Wal-Mart shelves were empty, and online bulk retailers were ‘backordered’ for months on end. Even cast lead pistol bullets saw steep price increases and supply shortages. Conspiracy theories abounded, with rumors of secret Executive Orders and backroom arm-twisting by the new and (allegedly) rabidly anti-gun President’s cronies. A local outdoor-goods retailer earned my hatred by festooning their ammo shelves with Xeroxed panic-grams shouting “PRESIDENT OBAMA WANTS TO TAKE AWAY YOUR GUNS AND AMMUNITION. STOCK UP NOW WHILE YOU STILL CAN!”

When confronted by irate customers, most retailers simply said their wholesalers weren’t delivering enough supply to keep up with demand. Wholesalers and bulk online suppliers said the factories simply weren’t shipping enough. Manufacturers claimed that ‘high commodity prices’ for lead and other metals were to blame.

This last claim was bullshit, by the way. Metals prices dropped precipitously in the economic near-collapse during the months before the Drought, leaving meth-addicted aluminum thieves with no clear career path. Many economists simply saw the Drought as a panic-induced bubble; they advised us to stop hoarding and get on with our lives while the supply and demand curves straightened themselves out.

Okay, this isn’t exactly how economics works, but we understood their advice even if we didn’t follow it. One shooting friend (an MBA/economist type who sells commodities for an industrial giant) predicted that prices would eventually correct themselves, once the shooting public had collectively filled their bug-out bags and doomsday bunkers. While he predicted this, he also spent $18 a box for 9mm FMJs, because he had no stockpile to rely on and he had no other choice.

I weathered the drought by reloading. I was fortunate enough to be sitting on a good supply of primers, powder, bullets and brass. I had to pay too much for a few boxes of primers and a few cans of powder, but I spent many meditative and productive hours at my loading bench. I turned time (instead of money) into ammo, and I came out of the Drought with more ammo than I had when it started.

That’s right. I came out of the Drought. We have all, for the most part, come out of the Drought. From what data do I make this pronouncement? From the groaning and overloaded ammo shelves at Cabelas, where supply is not a problem as long as money is not an object. From the pages of online retailers, where the three dreaded words “Out Of Stock” are rarely to be found. And, most of all, from gun shows.

At recent gun shows I found jacketed pistol bullets and primers at pre-Drought prices, and watched as ammo supplies rose and prices fell. Maybe the economists were right after all?

This was confirmed last weekend, when a few of my friends and neighbors joined me in stalking the stalls of the monthly gun show at the Portland, Oregon Expo Center. While this wasn’t purely a journalistic endeavor on my part (I was looking for ammo, and lots of it) I did take a few notes on what I saw. What I saw, for the most part, was good.

There were tables and tables covered with new handguns of every description, mostly semi-automatics. There were vast numbers of minuscule .380s and slightly-larger subcompact 9mms. There were a dozen different flavors of 1911s from major manufacturers, many of them relatively new to the 1911 world. There were at least a dozen vendors selling mountains of AR-platform rifles. And there were at least four dealers selling Kel Tec carbines, the innovative and affordable guns I’d read about on TTAG but never seen in the flesh. Or in the polymer and steel, as the case may be. It took some willpower not to buy one on the spot, but I had other priorities.

Then there was the ammo. There were literally dozens of vendors selling ammunition, in quantities and at prices that sometimes made me feel five years younger. Major-brand factory ammunition was back in bulk, and if the prices weren’t great, they were at least down 30% to 40% from their height last year.

By way of illustration, Factory Fiocchi .380 JPHs, loaded with Hornady bullets, were $23 per box of 50; last year .380 FMJs were $40 a box, which was actually higher than the price of factory .44 Magnums at the time. Go figure; I think the surge of mouse guns put huge pressure on .380 suppliers at a bad time. However bad it was, it’s mostly better now.

Commercial reloaders were also working the floor in droves, and my economically-savvy neighbor proved his own prediction true when he bought 1,000 rounds of 9mm for $130. Another friend picked up .40 hollowpoints from a commercial reloader for $14 a box. Those prices haven’t been seen in five years or more. (Too bad his wife’s Glock hated the .40 reloads, but at least they were cheap.)

If these prices were good, the surplus ammo prices were even better. For years, our domestic supply of milspec .223 and .308 was mostly shipped to Iraq or Afghanistan to be fired in the general direction of Taliban and Sunni insurgents. Our diminished presence in Iraq has taken a lot of pressure off of these suppliers, and in addition the Russian arms industry has entered the American sporting ammunition market in force. Wolf and Tula are shipping tens of millions of rounds in .308, .30-06, .223, and common handgun calibers Stateside for our shooting pleasure.

Wholesale shooting pleasure was evident on the floor of the gun show, as 5.56×45 was plentiful and cheap, and .308s were so cheap ($120 for 500) they made me sorry I sold off my Frankenstein L1A1 a few years ago. After hoarding my cash all morning, there were two ammo deals I couldn’t resist, courtesy of the former Soviet Union. I took home a can of 440 rounds of 7.62x54r for $79, and another can of 1,080 rounds of 5.45×39 for $135.

Although these rounds were probably produced and packaged for use in the Afghan war (the Soviet Afghan war, that is) the steel spam cans will protect their contents for centuries until they’re opened. These prices were substantially lower than the best prices (plus shipping) that I could find on the internet, and they even threw in a couple of jumbo Soviet can-openers for free.

The low-down: supplies keep going up, and prices keep coming down, for the ammo we all need and love. My economist pal thinks the prices will keep dropping, because he doubts that there’s any pent-up demand left out there to satiate. After all, the Drought was the result of panic-buying as nervous shooters stocked up in preparation for an anticipated shortage. Now that the doomsday-bunker types have bought all the ammo they need (for the next several years, in many cases) the actual demand on the street will decline even as new foreign manufacturers have entered the market.

As supply grows and demand stagnates, he predicts even lower prices. Maybe the economists were right after all?

10 Responses to Ammo Prices: Are Happy Days Here Again?

  1. It's funny how short memories are. I was scrounging last year to come up with enough brass for my IDPA shooting. Luckily I had enough primers, powder and bullets.
    This year I went through a 3 day handgun course at Tactical Defense Institute here in southern Ohio and the only folks picking up brass at lunchtime were the (few) .45 shooters. I spent a half hour of each lunchtime picking up 9mm and came home with over 4800 once fired brass. Everyone said that because 9mm was so available and cheap now, there's no reason to load it. We'll see.

  2. Give His Majesty time, sometime in his second term he will begin his assault in the second amendment and prices will go back up.

  3. I overpaid for guns and ammo in 2009, but I am glad I did. I think the willingness of millions of Americans to vote with their dollars sent a message to the Chicago outfit. They have shown that they have no qualms about pushing through controversial legislation without popular support, I think in this case the lines at the shows and stores convinced them not to bother trying.

  4. I must admit, I stocked up on several hundred rounds of 9mm late last fall and early this year. Now my philosophy is to replace whatever I shoot so my stash never falls below a certain point. I do think the Drought is over, but at the same token, I don't want to have to worry about it happening again, so I will continue with my philosophy of shooting and buying.
    As for the current Administration, I believe as long as the economy is in the toilet, they will be too busy to focus on on the 2nd Amendment. I could be completely wrong, and they try to sneak in something in the midst of the economic turmoil, but I doubt it. There are too many "watchdogs" for any attack on the 2nd Amendment to go unnoticed.

  5. I think we’ve all learned to stockpile much more ammunition than we previously thought necessary. Long ago, I thought it was fine if I had just a few boxes of. 22 Mini-Mags sitting around. After all, I could only shoot a few hundred founds in a day, and .22s would always cost $.02 each, so I could always replace my ammo the next day for a few bucks, right?

    We now know differently, I think.

  6. I to am replacing only what i shoot as the prices keep falling and all the multi million overseas government contracts dry up and the war winds down prices should keep dropping .Ive seen a few comments from obama that he has no interest in gun control have the democrats finally realized the huge numbers of recreational shooters that vote.

  7. Chris: I've noticed this trend as well. In fact, I just made a more-or-less impulse purchase from CTD because the price on Tula .223 was just too good to pass up (with all the overproduction, .223 prices are getting close to .22lr prices!)

    Interesting that the Russians are making so many Western calibers like .223, .308 and 9mm. Obviously much of the old 7.62×39 and 5.45×39 ammo was being made for their own military forces and military exports to other governments, but the ex-Commies now seem to be making ammo for the US civilian market. As the Chinese proverb (curse?) says, we do live in interesting times.

    PS: Shot a couple of boxes of low-priced Tula .223 in my Del-ton AR yesterday. It functioned, fed and ejected flawlessly.

  8. Also to add a bit to Chris's article, I think there is one more factor to add to the falling ammo prices. Besides Obama's (lack of) assault on the 2nd amendment and the "panic" in ammo subsiding, the third factor is the economy. Black Rifle purchases are something of a luxury and in these uncertain times, luxury expenses are the first things to go. People just don't have the money to go out and buy a couple hundred bucks worth of ammo, even if they are afraid that Obama's going to take it away.

  9. I got into shooting sports in November '08. There was no real reason at the time, just another hobby. Being at the beginning of the "buy everything" craze, I didn't know $20 a box of 50 was relatively expensive for 9mm as I had no prior knowledge of ammo prices.

    I mention that because I have seen Russian 9mm for $7.99 a box of 50.

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