The Great American Sporting Ammunition Crisisby L.P. Brezny
On the day I sat down to write this story CNN had just announced that China was making a bid for a takeover of a major American oil company. While everyone was running around in a fuss about the whole thing, I was somewhat amused by the fact that foreign interests, like China poking their noses into American business, are far from anything new. I have been watching this element of the new so called world trade structure (China) walk away with the world metals market, and as such, gain a solid foot hold on the basic price of steel, tungsten, lead, and many other basic materials required to manufacture the rifle cartridges and shotshells you use in the field.
Even as I bring these words to print I’m sure there are those that will have cause to call me a panic stricken member of the shooting sports press. Be advised, folks, nothing could be further from the truth. Panic is not a part of my vocabulary, but truthful reporting is, and here in lies the reason I’m bringing this subject to the forefront as I’m getting a bit wary of the phone calls and e-mails claiming that ballistic types of gun writers, like myself, have no sense of reality when it comes to the price of a box of shotshells on the sporting goods store shelf.
I will freely admit that for the past 27 years I have evaluated both guns and ammunition as applied to sport hunting, target shooting, and even some military and police applications. In that period of time I have not pressed a great deal of my attention to product pricing because that subject was not relevant in terms of working through the basic evaluation associated with stating the facts as to the operational worth of a new shotshell.
With the recent turn of events regarding the basic price of raw metals that have taken a 17% wholesale jump at the time of this review, and likely to go even higher by year’s end, then adding rumblings within the industry of even higher ammo cost to come, I figured it was about time to take some time and give the reader the straight facts, versus an overview covering another new high priced shotshell.
At this point, I want to share a short lesson in basic economics. This lesson will deal with the cost of a single pound of tungsten, steel, or lead. I realize that these materials are not the sole elements that go into all types of ammunition, but they will serve to make my point. Now, to buy a single pound of tungsten on the open market currently you can expect to pay $20.00. Picking up a box of shotshells made of tungsten and weighing that 10 to 25 round package will quickly illustrate that most of that purchased ammunition has been eaten up in the basic cost of the raw tungsten metal used to manufacture the product.
Lesson learned here? That $20.00 a pound is a fixed, or even higher figure my friends, and you need to know that living with the big number is a new fact of life. The advanced types of shotshell ammunition are not about to become less expensive any time soon, if ever.
After the manufacturer has been skinned alive at the price of $20.00 for raw material, that company is now faced with trying to turn that raw product into a ball of usable shot material that meets all the federal government requirements, shoots well on game, and can be marketed in terms of transport, advertising, and finally retail sales. Up until several years ago, I had no idea of how it all worked in terms of manufacturing and marketing. Today, I build special low sound emission shotgun barrel systems (Metro Gun TM), and after taking on manufacturing, marketing, and retail sales, I’m an overnight expert as to the pitfalls of selling shooting products, being guns or ammo.
Even when turning to simple lead shot loads or bullet cores the basic cost of lead today is at an all time high. You can figure that each pound of finished product will cost the manufacturer a cool .50 cents a pound for the unrefined raw lead. Steel based ammo as in non-toxic shot will run .80 cents a pound up front. All this is assuming the world market remains steady, but who thinks that will occur any time soon?
If this does not give you enough to think about just try to wrap your brain around the idea that the major reason lead mines are doing well is because of the use of lead in storage batteries. We know that scientific work is underway to eliminate lead in storage batteries, and when that day rolls around you will be hard pressed to find any lead being processed for ammunition production. Batteries or shot, the primary user here is obvious, and shot will lose out causing a low volume market commodity that will retain a very high price per pound. This is not the rambling of a out of touch ballistics writer, but rather one who has been taking note of the current market situation and talking with the right kind of sources that are paid to understand such events. Believe me, my friends, the times they are a changing, and darn fast at that.