Now is the time to stock up on ammo for hunting in Pennsylvania. Here's what you need to know
If you enjoy hunting, now is the time to take stock of your ammunition needs for your favorite deer rifle and shotgun.
Last fall many sportsmen were left scrambling to find shells and cartridges for their guns because of an ammo shortage. This year, the inventory has improved, but prices have also increased by 20% or more.
Mark Oliva, managing director of public affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, has been with the industry’s trade association for more than five years.
“I don’t think it’s as dire of a situation that it was in 2020 or even 2021, but we don’t have the availability that we had in 2019. We’re still dealing with some difficulties in finding specific calibers that people may be looking for.”
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What ammo is available, and why we're buying guns
There has been an increase in demand for ammo as gun sales have increased. FBI national statistics show there were almost 39 million firearm background checks initiated in the country in 2021 and more than 39 million in 2020. The FBI notes the statistics don't reflect the actual number of guns sold, but the number of applications that were initiated.
“We’re on a 36-month continuous (cycle) of over 1 million background checks every month from sales of a gun,” he said. The new gun owners are also purchasing more shells and cartridges to go with their new firearms. “We’re seeing a lot more pressure on the ammunition market than we’ve seen in years previous.”
During Oliva’s travels he’s discovered common handgun calibers are fairly available, but some of the rifle hunting calibers for deer like 6.5 Creedmoor, .270 Winchester or .30-06 Springfield cartridges aren’t nearly as available as they once were.
Inflation which has taken its toll on most products people buy, has also impacted ammunition. “Prices that we enjoyed in 2019 are certainly not what we are seeing today. It’s a little more expensive.”
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“Shotgun shells are catching up as best they can,” he said about Remington Firearms and Federal Ammunition factories producing as much ammunition as they can to meet the demand.
He also believes people are shopping in new ways to find ammo than before such as through online vendors and direct-to-customer sales from places like Federal. “People are looking at other ways to purchase the ammunition because they are finding difficulty in getting it from local retailers.”
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Pennsylvania popular for gun owners
While he monitors what is happening in the industry across the country, the Keystone state is one of the more popular states for gun ownership.
“Pennsylvania clearly is one of the leading states for hunting license sales,” he said about it being a top deer hunting state. “We anticipate Pennsylvania will continue to be one of the largest states for ammunition consumption just for the fact that they are one of the leading states for license sales.”
His advice to hunters looking forward to the upcoming season is to purchase what you need now. “I would encourage anybody who’s looking to get ammunition they need, to do it soon. Don’t wait. As the seasons go along and people start to pick up more ammunition, the shelves become more bare and it becomes more difficult to find what you need.”
This is also the time to go to the shooting range and make sure your gun is shooting properly and accurately, especially if you are trying a new brand or type of ammo.
Waterfowl hunters should be stocking up now as well. He said the specialty shells, like non-lead options for ducks and geese, can quickly disappear from store shelves.
Oliva believes the challenges with ammunition availability will probably last several years.
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Don't wait until November to buy your ammo
Sport shops across the state are dealing with the challenges the best they can to meet the needs of their customers.
Larry Babal, firearms expert at Sporting Goods Discounters in Johnstown, Cambria County, said ammunition manufacturers have been dealing with material shortages including primers and that’s partly to blame for the inventory shortages. He said it's difficult to get personal reloading supplies as the manufacturers need everything they can get to make their own shells.
Sporting Goods Discounters has been able to stock more of their shelves with shells and cartridges than last year. “It’s definitely better than it was. It’s not quite what it was prior to the pandemic but it’s getting better, but the prices are way up.”
He said the stores are paying prices to manufacturers similar to what they sold the ammo to customers for three years ago.
For hunters who need shells for this fall’s deer season, he said it’s time to shop.
“If you see something you can use, I would say buy it even if it’s not what you are used to using,” he said about not having your brand or exact bullet weight available.
“If you wait until November, you may not be able to get anything. And if it’s roughly the same thing you are shooting, it might involve a trip to the range and putting a couple rounds down range just to see where it’s shooting.”
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But for hunters who already have enough shells for this year, he said it’s good to wait until you see the exact brand and bullet weight your gun uses.
Right now, he said they have plenty of .308 cartridges. “.308 is probably the only hunting round that all through the pandemic we usually didn’t have any trouble getting.”
He said at times when other calibers like .30-06 and .270 weren’t available, they had .308 cartridges which cross over to military applications.
For people thinking about buying a deer rifle, he said the 6.5 Creedmoor has been gaining popularity. “It’s got really mild recoil, but it really performs,” he said about it being accurate out to longer ranges than some other calibers.
“It shoots as flat as a 7 mm mag(num), kicks like a .243 and hits like a .270,” he said. “It does what it does very well,” Babal, who has been selling guns for 42 years, said about the 6.5 being the right combination of the strong points of several calibers.
A sport shop in Lake City, Erie County has been able to provide shells and cartridges this year.
“For the most part it’s there if you want to pay,” Chris Seaman, one of the owners of Elk Creek Sports, said in a telephone interview. “Obviously it’s more expensive like everything else is right now.”
“It’s not a problem to get,” he said about the common calibers being available at this time of the year.
“There are a few hunting calibers, .308, .30-30 that are pretty available but most of the other stuff, there’s not a great supply of it,” Michael Fritz, vice president of Dunkelberger's Sports Outfitters in Stroudsburg, Monroe County said in a telephone interview. “We have some here and there but we can’t get as much as we want.”
“The prices from the manufacturers have gone up dramatically, as in everything else in the world,” he said about trouble with supply lines, drivers, staffing and rising costs of raw goods. “It all drives the price up.”
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He also recommends not waiting until the last minute to have cartridges for deer season.
“If you see it early, buy it early. If you find it, I wouldn’t wait to buy it because the demand might be great and it might not be there the next time you’re in,” Fritz said making sure you have the exact shells you want this fall. “What comes in doesn’t last very long,” he said about some calibers being in high demand and not always having many brands available.
Brian Whipkey is the outdoors columnist for USA TODAY Network sites in Pennsylvania. Contact him at email@example.com and sign up for our weekly Go Outdoors PA newsletter email on your website's homepage under your login name. Follow him on social media @whipkeyoutdoors.