My Kingdom For A Shell?

Shortages Are Now A Way Of Life
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Your favorite shotgun action — over/under, pump, semi-automatic or side-by-side — doesn’t matter if you can’t find shells to drop into the chambers. The past few years have been rough, but there is some relief on the horizon.

Shortages have caused some shotgunners to stockpile so they have
enough shells during hunting season. Photo: Remington

For the past few years, shotshells have been sold before they’ve been made.
With luck, supply will soon match demand. Photo: Apex Ammunition

Shortages, Shortages

According to Apex Ammunition’s COO Jared Lewis, production runs are affected due to the availability of components. The Mississippi-based Apex is a boutique shell company focusing on non-toxic shells for both the upland and waterfowl markets. “I first noticed supply chain disruptions in the fishing industry, but before long many outdoor companies were impacted. The pandemic certainly increased outdoor participation rates, and the NSSF retailer survey indicated there were 5.4 million first-time gun buyers in 2021. More shooters increase consumption, and it didn’t take long before the hunting and shooting markets were impacted. Initially, brass was in short supply, so we had to look at other metals as alternatives. We switched some production runs to nickel, and that worked for a while. Then we saw the shipping container issue in California, which brought some components online while backordering others. One of our workarounds is to forecast ordering further out, with some timeframes being as extended as 18-plus months.”

Lewis is optimistic about increases to future supplies but he’s cautious about price reductions. “If component pricing comes down then our retail costs will drop,” he said. “But if component prices stay high — which is likely — then our prices will remain where they are. The good thing about high prices is that they spark innovation. Shotshell companies are always innovating, so who knows what the future will bring.”

Morris Baker is the owner of Pennsylvania’s RST Shotshells, favorites of uplanders and waterfowlers who require low compression specialty shells. Baker’s 2″, 2 ½” and paper loads are coveted for use in vintage shotguns with short chambers a well as shotguns with Damascus barrels. “A shortage of one component has created an unparalleled backorder situation with our distribution,” he said. “For the longest time we couldn’t get shot and just when we received a shipment of shot we couldn’t get primers. Powder is now the missing ingredient. The quantities we receive are also far lower than what we ordered, and that’s well lower than demand.”

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No one ever likes to miss, but with shells in such short supply,
missing hurts even more. Photo: HEVI-SHOT

Because it’s been difficult to find shotgun shells, shooters have been reluctant
to launch as many clays. We’ll all be glad when store shelves once again are full.

Paint And Powder

The market is volatile, so Baker is constantly monitoring patterns. “Some of the raw materials used in making components are being redirected to other industries. Nitrous cellulose is used to make powder, but it’s also used to make paint. As a result, the real estate boom is one of many examples of how growth in other industries impacts the production of shells. At this point, we’re focused on weathering the storm.”

A statement from Kent Cartridge noted, “Through 2019 and into the first two months of 2020, the market for shotshells was stable and predictable, as was the global economy. Once the pandemic hit, several factors, including new gun owners and increased participation in shooting sports and hunting from existing gun owners, created an unprecedented level of demand that quickly depleted inventory from retailers and manufacturers. By the end of 2020, shelf inventory was non-existent. At the same time, disruptions in the global supply chain delayed shipments of raw materials and key components used in ammunition that impacted the ability to increase production to meet demand. These issues are not limited to the ammunition market, it is a global issue and affects nearly every industry. Specific to ammunition, a small component of the global market, disruptions for raw materials such as steel, lead, resin along with transportation delays are continuing into 2022 and it is unlikely supply will catch up to demand this year. At Kent Cartridge, we are investing in additional staffing and machinery to meet the demand and are confident in our production capabilities once we see improvements in the supply chain. Regarding pricing, the global disruptions have created a “sellers’ market” with ammunition retailers and manufacturers being the last two links in that chain. We do expect that as the global market normalizes, there will be pricing relief though it is unlikely that prices will return to pre-pandemic levels.”

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Reloaders always police their empties, but these days they may be a bit more aggressive to make sure they have enough hulls to fill.

Vista View

Jason Vanderbrink is the President of Sporting Products for Vista Outdoor and oversees several individual companies including Federal, Estate, Hevi-Shot and the recently acquired Remington. From a prepared statement, he said: “The outlook on what will be on store shelves or available for direct purchase on our websites is not easily predicted. However, we are doing the best we can to get your favorite loads out the door. We are proud to employ thousands of Americans across the country who work hard to make and ship products for hunters, shooters, reloaders and those who protect our communities. The health of our workforce during the pandemic is critical and we are proud to have kept running safely as an essential American business.

“When the market and ammo demand turned really fast in March of 2020, it caused two problems for us: First, there was not enough labor available to make more ammunition and then it takes time to train people … you can’t just go hire hundreds of people overnight, train them and boom, you have more ammo. It just doesn’t work that way, it’s impossible. Second, commodity prices are up and availability down. Acquiring brass, lead and plastics to build ammunition is a challenge. Consumers are buying ammo of any and all types, so this demand in the marketplace impacts hunting ammo as well.

“We are running our Federal factory in Minnesota 24/7 and shipping products for commercial distribution every day. We’re also proud to now own and operate the Remington ammunition factory in Arkansas and the Hevi-Shot Factory in Oregon. If you are not finding the exact loads you used last season, there should be options in any of these great brands to make it a successful season for you.”

Until inventory levels have returned to normal, we’ll have to accept whatever shells fit our gunning irons but with luck, the wait for our favorites will soon be over.

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