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?