table of primers for ammunition reloading

Is the Ammunition Shortage Real or Manufactured?

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Are ammunition manufacturers driving up prices for profit and to starve the competition?

Shooters and hunters across the country are feeling the bite in their wallets from the increases to the price of ammunition since COVID hit a year ago. Most believe it is simply the effect of panic buying that has caused a shortage of supply and a spike in prices. That is what I believed until a few calls from friends put me on a path to discover something much more nefarious. Perhaps it is more than demand that is driving up the price in ammunition. Are ammunition manufacturers intentionally slowing supply while driving up prices for their financial and strategic gains?

Several students and a firearms trainer at the shooting range
One of the victims of the ammo shortage has been a lack of ammunition for training.

I have friends whom I have not talked to in a couple of decades reaching out looking for ammo—many of them are industry insiders. They start out with something like, “Hey, bud. Long time no talk.” Then, before you know it, they lower the boom. “You’re still in the industry, right? Any chance you can get some ammo for me?” For my good friends, I laugh, and the rest I normally just hang up. However, the calls got me to thinking.

I can generally call the larger manufacturers and squeeze at least a few boxes of ammunition for testing and evaluation. That still holds true. However, it is the smaller, boutique manufacturers’ supply that has really dried up. A few calls to find out why nearly knocked me out of my chair.

I started off the conversations by asking how it was going and how sales were doing (small talk). In a crunch market, I expected them to be too busy running the machines at full capacity and counting their money to even take my call. What I got was an offer to buy their loading machines—cheap.

Not that I have that type of scratch lying around, but who would not want to own an ammo company right now? It should be a license to print money, right? Unfortunately, I quickly realized just how wrong I was.

The Cause of the Ammo Shortage

Let’s be clear. We do NOT have an ammo-manufacturing capacity shortage. The empty shelves at your local ammo depot are not the result of preppers hoarding a few thousand rounds in their basement. Likewise, it is not because Bubba working the ammo counter at the big-box store called his buddies when the delivery truck pulled up.

empty ammunition shelves with a sign limiting purchases
Empty ammunition shelves may not be the result of excessive demand. It may be the result of a couple of manufactures intentionally choking supply by limiting sales of primers.

Pro shooters often shoot more practice rounds in a month than most avid shooters in a year, but they are not the culprits either. So, who is causing the ammo shortage, and who is paying the bill for the shortage? You and I are getting the bill that may have resulted from a petty war and profiteering campaign by a select few ammo manufacturers, or so I have been told. Let me explain.

You may have heard, watched, or read a statement from a senior manager or CEO assuring us the loading machines are running at full capacity. The good news is the machines at the largest manufacturers are pumping out ammo at full capacity. But only at the largest manufacturers.

The big boys are selling ammunition—at inflated prices due to the laws of supply and demand. However, the demand caused by you and me rushing down to the stores to buy some pew-pew food is not so great that the industry cannot keep up. So, why aren’t the smaller manufacturers pumping out cartridges like they were being spit out of hot-barreled Ma Deuce? Simple. It’s because the smaller manufacturers cannot keep their machines running. They have cases, powder, and bullets aplenty. What they do not have is primers.

A couple of the major players produce the majority of primers and sell them to smaller manufacturers. I am about to relate a claim—from a confidential source, a claim that has been independently corroborated by other manufacturers—of why the big manufacturers are not selling as many primers to other manufacturers as they did in previous years.

The Backstory

I am sure you heard about the breakup of Remington and the ammunition division being sold separately. There was a lot of blood spilled during the bidding process with manufacturers accusing others of intentionally bidding up the price to stick it to the competition, which admittedly is likely true. As they say, what goes around comes around, and payback is a stripper named Karma.

table of primers for ammunition reloading
Allegations from some manufacturers point to an intention shortage of primers as the cause of the ammunition shortage.

Vista Outdoors (formerly under the Federal ATK umbrella) won the bid, and smaller manufacturers are claiming it is hoarding primers as payback for the bidding war. Let’s acknowledge that Federal ATK does have large military and law enforcement contracts that take priority. As much as I love to shoot, I do not want to do it at the expense of our warfighters’ or law enforcement’s safety. However, industry insiders whom I have talked to allege that there are warehouses of primers being held back by Federal and Winchester, simply to drive up prices and starve the competition.

That’s not to say some primers are not being doled out to other manufacturers. However, while the costs to produce primers have not gone up over the last year, wholesale prices have reportedly been raised nine times. Even with the increased prices, manufacturers are reporting that fewer primers are being shipped to them than previous years. Are you still wondering why ammo prices are through the roof?

It would be easy enough for primer manufacturers to simply claim their production numbers are up and contractual obligations are the only reason they are not shipping more primers. That was where my head went until one of my sources asked a couple of thought-provoking questions. “Do you really think they could not increase capacity or release more primers to other manufacturers if the war in the Middle East was just kicking off or something just as critical to the security of the U.S. was happening?” “During the entire war with Iraq and in Afghanistan, was there a shortage of ammunition as a result?”

Winners and Losers of an Ammunition War

Who loses? You and I lose, of course. If the allegations being leveled by manufacturers are true, you and I are paying more at the ammo counter today than we should. Tomorrow, there will be less competition and fewer choices—both of which are bad for the Second Amendment. Less ammo means less training and fewer new shooters. Accidents will go up, participation will go down, and the net result will be ammunition for the antis to use against us to strip away our Second Amendment rights.

man holding an open, empty wallet after buying ammunition
Is your wallet showing the effect of limited supply and higher ammunition prices?

Fewer shooters, more negative press, and less enthusiasm by today’s shooters will be the impetus… when shooters stop going out and banging away at the range, they stop paying attention to the legislative efforts of the anti-gunners. A tit for tat war by a few ammo manufacturers could spell the end of our rights to bear arms for sport shooting and self-defense.

You make the call. Are the big ammunition manufacturers intentionally driving up prices, or is this just a case of jealousy from the smaller players? Share your take on the ammunition shortage in the comment section.

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    1. The consumers need to stop buying for a while. The last time I was at a local sporting goods store there were 20 people waiting for them to open and they all ran back to the ammo section. If you look on Gun Broker the prices are insane. I mean $350 for a 1000 primers? A dollar a round for 9mm? And these are the prices that it is bid up to. So everyone take a couple months and don’t buy anything. Let the scalpers sit on their inventory for a while and they will stop buying from the stores. Then the stores will have some inventory and we can buy it at a reasonable price.

      1. I agree, if no-one buys from a company the company eventually goes broke. I really don’t think too many manufacturers would survive very long on Military contracts.

      2. Ive been saying the same for a while now. Let them choke on the inventory for a bit. As consumers we can drive the price down.

  1. Great article Dave! Curious now as to how many guys want to sell their equipment? I buy and sell loaders all the time so I’d be happy to get in touch.

  2. I have been saying this for over a year now but nobody would listen. I live in the town that has Remingtons ammo facility and employees there have laughingly spoke of their new owners doing that very thing. And not just primers either. Other things as well with reference to using their influence to create logistics issues for other manufacturers.

  3. I 100 percent agree with this. The thing is there needs to be someone with enough capital to go out there and start a primer business. I heard rumors that a few companies had been trying to figure out how to make just that happen. Maybe all the companies like LAX and freedom munitions can band together and start producing primers. Hopefully government regulation doesn’t ruin free enterprise in this situation. Imagine how screwed the big guys would be if a new primer manufacturer came on board and whose only goal was to make and sell as many primers as possible.

  4. What I’d like to know is where is the NRA in all this? O know they spend a lot of their time in the lobbiest whore houses but why let something like this happen? This is as damaging to to 2a supporters as the anti’s attacking us through legislation. The moment this primer bitch fest that’s screwing the very ppl that line the pockets of these scrubs started happening, the NRA should have driven a tank thought their doors with a big WTF sign painted on it. The NRA has been taking it on the chin for these guys for too long for us to have to pay like this. It petty BS and needs to stop.

    1. This was my first reaction. But I stopped giving them my money a year ago once I found out Wayne was using my hard earned money on cocaine and suits

      1. This ammo shortage is a world wide issue not just a US issue. To say that the manufacturers are starving the market seems to be a pretty big assumption. The larger ammo manufacturers are able to get the primers they need because they buy in larger quantities than the boutique ammo guys. Think about it your a primer manufacturer… you can sell all to a few or split it between the many. Deal with more accounts receivables etc. it’s much easier to just sell to the big boys who pay all up front saves you on employee costs, shipping, etc. the component shortage is also worldwide not just in the US. Interesting piece but I think your off base here.

        1. Brad, I was simply reporting my finding and relating what I have been told by multiple manufacturers. They are bringing in containers of ammunition and primers from overseas, because they cannot get them here. I also have another ammo manufacturer that was recently featured on a major podcast confirming many of the same assertions. My position… is no position at all. I am simply reporting the allegations of others to start the discussion. Any of the major manufacturers are welcome to an interview or to have a statement of their published addressing the issue.

        2. Agree totally there were 4 primer manufacturers in the United states before the sale of Remington. Vista group owned 2 of them which is the federal cci and many other names and Winchester. Know Vista group Owen’s 3 with the purchase of Remington.
          Know most people buy brand name ammo, which is produced by these 4 manufacturers they are going to fill there orders first before they start giving products to other producers that is called business. So where is all the imported ammo? It is no where to be found they are not buying American primers so they should have flooded the market with ammo and people would buy it.

        3. Check Canadian websites I have been to a couple looking for ammunition and they HAVE IT but will/ can/ not ship it to the US

  5. To the issue that there is a “worldwide” shortage….If the shortage is worldwide, why then can I find primers at websites of companies in other countries? I can find primers for sale in Canada, New Zealand and Australia, to name just 3. They just cannot/will not ship to an individual consumer in the U.S.

  6. The demand is the ongoing problem. The supply cannot meet the never ending, massive demand of this past year and years to come under the threat of this “presidency.”
    You or I may have stopped buying long ago, but so many have not stopped.
    Consider the human nature that is wanting more when we’re denied a thing, even if we didn’t know we needed it or as much of it.
    Most shooters bought at a replacement rate of what we would shoot up one weekend and could reliably replace whenever. The overall ammo industry is only built up to efficiently supply that replacement rate of consumption. It fails entirely when the demand is what it is now, tens of times, maybe a hundred times what it was through most of Trump’s presidency.
    Primers are definitely a problem as one of the most complicated components to manufacture. Pushed this far this long the first breaking point will be primers.
    Smaller ammo producers will suffer as the biggest producers that have first chance on primers will get/keep more, because they are also producing more. This is all a bit simpler, less conspiratorial than all of this.
    It isn’t what people want to hear, it does not answer everyone’s question of “how do I get ammo but for only the price I want to pay,” so the doubts and accusations continue. Nothing nefarious needs be used to produce the scarcity and market prices we’re all seeing out there, it is just massive, constant demand over near completely failed supply.

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