The Ammunition Market In 2023

Availability Is Increasing, Imported Ammo Making An Impact

Image: solidmaks / Adobe Stock

As we get farther from the pandemic and closer to a new election cycle, ammunition availability and price continue to evolve. Some things are more available, but others are not. Consumers complain the price of ammo is through the roof, but they’re still buying.

“We’re seeing a little bit of softening in the market,” observed Kevin Smith, general manager of Sprague’s Sports in Yuma, Ariz. “Prices have come down on certain ammo, but other ammo still remains a challenge to find and prices are still high on those.”

Smith said .30-30 is difficult to find, and some hunting calibers are basically nonexistent. 

“We do have plenty of 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5 PRC, 300 PRC, .308 and 5.56,” he added. 

According to Smith, overall, the supply of ammo has improved.

“The supply has definitely gone up, but hunting ammo is still very hard to get, and we’re still very tight on some of the lesser calibers,” he shared. “This includes .270 WSM and .300 WSM. Shotgun shells are still hard to get, as well.”

Smith’s suppliers have let him know shotgun shells will continue to be difficult at least through the end of this year. Inventory levels of ball ammo, on the other hand, are good.

“If you want to come in and buy 1,000 rounds of 9mm or .45 ammo, we’ve got it,” he stated. “But if you need a box of .300 WSM to go elk hunting, we don’t — and we haven’t had it for quite some time.”

“If you want to come in and buy 1,000 rounds of 9mm or .45 ammo, we’ve got it. But if you need a box of .300 WSM to go elk hunting, we don’t.”

Kevin Smith, General Manager
Sprague’s Sports • Yuma, Ariz.

A Shifting Market

Paul Bastean, managing director at Ultimate Defense in St. Peters, Mo., said the ammunition market is shifting for dealers. Larger retailers are getting the ammunition they need, he said, but smaller retailers still are having a difficult time.

“If you have the capacity to buy a pallet, you can get ammo,” he noted. “If you only have the capacity to buy three cases, you don’t get it. If a wholesaler or manufacturer can put a label on 360 cases of ammo and send it to one place, or send 360 cases of ammo to potentially 100 different places with 100 different mailing labels, both for the same amount of markup, they’re going to send it to the one place.”

Because Ultimate Defense has been buying ammo by the pallet, Bastean said they have developed a new and different relationship with other retailers around them.

“We get along with a lot of the local gun shops in our area,” he shared. “We are now their ammunition distributor.”

According to Bastean, ammunition prices are finally starting to come down from what they were during COVID.

“U.S. manufacturers are fighting with importers now, and they’re losing,” he observed. “Importers are driving the price down.”

Bastean thinks this will continue to drive prices down, and if imported ammunition remains as available as it is now, smaller retailers will start to be able to buy lesser quantities of ammo again.

“But it may not happen,” he cautioned. “We’re not in an election cycle yet, but we can kind of see it from where we are, and this election cycle is going to be a doozy.”

Bastean said the imported ammo he’s seen is primarily from Magtech and Sellier & Bellot.

“That’s a lot of what we’re getting offered,” he said. “We’re seeing a lot of it not only from our wholesaler reps but also on emails. It’s also a lot of what my competition is advertising.”

Domestic manufacturers are struggling with price, Bastean observed.

“Winchester just came to us and they’re not even in the realm of being price competitive in 9mm,” he said. “We haven’t had a box of 9mm Winchester in here for two years or so.”

One thing affecting ammunition sales, he contends, is the effect the economy is having on disposable income.

“The guy who’s been a gun guy for more than five years has a cache of ammo he’s sitting on,” he said. “It’s never enough, but it’s at least enough that he feels comfortable he has some. The new shooters we’ve seen in the past two or three years still buy a box here and there, but inflation and disposable income are going to squeeze everything a little bit tighter. We’ve seen a slight reduction in training and memberships and from year to year, we’ve seen a pretty substantial reduction in ammunition sales.”

At one point, Bastean recalled, Ultimate Defense was the only retailer in the county with any ammunition. During that period of time, they saw a massive increase in the amount of ammunition they were selling because they were the only game in town. Then in the middle of 2022, some of the big-box stores started getting ammunition, and the store’s ammo sales decreased.

Still Haven’t Reached The Peak?

At Jay’s Sporting Goods in Gaylord, Mich., Manager Matt Goad said ammunition supplies have improved over the past several months.

“It’s still hit or miss,” he noted. “On a day-to-day basis, we see a lot of fluctuation, and there are certain calibers we just are not seeing and the consumer really would like to see. But there are other things we have not seen in a while that are loosening up and we’re seeing at least some availability.”

One thing on the shelf now is several brands of .410 shotgun shells, Goad shared. 

“For a long time, we didn’t have any of those,” he said. “We also have five different kinds of 7mm Magnum on the shelf now (in spring) and during our firearms deer season last year we had none.”

Goad also has some calibers of handgun ammunition becoming more available than they have been in the past couple of years. He agreed the price of imported ammunition is putting pressure on U.S. manufacturers.

“From an availability standpoint, imported ammo is just as available as any domestic ammo,” he said.

All of this may help drive prices of U.S.-produced ammunition down.

At this point, Goad shared there still are some calibers that just are not available. These include .32 Winchester Special, .300 Savage, .35 Remington and .45-70 Government, as well as others.

He doesn’t think the ammunition marketplace is going to level out anytime soon.

“I think demand is going to get even higher,” he predicted. “We’re selling guns like crazy. The governmental influence right now and everything potentially going on in Congress is still driving gun sales. People are still extremely concerned about what’s going to happen in the future and being able to protect themselves.”

Goad said gun buyers will take whatever they can get their hands on if it fits them at this point. He doesn’t think we’re going to see any normalization in the market this year. 

“I don’t think it’s possible,” he stated. “There’s just too much demand right now. The reasons manufacturers are giving us for why shells aren’t being made in larger quantities include munitions going to war efforts and plants still being shut down and not re-staffed from COVID. I just don’t think they’re going to be able to catch up for quite a while.”

“On a day-to-day basis, we see a lot of fluctuation, and there are certain calibers we just are not seeing and the consumer really would like to see.”

Matt Goad, Manager
Jay’s Sporting Goods • Gaylord, Mich.

Still Up From Pre-Pandemic Levels

Sarah Natalie is general manager of Maxon Shooter’s Supply & Indoor Range in Des Plaines, Ill. She said ammunition supplies have improved over the past year.

“Prices during COVID were insane,” she recalled. “We’ve seen prices come back down, but they’re still not at pre-COVID levels.”

Natalie doesn’t have a lot of any kind of ammunition at this point, but some things have become more available than they were.

“Both .38 and .357 were a struggle during COVID,” she said. “They are more readily available now, but not to the degree we would like. In shotgun shells, .410 has been very difficult.”

Going forward, Natalie anticipates things won’t change much in the near term.

“I think demand will stay higher than pre-COVID demand,” she forecasted. “I don’t think it will be anything near what it was during the civil unrest period of COVID. We’re pretty much back to what we would consider to be ‘normal.’ I don’t anticipate demand going down from there.”

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