News of the Coronavirus pandemic prompted millions to buy guns and ammunition, and the uptick in firearm and ammo sales is dramatic. National Institute for Criminal Background Checks System (NICS) indicate that background checks are up 300 percent over this time last year. The high volume of calls to the BATFE to complete Form 4473 paperwork has caused delays in purchasing. Gun store shelves have been wiped clean, and popular calibers are seemingly absent. But what are people buying? What type of ammunition is being purchased and what types of firearms are most popular? Here’s a closer look.
Many firearm owners are learning the difficult lesson that a gun is only good when you have ammunition. To determine what’s been leaving stores, I turned to Brownell’s Roy Hill. Brownell’s (www.brownells.com) offers a broad range of calibers and loads, so it’s easy to determine which ones are selling best based on the in-stock inventory.
Not surprisingly, defensive handgun ammunition has all but vanished. On March 19, 2020, Brownell’s reported just two 9mm loads left. Today there are none. The story is true for all of the popular self-defense calibers. Reserves of .38 Special, .40 S&W, and .380 ACP are depleted. There are just two .45 ACP loads available and a handful of other rounds like .357 SIG and .32 H&R.
Rifle ammunition seems to be doing better with the exception of 5.56 NATO/.223 Remington, which are also out of stock. While supplies of other cartridges are down, they can still be purchased. Perhaps most surprising to me is that there are still 53 7.62 NATO/.308 Winchester loads available! Hunting calibers like .25-06 Remington and .270 Winchester haven’t been wiped away yet. While your favorite hunting load might not be available right now, there are still options. Will they hold until hunting season? That depends largely on how COVID-19 sorts itself out in the next few weeks — and how buyers react.
Rimfire ammunition has remained widely available. The obvious reason is that rimfires are not perhaps the best personal defense guns. It may also be a result of the high volume of rimfire firearm and ammunition sales that already occurred a few years ago and the subsequent lower prices on bulk items. The rimfire market may already be saturated while demand shifts to the personal protection category. Whatever the reason, Brownell’s still lists more than 50 rimfire options as of this writing. Shotgun ammunition was still available, too. As March 23rd, there were 93 different 12-gauge loads in inventory, including everything from trap loads to slugs.
I visited a local gun shop to see if the nationwide trends were matching local buying, and that proved true. At Jeff Steele’s 68 Bait & Tackle in Mount Orab, Ohio, defensive handgun ammunition was gone and supplies of shotgun ammunition were low. Perhaps the most interesting contrast to the national trend was that hunting cartridges were still in high demand here, as well.
“I’ve been selling a bunch of .30-30,” Steele said. “I’ve also been selling stuff like .30-’06 and .308, pretty much everything but the .338s and other big calibers. I guess a lot of people still defend their homes with a .30-30.”
Evidence from Grinnell’s shows the same thing. As of today, there is just one .30-30 load available. Perhaps this hints that .30-30 rifles are more popular defensive weapons than previously thought.
It’s worth noting that the situation is changing quickly. Brownell’s received a shipment of 9mm ammunition shortly after Hill reported the initial numbers for this article, so check back frequently.