Ammo Shortage Survival Guide

posted on March 26, 2020

In case you’ve been living under a rock, which sounds smart at the present time, we’re in the throes of an ammunition shortage—again. Unlike most, though, this one wasn’t grounded in an upcoming presidential election; rather, a rapidly spreading pandemic (COVID-19) that has caused rash purchasing of food, paper products, and yes, ammunition. Uncertainty of the future has prompted hoarding.

Various .223 Remington Ammunition Boxes

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, a symptom of hoarding is “fear of running out of an item or of needing it in the future.” Whether you coin them hoarders, preppers, survivalists or capitalistic opportunists, these individuals amass large quantities of ammunition for security or sales. For the hunter, that translates to less options at your disposal.

Having witnessed the ebb-and-flow of ammunition supply and demand several times, I have learned to mitigate the effects of shortages, even with little to no warning. It simply requires unconventional thinking and adapting as needed. Here are some suggestions to ease your ammunition woes.

1. Broaden Your Search
With many businesses shuttered, the best sources for ammunition is found online; that supposes, of course, that it’s legal in your state to make purchases via the internet—sometimes it’s not. I’ll address those people first.

Locating ammunition locally requires legwork—literally. Forget the tried-and-true “big-box stores”; they were the first places drained of their popular calibers and economical (bottom-tier) ammunition. Usually among the first to receive shipments of highly desirable ammunition, said stores will need time to receive and restock it. Move on.

Seek smaller, out-of-the-way gun shops, farm supply stores (i.e. Rural King, Tractor Supply Co. and Blain’s Farm & Fleet), general stores and other places the average, non-shooter might overlook. For example, one of the best local sources for ammunition and reloading supplies—including propellant—I visit is an Ace Hardware. Don’t expect all to carry it, though. While travelling, I’ve even seen ammunition for sale at a game processor. Selection might be limited at these businesses, but then again, you might find exactly what you’re looking for. It’s worth a try.

Parking lot at Tractor Supply Co.

As for internet searches, go beyond the well-known websites. It doesn’t hurt to investigate them, as you never know what will arrive in the next shipment. I tend to go with companies such as Graf & Sons, Able’s Sporting, etc., which generally have what I need or a close substitute. Using a search engine, such as AmmoSeek, will help find lesser-known sellers, too.

Get creative with your searches. For example, Graf & Sons, Ballistic Products Inc. and Precision Reloading all specialize in reloading equipment, but they carry ammo as well. They’re underutilized sources. Additionally, overrun and blemished Nosler ammunition and components (brass and bullets) can be found on sale at the Shooter’s Pro Shop. At times, bullet makers and ammunition manufacturers sell their products from their website. Lehigh Defense is a prime example.

Also remember Midway USA, an online retailer of shooting supplies including ammunition and components for ammunition. Midway USA is a founding company of the Friends of NRA dinners held nationally, and is also a title sponsor of the NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits.

2. Opt for Quality
Hoarders seek quantity, not quality. Even during the worst of shortages you’ll find ammunition for most calibers; however, it will be costlier, “premium” loads. Nowhere is this truer than with .22 LR. High-count packages and “bricks” are the first to go, yet top-tier loads remain available. Just purchase the latter. Sure, the per-round price is much higher, but with that extra cost comes improved downrange performance. As hunters, isn’t that what we’re looking for, as well as owe the animal? You’ll be amazed at the accuracy that you attain when using the finest .22 LRs. The same holds true in other chamberings as well—especially .223 Rem./5.56x45mm NATO.

Box of Varmageddon Nosler Ammunition

Having used first-rate .22s for years now, I no longer waste my time with the economical fodder hoarders amass. I expect premium performance, and I’m willing the pay the price needed to attain it.

3. Caliber Conundrum
In the middle of an ammunition shortage, this one is tough to do, but it’s food for thought moving forward. New gun owners, which increase with each crisis, generally purchase what the greater populace does—hence common calibers. In rifles, they’ll select .22 LR, .223 Rem./5.56x45mm NATO (especially in the AR platform), 6.5 Creedmoor, .308 Win. and 7.62x39mm, and in handguns it’s .380 ACP, 9mm and .45 ACP, among others. Notice there’s economical loads for each? Hmm. Most shotguns sold are in 12-gauge, but seldom do shotshells sell out.

22-25 Remington and 223 Remington Ammunition Side by Side

You’ll note that, between the abovementioned chamberings, there exists many other options. Those are what you want. For instance, while the .223 Remington is great for high-volume plinking or ridding the pasture of prairie dogs—especially with an AR—it’s a paperweight when no ammunition is available. In a bolt gun, the .22-250 Remington is the clear winner; it has a flatter trajectory, deflects less in a breeze and hits harder. Not to mention, .22-250 Rem. ammo almost never sells out. This is but one example. Unless limited by a platform, such as the AR, there are many calibers from which to choose.

Although harder on the shoulder and pocketbook, ammunition for the large, magnum calibers and oddities is widely available. That’s one reason the .325 WSM is among my favorites—powerful and accessible ammo.

If you carry—open or concealed—when bowhunting (where legal), hiking, or just afield, .40 S&W trumps both the 9mm Luger and .45 ACP for defense against predators. And, its ammo is available when the others quickly sell out.

4. Handload
The best way to avoid ammunition shortages is through handloading. The initial setup cost is high, but the per-round price decreases with each cartridge assembled. In the end, you’ll save considerable money, and you’re not held hostage by preppers, either. There’s considerable latitude when it comes to component selection; in case an item is sold out—not uncommon during crisis, as handloaders are “accumulators” as well—there are usually other options.

Ammo Reloading Station

Unless you have an ample supply on hand, don’t get wedded to a single component—especially if it’s for popular calibers, as it’ll assuredly be sold out at one point or another. This is particularly true for propellants. It’s understandable that, once an accurate load is “worked up,” the handloader doesn’t want to begin the process again using a different propellant; however, that might be necessary. Having to do this several times myself, the new propellant oftentimes provided spectacular results and I never returned to the original one. Like ammunition, high-price propellants, such as Vihtavuori, and lesser-known companies, including Vectan, are often overlooked. Don’t miss them, either. As a rule, I don’t recommend swapping primers. Find the recipe(s) that match your components.

Ammo Reloading Powders

Besides having access to hard-to-find ammunition, handloading saves money, increases load diversity, improves accuracy and is very enjoyable.

Surviving an ammunition shortage isn’t difficult; it requires “thinking outside the box” and a willingness to change and adapt as needed. If you’re willing to do that, you’ll never be short of stock.


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