Ammo shortage: 2008 and now

Tried to buy ammo lately?  Many people can’t find what they need, or what they find is very expensive.  Standard .223 FMJ is selling for more than a buck a round at some places – and that’s when you can find it.  Welcome to the 2013 ammo shortage.


One of the never-ending debates with gun folks has been what kind of calibers to own in a disaster situation.  That disaster might be a widespread natural disaster, an incident of terrorism or even just a political disaster that causes a scarcity of shooting supplies.  It seems we are in a political disaster of sorts.  “Never let a good crisis go to waste” is what this administration seems to practice, and they are quite content to push the disarming of Americans on the bodies of dead school children.  Shameful.

Regardless on how we’ve got here, we are in an ammo shortage.  In the past, I have frequently heard three theories bandied about on the topic of ammunition selection for disasters.  While adopting one of these theories now is a little late to do you any good, thinking about them while observing the current firearms market might give you insight for future planning.

Caliber Consolidation:  Some people have suggested consolidating on one round, such as a .357 Magnum, which can be carried in a handgun and in a carbine.  Generally the idea is you only have to find and buy one caliber.

Popular (Commonly Found) Calibers:  Others suggest different calibers for different tasks, but stick to the commonly found rounds.  For example, 9mm handguns and .223 rifles would typically fit the bill from this perspective.  The concept here is that the common calibers are made in the largest quantities and by all of the manufacturers.  So, these will be the easiest to find.


Uncommon and Oddball Calibers:  Still others think that going with less popular cartridges will mean less demand on the ammo when a rush hits.  Something like a .45 GAP handgun and a .257 Roberts rifle.  The idea is all of the common ammo will be snapped up, but you could still find the oddballs on the shelf.

Frankly, all of the above approaches have pros and cons.  None of them is perfect.  But, I can give you my observations from both the current and the 2008 ammo rushes, and perhaps you can draw some conclusions about what may work for you going forward.

Observation #1 – The common calibers were the first to disappear.  I think .223 was the first caliber to run dry this time around, but 9mm, .45, 7.62×39 and .308 all quickly vanished also.  That happened back in ’08 also.  Soon after, all of the other popular calibers were bought out also:  .38 Special, .40 S&W, .380 ACP, etc.

Observation #2 – The uncommon calibers can still be found.  I checked with a distributor about their ammo stockpile and they said the hot calibers don’t stay in their warehouse any longer than it takes to slap a new mailing label on them.  As soon as any roll in, they are sold.

However, they said, many of the traditional hunting calibers can still be had relatively easily.  Specifically mentioned as having moderate to good inventories:

  • .243 Winchester
  • .270 Winchester
  • .300 Win Mag
  • 7mm-08
  • 7mm Rem Mag
  • the WSM (Winchester Short Magnum)      cartridges

While the above calibers can still be had, the distributor told me that certain hunting cartridges are being snapped up as quickly as they come in.  The two mentioned:  .30-30 and .308.  The .30-30 is a great all-around cartridge and is mostly chambered in lever action carbines, which are still legal in most/all states.  In addition to hunting guns, the .308 is also found in a lot of tactical-style guns, which has probably driven a lot of sales.

Observation #3 – From the prior ammo rush, we know that certain calibers will be slow to return to normal inventory levels.  Some calibers, like .223, will run on the manufacturer lines year round.  Other calibers, such as .380 ACP, will only run on the line for several months during the year, because normal demand for the year can typically be met with just a few months of production.  Then that line can be switched to another partial year run.  In times of normal demand, this system works fine.

If demand is even between a popular caliber and a niche caliber, you are likely to see the popular caliber start appearing again sooner just because more of that ammo is being made.  But, of course, demand is not equal.  There is not a precise way to predict what calibers will start filling the channels again first, but I would expect to see 9mm in Walmart before .357 Magnum.  I know during the 2008-2009 run on ammo, .380 was very tough to find for a long time.


Observation #4 – We all should have bought more ammo and magazines 12 months ago.  Leading up to the 2012 elections, we all knew that things would go bad for us if President Obama was re-elected.  I know I bought a little extra before the elections.  Now I wish I had bought a lot extra.  Hindsight…

Where does all of this leave us?  Hopefully a little wiser before the next big rush.  Much like the grasshopper and the ant, we should be preparing in the good times so we aren’t left out in the cold when the bad times arrive.

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