A rise in gun sales during the COVID-19 pandemic has put the squeeze on ammunition, nationally and locally.
“My suppliers say they're not going to have anything until after the first of the year,” said Charles Steele, owner of Steele's Gun Shop west of Lewes.
At American Responder Services in West Rehoboth, co-owner Ron Hagan said he has heard the ammo shortage may last into the middle of 2021.
“We used to get it by the pallet, and now we get a couple of boxes here and there,” Hagan said.
The popular caliber bullets – 9mm or shotgun – are more in demand, he said, but all around, any ammunition is sought after and difficult to get.
“Everybody's buying it and the suppliers can't keep up with production,” he said.
The coronavirus forced shutdowns of ammunition plants, affecting production, Steele said, and also affected production in mines that supply metal and material used to make ammunition. But the higher demand for ammunition is the biggest culprit behind the shortage of raw materials such as lead, brass, and primers used to make bullets, Hagan said.
Steele said he's still selling guns, and has enough ammunition to go with a new purchase, but that's about it.
“Everybody's trying to hoard it, and when you start hoarding ammunition you're never going to get caught up,” he said.
Hagan said he supplies a box of bullets with a gun purchase, and rations ammo supplies so there is enough available for classes offered by American Responder Services.
“That's pretty much it right now. And even on the internet it's extremely hard to find, and extremely expensive even when you do find it,” Hagan said.
Firing ranges are also limiting ammo supplies, he said, selling bullets that can be used only at the firing range, or allowing people to bring their own supply.
Unlike the gun industry that can ramp up production during times of demand, the ammo manufacturing industry is less flexible because bullet manufacturers use machines to maximize efficiency with no wiggle room to match fluctuations in demand, according to an Aug. 18 Forbes article.
Industry experts say gun and ammo manufacturers are cognizant of market volatility comparable to what happened in 2016, when there was a demand for guns and ammo before that year’s election, only to leave a glut in the market that lasted two years.
Some smaller manufacturers didn’t survive the transition and went out of business, and the larger survivors learned valuable lessons, making them cautious even in times of record sales, according to the Forbes article.
But today's run on ammo is nothing like it was in 2016, Hagan said.