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Is an Ammo Shortage Imminent?
Are Middle Eastern tensions driving up ammo prices?
There is a lot of talk in the gun world about tightening ammunition supplies for civilians. The main concern stems from reports that the Lake City ammunition plant has canceled commercial contracts. Lake City produces 30% of the 5.56mm ammunition on the market, which is the primary round used by AR-15 platform firearms.
I had not heard of the Lake City plant before, but it operates under an interesting arrangement: it’s owned by the United States government, but operated by Winchester. Its primary role is producing ammunition for the government, but it sells the excess to the civilian market.
Of course, no reason has been given for canceling commercial contracts, but this news comes directly after the Hamas attack on Israel, which has pulled the United States into yet another foreign conflict. The US military is currently pulling 2000 “noncombat troops” to support Israel, and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is telling the press that the US can “absolutely” support two wars at once.
Call me skeptical, given that we can barely maintain our own country, but I digress.
The State of the 5.56mm Market
There’s been a lot of talk about rising prices and increased scarcity of 5.56mm ammo, but looking at ammopricesnow.com, the average price has only risen about 4 cents per round this month: from 36 cents to 40 cents.
Looking at the Ammo Seek search engine paints a slightly different picture. At 40 cents per round, you’re looking at remanufactured rounds. Fresh brass starts closer to 43 cents per round.
To put things in perspective, during the relatively stable Trump years, 5.56mm hovered around 30 cents per round. During the height of COVID panic, it was about 50 cents per round.
But what about actual retailers? These charts can be helpful tools, but do they reflect the reality of what’s available on the market?
Looking at Lucky Gunner, the cheapest price we can find is about 55 cents per round.
Midway USA ranges from 55 to 65 cents per round.
It actually gets worse at the budget-friendly Palmetto State Armory, ranging from 60 to 67 cents per round at the cheapest bulk prices.
Two conclusions we can draw here:
Yes, ammo prices are shooting up, higher than they were during COVID.
You can’t really trust these price-tracking sites.
As for the why, recent tensions in Israel and the effective closing of the Lake City plant explain much of the price increase. However, never underestimate the market effects of panicky gun owners.
During the Obama years, .22LR ammo was nearly impossible to find because every Boomer was convinced that Obama was coming for their .22 ammo. Then people would walk in, see empty ammo shelves and start panic-buying as well.
The AK-47 Option?
One theory that I’ve toyed with is keeping an AK-platform rifle around to have some diversity in ammunition choices. The AK platform is the primary contender to the AR platform, favored by former Soviet-bloc countries.
However, looking around, the prices for 7.62x39 ammunition for an AK are about the same, at around 55 cents per round. Plus, an AK means keeping a completely separate stockpile of magazines and ammunition around as well. So that theory doesn’t hold very well.
The Hornady Explosion
Complicating matters is last week’s explosion at a Hornady ammunition plant in Nebraska. Sadly, one man lost his life. Two others suffered minor injuries.
Hornady produces some of the best “carry ammo” for pistols. Generally for a pistol, you want a mix of two types of ammunition: cheap practice rounds and more expensive carry rounds with better ballistic profiles and features like hollow points to improve their defensive capabilities.
There are a lot of concerns that this is a conspiracy or that it will make ammo even scarcer, but I have two responses to that:
The kind of ammunition Hornady produces is already expensive, and you really shouldn’t be firing it willy nilly.
Gunpowder explodes. That’s just a tragic fact. The explosion has been ruled accidental.
How to Respond
The simple answer is to do nothing. Ammunition pricing and availability fluctuates constantly. Try to stock up when prices are low and conserve ammo when prices are high.
How much ammo to have on hand? My general recommendation for an AR and your carry pistol is 1,000 rounds each. To non-gunners, that sounds like a lot, but it’s really not. Many experts recommend a figure closer to 7,000 rounds. A typical AR magazine holds 30 rounds and a Glock magazine holds 15. 1,000 rounds is plenty for most scenarios, but you’d be surprised how quickly you can burn through it, especially if you're shooting with a club.
If you don’t already have a stockpile of ammo, now really isn’t the best time to load up. Maybe buy a couple of hundred rounds if you’re at zero, but otherwise, focus on other preps, like medkits.