April 02, 2021
Down through the decades I have seen a number of shortages of firearms and ammunition due to panic buying. Nothing though that has come before is of the same magnitude of the current ammunition shortage. It began in early 2020 and has now stretched into 2021 with no end in sight. I know many of you, especially those new to firearms; have grown very frustrated by it. Different theories, some way out there, abound as to why ammunition is so expensive and in such short supply.
Patriot Defense Ammunition
To cast a little light onto this situation I spoke with Joe Anderson, Chairman, and Drew Meyerowich, President, of Patriot Defense Ammunition. Why speak to a smaller company rather than one of the Big 3? Simply because I thought it would shed a bit more light on the challenges facing the huge multitude of smaller ammunition manufacturers and suppliers who make up the backbone of the industry. These smaller ammo companies are spread across the country, and they have been hit particularly hard by component shortages.
Before I delve into the shortage itself, let’s take a quick look at this interesting ammunition manufacturer. Although some do not see it this way, in my opinion, a company’s greatest resource are its people. It’s not the machines or the name out front which makes a company great, but rather the people behind the name. Patriot Defense Ammunition is helmed by Joe Anderson, a proud African-American who graduated from West Point followed by Airborne and Ranger school. He served two tours of duty in Vietnam, and part of his time over there was chronicled in the documentary The Anderson Platoon (released in Europe in 1966 as La Section Anderson and in the US in 1967) by famous French director Pierre Schoendoerffer. Schoendoerffer was already celebrated for his film The 317th Platoon (1965) about a French unit in France’s war in Indochina. Anderson was decorated for service and in the post-war years left the military to begin a very successful career in the automotive industry. As his knowledge and success grew he expanded out into international sales.
Anderson grew up hunting, and he feels that if you are going to own a firearm you should be well-trained. Training, of course, requires good ammunition. So, about two years ago he realized where the ammunition market was headed, and the opportunities available. Drew Meyerowich, himself a veteran of both Somalia and Iraq, agreed and they came up with a plan to start producing their own ammunition and offering ammunition from companies they partnered with. Thus, Patriot Defense Ammunition was born. It is a minority-owned and veteran-run company which actively seeks to employ military veterans in its workforce. Anderson’s philosophy is, “To meet and exceed the customer’s expectations every day while supporting my workforce. If I say I have it, you will get it and it will be high quality.”
Why Is There A Shortage?
Getting any new company off the ground is always a bit of a challenge, and while Anderson and Meyerowich foresaw the growing need for ammunition, no one envisioned the shortage would be as severe or last as long as it has. There have been many crazy “conspiracy” like theories floated about by people who should really know better regarding the shortage. The truth is much less exciting. Demand has simply out-stripped supply across the board. There are only a few primer manufacturers here in the US, and demand has far exceeded their production capabilities. Without primers, you cannot produce ammunition. As demand for primers by ammunition manufacturers shot through the roof, less were available for reloaders. More importantly, primers are not something you can simply “add another production line” to instantly increase production. This is a very difficult item to safely make on a huge scale.
Then the inventories of cartridge cases and powder across the country were depleted, and manufacturers responded by increasing their production. The industry responded by adding shifts, hiring more workers, buying more machinery and expanding. Yet still, demand far outstripped supply. These shortages hit smaller manufacturers like Patriot Defense Ammunition particularly hard. Without primers, powder, cartridge cases and projectiles all in hand, you cannot load ammunition and the machines sit idle.
Why is demand so high? That is a relatively simple question to answer, people are scared and stockpiling. In addition, literally millions of first-time gun buyers been added to the pool of consumers over the past year. This is reflected in the monthly NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) reports over the past year. For 2019 there were 28,369,750 firearm transfers run through NICS. In 2020 this skyrocketed to 39,695,315! March 2021 set another monthly record as demand continues to grow. I’ll let you decide as to why demand is so high, but the numbers show that people on both sides of the political aisle are buying firearms at an unprecedented rate. The more firearms out there, the greater the demand for ammunition.
Another factor which added to the shortage is COVID-19 and the pandemic. This hit the Russian factories particularly hard, and decreased their output. Primer output was especially hard hit and slowed down. Plus, the big Russian manufacturers have to run domestic military orders before commercial export orders. All of this added up to decreasing the amount of Russian commercial ammunition on the US market. There were occasions where a Russian plant, short on primers, purchased military-grade 7.62x39mm ammunition (not legal to import into the US) simply to break down for its primed cartridge cases. These were then reloaded with commercial projectiles and exported to the US. The lack of economical Russian steel case ammunition has led many shooters to switch to brass case ammunition.
Demand appeared to be starting to stabilize, and there was hope prices would start to drop. Then-President Biden began demanding Gun Control, and made it a quest for his administration. This had the immediate effect one would expect, demand for ammunition increased. With 23 years in the firearms industry, I have seen shortages come and go. But, this one seems different, and I do not see an end in sight. For the time being we will have to make due.
What You Can Do!
OK, doom and gloom aside, is there anything you can actually do to help you get through this shortage? Do you have any options beyond staring at “limit 2 boxes” signs, empty shelves and ludicrous prices on auction sites? Instead of just listening to the chorus of “you should have bought it cheap and stacked it deep” I wanted to offer some useful options for you to consider.
My first point is, do not get frustrated. Ammunition is out there, a lot of it actually. The place to start is with a plan. I suggest starting by inventorying everything you currently have, then figuring out what you really need, and what you would like to have. Remember, there is a difference between what you “need” and what you would like to have. Then keep in mind the panic will not last forever, and after every shortage prices tank and there is a glut sitting on shelves. So, start with a plan and use your head.
If you are short on ammunition for self-protection, that is the place to start. Figure out a realistic amount and begin searching locally and online, and consider using an online automated ammo-finder. I spoke to my friend and 3-Gun shooter Michelle Hamilton about this and here is what she had to say, “Well, the easiest way was a little preparation before this. Now though, hit local box stores, learn delivery schedules and be proactive in acquiring necessary supplies.” I agree with her. Be proactive and be willing to pay for what you actually need to protect yourself and your family.
When it comes to practice and recreation I suggest switching to an easier-to-find caliber, if at all possible. A quick online search will reveal a number of historical military calibers in stock at reasonable prices. While a 7.62x38mmR Nagant revolver is not my favorite piece to shoot, if the ammo is available and reasonably priced, why not? More mainstream is the .350 Legend. Again, not my first pick, but if .350 Legend is on the shelf, it’s something to consider.
Another option is to switch from center-fire practice to rimfire. Either a .22 LR conversion kit or a dedicated .22 LR firearm can be both fun and provide useful training. Can’t find .22 LR in your area, consider adding in dry-fire drills which are virtually free. Yes, these can get a bit monotonous and lack excitement, but properly done they provide valuable training. Want something a bit more exciting? Consider airsoft. A good quality gas blow-back or electric airsoft gun can provide a lot of fun AND useful training. Another option is a good .177 or .22 caliber air rifle.
If, and this is a big if, you can find primers then reloading is a good option. Times like these should show you the value of learning how to reload, and spur you to acquiring at least the basic equipment. Now is not the time to be throwing away empty cartridge cases either. Even if you do not reload, save them. You may start down the road, or you may find someone you can sell/trade them to for something you can use. While this will sound strange to many who dwell in the city or suburbs, in rural areas you can often barter for things, including ammunition.
The main thing is to have a plan, and explore all your options. Yes, the shortage is frustrating but don’t let you get it down. It will not last forever. Prices will eventually drop, and the supply will catch back up. My final suggestion is my most important, learn from this shortage. If you got caught with an insufficient amount on hand, don’t let it happen again. Shortages run in cycles, try to see the signs of the time and buy what you need before one starts. In the meantime Patriot Defense Ammunition, and all the other ammo manufacturers, will be hard at work producing ammunition just as fast as they can! For more information on Patriot Defense Ammunition visit https://pd-ammo.com/
About the author: David M. Fortier has been covering firearms, ammunition and optics for 23 years. He is a recipient of the Carl Zeiss Outdoor Writer of the Year award and his writing has been recognized by the Civil Rights organization JPFO. In 2007 he covered the war in Iraq as an embedded journalist.