Since the start of Covid, there has been a massive surge in ammo shortages. Still, it doesn’t take a society shaking pandemic to create a storage. Any kind of emergency or disaster can cause shortages all around the country. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we should be prepared. That said, how do you find ammo once a shortage has already started?

If you’d like to know the best way to find ammo during a shortage, we’ve got you covered. Below we will break down the best ways to buy, ranging from a visit to your local gun range, to places you can buy online. Never be caught unaware again and always have a backup plan for when ammo shortages inevitably happen.

In the Event of a Shortage, Try Buying Your Ammunition Online 

We’ve written extensively about where to find cheap high-quality ammo online by caliber and type, so you may want to check out the guides below for more information:

Buying online isn’t only good for broadening the selection, but it’s often considerably cheaper than buying in a store. But you must go to the right websites. Still, finding those websites can be a challenge on its own. 

Fortunately there are sites like SuperOffers.com, which act as a search engine for the best online alternatives for buying ammunition. Instead of having to jump from website to website just hoping that you’ll strike gold, SuperOffers automatically searches and compares retailer prices across the web. 

They are particularly useful during shortages because most of the sites you’ll compare also tell you what they have in stock. Just keep moving on until you find the right one that addresses your needs. 

What Kinds of Restrictions are Put on Online Ammunition Sales

In most states it’s still legal to buy ammunition online, though there are specific restrictions on certain types. And there are fees involved in ordering them. 

In some states like California, it’s illegal to send an ammunition supply to someone who isn’t a licensed ammunition vendor. While in other states such as Hawaii and Alaska, it’s technically not illegal to sell to non-licensed vendors but there are such heavy fees involved that very few places will. 

If you find yourself in a state with really tight restrictions, you might want to pull on family members or friends living in less restrictive states to spot you and then deliver it to you at your next get together. 

Which States Have Restrictions or Extra Fees for Online Ammunition Sales

If you want to know if your state is one to be concerned about, we’ve got you covered. Just remember that just because a state appears on this list doesn’t mean that it’s fully illegal to buy ammunition from. Just that it may be more challenging than it would in a less restrictive state.  

You’ll want to check all of your state and local regulations if you live in any of the following states or district: 

  • Alaska 
  • California 
  • Connecticut 
  • Hawaii 
  • Illinois 
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Washington DC

If you live in these areas do not despair. Though it may be harder, if not impossible, for you to buy the ammunition you want online, there are more options available to you. The next few tricks don’t involve the web and might be just what you need. 

Check Local Gun Shops and Less Common Spots 

The big brand stores are all likely to be totally sold out in the event of a shortage. Fortunately, there are more local gun shops in the U.S than there are McDonald’s. The same can’t always be said of small mom and pop shops. Depending on their location, how much stock they had before the shortage and their daily average number of customers, they may not have been affected as badly. 

Farm supply stores also provide a great alternative to the big name places. Oftentimes even the most ardent hunters don’t think about the fact they can get some ammo there. To find out if your local farm supply store still has some in stock, just give them a call and they should be able to tell you exactly what they have. 

Another good local spot that might just have the ammunition you need is your local general store. Now with general stores, it’s not quite as common to find ammo as it is at farm supply stores. That said, during a shortage, any place with a chance of having what you need will do. 

Check Your Local Garage Sales and Flea Markets

While who can sell you your guns themselves is tightly regulated, it is perfectly legal to buy ammunition at garage sales and flea markets. Of course this is assuming you don’t have a serious criminal record, as in some states like California, that makes it illegal to buy from any source. 

If you want to find garage sales that might have ammo on sale, then the following tips should help

  • Go to rural areas: You’re far more likely to find ammunition in an area where it is a bigger part of the culture. If you live in the city this might mean driving out of town for a bit to a small town known for hunting season. 
  • Don’t be afraid to ask: If you don’t see what you’re looking for right away don’t be afraid to ask. Sometimes people are more careful about selling ammunition because in some states it is illegal to sell it to people with a criminal history. They may have something stashed away however, that they’d be willing to part with.
  • Look for other hunting supplies: If someone has hunting supplies, chances are they have ammunition they might be willing to part with. Further, if they’re selling their hunting supplies, that’s a sign that they are likely to also carry ammo.
  • Talk to people you know who are flea market regulars: Most people know at least one person who is addicted to flea markets. Whether they enjoy bartering or they just enjoy getting out and seeing new things, they will make a great resource to point you towards the exact area you’ll want to go. 

If you know what to look for and you’re persistent you’ll eventually find a garage sale with exactly what you need. Just keep track of the places you’ve already visited that said yes and said no, so that in future years when there’s another shortage, you’ll have a better starting point. 

Try Practicing Handloading 

Handloading takes some practice, but once you’ve mastered it you can save a lot of money and avoid many of the problems others have to confront during a shortage. Handloading is essentially when you manually put together the parts that make up your ammunition yourself. Even when ammunition is scarce you’ll be creating your own supply.

Before you begin handloading yourself, you should consider the following: 

  • The initial setup is expensive: While handloading will save you money and headaches in the long run, it is initially expensive because of the equipment you must purchase. You’ll need to buy a press as well as all the components of the ammunition you want.  
  • Supplies could become hard to find if the shortage gets bad enough: This is why you may want to stock up on the specific materials you want for your ammunition. When shortages are as bad as the ones caused by covid, even the supplies involved in handloading begin to get scarce. Always remember to plan.
  • Handloading effectively takes practice: Figuring the exact weight and amount of material you need for the perfect ammunition takes time. Think of it as a process of trial and error and consult friends and family who have done it before for extra guidance. 

Remember, even though the initial costs may be high, handloading will actually save you a lot of money in the long run and shield you from the inordinate cost of store bought ammunition for the rest of your life. Just learn the ropes and then reap the rewards over a long period of time. 

Talk to Other Gun Enthusiasts You Know

Don’t feel comfortable handloading yourself? Well, a great way of getting around doing it yourself is to find someone else who already does it and isn’t afraid to share… For a price. Well, maybe for free if they’re a nice person. 

If you’re a gun enthusiast yourself, chances are you have friends who are as well. Further, chances are at least one of those people has a big stash put away or handloads their own ammo. Ask them how they feel about selling some of the excess ammo they have or giving you some to hold you over with the promise that you’ll replace it when the shortage ends. 

Another method would be to offer to do some odd jobs in exchange for your friends or colleagues excess ammunition. Just remember not to push too hard, as some people become secretive and protective when it comes to their own personal ammo stores. You certainly don’t want to become known for being pushy because then no one will want to help.  

Ask Around at the Gun Range

Now you’ll want to make sure you do this with a little tact. Don’t just walk around bothering everybody at the gun range, or they’ll never help you. Instead, start conversations with people and then casually introduce the idea that you’re looking for a particular type of ammo. 

Finding Ammo at the Gun Range 

Not only is asking around a good idea, but you can also talk to the owner of your particular range and see if they mind you going around and picking up leftover empties and brass lying around.

Many people have discovered this way of recycling. So many to the point where you could potentially risk being thought of as “that guy.”  

While this method may require swallowing your pride for a bit and risk making you look like the cheapest guy in the world, most people will understand if you say you’re doing it because of the shortage.

Also, keep in mind that you can make this process easier by purchasing a metal detector. Just make sure that it’s okay with the range owner or manager so that you don’t walk into a dangerous area or take things you’re not supposed to have. 

Ask Around at Gun Shows

Gun shows themselves aren’t the best place to buy ammo (excluding bulk reloads for practice), but they can serve as a great place to meet new people who share your enthusiasm for guns. 

Just like with the gun range, you don’t want to be that guy or gal who walks up to every random stranger to ask them if they’ve got any ammo to spare or know where to get some. Instead, have genuine conversations with a handful of people and in passing (after you’ve introduced yourself and had some back and forth) tell them exactly what you’re looking for. 

If they have a source they can point out to you, or even they have something they can sell you themselves, then you’ve hit the jackpot. If they seem uninterested, however, just let it pass by. Still keep up with them and maybe mention it again later if you feel like it’s the right thing to do.  

Check the Major Chains Just in Case

We know. We know. This goes against our advice to mainly look at local shops. Still, as a near last resort, you can make calls to each of the biggest sellers on the market near you. This includes places like Bass Pro Shop, Cabelas and even Walmart. Just like with the small shops you may get them on a day where there is a freak shipment. 

It’s also a good idea to ask the clerk or whoever answers the phone what days that they normally get their shipments that way you know when to call. With major chains they should be getting small shipments all throughout the week and larger shipments at least twice a week. It’ll take time but eventually you’ll get a hit. 

Keep in mind however, most major chains will not hold onto something for you to get there when there’s a shortage. That means it’s best just to start by calling those major chains which are close to you.  

When all Else Fails, Wait Out the Shortage for a Temporary Reprieve

Sometimes--especially during a global pandemic--what you want just isn’t possible. If all the methods we mentioned above have failed to produce the specific ammunition you need it might just be time to keep your nose to the grindstone and wait for a temporary abatement of the shortage. 

This could manifest as a small local shop finally getting restocked through a normal shipment or even a garage sale that wasn’t there yesterday popping up. The following tips should help you to keep up with your local market so that you’re aware when more ammunition hits town. 

  • Find out the shipping days of your local gun shops: Most stores get new shipments weekly/bi-weekly. Find a handful of local gun shops you trust and give them a quick ring on those days so you can get the inside scoop on whether or not they’ve finally restocked. This will put you ahead of all the others who got discouraged and gave up. 
  • Regularly drive around your area for garage sales: Garage sales are a fickle beast. They suddenly appear one day and are gone just as quickly the next. Don’t just check for them once but instead take a little drive around your local area every couple of days so that you don’t miss any popping up.
  • Regularly check online vendors: Just like with the stores and garage sales you want to make sure you’re regularly checking your vendors. If the service you’re buying through has an app check and see if they’ll send you notifications. 

At the end of the day, if you want to be at the right place and the right time, you’ve really got to be vigilant. Even during shortages, unexpected shipments sometimes arrive. In the same way a parent might constantly be checking Walmart or Target every day during Christmas time to get their kids the hottest new gift before it sells out again, you need to keep trying till you get it. 

So Really, How Do You Find Ammo During a Shortage?

Just because there is an ammunition shortage doesn’t mean you can’t find the ammunition you need. You just need to know where to look. You have options available to you such as buying online, looking for local sales or handloading your own rounds. You can also take more unconventional routes like checking garage sales and flea markets. 

Remember finding the exact ammo you need is a process and it may take some time. If every option available isn’t yielding results, continue to monitor them each closely. Watch for stores getting new unexpected shipments, online retailers adjusting their stock and new yard sales popping up. With enough persistence you’ll find exactly what you need!