May 10, 2022
By Joe Arterburn
If you’re wondering if you’ll be able to find hunting ammo for the coming fall seasons, the answer is yes…maybe. Probably. Well, it depends.
Let’s put it this way. You’re likely to find some ammo in standard popular calibers, but it might not be the exact brand or the specific bullet you want.
That’s the confusing news. The good news is your odds of finding hunting ammo will improve if you’re looking for what Hornady Communications Manager Seth Swerczek calls “staples”: popular calibers like 7mm-08, .243 Win., .270, 6.5 Creedmoor, .308, and .30-06.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for smaller calibers—like .204, .22 Hornet, even .22-250 or larger big-game cartridges lower on the popularity chart—you may find the pickings slim.
Whatever the case, manufacturers and retailers agree the best advice is to not wait until hunting season to shop. Start looking now and adjust your expectations about finding the exact brand and cartridge.
“We’re telling people if you see a box of ammo in a caliber you need or like to hunt with, then you’d better grab it now,” said J. Nesbitt of NexGen Outfitters. “It likely won’t be there in October.”
Matt Highby of Highby Outdoors agreed. “If you wait until September to start worrying about your rifle ammo for deer season, you’re probably too late,” he said.
And don’t be afraid to put in a backorder at several places, Swerczek said. Hornady, Federal Ammunition, and other manufacturers are running their factories 24/7 and are still unable to keep up with the demand for some calibers.
“When the market and ammo demand turned really fast in March of 2020, it caused two problems for us,” said Jason Vanderbrink, president of Vista Outdoor’s sporting division, which oversees Federal, Remington, CCI, Speer, and Hevi-Shot. “First, there was not labor available to make more ammunition and then it takes time to train people. You can’t just go hire hundreds of people overnight, train them, and boom, you have more ammo. Second, commodity prices are up and availability down. Acquiring brass, lead, and plastics to build ammunition is a challenge.
“Consumers are buying ammo of any and all types, so this demand in the marketplace impacts hunting ammo as well.”
It’s not so much an ammo shortage but a “buying surplus,” said Swerczek. “I say that because we have never produced more ammunition than we do today.
We are head and shoulders above where we were two years ago from a volume, quality, and shipped quantity standpoint.”
And what applies to centerfire (and rimfire) ammo also applies to shotshells. “We, and I’m sure all other manufacturers, are working as hard as ever to meet demand by investing in machines and manpower,” said Jeff Barry of Kent Cartridge.
Global supply chain disruptions remain the primary factor. “Raw materials for loaded ammunition, such as steel, resin, lead, bismuth, nickel, and copper, are all in short supply with ammunition components being a sliver of the overall market for those materials,” said Barry. Even so, Barry assured me Kent Cartridge was producing more ammunition than they ever have, with upland and waterfowl loads as the main focus.
Where hunting loads were 70 percent of production in a “normal” year, they now represent 90 percent, said Barry. Production is keying on 12 and 20 gauges. Sizes like 16, 28, and .410 will be produced in lesser amounts, so sub-gauge aficionados may have a more difficult time finding ammo.
On the positive side, popular personal-defense calibers—like .223 and .308 for common AR platforms and the ubiquitous 9mm—seem to be more readily available than so-called standard hunting calibers.
Disruptions on the global stage is prompting the latest surge in demand. “I think we were seeing some early signs of things lightening up before the Russia–Ukraine conflict,” said Swerczek.
“It’s the uncertainty if Russia is coming some day or if we are headed for World War III,” added Highby. “We get guys that call and ask, ‘What’s your best price on 4,000 rounds? I don’t care what they are, I just want my .223. I can tell it’s not the mainstream guy. It feels like a different customer; not your everyday-in-the-store kind of guys. It’s more like guys saying, ‘I probably have a few boxes of bullets, but I can’t defend myself, so I’m a little bit worried.’”
There is a consensus that interest in shooting has increased, for whatever reasons, and that is a positive for the industry. “It has been encouraging to see the increase in participation for hunting and shooting sports brought on by new and returning hunters and shooters,” said Barry of the silver lining in the ammo-supply cloud.
The Essentials Gear Box.
Our editors have hand-picked these essential pieces of gear to make you a more successful hunter when you hit the game trails this season.