Vista Outdoors, the parent company of ammunition brands Federal, CCI, Blazer, and Speer (among others), announced during an earnings call last week a yearlong backlog of ammunition orders worth $1 billion.
“We currently have over a year’s worth of orders for ammunition in excess of $1 billion,” CEO Chis Metz said during the Nov. 5 call, calling the backlog “unprecedented.”
“With demand far outstripping supply and inventory levels in the channel at all-time lows, we see strong demand continuing, and this metric informs our viewpoint of what a recovery or normalization could look like,” he continued.
He added that he was providing the additional context “to convey an underlying strength and strong foundational element to our business.”
All ammunition manufacturers are feeling the squeeze of a massive spike in demand driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, social unrest, and the presidential election.
Arizona-based Ammo Incorporated reported in October that the relatively small company is facing an $80 million backlog despite operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Company CEO Fred Wagenhals named COVID, the election, and unrest as the drivers of the spike in demand in an interview with AZFamily.com.
“The start was the pandemic that was going on. But there was always that fear of the election. Of who’s going to be elected of the next President of the United States,” Wagenhals explained. “But thirdly, I think the unrest in this country right now. And as you’ve seen in a lot of cities, the looting and the burning, and I think people are just scared.”
The ammunition shortage is driven in part by the tendency of gun owners to stockpile ammunition in uncertain times but also by the millions of new gun owners who purchased a firearm for the first time this year.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates that over 17 million firearms have been purchased this year alone, shattering last year’s mark of 13.2 million guns sold. Of those 17 million, about 7 million were purchased by first-time gun owners.
It’s unclear how long the shortage will last. Presumably, manufacturers like Vista will increase capacity to meet demand and dig themselves out of their order backlog.
But ammo companies are also wary of getting burned again like they were in 2016. That year, companies ramped up capacity in expectation that Hillary Clinton would be elected, and demand would continue to grow. Instead, President Trump won, and manufacturers were left with stockpiles of ammunition and no one to sell it to.
It remains to be seen whether Joe Biden’s impending victory will encourage ammo companies to ramp up production and get ammunition back on the shelves. That Metz sees “strong demand continuing” is a good sign, but it’s anyone’s guess how long it will take to get back to anything resembling normal.