Panic Now: Building An Ammo Inventory

Ammo Inventory

I have always been the guy that keeps just a little ammo on hand and buys more as he shoots it. Until a couple of years ago, that is. During the last election cycle (and during most of President Obama’s administration) ammo was expensive. At times it was ridiculously expensive. Some ammo – especially defensive ammo – was extremely hard to find. This made me realize I needed to maintain a decent ammo inventory.

I realize that not everyone can afford a case of ammo a month (or whatever). Then again… I see those same gun owners who can suddenly afford to pay jacked up prices when election time rolls around. There aren’t going to be any magic solutions in this post. More than anything I hope this is a nudge to those of you that don’t maintain much ammo. Don’t be that guy. Panic now while demand is low supply is high, and prices are dirt cheap!

Why Should You Maintain an Ammo Inventory?

The most important reason, for me, is insulation from cost fluctuations. Ammunition is very price-sensitive and I don’t have unlimited money. However, I like to continue my regular range trips regardless of where the political winds may blow. For the last couple of years I’ve focused heavily on putting back some ammo against hard times. I hope to accumulate enough ammo that at the next “shortage” I won’t feel like I have to hawk my house to buy a couple boxes. This will enable me to continue shooting the same rounds on about the same budget.

There are also some more theoretical reasons to maintain an ammo inventory. You may be concerned about tightening restrictions, an outright ban, or unaffordable excise taxes on ammunition. You may be a prepper who is concerned with a total unavailability of ammunition because of declining social conditions. Whatever your particular reason, you should build an ammo inventory rather than buying just what you’re going to shoot today. Your budget will dictate how big your ammo inventory is, and how fast you build it.

Better: Retail Buying

This one is simple: buy a little more than you shoot. If your average range session is 100 rounds, stretch a bit and buy 150 each time you head out. It will accumulate a little more slowly, but it will add up. If you hit the range once a month, by the end of a year you’ve accumulated an extra six months’ worth of ammunition. The biggest benefit to this strategy is that it lets you lay in some extra ammunition immediately. Another benefit is that it doesn’t require a big up-front expense.

There are some obvious downsides to this strategy. The first is cost. Buying ammunition (or anything else) at retail prices incurs a markup. Though it hurts less in the moment, it adds up. The second disadvantage is time. If you want a stockpile of ammo NOW, this isn’t going to do the trick.

Best: Bulk Buying

Buying in bulk has a ton of advantages. The biggest and most obvious is price. You can usually pick up cases of handgun ammunition for somewhere between 2/3s and 3/4s of retail price. This results in massive savings, and more ammo. Secondly, it lets you build a solid ammo inventory really quickly. It also lets you lay in a lot of ammo that you like. Found that perfect defensive load? If you can find a case of it, you don’t have to worry about defense ammo for the rest of your life.

Downsides to buying in bulk? The most obvious is the upfront cost. A case of .357 or .38 will cost you somewhere north of $300. This is still way cheaper than buying it at retail, but that’s a lot of scratch for many of us.

How much Do You Need

I can’t answer this question for you. I have a number for every caliber I maintain. That number is based on how much I shoot that caliber, and how hard it may be to find that ammunition in the future. For example:

Defensive/Hunting Ammo: I carry the Federal 124-grain +P HST. Since specific premium defensive and/or hunting loads can become scarce and I won’t carry anything I haven’t tested, I want a supply of this. So I purchased a case when I happened to find it. It was expensive, but it’s an investment; I won’t have to buy defensive 9mm ammo again. Ever. And I don’t have to worry about reliability-testing another type of ammo.

Training/Practice Ammo: This really depends on how much you shoot. I would recommend taking an honest look at how much ammo you shoot per year, and attempt to accumulate that much. That’s just my opinion; I know one RevolverGuy writer who has more ammo than he can shoot in a lifetime. On the other hand I know plenty of guys that own about enough for their next range trip. This is also dependent on the particular gun; I shoot handguns much more than rifles, so that is where focus my effort (and dollars).

the Bottom Line

Again, there are no magic solutions in this post. And I’m probably not telling anyone here anything they don’t know. What I hope I’m doing is making you think about building an ammo inventory NOW. We have about two years before the next election cycle begins in earnest. Regardless of who is in it or who is forecast to win, there will probably be another run on ammo. Don’t be the grasshopper. It won’t go bad and you will eventually use it, so pay as little as you can for it. Panic now, and start building your ammo inventory!

19 thoughts on “Panic Now: Building An Ammo Inventory”

  1. Excellent advice, buddy.

    Here in the occupied territories, we experience unique influences on supply and cost that go well beyond the cycles you discussed, so I’ve always been sensitive to this issue. I’ve never regretted having an ample supply of feed for my noise makers, and encourage RevolverGuys to heed your advice.

    There will always be another crisis. In fact, recent events may be paving the way for the next one. The time to buy is now, while supply is strong and prices are low.

  2. Smart advice. I was fully in your camp, only buying enough ammo for my range trips. That changed last year when I got CCW license and California began implementing their new ammo regulations. My range trips became about once a week instead of once a month so I started buying in bulk. I also am storing extra ammo because of our crazy laws out here. Now I have to ship my ammo to an FFL and next year I’ll need a background check for every purchase. Who knows what’s next.

  3. In terms of building up over time (since that’s what I do) I take a Sharpie and mark year of purchase on the box, so I can rotate inventory, as some folks do with canned food. Also I try to store it in those plastic Wal Mart ammo cans to keep it nice and dry. Since the wife won’t let me hunt, this is for future reference (just in case times get tough) but how large an animal could you hunt with 9mm +p 124s? And are you talking from the Shield or a carbine?

    1. No idea, haha! I was kind of blending a couple of categories of premium ammo on that one. It made sense in my head, but on paper, maybe not so much. For my .308 I have, let’s say, a pretty good amount of 168-grain Gold Dots on standby.
      Really good call on marking the cases. I typically mark with a month and year, and try to use it on a first-in, first-out basis.

  4. I wonder where I fit into the picture. I have very little ammo on hand at any given time. What I do have is hundreds of pounds of lead, thousands of primers and cases…and many pounds of powder. I choose not to load it all “up front”, but to load “as needed”. Rather than go out and buy ammo, I simply buy more components as my budget allows it.

    1. I think you just answered your own question! You have a strong ammo inventory, it just isn’t assembled yet.

  5. I have been reloading my target / range ammo for over a year, as a SHTF prepper skill and because I am a cheapskate.

    Now I keep about six months’ worth of bullets and a year’s supply of powder and primers on hand. I come home with more once-fired brass than I take to the range for handguns. That works well as I lose a lot of .45 acp! I shoot loads similar to my self-defense ammo and shoot a box of factory stuff once in a while just to remember the feel for it.

    As for long guns, I do not reuse others’ rifle brass as I only shoot those on our farm. Need to learn loading for Ol’ Painless, my shotgun through 30+ years of hunting.

  6. Great advice, Justin!

    Figure that beautiful, expensive long gun you love turns into a not-very-good club when you don’t have ammo for it. And that handgun that has turned all those miles on your belt instantly becomes a clumsy version of rock.

    Kinda like a Nascar driver without a ride… they suddenly ain’t worth much.

    And if you’re running a semi-auto, I’ll add magazines, too, ’cause without ’em you’ve got about the worst single-shot you could ever imagine.

    You know how the media gets all breathless when describing the “arsenal” of the latest miscreant? Yeah, that guy with the two long guns, the three handguns, and four-hundred rounds of ammo in the back of his car?

    I’m pretty sure they’d go into apoplectic fits if they ever had occasion to try and describe me.

  7. Old School Gun-Geek I wouldn’t call yourself a “cheapskate.” I was at Bass Pro Shops the other day and noticed that they are asking $39.99 for a one pound can of 2400 powder. Even as a reloader, I refuse to pay those prices. 10 or so years ago I paid $20 for that same can. I’m glad I still have some of my Dad’s 1970’s and 80’s vintage powders…all in metal cans. Nowdays, the only real benefit to reloading is the ability to “tweak” your own loads for power and accuracy…and most of all…it is ammo you can trust not to blow up or FTF when your life depends upon it.

    1. My .45 and .38 reloads come in at about half per round what I pay for bulk ammo. Same or less for .30-06. Only .223 seems hardly worth the work of reloading.

  8. Reloading is the answer. During the Obama drought, I kept on shooting. And rare is the day that I don’t buy 22lr when I am at Wal-Mart….

    1. It’s sort of the answer…if you reload just replace all the mentions of “ammo” in this post with “components”. I was reloading in 2008 and remember how hard primers were to come by.

  9. There is no such thing as ‘too much ammo’ for a gun owner.

    It’s like telling a pilot he has too much fuel on board, or too much altitude, or too much power, or too much visibility, or too long a runway.

    1. Bravo, Sir!

      The correct answer to the question of how many boxes of ammo you need is the same as it is for guns: “Just one more.”

  10. I found it very interesting when you talked about buying ammo in bulk to save money. My cousin is in an area where there are a lot of natural disasters lately so he was talking to me about preparing for the future in case he needs to hunt to feed his family. Thank you for the information about how bulk buying can build a solid ammo inventory quickly with massive savings.

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