A firearm without ammunition is nothing more than a poor bludgeoning tool. As gun owners, we own firearms for different reasons, but instinctively we all know that our guns provide us with some level of self protection, regardless of caliber or type of gun we own. There is no denying that the world is filled with potential threats and things do get hairy from time to time. While every person may worry about preparing for something different, all gun owners can agree that having a good supply of ammunition is essential. If you didn’t realize this before COVID, the recent scarcity of ammunition has certainly shown us all the benefit of having ammunition stockpiled and available when it is needed.
Every gun owner should have a strategy in place for stocking up on certain calibers. Having a plan is one way to make sure you are spending your money in the most effective way. The first part of that plan is prioritizing the calibers you need and the uses of those calibers. An easy way to think of this is to categorize ammo into four main uses: practice, self defense, hunting, and competition. Once you have this information you can start thinking about how much ammo you should have in each category for each caliber.
It may sound like common sense, but it bears repeating: practice makes perfect! While there really is no “perfect” when it comes to shooting, we all know that practicing with your firearm is a requirement for mastery. Think for a minute about the last time you went to the range, maybe you took your primary handgun, say a Glock 19. If you shoot the Honda Civic of guns (cheap, reliable, everyone has one), you’re expending 15 rounds of 9mm ammunition per magazine. Depending on your practice routine, you will probably want to fire at least 10 magazines to make your trip to the range worth it. That’s 150 rounds. Now chances are, you’re also probably taking an AR15 with you (the Ford F-150 of firearms: dependable, do-it-all, common as dirt), so that’s potentially another 100-300 rounds down the pipe of 223 and/or 5.56 ammo - which is more expensive than 9mm.
While 1,000 rounds per caliber seems to be the golden standard, you can see how quickly that runs out if you are shooting frequently enough to maintain your skills. Plus, this is not even accounting for that one guy. You know who we’re talking about, every friend group has one: Mr.-I-forgot-my-ammo-so-can-I-borrow-some-of-yours. So either don’t forget to add a little extra ammunition expenditure on top of what you plan on shooting… or just plan to “accidentally” forget to invite that guy, which is probably a better alternative.
It is no wonder feeding your paper punchers is so expensive! So unless you’ve been watering a money tree in your backyard, you’ll need a plan for when you go to the range so you don’t waste your money putting holes in paper aimlessly (pun intended!).
Honestly, to keep stocked and stay within your budget, every gun owner should have a two tiered ammunition accumulation strategy in place. Tier one involves buying ammo in bulk when you see it cheap and having it on hand for your range days. This should be 1,000 rounds of practice ammo minimum. In addition to this, you should also be signed up with a service like AmmoSquared that lets you put aside a little bit of money every month and accumulate ammo in the background, like an ammo 401k. So it is there to replenish the home based supply as it is used up. It just makes sense to always be stocked up and be automatically replenishing that supply so you’re never without ammo.
Now let’s move on to self-defense ammunition….
Stocking up on self-defense ammunition is a no brainer. Experts suggest you should have a minimum of 200 rounds of self defense ammunition on hand at all times and rotate the ammo in your gun frequently - at least every 3-6 months. Do this more frequently if you are constantly ejecting a round from the chamber and then rechambering it as there is risk of bullet setback and over pressure. If this is you, cycle through the rounds in your magazine so the same round isn’t being rechambered more than once or twice.
Practicing with self-defense ammunition is like eating garlic - a little goes a long way. It is a great way to use up your carry rounds - just shoot them every few months and replenish with fresh rounds. Self-defense loads will recoil differently than your practice ammo, so you’ll need to work them into your training routine once in a while to get the feel for them. For example, follow-up shots will be more difficult with hot self defense loads than with lighter practice loads. This is something you should know and plan for in a real life encounter.
Having an ample supply of self-defense ammunition on hand will ensure that even during times of severe ammo shortages like we saw recently, you’ll have what you need on hand to effectively defend yourself and your loved ones.
People hunt for different reasons: some for tradition and sport, others as a productive way to visit with friends and family, still others to get away from people and be alone. On top of that, there are many different seasons and animals to hunt, each requiring a different load or firearm. Depending on your purpose for stocking up, the amount you’re comfortable having on hand will vary. If you’re concerned about preparing for a scenario where you may need to rely on hunting for your food, you’ll want to have a considerably larger amount on hand than if you just want to make sure you have enough for the next season.
Here’s something worth considering: over the last two years hunting ammunition has been extremely hard to come by. This goes double for unique specialty rounds. While it’s good to be prepared for the next season, keep in mind that over the years, the ammunition supply situation has fluctuated rapidly and that at the end of next season it may be a couple of more seasons before you’re able to replenish your hunting rounds again. So a sensible suggestion is to have at least 3-4 YEARS worth of hunting ammunition on hand to weather any shortage storm that may come your way. Now that may sound like a lot, but given the very small round count each year - it may only add up to 3-4 boxes depending on caliber and how you hunt, or it could be a lot more - it all depends on what, and how, you hunt.
If you do any competition in the shooting sports world, then your ammunition requirements will far exceed any of the above categories! You may go through 1,000 rounds of ammunition in a single training SESSION if you are an active competitor in a high volume sport like IPSC or Sporting Clays. If you are competing in something lower volume but higher precision like PRS, then you need to ensure you have the right ammunition in the right amounts on hand at all times. In both cases that means you are probably reloading your own and stockpiling not only finished ammunition but also the components needed to reload.
The past two years have been equally hard for reloaders because companies that make both the components and the loaded ammunition have diverted resources to loaded ammunition and away from reloading components such as primers, powder, and brass. Unfortunately, there is no hard number or even rule of thumb for how much ammo or components you should be stockpiling. If you are a serious competitor then you probably have some level of ammunition and/or components on hand that is within your comfort level, so take that number and multiply it by two or three as a good base level for what you should have on hand at all times.
The key to all of this is to have a strategy in place for monitoring your ammunition levels and adding more when the level gets lower. You don’t want to have to scrounge during the next ammo shortage. The golden rule of ammunition is: you can never have enough ammunition. So don’t get caught empty handed, because if you need ammo, you probably really NEED it!