Where did all the ammo go?

Where did all the ammo go?

When ammo supplies evaporated late last year it spawned a variety of conspiracy theories from the same award-winning websites that brought us other classic hits, like “Which shovel buries your AR-15 fastest when the police are on the way to confiscate it.” I was a reporter before clickbait was a thing, so I asked the experts. Where did all the ammo go?

“There are a lot of rumors right now about ammunition and components not making their way to retail that are just not true,” Jason Vanderbrink, Vista Outdoor president cautioned. “We are running our CCI/Speer and Federal factories 24/7 and shipping products for commercial distribution every day.”

Jason Hornady, vice president at Hornady Manufacturing, concurred, adding perspective to the current demand. “We have orders that would be the equivalent of two and a half years of production,” he said. [Complete interview is here.]

SIG Sauer Chief Marketing Officer and Executive Vice President of Commercial Sales Tom Taylor agrees sales are simply outpacing production capacity. “Demand has far exceeded our manufacturing capability, but we’ve still be able to double our shipments in all categories.” He added, “We have greatly expanded our work force and are running three shifts in our factory.” [Complete interview is here.]

Measured Expansion

Without dissent, every company I contacted indicated their respective workforces have been increased, shifts added and expansion plans are in the works. The latter requires meticulous planning, however, as well as painful months or years waiting for permit approved and often time-consuming rezoning before construction begins. Powder, cartridge and primer manufacturing, after all, are not everyone’s concept of an ideal neighbor. Even well-established factories encounter regulatory hurdles when expanding operations. 

There’s also the fact that ammunition demand tends to be cyclic, which means there’s fiscal risk in making unplanned and rushed investment in new machinery and facilities. Hornady explained, “We have planned for growth regardless of these super demand surges and that’s what we call this, a super demand, not a shortage. It’s very similar to the toilet paper shortage—nobody used more or less toilet paper than they did a year ago…” He noted, though, sales today are, “… very different because we have added 7 million new shooters that weren’t there before, but everything we do is for growth that we were planning on regardless…the thing is, you can’t build your capacity based around these events.” He cited the Brady Bill, Y2K, 9/11and Obama’s election and re-election as other times ammunition demand soared, each followed quickly by stalling sales and staling inventory.

Taylor said his company also has plans to grow in the works, but in the meantime, “SIG Sauer has added capacity, equipment, people, shifts and every resource we can find to expand production to meet as much market demand as we can.”

Raw Material

Availability of raw material during the pandemic was also a concern. “We did have the foresight to bring in about six months’ worth of inventory when COVID really hit, which made a huge difference and that’s why we were able to keep running,” according to Hornady. “Had we not done that we probably would be having a hard time.”

Taylor did not note any struggle with cartridge component supply, but did admit, “Primers are our most constrained material.” He noted that 9 mm and .223 Rem./5.56 NATO are the cartridges currently being produced in highest volume at the factory. Over at Hornady it’s the same.

End of the Tunnel Light

Expansion of factories and purchasing the specialized machinery may seem painfully slow to ammo-starved enthusiasts, but there is a light at the end of this shortage tunnel. One of the nation’s largest cartridge producers ground slowly to a halt during Remington Outdoors’ bankruptcy proceedings last year, and some of its workers are already back at work. “We’re also proud to now own and operate the Remington ammunition factory in Lonoke, Arkansas and are excited to get that great facility back up to full capacity in the coming months,” Vanderbrink said.

Taylor says gun owners should keep in mind that, “This is the most demanding market anyone has seen in history, and it’s not close. Retailers and consumers are frustrated, but trust that SIG and every other manufacturer has added as much capacity as possible to meet this demand.”

Ammo Inc., which made an offer to purchase Gunbroker.com in February for $240 million, has also expanded operations. Despite spending millions on new machinery and adding staff, the company continues to struggle to meet demand.

As a result, the odds are good through most of this year retailers will continue to be asked, “Where did all the ammo go?”