Ammo shortage in Pennsylvania and beyond ignites a boom in reloading
With extra time on his hands during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dustin Krause of Rock, decided now was as good a time as ever to learn how to reload his own ammunition. It is something his grandfather, family friends, and soon-to-be father-in-law have done for years, so he knew he’d have no shortage in capable mentors.
One of those mentors was fellow neighbor and hunting camp member Tom Brown, who recently decided to pass on his reloading equipment to the young hunter eager to learn.
“Tom decided to get out of reloading due to a lack of needing shells,” Krause explained. “I was fortunate to get four of his shotgun reloaders and many of his old supplies, which is great because a lot of supplies are tough to find, and it’s pretty expensive to get started.”
Swopes Valley native Larry Primeau, who has been reloading since the 1980s, seconded Krause’s comments.
“Ever since the pandemic, I’ve noticed a scarcity and rationing of components as well as an increase in price – sometimes as much as a 20-200% markup,” Primeau said.
“But if people are open to different components than they might be used to, they can get by.”
For instance, he has used 4831 powder for his .270 Winchester for years. It has been out of stock everywhere for the past six months.
“Luckily, there are a dozen other powders out there,” Primeau said. “The only problem is each time you switch, you must rework your loads and tolerances for your individual gun based on the rate of twist, available bullet weight, and even primer type.”
Limited availability can be frustrating for local consumers, but the shortage doesn’t appear to be unique to Pennsylvania. Chad Schreier of Montana noted that there is little to no ammo available anywhere, and even reloading supplies are tough to come by.
“Powder has some availability, but it has been very limited. Primers are out. Once-fired brass is pretty slim out here as well,” Schreier said just before taking a six-hour drive across the state in search of supplies, only to find some shotshell ammo and a few powder options remaining in stock at the Kalispell Cabela’s.
“Bottom line is people started hoarding again due to COVID, and then things really got tight leading up to the election,” Schreier lamented.
Without question, firearms, ammunition and shooting supplies are hard to come by these days. Redding Reloading Equipment, based in Cortland, New York, has continually tracked the economics of reloading as a method of reducing participation costs in the Shooting Sports since its founding in 1946.
Executive Vice President Robin Sharpless recently noted historic demand for its products, going so far as to say there’s greater interest in reloading than ever before.
“Reloading has gone the way of 9mm ammunition. Things are absolutely crazy in the marketplace, and we are suffering with a 14- to 16-week backlog on some of our orders,” Sharpless explained.
While keeping up with consumer demand has been a challenge, Sharpless said the biggest positive of the situation is that cost recovery has never been better for established reloaders, or those lucky enough to find a starter kit like Redding’s Propac, offered with a press included in the package.
“The equipment is not inexpensive, and therefore the cost recovery is always a concern to the beginner,” Sharpless said. “Cost recovery, or returning investment, at this point is the fastest I have ever seen it based on the high cost of ammunition — when it’s actually available.”
With this year’s ammunition shortages, the cost recovery interval of the needed equipment has shortened significantly, Sharpless added.
“Traditionally, one could assume the cost of reloading was approximately half of the cost of new ammo with similar components,” he said. “Savvy buyers could even reduce component costs and move the benefit ratio a bit higher.”
Based on December 2020 numbers, Sharpless presented the following price comparison as an example:
With costs skyrocketing for common plinking rounds such as SS109 5.56 now at $39.89 per box of 20 (nearly $2.00 per round), and the cost to load it around $0.30 with quality components and a 55 to 60 grain bullet yielding a comparable plinking round — the savings is much more dramatic.
“At a cost savings of $1.70 per round, the recovery time of the equipment cost is shortened dramatically,” he said. “This, of course, is also a function of how many rounds one uses per month and that variable will impact the time.”
But two years ago, SS109 was readily available at $5.99 for a box of 20 and could be loaded for a little more than half that amount, according to Sharpless.
“It is true that component costs are going up as well and items are becoming more difficult to find,” he said. “But reloading still represents a good economic decision, which has been made better with the current state of the market and the nation.”
That said, Sharpless also noted that the initial investment in required equipment could be more than a reasonable consumer could bear, and he stressed that a decision to start reloading should not be based solely on the financial merits.”
Rather, it should be viewed as an enjoyable pastime, he pointed out, just like Dustin Krause’s primary motivation for getting into reloading. He decided to start his new hobby because of family tradition and self interest in reloading.
“I would say as of now, I simply reload for fun — really only needing shells as a necessity for hunting and trap shooting,” he said. “Luckily for me, Tom had everything I needed to get started. I’ve tried to order some supplies, but most are hard to find or on backorder.”
Perhaps, it’s a sign of the times.