, let alone private citizens. Certain areas descended into anarchy. (Photo: iStock Photos)

People flocked to gun shops, many with zero firearms knowledge, to buy their first firearm. The pickings were slim, so people snatched up whatever they could. AR-15s were a popular item and could scarcely be found in short order. The droves of new shooters soaked up a huge amount of ammo and guns, leaving those of us who have always been dedicated shooters with even fewer resources than normal.

Ammo Shortage Strategies for Recovery

Fortunately, as mentioned above, ammo is finally returning to the shelves. Prices are a bit more reasonable now with many calibers. Although I’m seeing very high prices on certain rounds in my area, including .38 Special, .357 Magnum, and most hunting rounds. 6.5 Creedmoor, in many cases, is well over $1 per round, and even .30-30 Winchester is priced very high.

So what can we do to bolster our ammo stocks, or at least somewhat recover from this shortage?

Rethink Training

In the B.C. days (Before Covid), people would go to the range and expend hundreds of rounds per training session. I was never financially fortunate enough to engage in high round counts during my personal training. But after the shortage, even less so. (I was fortunate enough to have an agency that made me shoot obscene amounts of ammo, and they paid me to do it). 

The good news is that we don’t have to fire hundreds of rounds to have a decent training session. With Stress Shooting Drills we can still have high-quality training while expending far fewer rounds. In fact, this would be a benefit to many people as opposed to mindlessly banging out magazine after magazine at the range. Higher quality training combined with firing less ammunition equals a win in my book.

Maintaining skills does not necessarily mean we have to fire 300 rounds at a training session. Depending on our current skill level, when doing stress shooting, we can get a decent training session firing ten or twenty rounds of ammo. 

Stress Shooting Drill.
Stress Shooting is a great way to build skills while not expending copious amounts of ammunition. It is a proven training strategy.

When doing stress shooting, we can get a decent training session firing ten or twenty rounds of ammo, depending on our current skill level. Maintaining skills does not necessarily mean we have to fire 300 rounds at a training session.

Pare Down the Collection

Quite a few people whom I know decided to pare down their collection of firearms and sold off a few (or several) firearms. With the proceeds, they were able to procure more ammunition. This is a sound strategy, in my opinion. What good is a large collection of firearms if you can’t feed them? I’d rather have 10 firearms and a healthy stock of ammo than 20 firearms with hardly any ammunition.

During the shortage, it was easy to sell firearms, as everyone and their brother was looking to buy. Presently, I have my collection down to just the firearms that I really want/need—ones that I believe I will use if tough times come knocking.

Buy Smart

The Great Ammo Shortage was one of the worst times ever to buy a new weapons system that you didn’t have ammunition for. It wasn’t very fun to find specific calibers, to put it politely. Many people suddenly discovered that the .22 Long Rifle is a lot more desirable than they first realized. Its lower price, compared to all other ammo available, made it a wise choice to buy.  This is why I had been stocking up on it for years. And that cheaper price allows for more training, which is something to take into consideration.

CCI .22LR ammo
The .22 Long Rifle is still one of the best calibers available. Cost is one of the major advantages, and the smaller size makes it easier to store than large rounds.

Surplus Ammo

Buying military surplus ammunition is often cheaper than commercial ammunition at present. Especially 5.56mm and 7.62x39mm ammo. Those two calibers seem to have dropped down in price again to tolerable levels. Local shops here in PA have 5.56mm at $10-12 per box of 20, and 7.62x39mm about $8.00-10.00 per box of 20.

Buy In Bulk

I have a number of friends who are fortunate enough to buy in bulk; they order ammo online by the case. Fortunately, it’s once again available to do so. In doing so, your initial expenditure will be greater, but it’s usually cheaper in the long run because you can score a better price.

Buy Regularly

My strategy is to try to buy a little bit of ammo each week if I’m able. I don’t expend a lot of ammo at the range, so for me, ammo tends to accumulate. As mentioned, the .22LR is one of the rounds I stock up on in quantity. Even if I run out of every other caliber in my arsenal, I will still have a good supply of .22LR. It’s not the most powerful, but it will perform a myriad of tasks. Having a good supply is reassuring.

At this stage of the game, you can probably buy a hundred rounds per week of the .22LR. Even if you only buy 50 rounds per week, it’s going to add up. At my local shop, 100 rounds of .22LR from CCI costs between $11 and $12.00. It’s certainly higher than B.C., but for right now, it’s the cheapest thing going.

Ruger 10/22 Compact.
A Ruger 10/22 is also a versatile carbine, capable of putting game on the table or repelling attackers, especially with 25-round magazines.

Don’t Wait

My advice, at this point, is not to be lulled into a sense of complacency. Yes, ammo is once again on the shelves in volume, and that is fabulous news. Buy it now! As we’ve plainly seen in recent events, there’s no guarantee that ammo will be on the shelves a month from now (or even a week from now). Who knows when the next major disaster is going to hit and we’re facing another Great Ammo Shortage? Personally, I think there will be another catastrophic event at some point in our future.

If you cannot afford mass quantities, try to at least buy a box or 2 a week. Allow it to accumulate. No one knows what sort of storm is headed our way next, but being prepared for it will put us ahead of the game.

Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities.

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