It’s no secret that the industry is currently facing some harsh times. With ammunition, firearm prices inflated to record highs, firearms enthusiasts of all walks are beginning to feel the stress of the industries growing pains in the midst of uncertainty. Reloaders, a pretty niche subset of firearms enthusiasts, are not exempt from this tumultuous time. If you’ve taken a gander at any sort of reloading components (brass, bullets, powder, and primers) you’d be hard-pressed to find anything in stock at the prices they once were, and even the overpriced stuff seems to be vacant from the shelves no matter what? Primers especially are next to impossible to find aside from opportunistic scalpers who are selling them online for upwards of four times their normal price. So where have all the primers gone?
Where Have All The Primers Gone? A Closer Look at the Primer Shortage
A Convergence of Contributing Factors
Depending on your market, it may be normal for primers to go missing from the shelves the instant they come in. Personally, I have tried to make it a regular habit of buying either one case (1000 primers) or a couple of trays any time I happen by a store that has them. This used to set you back about forty or fifty dollars depending on how much the specific store was charging. Generally, you’re paying about 3 cents per primer.
Normal circumstances aside, the first thing that will come to a lot of people’s minds as far as contributing factors would be the various lockdowns, shutdowns, and travel restrictions put in place by various governments because of the situation surrounding COVID-19. The simple fact that the entire globe has been affected by this situation means that many Americans now found a lot of free time on their hands sitting at home.
Now, the pandemic scare alone wouldn’t be enough to cause this massive shortage in primers (at least I personally don’t think it’s the main cause). Increased civil unrest throughout the last year has given much cause for alarm. Because of this, not only were long-time gun owners buying up extra ammunition but new gun owners were joining the fray as well as violence on the streets continued to boil over out of the cities and began to seep its way into the suburbs.
It is also worth mentioning that an estimated 6.2 million new gun owners have entered the market in just the last couple of months alone. 6.2 million guns are going to need at least a box of ammo each and likely more, and once that is taken into account you can start to see how a real strain on the ammunition supply could start to take place. One final factor I’ll briefly mention here is that many gun owners, both new and seasoned alike, are extremely fearful at the prospect of an openly anti-2nd amendment US Senate and President.
With all these factors happing at around the same time, ammunition in almost any caliber has vanished from the shelves and into the hands of fearful customers who are all facing uncertainty. The subsequent ammunition shortage has driven many to reload, thinking that they could circumvent the manufactured ammunition scene and do some of the work themselves.
Demand and Disruption
In my experience, reloaders tend to anticipate even subtle changes in the market that will affect their hobby. This is why most of the time you’ll find that many reloaders tend to do as I do, and make regular large purchases of components (10,000 at a time for me). The threat of any sort of supply shortage usually drives me to make larger than normal purchases to weather whatever nonsense has to be pushed through.
Others look at a situation like this and will begin to liquidate their savings in the hopes of making a massive return by reselling primers once the supply runs dry. There is nothing legalistically wrong with this or perhaps not even morally wrong but it does cause many a lot of anger. That being said, I don’t think primer hoarders or scalpers are the primary cause of why all the primers are gone. I believe it has more to do with the above-mentioned convergence of factors causing high demand with ongoing disturbances throughout the primer making supply chain.
The first factor that must be brought to light is the fact that there are currently only four companies who are manufacturing primers for civilian use and with a whole nation of reloaders trying to get a hold of primers combined with the increased restrictions on businesses because of COVID, the industry has struggled to keep up with the out of control demand. As a side note, of those 4 producers, one of them is currently going through a massive restructuring of its company and this is definitely having an impact on their primer production.
It also doesn’t help that there are rumors that the four producers of primers (CCI, Federal, Winchester, and Remington) are diverting much of their produced primers to the commercial ammunition manufacturers and shorting what they would normally send to distributors as a standalone component.
It seems that component shortages have been taking place about every 5 to 7 years from what I can remember and to my recollection, they are only getting more severe as time goes on, doubly so this time as foreign primer suppliers are experiencing some of the same if not worse industry disruptions and demand setbacks. So foreign relief in the way of imported primers isn’t doing much in the way of easing the primer supply chain.
The Long Struggle
I have some reserved confidence that the market will eventually return to something resembling normal. Perhaps sometime in 2021. This has been the worst primer (or any component) shortage I have seen in my lifetime and situations like this are one reason why I tend to keep so many of the tiny little explosives on hand – not to deny others access but to save for a rainy day like this. The best we can do in times like this as our reserves run low is to prioritize the time we spend looking for them.
Many stores will get regular deliveries of primers and components and have put strict limits on how much customers can buy so that others can have a fair chance at access if they are willing to come by. Even Big Box Stores like Academy and Sportsmans Warehouse are allowing customers to buy the items online (usually a limit of 1 – 1000 primer box) and pick them up in-store when they arrive.
What are your thoughts on the great primer shortage of 2020? Will reloaders be able to continue to operate despite the high demand? Will the market see a recovery any time soon to something that resembles normal or are we in for a protracted struggle for components with no end in sight? Your thoughts and comments welcome below.
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