Ammunition &
Reloading Trends

What Customers Want in 2020

COVID-19 Concerns
Corresponding with a rush of firearm sales in the wake of the novel coronavirus outbreak, ammunition has been likewise hit hard. We asked our panel to describe how sales have been impacted in the opening days of the crisis.

Training and self-defense are top-of-mind right now for many consumers.
Federal’s 100-round Practice & Defend Combo Pack is available in 9mm, .40 S&W
and .45 ACP. In its Active Duty line, Winchester Ammunition launched M1152 — the
9mm load it developed for the U.S. Army Modular Handgun System (MHS) program.

Winds of change are blowing through the shooting sports industry. As everyone well knows, outside events can radically impact business. We saw this on a national scale with each of the last three presidential elections. With the White House, congressional seats and multiple governorships all up for grabs, this year promises to be no different. Looming even larger is the novel coronavirus pandemic that has spread fear and panic around the world.

At the same time, the shooting sports landscape is shifting due to the decisions of Walmart and other big-box retailers to stop selling ammunition. How are these events affecting ammunition sales for FFL dealers? Beyond that, what trends are dealers seeing right now? Which calibers are selling and who’s buying ammo?

To help answer these questions and more, Shooting Industry spoke with Mark Abramson, president of Los Ranchos Gun Shop in Albuquerque, N.M.; Dave Tobel, co-owner of Capital Sports in Helena, Mont.; Taylor Eaddy, range and retail buyer at Triangle Shooting Academy in Raleigh, N.C.; and Bob Porter, general manager of Oasis Outback in Uvalde, Texas. Here’s an inside look at what they’re experiencing at their stores and shooting ranges.

Prior to the onset of COVID-19, what were your top-selling handgun and rifle calibers, and shotgun gauges?

Tobel: Probably the 9mm, .45 ACP, .22 LR and 12-ga. trap loads. In rifle, it was hands down the 6.5 Creedmoor. And most recently, the 10mm has really taken off. In the off-season from about August to mid-November, we sell a lot of centerfire ammunition of various hunting calibers. Kind of day in and day out, a lot of the inexpensive ball ammunition sells well — rimfire and whatnot. We work with the trap club, and the Montana Law Enforcement Academy is here in Helena. We sell a lot of practice ammunition to both of those folks. We’re not in good bird country here. We sell some upland loads and a little bit of waterfowl, but we don’t have a real runaway with it. The trap loads are our big deal.

Porter: Prior to March, our top-selling calibers were 9mm, .22 LR, .223/5.56 with 6.5 Creedmoor running a close second. The 12-ga. and 9mm have always been best sellers, but with Walmart’s Sept. 2019 decision to exit the ammunition business, they’ve really taken off. Also, a significant increase in bulk packs of 100, 150, and 200 rounds.

Eaddy: Our top-selling caliber for handgun would easily be 9mm. Second place is a close tie between .380 ACP and .45 Auto. For rifle, .223/5.56 has always been our front runner. 7.62×51/.308 follows, but 300 Blackout has grown quickly. The 12-ga. is our top-selling ammunition for shotguns. Most of our shotgun ammunition market is for home defense. We don’t have many hunting or recreational shotgun shooters.

What recent ammunition trends have surprised you?

Tobel: It’s not really a new cartridge, but that darn 10mm. We’ve sold more 10mm firearms and ammunition in the past two years than we have in the past 30 years. That cartridge is really making a good comeback.

Porter: It’s not surprising .223/5.56 is the leader in centerfire, and 6.5 Creedmoor running as close as it is shouldn’t surprise me, but it does. Hornady 143-gr. ELD-X is the big winner there. With our locally strong dove seasons and helicopter gunning for feral hogs, it shouldn’t be surprising. Then there is 7.5 shot for doves and 00 buck and No. 4 shot for hogs.

Eaddy: The only trend we’re seeing is an increase in sales. With 2020 being an election year — and neighboring Virginia — we’re not surprised to see this increase. We only expect sales to rise throughout the year.

Abramson: We carry a broad array of harder-to-get rounds, but most ammunition relates to handgun and carbine rounds — AK and AR rounds. The trend has been away from hunting and a greater focus on practice and defensive rounds for handguns. The latest trend has been competing against online retailers for bulk packaging, and it has remained a challenge in terms of pricing and maintaining adequate quantities.

Federal Premium Practice & Defend – HST Personal Defense/Syntech Training Match

Winchester Active Duty M1152 – 9mm

What is your store doing better than others to secure ammunition sales?

Tobel: We try to build up big endcaps. We do advertising through radio, newspaper and TV. Then, about two or three times a year, we will have promotions at the rifle range. We will feature whatever firearm is kind of hot at the time. If we made a good buy on rimfire ammunition, we’ll have a promotion on rimfire or handgun ball ammunition. At hunting time, we have a sight-in day. Our area is big on Winchester and Federal ammunition, so we promote those at the shoots as well.

Abramson: As we keep older and limited-run ammo, we are one of two go-to shops when guests are looking for hard-to-get ammo.

Eaddy: We have been ordering a variety of calibers along with our high-volume calibers, including 9mm and 5.56. Manufacturers tend to fill orders more often when it includes uncommon calibers. We also count on ordering through multiple manufacturers to meet our needs.

Early in 2020, there seemed to be renewed interest — at least from the firearm manufacturing side — in lower-recoiling rounds, like rimfire and 5.7x28. Has this translated to sales at your store?

Abramson: .22 guns have always been of interest to new shooters and those who remember shooting fundamentals are the same whether shooting a rimfire or a larger caliber. In fact, reduced recoil and lower cost has helped our sales of rimfire overall. The introduction of the Ruger-57, will be a game changer for the caliber. The price for the Ruger is substantially less than the FN, and will hopefully encourage FN and American Eagle to reduce their prices once demand rises.

Tobel: There’s been pretty good interest in the small rimfires. The biggest thing is many of them are still hard to get. We’ve had a few of the GLOCKs and a few of the Rugers. As quickly as we get them, they’re in and out. Then we have trouble finding more. The one I think is going to be a pretty good is the new 5.7×28 from Ruger. I get numerous inquiries every day on it.

Eaddy: We haven’t seen that large of an increase in our rimfire ammunition sales. Our .22 LR sales are steady due to new shooters on the range. As for the firearms, the Ruger-57 and GLOCK 44 sold quickly right when they were released, but have since slowed down. That’s pretty typical for us to see a rush right after the release.

Black hills ammunition MK 262 Mod 1-C

Do you find customers are brand loyal or do they look for the best price? Does it differ among different segments?

Eaddy: Absolutely. Our recreational or new shooters tend to purchase less expensive ammunition or whatever the sales staff recommends. Our more experienced segment easily spends more on ammunition they prefer.

Porter: Long range and hunters tend to be the most brand loyal. Plinkers are generally looking for the cheapest, but not steel or aluminum casing. With Walmart out, there is a limited demand for the latter. We’ll see how it goes.

Abramson: Overall, the brand names still hold sway. We pride ourselves on offering a wide selection of brands, and oftentimes the brand is based on a recommendation of a trusted friend rather than attention to the fit, comfort and reliability of the gun. We encourage our guests to buy the gun that fits their need and hand rather than the brand. Still, price will remain a factor.

Tobel: The folks who just want to go to the range and do some practicing are looking for the best deal, whether it be centerfire or rimfire. Once you get to hunting time, folks are pretty particular about what they shoot. We do a lot with Federal Premium, some of the Fusion, the various Winchester and some of their premium stuff. For hunting rifles, the customers are very sensitive and brand loyal.

Redding Reloading Ergonomic Slant Bed Concentricity Gauge

Hornady Auto Charge Pro

RCBS Uniflow

Has Walmart’s decision to exit large portions of the ammunition market affected your business?

Tobel: It’s been good since that. A lot of the 5.56 and the handgun stuff they don’t sell anymore. We’ve noticed we got caught a little bit short because of it. We just returned from our buy-group show; a couple of the major manufacturers brought it up, and they were right on the money. It’s been nothing but good for us. I think it’s like a lot of things. It’ll kind of pan out in a while and get back to normal. The one thing is, when people are shopping, especially for the 5.56, 9mm and that type of stuff — and they’re going to buy some of their hunting ammunition as well — they want to do it in one spot. Hopefully, this will continue to be true. It has worked very well for us and our sales are up because of it.

Porter: Walmart has done us a great service and I think it will be for the long term.

Eaddy: If it has affected it in anyway, I would say it has been positive for us. It’s hard to attribute the true effects of Walmart pulling out of the ammunition business. Between the holidays, politics in Virginia and an election year, the industry has had a lot of events in the past six months that could have attributed to the increase of ammunition sales.

Abramson: No, we believe much of that market has gone to online retailers and the perception big-box stores offer better pricing or availability of various makes and bullet weight options. In the short term, we continue to educate our guests on availability and price advantages of shopping with their local retailer. However, we did not experience a significant uptick in ammo sales prior to COVID-19 concerns.

Tobel: Our ammo and firearms sales have increased a great deal. We are out of 9mm, .556 and 7.62×51 ammo. Many of our distributors are also out of product. Many firearms are very tough to get — 9mm handguns, riot shotguns and ARs. Big-name firearms are also selling very well. We talk with our distributors several times a day to check on stock. Reloading components are also in high demand.

Porter: We are basically a rural piece of America. Farming, ranching and hunting are the drivers of our economy. That said, the current explosion of handgun, long gun and an exponential increase in ammo sales is reminiscent of the Obama era. To summarize, I don’t know what toilet paper and ammo has to do with COVID-19!

Abramson: The health scare and concerns regarding availability and the ability to access supplies caused a significant increase in sales of defense and then range rounds. We carry a large variety of both to meet demand, and were fortunate to receive shipments from manufacturers and our distributors just before the crush. That said, our inventory of popular pistol-carbine calibers and .30-30 and most MSR calibers was depleted. Fortunately, our suppliers have restored our inventory to meet anticipated needs. To assure continued gun sales, guests who purchased firearms were promised first crack at new inventory before selling to the public. We intend to stay open despite recent restrictions on retailers, but mindful of safety restrictions relating to the health of our guests and staff.

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