The Column, No. 138:

Ammo Again: Much worse before it Gets Better

By Randy Wakeman

Right now, over 9 million American workers are off sick due to covid according to the Census Bureau, as of the first week of January. Millions more have quit their jobs, concerned that they will catch covid and other reasons: it was 4.5 million in November alone. Ammo manufacturers are shipping more than ever before.

However, ammo manufacturers are paying more for labor than ever before and, in some cases, cannot fill their job openings. Ammo manufacturers are also paying more for raw materials, incoming freight, and outgoing freight than ever before. The United States is already sending arms to Ukraine, forgetting that every time the United States interferes, it tends to go badly.

Everything that goes into ammunition production is highly energy-dependent. Most product that gets to an ammunition plant is by diesel fuel. Finished ammunition leaves the same way. It takes energy to melt plastic balls and form hulls, energy to melt lead, energy to run production lines. It should surprise no one that ammunition prices are on the rise, as everything involved in ammunition production and the shipping of finished product has jumped. Wooden pallet costs are up 60% compared to before the pandemic, paper prices have jumped as well.

Whether Vietnam, overthrowing the democratically elected government of Iran, the Bay of Pigs, the occupation of Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, and so on has been dismal failures by most any metric. While apparently clueless about securing our own borders, we are somehow concerned about securing the borders of the very corrupt Ukraine. When all else fails, starting a new crisis is apparently a way to get attention diverted from inflation, shortages, rising crime, covid, and a porous border.

In the automotive world, we have less production due to the chip shortage and supply-chain issues, but comparatively consistent demand. The NADA says new light-vehicle sales totaled 14.93 million units in 2021, up 3.1% from 2020’s 14.47 million. December 2021’s SAAR totaled just 12.44 million units, down 23.7% from December 2020. According to Patrick Manzi, National Automobile Dealers Association chief economist, except for the on-going global semiconductor microchip shortage light vehicle sales would have topped 17,000,000 units.

For ammunition, production has been substantially increased from Olin, Vista, Hornady, Fiocchi … but demand has even more dramatically increased. Ammunition plants in America are running full time with three shifts, seven days a week. Normally, that would be more than sufficient to meet demand, but with millions of new shooters, this time, it isn't. New manufacturing plants, even if planned, cannot contribute quickly. “If you put a shovel in the dirt today, you’re looking at three to five years before you can turn the lights on in that facility,” said Mark Olivia of the NSSF.

The cost of ammo isn't the big factor some claim it is. The cost of new and used cars has been no deterrent to sales, nor has the cost of plywood, beef, gasoline, or homes abruptly stopped demand. Thanks (or no thanks to inflation), we are all getting an 8-10% discount on everything we buy, as the everyone's U.S. dollars are worth less than they were a year ago: inflation is at a 40 year high. 

Hoarding isn't quite the large issue some imagine it to be. The fellow that drives around wasting time, wasting gas, and assuming his time has no value saves nothing by haunting Wally-World's. Wal*Mart has been no great champion of the 2nd Amendment, stopping sales of handgun and .223 ammo back in 2019. 

Lucky Gunner’s Jake Felde said the lack of primers has had the greatest impact on small ammo makers and re-loaders. The U.S. State Department placed new sanctions on Russia in 2021: resulting in a ban on future imports of Russian firearms and ammunition. Some 30% of all ammunition imported into the United States is from Russia. The potential epic-level empty-headed blunder in Ukraine makes the future appear even worse.

This is a very long ways from WWII-era rationing in the United States, which started with tires and quickly extended to personal automobiles, gasoline, bicycles, and food. Even after the war, sugar rationing persisted until 1947. My parents lived through that, although currently it may well seem like an impossibility to many. Today, of course, we can buy all the firewood, coffee, butter, meat, and shoes we want . . . but, that wasn't always the case.

It is dangerous to make forecasts, especially about the future,” is an anonymous Danish proverb, first written in 1948. However, unless the United States, Russia, and China can discover that they share real estate on the very same planet, the ammunition shortage will continue for three to five years. It hardly means we won't be able to get any ammo, but it may not be the specific brand or type that we want, and it surely won't be at the price we want. Ammo manufacturers, already at their capacity limit, are shifting production around as demand swings to one product line, or another. 

Federal has accepted direct orders for some time, with limitations. Hodgdon Powder has done the same. Federal now has a one year subscription service for three American Eagle handgun loads. Some of this makes good sense, as with pre-orders manufacturers can better plan their runs. The automobile industry has already done this, as in Ford F-150 Lightning pre-orders having been closed after nearly 200k reservations. 

To avoid frustration and disappointment, hunters and shooters will have to do a far better job of planning ahead than they are accustomed to.

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