Before the holidays, both firearm and ammunition makers told anyone who would listen that they were doing all they could to keep up with burgeoning demand. One ammo CEO said “If I had an extra plant hiding around here somewhere I might get caught up.”
Jason Hornady of Hornady Manufacturing was equally succinct when he released a video that said “if we make it today, it ships tomorrow.”
Ammo makers aren’t sitting on product. Neither are gunmakers. But the capacities of both are still being strained by demand.
For the past few days, we’ve been running one of our decidedly unscientific surveys of independent gun dealers around the country.
Here’s the gist of what we’ve found: their supplies aren’t exhausted, they’re decidedly limited. For some frustrated customers, not having what they want means they don’t have anything. That’s not the case in any of the locations surveyed.
In Birmingham, Alabama, one independent store owner noted a record day on Saturday -$85,000 worth of sales. That’s a lot of sales, even for a large independent store.
But he’s not the exception.
Up the street, Mark’s Outdoor Sports customers crowded the aisles throughout the store.
It’s peak deer season, so hunters were prowling for all manner of supplies. But customers again congregated most heavily in two areas: firearms and accessories, and ammunition.
Both stores had new guns on hand, although with far more limited than normal selections.
Both shops were similar in the absence of two things: ammunition in “common” calibers and used guns.
Marks had “some” 2.23/.308 and pistol ammo -in limited quantities and selections, but quantities of ammo for less “common” calibers (think 6.8 PRC and big-bore, dangerous-game calibers).
Traditional hunting calibers were either severely limited or out.
Across town, a third retailer had a “regular customer” come in while our shopper was there. He handed the manager some money and the manager went into the back and got a small box.
He handed it to the beaming customer who promptly turned on his heel and left.
What was in the box?
Ammo. More specifically, .270 caliber premium hunting ammo.
It had gotten so scarce in Birmingham that with Alabama’s deer season peaking, this gun shop was holding premium hunting ammunition for their best customers.
Prices didn’t appear to have been increased much on ammo in any of the three locations, despite the high demand. But all three stores enjoy longstanding reputations for treating customers fairly.
That’s decidedly not the case with all gun shops across the country.
Across the midwest, we’re getting frequent complaints from readers that hunting ammo either isn’t readily available, or is available at prices significantly higher than only a few months ago.
Unfortunately, some price increases are inevitable. Raw material prices have remained fairly stable, but shipping is one little-discussed cost that has risen during the pandemic. Manufacturers are approaching the point where those costs are more than they’re willing - or able- to absorb.
We’ve already received (but have yet to confirm) an informational sheet from one ammo manufacturer notifying distributors and retailers that increased costs will mean their ammo prices will be go up next month. Those increases ranged from 5-12 percent, depending on the raw material used in the ammunition.
In a time when manufacturers are working to obtain as much raw material as is available, it’s not unreasonable to expect some price increases.
The shrinking supply of used firearms, however, is more puzzling.
From the conversations we’ve had with retailers, there may be two possible explanations.
First, a significant number of buyers aren’t looking to “trade up” for newer models or different variants of their preferred brands. Instead, they’re adding new models and hanging onto their old ones.
A second possibility, although less common, seems to be holding true across the country.
Some looking to sell or trade guns have unreasonable expectations for their trade-in value.
As one dealer told me, “the fact I don’t have a case full of a certain model pistol doesn’t mean I’m willing to pay a premium for a used one. They’re in demand, but they’re still available.”
Today is a high-demand marketplace, not a panicked one.
Prices rise to unreasonable levels when consumers fear they won’t be able to buy anything.
Thankfully, we’re not to that point- yet. But we’re all nervous about the future.
We’ll keep you posted.
— Jim Shepherd