Paying more, getting less? The truth behind the ammo shortage

Spoiler alert: No, we won't run out of bullets. Except sometimes...

4
2018
Ammunition shortage

Australian shooters have been struggling with rising prices and sporadic shortages of ammunition for almost two years now, and the situation will not improve in the foreseeable future. 

The reasons behind it are varied and complex, which is part of the reason it’s impossible to predict when the situation will ease, but by all accounts there is no danger of us actually running out of ammo. 

The surging US domestic market for firearms and ammunition is a key factor in the general shortage of ammo. Last year, the US recorded record guns sales, and a substantial portion of that growth was from an unprecedented number of new shooters entering the market. This year looks like well and truly eclipsing that record.

Ammunition makers have been struggling to meet demand, despite many of them running factories 24/7. If anything, ammo production has increased.

But supply of components hinders them. Raw materials for projectiles are in short supply, and when projectiles can’t be made, ammunition production stops.

Aaron Millard, chief operating officer of Tasco Sales Australia, says that primer availability is another concern. 

“There are far fewer primer makers than there are ammunition makers, and if you can’t get primers you can’t make bullets.” 

On top of that, he says he’s never seen such strong demand for primers during a life-time career in the industry.

Scott Allen, sales manager at Beretta Australia, agrees: “The disruption to supply chain for components has been a limiting factor for how much ammunition can be produced.”

Supply of ammo wasn’t helped when Remington’s ammunition manufacturing stopped for eight months when the company was split up and sold off. 

“This also was compounded by huge military contracts in Europe which came into effect at the start of 2021 and will run till midway through 2022,” says Allen. 

“So what we have had in the US and Europe is the perfect storm.”

“Demand is up 40% and supply has remained steady, so we have a shortfall that is ongoing.”

Millard say Tasco has been “lucky” to be importing Fiocchi, an Italian-made brand, but he says its European base doesn’t make it immune from supply issues.

“We do find challenges when particular loads that we developed just for Australia  for example, our .223 55gr and .223 60gr EPN projectiles  are produced by large US manufacturers then sent to Italy. Naturally, those projectile manufacturers need to fill their domestic (USA) market demand as well.”

Like a number of Australian importers, Millard saw the shortage coming way back when the COVID crisis was just beginning, and he ensured Tasco was well stocked before it bit. 

“They key to sustainable supply is time, planning ahead and forecasting with manufacturers,” he says. “For example, with one of our key product groups we have just completed ordering and forecasting for Christmas 2023 demand.”

For each importer, their business arrangements tend to ensure ongoing supply.

“Beretta Australia is a part of the Beretta Holding Group and to an extent our supply is guaranteed, however not always what we want when we want it,” says Allen. 

“We own the manufacturing facilities of our core product and the Berretta Holding group ensures even supply globally.”

NIOA, which imports Federal and CCI ammunition, has managed keep supplying Australian customers with relative consistency, given the challenges, though like others it has run out of certain types of ammunition at times. 

Most calibres are affected, says NIOA marketing manager Ken Stevens, with only non-mainstream ones like 7mm-08 remaining consistently available. He confirmed that the race to increase production of the major calibres has reduced quantities of other calibres, though. 

“Nothing is predictable,” he says. “Freight is just as big a problem as product supply, sometimes taking up to eight months to get a shipment delivered.”

A worldwide shortage of shipping containers has seen their prices soar, too, just one part in rising ammo prices here. 

“Freight prices are now five times what they were before COVID,” Stevens says. “Restricted staff numbers in factories because of COVID have added massive costs, and most manufacturers have had three price increases in the last six months.”

Most of our importers have absorbed some of the rises. If one keeps prices down, the others are forced to follow quickly or they lose market share, because dealers tend to look for the best value at wholesale level. But inevitably, prices have gone up at retail level.

Most of these issues go beyond ammunition to include firearms and most accessories.

Almost everyone we spoke to mentioned lead times on firearm orders, sometimes of up to three years. 

Of course, other industries have been hit just as hard, such as cars and electronics. 

If and when the COVID pandemic is brought under control around the world, it’s still difficult to know when the industry will return to a state of predictability and balanced supply and demand. 

Meanwhile, as I said earlier, it doesn’t look like we’ll ever actually run out of ammo. After all, it’s being made as fast as physically possible, 24 hours a day.

However, there may be times when you can’t get your favourite box of bullets, so you may have to be prepared to try whatever else is available at the time. 

The prices may be hard to swallow but it’s probably not your dealer’s fault, because the root of the increased costs comes from outside the industry.

Millard made a comment that ring true: “Australia is lucky. While it may not seem that way all the time, our country has some really great businesses importing shooting sports products. Most of those companies invest a significant amount of time and money into ensuring there is a sustainable supply of products in our country.”

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4 COMMENTS

  1. It also doesn’t help when there are so many differing stories out there about ADI… and only shortly after Winchester pulled the pin on Australia. The shortage of pistol powder is horrendous. Many shops are still advertising it on their sites as being in stock which is tantamount to fraud as they’re selling an item that they don’t know when or if it’s coming in.

    Some stories are that ADI has just stopped making pistol powders in favour of rifle powder and others are saying that they stopped as a result of a new factory not being able to make it correctly.

    It’d be bloody nice to know what the actual story is and, in using up stored supplies, are we going to be able to replenish them in time?

    Maybe Winchester could decide to re-enter the market as there’s certainly a hole there for them to fill.

  2. Can’t understand why ADI doesn’t produce small arms primers (or do they?)
    Surely, the capacity to do this is part of our sovereign defence capability at the most basic level.

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