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How much ammunition is enough during a crisis like COVID-19?

When a crisis appears, be it a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, pandemic like COVID-19 or even a political crisis, people panic. We've seen it repeatedly in the form of shortages, personal hygiene, and firearms and ammunition shortages. The answer is to stock up ahead of time on things you need, but when it comes to ammunition, people wonder, “How much ammunition is enough during a crisis?”

The answer is different for everybody. It's based on their situation and the types of firearms they own, but we will offer an overview that applies to most gun owners.

When to buy?

You've probably heard other shooters say, “buy it cheap, stack it deep.” It's like that with everything in life. Day-traders make their money buying devalued stocks on the cheap and reselling it when it has appreciated in value. Real estate moguls employ the same tactic and so should a smart shooter. Who knows, maybe someone is out there cornering the market on Charmin bath tissue?

When I was younger and had less disposable income, I'd always pick up at least a box of ammunition when going to a big-box store that carried ammo.  A typical shopping day might have been a loaf of bread, six-pack of Heineken, carton of cigarettes, boneless chicken breasts, bell peppers and this week a box of 357 Magnum.  When money got tight, it might have been a few boxes of .22 or 12-gauge game loads. It didn't matter, as long as I picked up something and added it to my ammo stash.

As I got older and more experienced, I did this occasionally but went more for bulk. Purchases were by the case and even by the pallet. However, as I visit shops around my area, if I'm 20 miles away and I find nothing that catches my eye, I'll still pick up a few boxes of whatever I find a deal on, or something obscure that I might shoot in the future.

Aside from building a little personal inventory, buying piecemeal like this helps you figure out what ammunition produces good results and which won't. So it serves a dual purpose. We'd rather find out if a box if $7.49 9mm works plunking down 20 times that cost for a case.

The current situation (COVID-19)

Now is not the best time to buy ammunition. There is a lot of fear mongering, panic and an influx of people who have either never owned a firearm before or have a few old guns that have not been shot in a while and they need ammunition. The problem is that all of these people decided to go out shopping at once along with existing shooters.

Most shops still open as we publish this have little ammunition in stock and some are completely out. Of the few that have stock you can compare it to the meat counter at most supermarkets this time last week.

poultry aisle during COVID-19

Poultry aisle at a local grocery store during the COVID-19 outbreak.

There are no chicken breasts, thighs, legs or wings to be had but plenty of chicken feet and some gizzards. Shuffle over to the beef section and all the ground beef, flank steak and cheaper cuts are gone, but you can pick up plenty of porterhouse, London broil and $50 briskets.

Now look at an ammunition aisle in a gun shop or sporting goods store. You'll see no 9mm, 45 ACP, 40 S&W, 357 Magnum, 38 Special, 5.56, 7.62 x 39 or 12 Gauge buckshot.  However you will see the equivalent of chicken feet in the form of 25 ACP, 32 S&W, 44-40, 45 Colt and 10mm. This is not a put-down on the ammunition that's left, just that it's not popular a crisis where people are looking for self defense loads. On the rifle side you will see higher-end hunting ammo in 308 Winchester, 6.5 Creedmore, 338 Lapua and others representing for the New York strip and prime rib.

25 ACP ammo

25 ACP ammo still sitting on the shelves during the COVID-19 outbreak.

What types of ammunition should I look for a crisis?

RIFLES: Let's start with the MSR (Modern Sporting Rifle) platform, be it an AK or AR or even a pistol version with a brace.

They are modular and lightweight for the most part and are capable and effective for the average shooter with the right sights or optics out to ranges of 500 yards. The calibers we are talking about here are primarily 5.56 (223 Remington), 7.62 X 39, 5.45 X 39, 300 Blackout and 6.5 Grendel.

The most popular ammunition for these calibers are FMJ (Full Metal Jacket) projectiles. This is the NATO standard for the military. The two most common bullet weights for 5.56 in this configuration are either 55 grains or 62 grains. These are the bread and butter rounds for rifles in this caliber with a 1:12-inch twist rate. If your rifle has a 1 in 14-inch twist rate, stick to 55 grain bullets, if you can find them.

As the twist rate becomes tighter you can use heavier bullets in 5.56 NATO or 223 Remington. If you are unfamiliar with twist rate, it refers to the rifling in your barrel and how many times it can make the bullet completely spin. So a 1:12-inch twist rate completely spins the bullet once every 12 inches. Therefore if you were shooting a 24-inch barrel with that twist rate, the bullet would completely spin twice by the time it leaves the barrel.

Faster twist rates stabilize heavier bullets. This is essential in long range shooting, but also in shooting a shorter barreled rifle or a braced pistol. That 10.5-inch pistol with a 1:9-inch twist rate may not be ideal for a 600 yard shot with Black Hills 77 Grain match grade ammunition, but the 55 grain and 62 grain bullets will theoretically be as stable if they had been shot from a longer barrel with a slower twist rate. You are getting at least one complete revolution.

In calibers such as 300 Blackout or 7.62 X 39, you have a heavier bullet in the 122 grain to 180 or 200 grains. Again, FMJ ammunition will serve well for training and defense. It offers good penetration and it is reasonably accurate.

So if all the FMJ ammunition, which by its nature is the cheapest, is gone from the shelves or online retailers you want to take a look at the next grades of ammunition that are like higher-end steaks we mentioned previous.

Most of us are familiar with JHP (Jacketed Hollow Point), these rounds are designed to expand in a soft target. They will always be pricier than FMJ ammunition due to the bullet design and different powders, plus the fact that most people do not buy it for weekly range practice. When the $5.99 20-round boxes are gone, you might have to step up to these from $12.99-$29.99 for the same amount. This is usually hunting or match grade ammunition and if you have a rifle with no ammunition in the house, it might not only be your only option but your best option.

If you are coming from the hunting side, you might be more familiar with JSP (Jacketed Soft Point) ammunition. Instead of a hollow cavity, these bullets have exposed lead at the tip that aids in expansion. They can be pricey and the exposed lead may be a concern to some shooters running piston type gas systems depending on the profile of the bullet.

HANDGUNS: In the handgun and pistol caliber carbine arena you have the same principles. In 9mm your three most common bullet weights are 115 grain, 124 grain and 147 grain. These are available as FMJ or JHP. The JHP ammunition will be pricier and that is what you want for putting down bad guys. If you cannot acquire JHP ammunition, the FMJ will work, too.

These same principles apply if your go-to rifle is in a bigger caliber such as 7.62 X 51, 308 Winchester, 30-30 Winchester, 30-06, etc.

For 45 ACP the equivalents are 185 grain, 200 grain and 230 Grain. All three are available in FMJ and JHP. The difference in bullet weights is subtle in handguns, but the principle is basically that the lighter bullets move faster and in the case of the 9mm anything heavier than 147 grains will be subsonic. That does not mean it will be silent out of your pistol, but that the bullet is traveling at less than the speed of sound (1126 feet per second) to eliminate the sonic boom or crack when the bullet clears the muzzle.

Also with handguns and some rifle cartridges, you will encounter lead projectiles. These are mostly intended for use in revolvers or lever action rifles, but every now and then they turn up in the semi auto pistol calibers. If that is all you can find use them with caution and be sure to clean your firearm well after shooting.

Frangible training ammunition should be avoided for defensive purposes. This is designed for use in indoor ranges and the bullets shatter when they contact a hard surface. It is good for some training scenarios but probably should not be the first thing you grab when prepping your home.

So how much ammo is enough?

The author’s basic rule of thumb is a minimum of 1,000 rounds of ball ammo for the mainstream calibers like 9mm, 45 ACP, 5.56, 7.62 x 39, 308 Winchester, 12 Gauge and in our case 45 Colt, 30-30 Winchester and 5.7x 28. This is a standard to which we adhere constantly. We shoot other calibers like 45-70, 38-55, 338 Lapua, 16 Gauge, 41 Magnum, 458 Winchester Magnum, etc. but those are only occasionally and when your livelihood is based on shooting many different calibers and many different firearms, you do not get to shoot those as often as you would like.

Make it a goal to be able to dive into your ammo stash like Scrooge McDuck. As we’ve seen from recent years, availability can be fickle.

RIMFIRE: For 22 LR, we recommend at least 2000 rounds and for defensive loads maybe 200-300. More is always better, but don’t go overboard. There is a large variety of 22 LR out there. If you are a regular shooter you know that some of these firearms in the rimfire calibers can be finicky and may seem to prefer one ammunition type over the other, so look for what your brand of choice is and buy it when the market is right.

Most of your match grade or subsonic ammunition will have a lead projectile. These will run fine in revolvers, lever-action rifles, bolt-action rifles and most match grade competition handguns, but they can give you reliability issues in a semi auto rifle like a Ruger 10/22, Marlin Model 60 and similar firearms. If your particular rifle or semi auto pistol can handle them, great. However, you do not want to end up with 1000 rounds of anything if it will not cycle your firearm, so unless your go-to rimfire rifle is a 100 year-old family heirloom, go for the high velocity type of ammunition first. This would be CCI Stinger, Remington Thunderbolt, Eley Tenex and even CCI Standard Velocity. If you are intending to shoot squirrels, varmints or vermin during a crisis the hollow point ammunition is usually best.

22 ammunition

OK, so how much ammo do I need, now?

We recently had a friend reach out and ask for help acquiring ammunition. This was a friend within the industry who owns a number of firearms and he was panicking because he only had 200 rounds of 380 ACP on hand and needed more and was going to swap 9mm for some with his neighbor.

Unless it is all you have, worry about the pocket pistols later.

I had to sober him up with, “How many people are you planning to shoot in the next week?” I assured him he was ready to repel boarders with his 9mm, 5.56 and 12 Gauge on hand. Don't worry about the pocket pistols and hideout guns unless that is all you have at your disposal.

That’s the essence of what we are talking about. Plan ahead, but plan smart. Maybe you rent a room in an apartment and have limited storage space or maybe you only own one or two calibers. Are you planning on lazy days at the range during the next crisis or are you just looking for enough to keep you and your family safe during a brief time of trouble?

5.56 ammo

If you're brand new to shooting, hopefully you left the shop with your first gun and at least 200 rounds of practice ammunition and 50 rounds of carry ammo. This'll hold you over. And, this might not be a bad time to look into handloading your own ammunition, especially if you are under a shelter in place order and are tired of streaming Netflix.

In the meantime, keep to the orders of Major Robert Rogers of 1757: “…60 rounds of powder and ball and a hatchet.” Make the best of what you have until you can resupply. Simply avoid the gougers and wait it out.

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