It's not a conspiracy, it's simple cause and effect.
In recent videos and podcasts, the president of ammunition for Vista Outdoors, Jason Vanderbrink, has been setting the record straight regarding some of the many conspiracy theories and misconceptions about the current ammunition shortage in the U.S.
In his position, Vanderbrink is president of Federal Premium Ammunition, as well as Speer, CCI, and now, Remington ammunition, which is just spinning back up after it was acquired by Vista in a 2020 bankruptcy sale.
What most gun owners and ammo customers know is that the ammo shortage, which has seen even oddball cartridges sold out and prices skyrocket for the ammo people can get their hands on, hit right about when the pandemic did in early 2020. Throughout most of the Trump presidency, there was a decline in ammo and gun sales, which Vanderbrink and other ammunition manufacturers have dubbed the Trump Slump.
The fact is, when people think new gun control laws and restrictions are imminent, they buy more guns and ammo, just as they did during the Obama presidency.
After three years of slow sales, amidst the pandemic restrictions, widespread civil unrest, and a looming and contentious presidential election with the potential for a Biden presidency, the ammo demand went from a calm 25 mph to burying the needle almost overnight.
Gun stores and other retailers began putting purchase limits on certain types of ammo, or all ammo, and--much like toilet paper--this caused buyer to snap up every box they could find whenever they could find it, whether they needed it or not. After a few months, even reloading components, like powder, primers and reloading tools became tough to find.
Last year, more than 7 million people became first-time gun buyers. That's 7 million new gun owners and new shooters buying boxes upon boxes of ammo. This would be a lot for the market to bear during normal times, but with many hoarding ammunition in addition to LEO and military contracts that still needed to be filled, there simply was no way for ammo manufacturers to keep up. As a result, there's no ammo in gun shops or at Walmart, online or otherwise.
At this point, in mid-March of 2021, people are getting understandably frustrated. Some have developed some outlandish explanations for the current predicament gun owners find themselves in and spread those ideas online. You've undoubtedly seen someone proclaim that ammo companies are stockpiling product to drive up prices, or that plants have been shut down for the same reason. There's also a theory that ammo companies are working with the military and the Biden administration to choke the civilian ammo supply.
We've seen this before, specifically during the ammo shortages in 2014, when it seemed like sweeping gun laws were right around the corner. At that time, the shortage was mostly concentrated in .223, .22LR, and 9mm ammo, whereas this shortage covers pretty much everything.
And, like in 2014, these exotic ideas are far from the much more pedestrian truth.
The fact is, after three years of lousy sales, ammo companies just didn't have the time, resources or manpower to increase production when the market turned in March, 2020.
Federal laid off 200 employees back in 2017 after Trump took office and sales took a nosedive.
When ammo demands soared, there were too few workers to ramp up production, even if there was factory space and available machinery to expand production lines in any way. It takes a significant bit of time to train new people to work an ammo line and most of the production equipment used is custom-made specialty machinery.
To compound things, in recent months there has also been a marked shortage in raw materials, specifically brass, which has seen unprecedented demand from other industries as well the ammo industry. In case you missed it somehow in the news miasma that was last year, 2020 saw a national coin shortage in the U.S., thanks to the pandemic, which is only now starting to ease. As you can guess, this has significantly impacted supply chains for all ammunition companies.
Primers are tough for reloaders to find, too, as more and more of them are being used in making factory ammo.
Vanderbrink has fully experienced the rage and angry inquiries of gun owners and has met it with responses indicative of someone who has been working his ass off for months in extraordinary circumstances, via two YouTube videos that have gotten hundreds of thousands of views.
In his first video, he opens by saying, "I'm tired of all the hate mail, I'm tired of people showing up at our factories, I'm tired of reading the misinformation out on the internet right now about us not trying to service the demand that we're experiencing."
In the second video, he says customers have been demanding to know where all the hunting ammo is.
"Federal has been around for 99 years and we've made more hunting ammo this year than we have in (any of) the 99 years of our company," he said. "Certainly that wasn't enough. We understand that."
Since October, Vista has also been getting Remington's ammunition plant in Lonoke, Arkansas, running at full capacity while also bringing back previously furloughed Remington Ammunition employees and hiring new ones.
There's something else Vanderbrink can assure customers of: neither he nor nobody else has any idea when the ammo shortage will ever end or if the ammo market will ever recover.