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Two years ago I investigated ammunition shortages in the U.S. At the time many stores and gun ranges were rationing everything from .22 LR to 9mm to .223 Rem. ammunition. The shortage became so severe that rumors spread over Internet that the federal government was buying up ammo to purposely cause the shortages. There was so much paranoia that many ammo makers felt compelled to look into it and then publish explanations. Also, the National Rifle Association (NRA) investigated and the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the trade association for gun, ammo, and related businesses, looked into the reasons for the shortages. They all came to the conclusion that consumer demand—fueled by record high gun sales—was behind the shortages.
Since then, this strong demand has been fueling a transformation of the ammunition industry—and much of this manufacturing growth is taking place in America.
Last week, for example,Advanced Munitions International (AMI) announced it will build a new ammo-making plant in Maryville, Tenn., that will employee about 600 people. This is a $553 million development project that is expected to be completed in late 2018.
Tennessee’s Governor Bill Haslam said, “This is an industry leader creating jobs that require a highly skilled workforce and it’s the kind of company that makes it obvious we're moving toward a simple goal for Tennessee: becoming the number-one location in the Southeast for high-quality jobs.”
These shotgun shells are made by some of Federal Premium's 1,400 employees in Anoka, Minnesota. Federal is one of the American ammunition makers that responded to the ammunition shortage.
There is actually so much growth in the ammo industry right now that Jim Shepherd, editor and publisher of the Shooting Wire, wrote, “In the past few days, we’ve seen the announcement of a massive ammunition project in Tennessee, and the industry's been titillated by Hornady's ‘hint’ that they’re about to announce something really significant. And those are on top of the announcements that Browning is going to be offering a full ammo line, Ruger’s now offering a technologically advanced line of ammo in the common personal-defense calibers, and Sig Sauer’s now shipping their expanding lines of ammo.”
During the height of the ammo shortage Remington committed to spending $32 million to expand its Remington Ammunition Plant in Lonoke, Arkansas.
Other big ammunition makers also responded. Earlier this month I toured Federal Premium’s ammo-making plant in Anoka, Minnesota. It is part of the world’s leading ammunition manufacturer, Vista Outdoor, which is traded as “VSTO” on the New York Stock Exchange. Federal Premium has about 1,400 employees working three shifts at its Minnesota facility. They make ammo 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The machines never stop humming.
I hadn’t been to Federal’s plant in more than a decade. The changes were everywhere. When I visited in 2003 they had about half as many employees. They’ve since expanded into new buildings, fit new CNC machines in wherever they had space, and increased their output in popular and more obscure calibers.
These are some of Federal Premium's rifle cartridges, which are manufactured in Anoka, Minnesota.
But ammunition isn’t just about volume. It’s also about quality and customization as they serve educated consumers. I saw “Premium in Progress” signs on various workstations as employees manufactured and loaded ammunition designed to increase performance for customers who demand the most accurate or best-performing bullets for hunting, self-defense, or target shooting. I saw plastic being stretched and cut into shotgun shell hulls and all the other steps to making ammunition for pistols, rifles, and shotguns.
On one end of the plant I saw raw materials, delivered by train, being melted and cut into casings, pellets, bullets, and more, and then we followed the ammo up the manufacturing lines to where they were spit out as complete shells and cartridges. This is heavy manufacturing and it is taking place in America where Federal began in 1922.
With gun sales still breaking records, ammunition at this time is a growth industry and it’s happening right here in America. That’s not a story many know about.