Where have all the primers gone? (2020 Edition)

Seriously? Another reloading primer shortage? Unfortunately, YES. In this story I’ll talk about the “Great Reloading Primer Shortage of 2020”, and give you some ideas regarding where to find them.

Let’s Break Down What’s Happened

Well, this is going to be a familiar story for anyone who’s been lamenting the year 2020. Here’s some high-level perspective on the landscape:

  • COVID-19 has disrupted the global economy, people’s day to day lives and freedoms
  • Like a spark in a field of dry grass, the George Floyd situation ignited civil unrest on a “new level”
  • Americans that have typically been “complacent” on gun ownership have gotten motivated- REALLY motivated
  • A run on guns and ammunition followed (on a new level)

In terms of the ammunition and components industry, this has caused a HUGE ramp-up on ammunition production (reminiscent of the toilet paper phenomenon earlier in 2020). And guess what that did for primers- it has “dried up” the reserves and production output in recent months.

Just like how people have become motivated to own a gun, people have also become motivated to get setup to load their own ammunition. And just like in years past (post Sandy Hook tragedy, …) people can’t load the ammunition they need to (and/or want to) because they can’t get the required components. It’s a huge bummer- and there’s no easy answers in the near term.

What To Do

Are you in need of primers that you can’t find? Here are some things you can do.

  1. Start by scouring the online retailers for primers that are in stock or “available for backorder”.
  2. Sign up for inventory notifications (notify when in stock) via email.
  3. Ask friends and family- we are a community, and many in the community will offer help
  4. Visit your back woods store! Some of these “off the beaten path” shops will have more inventory and less demand compared with the larger retailers

At the end of the day- it’s best to take a long-term approach, and to avoid hoarding and panic buying. If you wait until it’s “too late”, you’ll likely have problems.

Do you have tips to share? Please leave a comment!

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20 thoughts on “Where have all the primers gone? (2020 Edition)”

  1. Gavin:

    I normally agree with your thoughts, methods and data gathering and analysis conclusions but I couldn’t disagree with you more about sellers on Gunbroker. The very definition of a market allows sellers to set their price. If someone is willing to pay that price then a deal is completed (a market exists). If not, the seller either lowers the price or doesn’t sell his/her inventory. This is called price discovery. In a free market, price discovery is critical. It is also the natural way to throttle hoarding and other consumer bad behavior in times of crisis or scarcity.

    If you are a retail establishment you should likewise be free to charge what you want. I do agree that in that case, we as consumers should remember that for a long time if extreme price gouging occurs, however, we really don’t want the government or any other entity to set the price or quantity for anything unless you want to see permanent shortages of, well, everything.

    In free America we don’t have to answer questions like: “how many of those do you really need” or “why do you need that” as a few examples.

    I understand the good intent of your message and it is always tempting to get the government or other controlling entity to make sellers do as you would wish by force or penalty but, would you want some external entity setting the price of anything you own, produce or want to sell?

    1. Love it. Real free market Econ 101. If it weren’t for govt Imposed artificial barriers to market entry, we’d already be seeing thousands of garage start-up entrepreneurs trying to figure out how to manufacture and sell primers in their local areas to meet the high demand and cash in on the scarcity driven prices. Eventually, the market would flood with new primer producers until demand was met and both scarcity and price would begin to fall. It’s the only way to effectively restore a healthy market and encourage enough supply availability for all wants. Gavin should read Economics In One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt

    2. Free Markets and the Invisible Hand are not the be-all end-all model. We’ve seen the necessity for government intervention time and again, when a “free market” becomes so skewed in its equilibrium point, that it is no longer ‘free.’ There’s so many factors that go into deciding how ‘free’ a market should be, like the liquidity of money, wages, real property/ goods shortage, international exchange rates, etc etc.

      The most obvious era is the 20s, when there were lines of Ford Model Ts sitting in warehouses, or millions of pounds of produce being burned by farmers while people starved. This was not a real property problem, but a distribution problem, (And all its underlying factors), and could not be solved without government intervention, because quite simply: people are selfish -af, ESPECIALLY in the hyper-individualistic nation of US.

      The concept of ‘freedom’ in general is a tricky one. Your freedom ends when it treads on another’s, and it’s government that arbitrates that.

      Quite simply, all the panic buying of CoVid has done exactly that, FUBARd up the economic flow for everyone.

    3. I agree. Being a scum bag is one of our many freedoms. Taking advantage of desperate people in one’s own country is perfectly legal. If one is smart enough to figure that out, they MIGHT even manage to remain anonymous too. That would be very clever!

  2. From a slightly bored retail store employee who had plenty of time to talk –
    I called the local Bimart because they sell reloading stuff, including primers … normally. They are sold out of all kinds of primers.

    As is Midsouth Shooters, Powder Valley, MidwayUSA, etc. etc.

    The retail store employee says they got some feedback from their distributors. Along the lines of, the US gov. placed an order for 4 billion rounds of ammunition, probably earlier in September.

    I say that because it went from partial shortage to complete shortage.

    Feedback from the primer distributors – the 4 US manufacturers of primers have a daily capacity of 4.6 million. So it will take about 90 days to fill the one big US gov. order.

    IF THAT IS TRUE, the shortage will ease up sometime in December.

    1. IF that is true, why are bullet and powder generally available? Same raw materials, same processes as military stuff.

      Plus, military contracts generally go to one manufacturer for one product. Yet primers are just about nonexistent across the board.

      Believe it or not, I was able to get some large pistol primers from Cabelas. While I was ordering, the last of the large rifle stock was gone. I really need the rifle primers more than the pistol.

  3. I have been able to find a steady supply from reloadingworld.com they have got alot of components that are hard to find elsewhere.

  4. Adam Smith’s theory of Supply and Demand is still relevant today. Its not to say that there are those who are not price gouging but you’re free to to buy until your need is will to pay the price.

  5. We went thru this same scenario in thee late 80’s- early 90’s. It passed. Never was sure the reason. Fast forward to 2020. The likeliest story is all components are being directed to ammo manufacturing since higher margins can be obtained and volume orders rule the direction. This too shall pass, but not until the shelves are full again of ammunition.

  6. As one of those who had the presence of mind to purchase an adequate supply of primers long ago after 911, I too agree with this. Prices are defined by the buyer and I feel no obligation to sell my supply below that which the the market dictates however, there is a bigger problem. The issue I have is the reluctance of common carriers to ship primers at all. There are no shipping companies that will allow transportation unless facilitated through a HASMAT licensed entity. Those who are selling primers through Gun Broker and shipping UPS are in clear violation of their policy as stated below:

    “UPS accepts for transportation such ammunition as constitutes “cartridges, small arms,” as defined in 49 C.F.R. § 173.59. All other allowable ammunition shipments are accepted only on a contractual basis, and must be prepared under the rules for a fully regulated hazardous material”
    Small arms ammunition can be shipped under their guidelines, primers cannot yet there are pages of small pistol primers on GB.com being shipped on common carries every day.

  7. This problem is in the “several months” length of time and there were certainly clear indications earlier. Where are the S&B, Tula, Armscor and Aquilla primers that should have been ordered at the beginning of this shortage? The trade associations saw this coming. The manufacturers saw this coming. The retailers saw this coming. No one ordered a boatload or two or 10 of primers mainly so the profits would go through the roof.

  8. I’m actually grateful for some of the markups. It has allowed me to pay extra to get some of the ammo that would otherwise be impossible for me to get. It seems that people are buying whatever they can get their hands on for a “normal” price. Unfortunately, I can be guilty of this too.

    When the price for selling a box is more valuable to a person than keeping it in their personal stockpile, they’ll sell. I’ve been paying 1.5 to 4 times more for my standard usage ammunition (When I can find it). It sucks, but I’m glad I can get some. It allows me to continue some rationed live fire practice/training. Of course I’d rather have a lower price… but the ammo is still valuable enough to me at some of the higher price points.

    Just to be clear, I have not re-sold or even posted anything at a markup.

  9. Is there a good place to trade, say small rifle primers for small pistol primers or any other reloading components. That would be a great thing.

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