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.

    2. Glad to see not EVERYBODY is buying the crazy demand argument. I can’t be the only person who has bought about 10 percent of what I typically buy in the last year.

      I know a small ammo plant owner. He’s gotten 1/20th of his normal primer supply in the last year. He’s laid off most his workers. Even the big box stores consistently tell you their shipments received are down by 80 percent.

      There’s only Two primer manufacturers in the US…Vista and Olin. Their limiting of sales is driving prices through the roof. Don’t give them a pass.

  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.

    1. I sort of believe this more than I believe it will take 2+ years to catch up.
      The thing that makes a red flag shoot up at the speed of light is, the senior management seems to be repeating the same narrative. Like “there is no government contracts that is causing this” and coupled with them clearly annunciating “conspiracy theory” tells me there is one. If these bozos are actually doing this, they will be the first ones to deny there is any foul play happening and will utter those 2 words (conspiracy theory) to try and easily discredit what could be the actual problem. They would deflect blame to things that are out of every ones control and therefore be able to continue driving prices up for profit.

  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.

    1. Primers are nearly impossible to get in Australia at present and no relief in sight and we have the double whammy of no Australian primer manufacture so everything is imported.We appear to be on the end of the supply chain

  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.

    1. Thanks J – you’re absolutely right. Shortages happen for one reason or another with some regularity with ammunition and/or components. Sometimes distributors/wholesalers are able to find temporary fixes that minimize the impact on retail customers and sometimes not. For those who can learn from this, they can, if they choose, be prepared for the certain to come next time, no matter the reason or ability of others to compensate.

  7. At what price point or increase does it become more profitable for ammo manufacturers to start making their own primers? 9 fold increase in the last year should start them thinking.

  8. After reading the article I had a thought the price of ammo is through the roof and in short supply but I think some of the stores selling the ammo are gouging the buyers but not all of them so maybe the companies that produce primers are saying wait a minute there are guys selling ammo at ridiculously high prices and making lots of money but the price of primers to the best of my knowledge hasn’t gone through the roof in the past few years sure there have been price increases but is it possible the manufacturers are telling the scalpers if you can get that kind of money for ammo maybe we should raise our prices also in an effort to stop the price gougers from making all the money on the finished product. Slowing production will get their attention real quick and to the point. Another thought is the manufacturers may have a tough time getting raw materials at higher prices that also may be inflated. Whatever the case I want our military and law enforcement to have what is needed to maintain a level of readiness. I have heard conspiracies the government is buying large quantities of all calibers and with the current administration anything is possible. After all the anti gun Bill’s being proposed are definitely not doing anything good for the price of ammo along with record number of gun buyers. Everybody likes to make money but the people that are selling stuff at seriously inflated prices are greedy and that’s playing into the hands of the anti gunners. So much for my thoughts. One more thing to think about look what happened to toilet paper.

  9. I have been lampooned for saying this very thing….for the last year.

    This so called “shortage” (a contrived event to drive prices up by the manufacturer) could not be happening with out the collusion of the Manufacturers and select Distributors…
    to the detriment of the shooting public.

    When it started, the “purveyors” of primers on Gun Broker all had really high “sales numbers”….about two dozen “vendors” were selling ALL the primers for $200/M.

    Primers/priming compound (for the rimfire) is the hold up. It takes some specialized equipment & SKILLED PERSONNEL to SAFELY make priming compound and primers.

    With the “takeover” of R-P by Federal/CCI….there should be primers out the wazoo.

    Federal & Winchester have both stated that come next Month (April 1st, how appropriate) there will be a minimum of a 15% price increase!

    Do they expect their warehouses to be full to overflowing, at that point? Sell off some of the surplus? At a vastly inflated price?

    Remember, primers were $35/M last summer…. and “They” have been GOUGING the folks that do not reload to the tune of $1.50/rd for 9mm & .223 ammo in the interim…

    What is the “profit margin” on those primers?

  10. Agreed and well said Dave, but as a small potato hobbyist reloader there has not been any components available at any retail stores or even online stores including primers, powder, bullets or loaded ammo?
    At this point it seems the only components/ammo available is the gunbroker gougers. Why is NOTHING available?

  11. Great article and I highly suspect you are very correct. However, I have a little to add.

    I’m from MN and I sold some 32 ACP to a gentlemen last Sept or Nov 2020 in Twin Cities when I got back from “up north” at the cabin and he shoots 9k rounds in the summer, which he typically does. I usually only shoot 2k to 3k a summer (this summer ??, probably not.)
    He said that he was hearing that numerous “rich people” were buying up 9mm in pallets (other calibers honestly can’t remember, but makes sense 5.56 for sure). If not by themselves then, with a group of two to five people or so. I think a pallet might be 72,000 rounds of 9mm. I believe him since shooting that much over a summer at an indoor range, he has seen ammo shortages through the years and knows how to purchase them, usually.

    I was way “up north” for about 3 months this summer and there are cabins from people from all over the world. Some are very nice on the same lake with around 10+ car garages and guest cabins that are bigger than some houses. There are many, many lakes that are similar. Same thing in WI, some very nice lake and cabins there too. This is just two states I’m familiar with. Buying a pallet or two, would just be another form of “INSURANCE”, especially for the ones who do business near Minneapolis or hear personally from someone, maybe 2 people removed at most about stories from the Mpls riots.
    Know personally two people’s businesses downtown that got personally affected from the BS. Another person in the northern suburbs (personal friend to my cousin, but I’m not close with him) that had to pull his gun on other “protestors” to safely escape, even though had to go in front of a judge to clear himself. Was in my town and didn’t even know at the time they were protesting that far away from downtown Mpls.

    I guarantee these “rich, insurance minded people” would just go directly to a distributor for the ammo. He didn’t say anything about primers, but I’m sure at least half of them at least reloaded sometimes or at least had the reloading machines and tools in standby just in case they “needed” to set them up. Another form of “insurance” is a reloading setup, even if put away in a corner. Easy to download Youtube videos to hard drive (JDownloader…) and other vids and save them to look at later.

    Thanks for the article.

  12. If this is your first time dealing with an ammo shortage you have my sympathy. It can be a hard lesson to learn – but it has happened numerous times before and will no doubt happen numerous times in the future. Having spent 18 of the last 23 years in the retail end of this business, I have heard all of the conspiracy theories more than a few times before. All I can say about that is I know of no manufacturing business that thinks starving the market of a product their competitors can also (and surely would) produce is smart business. As for those of you who’ve been through ammo shortages before and didn’t have the sense to stock up on ammo when it was plentiful and cheap and there were ammo sales aplenty – please quit whining – it really gets old. And please stop demonizing those who were smart enough to stock up on ammo and reloading supplies and now are only willing to part with it if the price is right. You presuppose their motivations when you have no idea and honestly, their motivations don’t matter to me. Don’t buy it from them if you don’t want to pay what they ask for it. I have plenty of all and while I give some to friends who are new to all of this, I wouldn’t sell it to any of you at any price – I bought it so that I would have it, not to make up for your shortcomings. So maybe you should appreciate those who are willing to sell theirs. And maybe next time you’ll be smart enough to stock up – though, it is an absolute certainty – a good many of you never have been and won’t be this time. Distributors and wholesalers are NOT going to stockpile supplies so that you don’t have to.
    For those of you who can learn a lesson from this, an extra week or two’s worth is not stocking up. An extra year or two’s worth would be a good start. Prices will go back to reasonable (even if we are stuck undoing what damage may be done by the current radical communist regime in Washington). When they do, buy extra every time you buy and buy by the case when ammo goes on sale. Store in a cool dry place – use surplus military ammo cans for loose ammo/boxes. Ammo will last your lifetime as well as your kids and grandkids lifetimes. Learn to reload, save your brass and stock up on bullets, primers and powder. Do this and sooner that you think, events like this will cease to cause you any fear of running low or running out of ammo.

  13. For the sake of argument let’s say that you’re right about the primers. That doesn’t explain why I can’t find powder and bullets on local shelves. Also doesn’t explain why I can’t find dies or conversion kits for my Dillon XL750.

  14. Let’s look and some common sense.

    ! Common sense tells us that there was plenty of ammo available at the beginning of 2019, being sold in mass to the consumers. Today the shelves are empty, very little retail available. Same with reloading supplies, Primers, Bullets, Powder. WHY IS THAT?

    In these post previous, people say to stop buying, common sense we cant buy because there is no stock. In general you will hear reason for shortage is, pandemic, consumer hoarding, new buyers, etc., yet common sense tells us, if that was the case, sporting retail stores would have record sells, they are NOT.

    Common sense tells you someone is hoarding but its not the consumer. The logical conclusion is the ammo manufacture. When you check with CCI for primers, the CEO says that they are producing at capacity, but all the primers are going to the ammo plants, same with powder companies, and bullet companies.

    Obviously, we are being misled. Interesting when you look a little deeper the roads lead to a federal contractor Alliant Techsystems (ATK), who spun off/owns Vista Outdoors, who has been purchasing up everything in the guns and ammo area of interest, including Federal Premium and CCI among other things.

    Now here is where it gets interesting. If Alliant Techsystems (ATK), who is a Government Contractor in Defense including Military weapons and ammo, who founded Vista Outdoors, you might conclude our government is part of this massive hold on retail ammo.

    Here is why you can conclude this. Previous years consumers brought about 12.5 billion rounds, yet last year, it was 9 billion rounds, 25% decrease. Ammo sales are not increasing, they are decreasing, yet demand is increasing.

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