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Revisiting the Ammunition Shortage in 2021 with Nosler

The ammunition shortage of 2020 has carried on to the following year, bringing with it a new set of questions, concerns, and predictions. The pithy “supply and demand” response loses its touch over time, demanding further explanation. Worse still, if the ammo situation were reduced to a correlation between increased frequency of politically charged events and the rise in demand for ammo, we risk creating a positive feedback loop between inflammatory news coverage, and empty gun store shelves. We spoke to Nosler about how they are approaching the ammunition shortage.

Starting with Demand

The easy answer is only part of the story, but a necessary part. The federal NICS background checks, albeit imperfectly, quantifies an element of the increased demand. In 2020, the total count at the end of the year was 39,695,315, an increase of 11,325,565 over 2019's 28,369,750, an increase of roughly 39%. Looking month to month, March, June, and December racked up the highest numbers, surrounding key political events throughout the year. As the COVID lockdowns began, March broke the record for NICS checks with 3,740,688 NICS checks. The summer's civil unrest peaked June sales at 3,931,607. Following the election, December broke the record for the third time in the year at 3,937,066 checks.

NICS data jan 2021

January 2021 NICS checks: 4,317,804.

In addition to increased trends of ammo purchases, the numbers of consumers of ammunition sharply increased mostly in part due to the approximately 8 million first time gun owners in the U.S. in 2020. That’s a uniquely high number of new gun owners in one year and not a measure of growth that ammunition manufacturers were prepared for. If each of those new gun owners also purchased a 20ct. box of ammo along with their new firearm, that’s 160,000,000 rounds of ammo right there alone. If they purchased a 50ct. box of ammo, that’s 400,000,000 rounds. These numbers weren’t there just a year ago. That number swells exponentially when you add the existing amount of gun owners in this country also looking for ammunition and loading components.

~Nosler drawing out the math.

2021 ammunition shortage

One of the upsides of an ammunition shortage is the inevitable purge of small piles of random ammo.

Multiple Challenges to Supply

As America locked down for COVID, it amplified the consumption of news related media, egging on the ever-increasing intensity of headlines, scoops, stories, and speculations. As a result, big stories quickly passed from collective memory, such as the bankruptcy, sale, and breakup of one of the world's largest ammunition manufacturers: Remington. As one of two full-line ammunition manufacturer's in the United States, and one of ten in the world, even if the factory continued to operate during the change of hands, the process of switching management would take its toll.

Couple those surging numbers with various manufacturers dealing with limited production because of COVID cases and precautions throughout the year as well as one of the largest ammo manufacturers in the world was closed for business for much of last year to facilitate bankruptcy and a sale.

These were all pretty big challenges for the ammo manufactures to keep up with.


The loss of an ammunition manufacturer combined with the integration of new health and safety guidelines still only account for two factors, compound this with the shifting requirements surrounding international shipping, and the picture is starting to take shape.

nosler match grade 9mm


The United States has a respectable, but limited access to its own resources and the process of establishing a new mine or processing operation requires more than just time and capital. Add this to an election year, where any step requiring permission from a bureaucracy, and you can expect one layer to the ammunition shortage cake. Governments are like computers, they are supposed to work for us, but if left unattended, the roles can switch suddenly and without warning.

Any way you look at it, be it components or raw materials, at some point access to these necessary ingredients for ammo will hit soft and hard barriers. Political relationships between countries come into effect, and all the more when the ability to import raw materials is hampered by Covid guidelines and requirements. Be it politics or pandemics, both contribute to the increased pressure in more ways than one.

nosler .223 ammunition shortage

Social Snowball Effect

Since Supply and Demand answers leave us wanting, and blaming the system itself may feel satisfying without providing solutions, we can look at the subtle social influences that take place in the lives of individual citizens.

Let’s say the average ammo consumer (in normal market conditions) purchases two boxes of ammo off the shelf when they go to restock their ammo supply for their 9mm handgun. Let’s also say an average gun store keeps 10 boxes of 9mm ammo in stock, on the shelf. In times of uncertainty and scarce supply, maybe that customer will purchase all 10 boxes on the shelf instead of their normal two boxes. Now, the next four customers that would’ve normally come behind that customer to purchase their two boxes of 9mm ammo can’t because the first customer already purchased it all.  Those four customers that would normally purchase their two boxes of ammo are out of luck this go around but the next time they do run across 9mm ammo, odds are they’ll be purchasing more than the two boxes that they normally would, thus repeating the cycle. 

The supply of ammunition, then, will be limited to physical capacity, paired with political dynamics, but the demand increases exponentially, unfettered by social pressure, be it overt or coincidental. A mad rush produces a longer mad rush, and in the event that a supplier invests to increase capacity, they are met with both the concerns of political barriers and physical access to resources.

Ammunition Shortage Solutions

The choice to prioritize high-demand cartridges addresses the ammunition shortage at the detriment of other calibers.

The increased demand and scarcity of 9mm ammunition then spills over to increased demand and scarcity of other popular cartridges such as 45 ACP, 223 Rem for example, which eventually spills into whatever firearm cartridges consumers have in their gun safes because they don’t want to run out of 270 Win and 30-06 ammo either which will eventually spill into demand and scarcity for ammo in every oddball cartridge left on the shelf.

Hypothetically speaking, let’s say a factory has a maximum capacity to make 10,000 rounds of ammunition a day (300k/month) and currently has orders for 100k rounds of 9mm, 100k rounds of 223 Rem, 100k rounds of 45 ACP, 1500 rounds of 35 Whelen and 1,000 rounds of 8×57.

Loading priorities are going to be for the highest demand cartridges and with what components can be acquired.

This will continue until those purchasing have enough ammunition in their stockpile, safe, or survival outfit to feel satisfied. That stored quantity, while varying from person to person, remains a problem in limbo so long as it is left undefined. The urge to buy more ammunition expands ad infinitum if left to social influences such as seeing empty store shelves. Although only a part of the solution, we all help bring order to the chaos of the 2020 to 2021 ammunition shortage by deliberately choosing what that ideal round count will be, and sticking to it.

Nosler Ammunition

Those familiar with loading their own ammunition need no introduction to Nosler. An ammunition manufacturer that has built a reputation on quality hunting ammunition, offers more than just components. With match grade, defensive, and hunting loads available, Nosler ammunition continues to be a staple in our range bag. In the ever-advancing world of suppressors and competition firearms, we'll be sure to incorporate them in future reviews, courses, and competitions.


More on the Ammunition Shortage and Gun Sales

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22 responses to “Revisiting the Ammunition Shortage in 2021 with Nosler”

  1. REW says:

    You missed one dynamic regarding the ammo shortage; the seemingly never ending riots over the spring and summer. Many first time gun owners bought because they no longer felt, after watching never ending looped “news” coverage, that the police would not be able to help them, and they finally had to accept that they are the only ones responsible for their safety and that of their loved ones.

    Add in, the “preppers” who are gun centric, who decided that they needed to buy as much ammo as they could in order to survive the coming civil conflict.

    These two factors combined to form the perfect storm that the manufacturers were not ready for.

    • Haz says:

      Add to that as well those of us who regularly train, and typically consume 500 rds per professional course or 250 per trip to a local range/field. Multiply that by a minimum of several times per year…

  2. Silence DoGood says:

    You only can blame excessive demand for so long before it’s obvious you’re peeing down my leg and calling it rain. The ammo manufacturers are effectively whistling past the graveyard by pretending that the greatest threat to their survival would be overspending to create manufacturing capacity that MIGHT BE excessive a few years down the road. This policy not only amounts to a death sentence for many gun stores, it’s also going to drive away substantial numbers of ‘casual’ gun owners who just couldn’t endure the drama necessary to keep track of who’s got ammo this week and then pay drastically inflated prices for what pittance is available. Which means that once all this shakes out, the ammo manufacturers stand to lose more in the long term by driving many casual shooters out of the market, and by letting many of their retail outlets die on the vine.

    I can’t imagine Ford Motor Company or Budweiser beer being so complacent (and arrogant) as to tell their customers that they can’t make enough to meet the demand so they’ll just have to amend their buying habits.

    I think the ammo companies would do well to remember the cardinal rule of retail: The Customer Is Always Right. Even when he’s wrong.

    • Drake says:

      You hit it buddy! All these stories about bla bla bla, we can’t keep up with demand is horse shit. I stopped buying american made Ammo when bozo was in office. I don’t put it past the ammo companies to be putting their stuff on gunbroker itself. Look at the profit their making. I’m getting plenty of ammo from other countries and will do so FOREVER!

      • Mike says:

        “I’m getting plenty of ammo from other countries and will do so FOREVER!”

        Until there is an Executive Order passed that limits or stops the import of any type of ammo.

    • Joe from Monroe says:

      As for primers, I have not seen anyone receive a delivery in my area for at least six months. This is evaporating the reloading market. Accidental?

    • Danny Himsey says:

      You said that right, brother. My thoughts exactly. And, I’m so pissed about it, that I’m not going to buy another gun until ammunition becomes affordable and available like it was aproducers! As of now, all 9 of my guns are no more then paperweights. I’ll be of no use to anyone if tyranny prevails! Talk about backfiring on the gun makers and ammo producers!!

  3. Keith Pallo says:

    Be aware that gun grabbers have taken note of the ammo shortage and the direct impact it has on the potential for gun control. No ammo means no guns to use!!! They will now enact extreme state and federal taxing schemes to price the ammo out of existence; never having to deal with confiscating a single paperweight!!!

    • Jack mills says:

      Shut up!!! Clinton’s , bozo and the rest of the scum all own stock in firearm companies. Research DK head. Ammo is going no where. I’m still sitting on 50k of 5.56 from the y2k scare. 20 EFFFING YRS AGO. Your the problem. EVERYONE BE SCARED!!!! As long as a lib can make a buck, he will sell his mother!

  4. John Gerwel says:

    With the ammo companies working overtime their profits should be up, especially since the price of ammo like the 9mm has sky rocked. A year and a half ago I could buy 9mm for about 38 cents a round, now I have saw prices as high as $2.00 a round. Every site I log onto all I see is out of stock. The ammo has to go somewhere.

    • Second Amendment says:

      I could agree with this article if my local retailers were at least getting their normal supply of ammo. But I am being told it is getting harder to get any reorders. So my question is who is getting all this ammo? Walmart, A huge retailer of ammo, stopped selling ammo. Locally, Field and Stream can’t get ammo…. I am confused, who is getting all this ammo.

      • George C says:

        I agree with most of the posts here. Several large monopoly retailers are out of the equation. There are whispers that some Federal agencies are having decreased supply as well, either cost driven or contracts unable to be fulfilled. I could believe it if half the production force was home due to the Rona but otherwise it seems as if no attempt has been made to increase production. It seems that companies want to ride the 4 year panic wave after the Trump Slump.

  5. Anna Robic says:

    Every part of the manufacturing chain is seeing dollar signs and taking a lesson from OPEC.

  6. Mikial says:

    Good article and a good analysis, although I do agree with the commenter (REW) who said the 2020 riots were also a factor that you didn’t address.

    But really, ammo shortages come and go over the years. Personally, I am not suffering from a shortage of ammo because over the course of the last 20 years I have bought ammo a little bit at a time until I had a nice stock, just like I have with canned food and emergency supplies. It’s not hoarding if you just buy two boxes instead of one, it’s just common sense. When the power failed the other day due to ice on the trees and power lines, we were fine. We had gas for our camp stove, water in jugs to drink, cook and flush the toilet with, and candles and plenty of batteries for light. If you are out of ammo now, it’s because you failed to prepare. As the old Boy Scout motto (before the BSA went down the toilet) went, Be Prepared.

    • Johnny Come Lately says:

      If you open your mind a bit, you would realize that new gun owners are not out of ammo because they are not prepared, but because there is no ammo.

      Know-it-alls like you – I find to be obnoxious bores.

  7. BJI says:

    My local retailer has little ammo in stock at any given time. HOWEVER, when it is in stock prices are reasonable considering the shortages. They DO HAVE a one box limit per caliber per customer.
    Six months ago I bought 250 9 mm for $12.22 per box of 50. Last week I bought a box of 50 for $16.99, higher but STILL REASONABLE! What I DO NOT UNDERSTAND is why prices I see on the internet are approximately $32 to $50 for a box of 50 WHEN IN STOCK!!!

    • wesley b headley says:

      price gouging,, i still have ammo and reload supplies from the last big shortage,, believe me,, i paid through the nose,, people make a living buying everything soon as it is in, then flipping it on the internet. i had one kid back then, send me primers, high priced i may add, through the mail.. had them marked as parts,, stupid. but some people can be really desperate..

  8. Mr. Noyb says:

    I understand supply and demand, first time gun owners and normal folks buying ammo due to riots and democrats in power, but why am I only seeing ammo from Australia, Israel, Korea, Philippines, Serbia and Russia? To me it seems like something is going on with American ammo manufacturers: either the government is buying it all or they were told not to sell in the U.S.A. Anyone else notice this?

    • techs says:

      When the good stuff is all gone, the marginal stuff remains. When the marginal stuff is all gone, the bad stuff remains. Eventually, the uninformed and the desperate will purchase the bad stuff at the price of good stuff — maybe happy to get it; maybe furious at feeling ripped off by a margin far beyond production cost.

      That’s how shortages work if they run on for a significant time — ammo, guns, toilet paper, freeze-dried water, whatever. It doesn’t require bad actors or intent in the supply chain to explain why there’s no good stuff, and why the bad stuff costs too much.

      • Jim Frazer says:

        I want to see actual production numbers, shipping manifests, sales receipts for manufacturer and retailer fo ether big three ammo makers. That will show who is getting all this supposed ammo.
        Second, how do foreign makers get primers and other parts that people say are a shortage here in US….finally what government restrictions ( imports or lockdowns) are in play now continuing to limit production. Who bought Remington and are they still in the ammo business ??

  9. Scott says:

    You crazy’s out there that think your gonna go up against , God forbid a SWAT team or a home invasion ARE THE PINCHE PROBLEM. You don’t need 50k rounds for this. Obviously you have never been shot at. All you want to do is get the fk out of there. Stop your whining bitching and stop buying everything in site. That will put a end to the gouging and let the ammo co that this ain’t gonna work anymore. You don’t see our darker colored friends in Chicago going to the range and putting 250 rounds a week so the can keep proficient. There still killing each other like gangbusters without the practice. YOU FOLKS ARE JUST EFFFING STUPID STUPID STUPID.
    I bought a Cz P07 in December and have put 300 rounds down range and am confident I can put down what ever is 15 yrds or closer 100%
    Just effing idiots!

  10. Brian says:

    I checked with 2 local gun shops and at a local Walmart where I know the person that usually works in and stocks the the sporting goods area – none of them are getting much ammo in compared to the volume they moved 2 to 3 years ago. Which retailers are getting the same or increased amounts of ammo that is supposedly being bought up by the new gun owners or hoarders?

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