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How to Manage the Ammunition Shortage

With shotshells possibly hard to find through the fall, here are your best options for stocking up on ammo prior to the hunting season.

How to Manage the Ammunition Shortage

Maximize your efforts to procure ammo for the upcoming bird hunting season by being responsive, opportunisitic, and a little creative. (Brad Fitzpatrick photo)

2020 was an unprecedented year. The biggest news, of course, was the pandemic that significantly altered nearly every aspect of our daily lives, and our country is still feeling the effects of COVID-19. Firearms and ammunition sales skyrocketed last year, and the trend has continued into 2021, leaving many store shelves devoid of shotgun shells.

What does this nationwide ammunition shortage mean for hunters and sport shooters? In part, it means that we may have to limit our trips to the range and ration hunting rounds. But there are glimmering signs that ammo supplies are slowly marching back toward pre-pandemic status, though hunters will likely feel the effects on the recent run on firearm products for years to come. With so much uncertainty in the world, we’re all looking forward to the familiar first cool touch of autumn air and the turning of the leaves, the signal that it’s once again time to head to the field in search of game. Will you have enough ammo this year? That depends on what happens over the next few months and how soon you’re able to start laying in stores of hunting shotshells.

Gun Dog took an inside look at the ammunition industry to help readers navigate through the current ammunition shortage. Here’s a game plan to ensure you have enough ammo for fall—and don’t spend a small fortune to obtain it.

Ammo boxes on shelf
Buy up what you can when you can until ammo makers and retailers can keep boxes of shells on the shelves. (Brad Fitzpatrick photo)

Inside Ammunition Sales

To be clear, the steeply climbing price of ammunition is not a result of incompetence, greed, or a lack of productivity on the part of manufacturers. The price at which an ammo company sells their products has remained the same, but the cost of their products is largely driven up by scalpers who hoard and then sell ammunition at artificially inflated rates when supplies run low with manufacturers and retailers. For their part, ammunition companies are keeping the lights on and machines running day and night, trying to meet untenable demand without running their workforce ragged. Adding machines and employees can help, but those aren’t issues that can be remedied quickly, easily, or cheaply.


“When the market and ammo demand turned really fast in March of 2020, it caused two problems for us,” said Jason Vanderbrink, president of ammunition for Vista Outdoors who owns companies like Federal, Remington, and HEVI-Shot. “There was no labor available to make more ammunition and then it takes time to train people. You can’t just go hire hundreds of people overnight, train them and boom, you have more ammo. It just doesn’t work that way, it’s impossible.”

The lack of a trained workforce large enough to keep up with increasing demand is just one of the challenges Federal and other companies are facing. Ammunition manufacturers require components, and those components are made of raw materials that may or may not be available.

“Commodity prices are up and availability down,” Vanderbrink added. “Acquiring brass, lead, and plastics to build ammunition is a challenge. Consumers are buying ammo of any and all types, so this demand in the marketplace impacts hunting ammo as well.” High demand on commodities has also impacted reloading equipment. Component parts are difficult to find at the moment, particularly primers, so reloaders will have to keep their eyes open just like those who purchase factory ammo.

Vanderbrink said that Federal, Remington, and HEVI-Shot are all running their factories 24 hours a day seven days a week to try and meet the demand. So, while you may not find the exact ammunition that you’re looking for, you’ll likely find a suitable load.


What’s Available Now

I spoke with Federal’s JJ Reich in June, and he told me that waterfowl ammunition was available. And while you may not traditionally use waterfowl ammunition for upland hunting, it will work fine, and as hunting season approaches, the demand for game loads will continue to increase. It’s best then, to start laying in ammunition now ahead of the crowds that will start searching online retailers and gun stores in August, September, and October.

Snow goose hunters
While you wouldn't normally consider carrying waterfowl hunting loads in your upland vest, they'll work just fine, and this season may be more about what ammo you can buy vs what ammo you want to buy. (Brad Fitzpatrick photo)

Naturally, 12-gauge ammo is in the highest demand, but if you have a gun of a different gauge, ammunition might be more readily accessible.

“We have 10- and 16-gauge ammunition,” Reich said, “so if hunters have those guns, they could consider dusting them off and using them this year.”

28-gauge and .410 ammunition may also be more readily available than 12- and 20-gauge loads, and Hammond said if you have a sub-gauge, this might be the year to carry that gun.

“New and existing shooters may go with these sub-gauges because the more popular 12- and 20-gauge ammo may be more difficult to obtain,” said Holly Hammond, marketing manager at Fiocchi. Improved ammunition has enhanced performance from sub-gauge guns, so the gap between the 28 and .410 and larger 12s and 20s is not as pronounced as it was just a few years ago.

hunter with dog in desert
Broaden your horizons and consider dusting off your older sub-gauge shotgun that can now accomodate today's modern non-toxic ammo loads—many of which are in less demand than 12- or 20-gauge shells. (Brad Fitzpatrick photo)

How to Secure Your Ammo

One effective option hunters and shooters have is to contact retailers directly who are placing orders with ammunition manufacturers and encourage them to buy specific products you don’t see on store shelves. Gun stores are trying their best to procure ammo, but like any business, they need to be smart with their spending habits and purchase products that will sell to consumers. No gun shop wants to order ammunition only to find that it’s in low demand while other products are selling out and can’t be replaced.

Hammond added, “The best thing to do is locate your retailer and then contact them to place your fall hunting ammo order to ensure they request the necessary ammunition in time for the hunting season.” Hammond said that you can locate the nearest retailer at fiocchiusa.com, and from there you can contact the retailer directly to place an order. You should be aware, though, that different retailers carrying different brands may have minimum order sizes, so you might not be able to order just a single box or two of your favorite load.

Some retailer websites allow you to view in-stock items, and it’s a good idea to keep watch on those sites so that you can pounce on available ammunition. Brownells.com is a good example, and of the 758 shotgun loads that they catalog, only seven are currently in stock. One of those items is a target load, another a waterfowl load. Neither may be what you planned to hunt with, but both will probably work—and if you keep an eye on the supplies you might catch a shipment of your favorite load and manage to scoop it up before it sells out.

Of course, it’s also a good idea to patrol store shelves in your area. A firearms dealer near my home bought a mixed case of new ammunition that contained, among other things, a half-dozen boxes of unopened 20-gauge field loads. Those loads lasted less than a day.

It’ll take time for ammo supplies to meet current demand, so until then you’ll have to be crafty, creative, and buy what’s available. But most importantly, you need to start keeping your eyes open now.  

Ammo boxes on shelf
Hunters will undoubtedly be a little more reserved when emptying their barrels this season, making every bagged bird that much more of a celebration. (Brad Fitzpatrick photo)
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