The Rising Cost of Ammo, or, Some Things Never Change

    Rising ammo prices have been the norm for quite a few years now. It seems like every time I go to order more rounds, the prices have gone up … again. (Though it’s still not enough to make me want to invest all the money necessary to set myself up as a reloader.)

    Affordable shotgun shells. Courtesy Winchester.

    I remember a time not too long ago (less than 20 years) when I could purchase a case of shotgun shells using only the money I made mowing lawns … and still have money left over. With prices like that, I never gave a second thought about heading to the local sportsman’s club and playing three or four rounds of trap and/or skeet. Nowadays, I’d have to shell out the entirety of my lawn earnings for that same case – and I’d think twice about how many rounds I played! (Thankfully, I make better money now, but still…)

    Unfortunately, the rising cost isn’t a new trend: shooters noticed a sharp rise in ammo prices more than one hundred years ago. Arms and the Man magazine, which was one of the precursors to the NRA’s American Rifleman magazine, addressed the same concerns in a May 1917 Q&A column called “The Call of the Clay.”

    “The Call of the Clay” masthead. Courtesy author.

    Here are some of the statistics they cited for the cost increase between May of 1915 and May of 1917:

    • Copper was up 150%
    • Zinc was up 212%
    • Lead was up 85%
    • Paper was up 200%
    • Sheet brass was up 250%
    • Wadding was up 40%

    All of these reasons – and more – explain why 100 shotgun shells that cost 65 cents in 1915 ($16.19 today, adjusted for inflation) were up to $1 in 1917 ($19.66 today, adjusted for inflation – still a bit cheaper than today). Currently, a box of 12 gauge Winchester target loads sells at Walmart for $5.48 and a case is $72.99 before tax.

    At a time when Woodrow Wilson was president and the average worker made $0.22 per hour, that price increase was a big deal. An extra two hours on the job was now required in 1917 to purchase the exact same ammunition they were buying for 35 cents less, two years earlier.

    Vintage Winchester shotgun shells. Courtesy Wikipedia.

    To be sure, raw materials weren’t the only reason you were getting less bang for your buck. The article also discussed the costs associated with skilled workers and specialized machinery that were needed to ensure a quality product. Quality control was just as important then as it is now.

    To sum everything up, the article concluded with a statement that rings just as true today as it did 101 years ago:

    “Ammunition must be made right or it is worse than useless.”

    That may be true, but I still wince when I see the final price at the register.

    How about you? Has the increased cost in ammo caused you to change your shooting habits, or do you just shrug it off and keep doing you?

    Logan Metesh

    T. Logan Metesh is an historian and writer who runs High Caliber History LLC. He has worked for the NRA Museums, the Smithsonian Institution, and the National Park Service. He has also served as an historic firearms facilitator for television shows such as Mysteries at the Museum, Gun Stories with Joe Mantegna, NRA Gun Gurus, and American Rifleman TV.

    Contact him at [email protected]