Near-empty ammunition shells has been a common sight in stores since last summer. Manufacturers have been unable to produce enough ammunition of all types to keep up with demand.

Old Mother Hubbard

Went to the cupboard,

To give the poor dog a bone:

When she came there,

The cupboard was bare,

And so the poor dog had none.

I feel the dog’s pain.

I was looking for shotgun shells recently and not surprised I could not find 12-or 20-gauge, the most popular. It was a little surprising that there were also no 28s or .410s and speciality loads like for spring turkey hunting. They were not on store shelves, on websites and apparently in warehouses either.

The same is true for pistol and rifle ammo.

This is an ongoing problem that started last year with honestly no end in sight. There are a lot of conspiracy theories out there about what is going on, unfortunately the truth is kind of boring. There is simply a lot more demand than there is supply.

In 2020 there were a record 21 million federal background checks for gun purchases. That blows away the next closest of 15.7 million and is a monstrous jump from 2019 when there were 13.2 million.

But that is not the whole story.

“There was a survey of retailers over the summer about who is buying guns and why, and we learned 40% of those buying were doing so for the first time. That is 8.5 million new buyers. That is an enormous number,” said Mark Oliva, public affairs director for the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

“If I told you this time last year you going to see 8.5 million new gun buyers you would say I am crazy. And all of these people are out there looking for ammo,” Oliva added.

And the math is simple. If those new buyers bought just 50 rounds each, they would account for a staggering 425 million rounds alone. And that is probably a low number. A lot of people bought guns for self-protection or whatever and may be able to get by with 50 rounds. Hunting license sales nationwide are also up so there are others that bought much more.

“Aside from that a little of a toilet paper effect is going on. People walk into their store and see the shelves getting low and they snap up some more when they can. Then you go in seeing a shortage and you buy some. If it is not in your house it is in your neighbor’s,” Oliva said.

NSSF is a firearms industry association, and Oliva has heard the same story from manufacturers across the board. He cited an online video by Jason Hornady who said his company has increased production of pistol and rifle ammo 30%, and what is made one morning is boxed that afternoon and shipped the next day to retailers.

In another video Jason Vanderbrink, president of the Ammunition Division for Vista Outdoor, tries to put down conspiracy theories and explain that demand along with impacts of COVID have meant the company has been unable to catch up. Vista owns brands like Federal Premium, Remington, Speer and CCI.

It was clear on the video ( that Vanderbrink has grown weary and frustrated with theories that there is some type of industry collusion to push prices up or for some other reason.

Even reloaders are having trouble getting supplies because reloading components are often by-products not used in the normal production of ammo. Right now there is no excess.

It is hard to say when production will catch up or demand slows. There were 2 million background checks in January with the unknown over possible gun legislation going forward. Add to that the next surge by hunters who begin to gear up again this summer.

Oliva said his best advice is to ask your local dealer to contact you when they have ammo coming, or to check often if you shop at a big box. He added being patient and planning ahead is key.

One thing that almost a certainty is simple free-market economics, prices will continue to climb until supply consistently exceeds demand.