By Carolee Anita Boyles
With the high demand and low availability of all sorts of ammo for the past couple of years, shooters have been keeping a close eye on the ammunition segment of the market. With the coming of a new political climate, retailers are hoping for more moderate supply and demand.
Oscar Costa, formerly a movie producer/director and now the owner of Oscar’s Gunworks in San Gabriel, Calif., said sales of ammunition are down at his store.
“Everything is extremely slow,” he relayed. “I think it’s because of state politics. California passed Proposition 63 and people are confused about exactly what it is. There also are several things in the Legislature right now that would ruin the gun business here in California.”
According to the website Ballotpedia, one thing Proposition 63 requires is individuals who wish to purchase ammunition must first obtain a permit, which dealers have to see before they can sell ammunition.
Costa attributed the slow sales to economic factors.
“Because people spent so much money at the end of last year trying to buy MSR-platform rifles and the accouterments that go with them, they’re now waiting for their income tax refund checks to make purchases,” he said.
The most popular ammo with customers is 9mm, according to Costa.
“People don’t buy much .40, but they do buy some .45,” he observed. “During bird season people buy a lot of shotgun shells. Most people don’t buy 5.56 because it’s more expensive than .223 for shooting with their MSR-platform rifle. But the top seller is 9mm.”
Most of Costa’s customers do a lot of range shooting.
“They want range ammo, which is Federal and Winchester — Federal is the one we sell the most,” he shared.
With the current trends in state politics, Costa expects his sales to change significantly during 2017.
“On January 1, 2018, customers have to get a $50 license in order to buy ammunition, and they’re going to be limited as to how much ammo they can buy per month,” he said. “They won’t be able to import ammo, or buy any outside the state and have it shipped to their house — this means no more online purchases. So I predict by the end of the year people will realize it’s coming and buy ammo like crazy.”
However, Costa claimed, the state Department of Justice is taking much longer than expected to implement other portions of the new law, so nobody is sure whether all of this will happen on time or not. “It’s a very confusing time,” he continued.
Although Costa has tried a number of promotions to try to boost ammo and other sales in his store, they haven’t made a lot of difference.
“I had a President’s Day sale with incredible prices on everything,” he said. “I advertised everywhere, and hardly anybody showed up. It’s pretty bad.”
Meanwhile … In The Southeast
Across the country, in Tallahassee, Fla., the picture is quite different. Miles Glass, store manager of Kevin’s Fine Outdoor Gear and Apparel, has seen a drastic increase in ammo sales over the past couple of years. However, he observed it has “slowed down a little bit” post-election.
“But over a two-year period we’ve seen a pretty serious uptick, and I think a lot of it has to do with basic economics. There was a several-year stretch where manufacturers were struggling to keep up with demand and people were buying up all the ammo,” he recalled. “Basically, if someone walked in the door and saw ammo for a particular firearm they possess, they bought not one box — but two or three just because they were worried about scarcity.”
Since the first of 2017, Glass has seen a mild slowdown in sales.
“I think the manufacturers have finally caught up to demand,” he said. “Ammo seems to be more readily available, both direct from manufacturers and through distribution channels. However I still can’t pick up the phone and get just any particular bullet I want, but availability seems to have gotten considerably better here in the last few months.”
Glass thought politics might also have an affect on changes in ammunition sales.
“I think a lot of gun owners probably have some peace of mind with the last election,” he noted. “There’s less fear of any type of gun or ammo control at the federal level. A lot of people just aren’t as worried as they were with the previous administration.”
According to Glass, sales of rifle and handgun ammunition are trending a little differently from shotgun ammo.
“Rifle and handgun ammunition are very, very similar,” he shared. “Probably 95 percent of the shotshell business — especially in the Southeast — is hunting related, and it’s been fairly steady. When we saw a rush on ammo, it wasn’t on shotgun ammo. It was more on pistol and rifle.”
When it comes to specifics, Glass said, customers are purchasing a lot of Federal Premium.
“Federal is king,” he affirmed. “Another one of the top sellers in pistol ammo is Blazer Brass. Then there’s CCI, which is probably the most popular rimfire ammunition in the United States. Most of the .22 LR ammo I sell is from them; it’s inexpensive to shoot, so it’s very popular.”
What About Reloading?
The reloading segment of the market has changed in the past few years as well. Glass shared sales of reloading components have also been very strong at his store.
“You’re not going to just walk into any store and find reloading components,” he said. “You have to go into a true gun shop to find that; we do a good bit of business in reloading.”
Robin Sharpless, executive VP for Redding Reloading Equipment, agreed.
“We’ve remained very busy,” he stated. “Some of it may be the natural progression of people upstream as they become more avid about shooting. A lot of people jumped into reloading because they couldn’t find ammo, and then components were difficult to find for a while. But it’s evened out, and there are plenty of primers and powder and bullets around now. Prices have continued to be high, especially on the shotshell side, because lead shot is so expensive.”
Sharpless expects the reloading market to continue to grow.
“I think there was enough of a groundswell of growth when ammo was not particularly available that people got into it and liked it,” he said. “This is especially true in parts of the country where people can’t get outside and shoot during the winter. Reloading is a great way to stay in touch with your hobby in the months when there’s 3 feet of snow and it’s 14 degrees outside — since you’re not going outside to shoot.”
Economics also still favors reloading.
“We’re still in a place where you can make ammo from used cases for about half what you pay for new ammunition,” Sharpless continued.
Dollar Days Are Gone
Even though ammo overall has become more readily available, it’s still not as accessible as it was years ago according to Glass.
“There’s been such a craze on ammo we’ve seen manufacturers slowly but surely raise their prices,” he said. “It’s probably not going to stop anytime soon, so the days of buying a box of .22 ammo for a couple dollars are long gone. I don’t think people need to fear they’re not going to be able to get ammo for their gun, but demand is still outweighing supply — meaning folks will have to go to a true gun shop to find those more obscure calibers.”