If you’ve been struggling to find affordable ammunition – or any ammunition at all – lately, you aren’t alone. Nationwide shortages in boxed ammunition and reloading components have led to empty shelves, purchase limits, and dramatically increased prices. But what are the driving factors behind this current spike in ammo costs? It’s impossible to cover every variable involved, but let’s take a look at some of the biggest root causes.
Why Are Ammo Prices so High?
Rising Material Costs
One part of the puzzle when it comes to higher ammo prices are the rising costs of the raw materials used to manufacture cartridges. Copper prices have skyrocketed to historic highs, and while some mining operations have started to get back on track, mining output in Chile – the world’s largest copper producer – has slumped.
Not only is there less production, but the quality of copper ore has diminished by an average of 30% worldwide since 2005, meaning that more ore needs to be mined and processed to produce the same amount of usable copper.
And copper isn’t the only material feeling the pinch – lead prices have also surged, in part because of increased demand by the automotive industry for replacement lead-acid car batteries.
Combined with bulk shipping and freight costs, which have increased by over 400% compared to pre-Covid prices in many countries where raw materials for ammunition are sourced, it becomes clear that these rising prices are having a major effect on the end product.
Supply Chain Choke Points
Even when materials are available, global supply chain problems have majorly impacted ammo prices.
Currently, the biggest problem is the lack of primers – a significant chunk of the primers used by US ammunition manufacturers are actually imported from countries such as Italy, the Czech Republic, and the Philippines, and shipping delays from those countries are currently estimated to be in the 4-5 month range.
Along with primers, lead and brass imported from Asia are seeing similar delays, and manufacturers are left struggling to deal with slow, unreliable transportation. This situation is made even worse by pandemic-related shutdowns, short-staffing, and distribution problems.
To demonstrate just how severe these supply chain issues are, Vista Outdoors (who now own Federal, Remington, Speer, and CCI) recently reported a one year backlog on ammunition orders totaling over one billion dollars in sales.
Lack of Manufacturing Capacity
Ammo shortages aren’t a new thing – just ask any avid reloader how many times they’ve been unable to find primers in the past few decades.
So why haven’t manufacturers invested in the infrastructure needed to keep up with demand? It’s a fair question, and the simplest answer is that the demand for ammo is often cyclical, which makes ammo producers hesitant to invest in improving and expanding their manufacturing capacity.
We only have to look back a few years for a perfect example: Barack Obama’s presidency led to an enormous spike in demand for firearms and ammunition that manufacturers were happy to meet, but much of that demand evaporated after Donald Trump took office.
Firearms and ammunition manufacturers were left buried in excess supply, resulting in layoffs, increased storage costs, and even a few bankruptcies.
As a result, much of the firearms industry adopted a “once bitten, twice shy” attitude towards ramping up production, which has contributed to a perfect storm of high demand, low supply, material shortages, and distribution problems.
There is no denying that gun control legislation – or even just the threat of it – can have a big influence on the price of guns and ammo. Most recently, the announcement that no new import permits would be issued for ammunition manufactured in Russia spurred panic-buying and even higher prices for imported cartridges.
Although existing permits will be honored for the next 2 years, this legislation is certain to have knock-on effects throughout the ammo industry. Russia has been the largest external supplier of ammunition to the US for the past 16 years, and certain ammo, such as 5.45x39mm, is almost entirely sourced from Russia.
But this move also signals the possibility that further restrictions might be on the way, which has historically led to stockpiling and reduced ammo availability even before factoring in the effects of the pandemic.
Likewise, recent inflation has also contributed to rising ammo prices.
Though an in-depth explanation is beyond the scope of this article, the basic gist is that with trillions of dollars being printed by the government in an attempt to combat the economic impact of Covid, the dollar’s buying power is diminished, and when all of that freshly-printed money outstrips the supply of goods and services, prices start to climb - whether the product in question is ammunition, gasoline, lumber, or groceries.
New Gun Purchases
Last but not least, it’s important to factor in the sharp increase in recent gun sales and the effect that those purchases have on the supply of ammo. According to public reports from the FBI, the 2020 calendar year saw a record-shattering 21 million background checks for firearm purchases, with an estimated 40% of those being first-time gun buyers.
Considering that those numbers don’t factor in person-to-person sales or account for multiple firearms being purchased in a single transaction, it’s clear that an incredible number of guns are moving off of shelves and out of closets – and unsurprisingly, those buyers are shopping for ammunition, too.
When Will Ammo Prices Drop?
If you’re wondering what the future holds in terms of ammunition prices and availability, you’re probably not going to like the answer – at least in the short term. Production of many key raw materials has only started to pick up steam again, and there’s still a long ways to go before reaching pre-Covid levels.
Logistical problems and shipping delays continue to be a major problem, especially for imported goods, and so far ammo manufacturers don’t seem to be making plans to expand their production capacity. On top of that, political uncertainties and increasing social unrest resulting in a large influx of new shooters means that demand is higher than ever.
The bottom line? While we’re starting to see the first evidence of light at the end of the tunnel, ammunition shortages and increased prices are likely still going to be a problem for a while.
For now, manufacturers are focusing on the most popular calibers, including 9mm, .223, and 7.62x39, which will probably make a small dent, but many domestic distributors have already put out the word that buyers shouldn’t expect meaningful changes in supply until the summer of 2022.
2022 vs. 2021 Prices
[That being said, ammo prices have still improved SIGNIFICANTLY from a year ago. Check out our Cheapest Ammo 2022 infographic that compares current prices to those a year ago.]
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