What’s Next For The Ammo Market?


Image: Atlantist Studio / Adobe Stock

Editor’s Note: This article was published in the December 2023 issue, which was finalized Nov. 27. On Nov. 22, Vista Outdoor announced it had received an “unsolicited proposal” from Colt CZ. This proposal would have combined the two companies in a cash and stock transaction. However, Nov. 29, Vista Outdoor announced it had rejected the proposal from Colt CZ. In a statement, the company said: “The Vista Outdoor Board continues to recommend the acquisition of the Sporting Products business by CSG and remains committed to acting in the best interests of Vista Outdoor stockholders.” (The full statement can be seen here).

Ammunition retailers are grappling with the possibility the Russia-Ukraine War, coupled with events in the Middle East and other recent news, might trigger domestic shortages.

Oct. 16, Vista Outdoor announced it had reached an agreement to sell its outdoor sporting products division to Czechoslovak Group (CSG) for $1.91 billion. Brands included in the acquisition are Federal Ammunition, CCI, Speer, Heavy Metal, Estate Cartridge, Alliant Powder and Remington, which owns a large ammunition plant in Lonoke, Ark.

A source on the retail side of the Vista universe said CSG wants Vista’s ammunition making capacity to supply the war in Ukraine. An article distributed by Reuters confirmed the rumor, saying, “Czech-based CSG has seen its revenue and profits rise since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as demand for heavy military equipment and ammunition to ship to Ukraine soared.”

In Dec. 2022, CSG also acquired 70% of Fiocchi Munizioni, which in Nov. 2022, announced plans to build a firearms primer manufacturing facility in Little Rock, Ark. It is one of only six primer manufacturing facilities in the U.S. It is also the world’s only source for lead-free primers.

Some sources say the deal involves nearly 70% of American ammunition manufacturing
capacity. If this amount of product is dedicated to the war effort in Ukraine, it could diminish the American consumer ammo supply for the foreseeable future.

More Questions Than Answers

Because they move so much product, large regional suppliers like Midsouth
Shooters Supply in Clarksville, Tenn., often feel the effects of shortages before local

Dustyn Brewer, advertising and branding manager for Midsouth Shooting Supply,
acknowledged in an email that the consumption of ammo in the Russia-Ukraine War, and the flaring of hostilities in the Middle East, will affect the domestic market.

“Yes, Ukraine is having a long-term effect, and the Middle East is already having short-term ramifications on supply,” Brewer wrote. “Every component for ammo will be impacted, especially powder and primers.”

Greg Griffin of Shelby, Ohio, owns Sportsman’s Den, a major outlet for shooters in Ohio. He said too many unknown variables make it impossible to predict the effect of the Vista sale on the domestic ammo market at this time.

One variable is whether the sale will even happen. Griffin doesn’t believe the American government will permit the deal to be consummated.

“If I had a crystal ball, I’d be a millionaire, but why would you let a foreign company own two-thirds of your ammunition production?” Griffin asked.

Griffin noted a small sales spike coincided with the hostilities in Israel and Gaza, but it ebbed in about a week. This, he suggested, reflects the public’s tendency to react more strongly to cataclysmic events like wars and riots than it does to abstract events like corporate realignments.

“As far as availability is concerned, a month ago I would have told you it was going be good, but now you have to have a crystal ball to tell you exactly what’s going happen,” he explained.

Griffin said the mass shooting at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 had a profound effect on the modern sporting rifle market. Since then, he added, the shooting public has grown numb to perceived threats on the AR-15 market. He thinks the public might not respond dramatically to an actual shortage of product being diverted to a European conflict because the public won’t associate a shortage to a direct threat to their safety or to their Second Amendment rights.

“You’re asking the right questions, but nobody can answer them right now,” Griffin admitted. “I think a lot of it depends on if the sale goes through and what they do with production. Until it comes true, we’ve got to guess what the effect might be. Sometimes I get surprised. Sometimes I get it right. I’m anticipating [demand] will be flat for the next year. If there’s some other calamity — Katy, bar the door. Ammo is going to fly off the shelves.”

“Crisis Fatigue” Is Real

Fort Thompson Sporting Goods in Sherwood, Ark., is a major outlet for hunting ammo and reloading supplies in central Arkansas. Tom Denniston, owner, said the request for comment in this article was the first time he heard of the Vista sale.

Like Griffin in Ohio, Denniston’s inventory has been abundant and consistent since the shortages that occurred during the pandemic. So far, wars and corporate realignments have not moved the needle.

“I just don’t see it, man,” Denniston said. “What drove our business before this was people being scared when COVID started and with all the rioting. But we’re caught up. We might be missing a few oddball things like .45-70 and stuff like that, but right now, if we order it, we’re going to get it.”

Reaffirming an earlier point made by Griffin, Denniston believes consumers and retailers are experiencing “crisis fatigue.” Even if the Ukraine War saps the domestic
market, the public might not respond in a way that exacerbates a shortage.
“I’ve been through three of these [shortages],” Denniston said. “We’ve been to the well too many times.”

Running out of product is never good, but betting long on a short-term
crisis is also costly, Denniston noted.

“A couple of times I bought too much,” Denniston recalled. “If you get too much stuff bought and everybody catches up, the price goes down, and you’re stuck with inventory you paid too much for.”

A potential scarcity of primers could affect ammo availability, Denniston acknowledged, because manufacturers can’t make ammo without primers.

“Primers and stuff, I can see that,” Denniston said. “Winchester just opened back up selling primers. Hornady makes primers too, but Vista and Winchester make most of the primers. I’m surprised to hear Vista sold.”

Until he sees hints of a bold trend afoot, Denniston intends to play conservatively.

“I’m not going crazy buying stuff,” he confirmed. “We can react quickly to it versus Academy Sports + Outdoors and Bass Pro. We can react to it as far as getting stuff through distributors and direct. But you can over-order, and that will get you in trouble. Really and truly we’ve got a lot of ammo. There’s no shortage for us. We’re hanging neutral.”

Too Early To See Impact ...

Johnny Dury, owner of Dury’s Gun Shop in San Antonio, also heard of the Vista sale when contacted to comment for this article.

“I hunted not too long ago with Jason Vanderbrink [CEO of Sporting Products for Vista Outdoor],” Dury shared. “He said he was going to be busy for couple of weeks. I guess this is what he meant.”

Dury suspects the public and the ammo industry have not had enough time to react to the news of the Vista sale.

“It’s so new. I don’t think the word is out in the market,” Dury said. “9mm has been moving a little bit. People have been coming in and buying a case here and a case there. I thought it was a little odd right now, but I’ve got plenty of ammo on hand. With this news, I won’t be giving case price breaks with it.”

Unlike Denniston and Griffin, Dury said he will strongly consider stocking up on high-demand items like 5.56 NATO and 9mm.
“We’ve got long-standing relationships with vendors, so we got more than our fair share of it,” Dury said. “When stuff got really scarce, we went to the secondhand market and paid through the nose for it just so we could have it. I was paying $30 a box for 9mm, and we were selling it at $40.”

Dury concluded, “Seeing that [the Vista sale], I might up orders on some of SKUs right now to hedge against it getting scarce in the future.”