“We Got Caught Off Guard”: Winchester President Discusses Ammo Shortage And What’s To Come
This is part two in a series of interviews with ammunition manufacturing executives. Read my interview with Jason Hornaday here.
More than twice as many Americans have guns and do shooting sports than have golf clubs and putt on a green.
You wouldn’t know that if you are the coastal elite. But the president of Winchester Ammunition, Brett Flaugher, who lives and works in Illinois, says these recreational shooters are driving the historic ammo shortage in America.
“I’ve never taken anyone shooting for the first time who didn’t enjoy it,” Flaugher told me in an interview. “I see it every day out there – the increase in recreational shooting. A lot of people were introduced to shooting sports during the pandemic. It started with wanting to go outside, and now it’s sheer numbers from the positive experience.” Winchester, which is owned by the Olin Corporation, has manufacturing plants in Illinois, Missouri and Mississippi.
Demand for ammunition rose with the pandemic for people who wanted a safe, outdoor activity, but then stayed at record levels. Flaugher said there are a whopping 52 million people in the U.S. who participate in shooting sports. Flaugher said demand for ammo has more than doubled in the past year and a half. In particular, gun club recreational shooting is “off the charts right now.”
For those of you not familiar with ammunition, I learned about it when I visited Winchester in 2012 with other female journalists. This is what in my book, Emily Gets Her Gun (page 67) about the three types of ammo:
Rimfire, the oldest style, has a one-piece casing of metal that goes around the whole shell, encasing the bullet, gunpowder, and primer.
The second style is a shotgun shell—a shell case, which is a complex mix of plastic and metal, plus either a slug or a lot of small pellets.
The third type of ammunition is the modern kind called centerfire. It is the highest-powered and most commonly used for personal defense. The brass or steel casing of the cartridge holds the gunpowder. At the base of the case is the primer that, when struck by the gun’s firing pin, ignites the powder charge. The bullet, the projectile that leaves the gun and hits the target, which is normally made of lead, is surrounded by a jacket of copper or copper plate.
The supply chain
The reason for the ammo shortage is that all the inventory was depleted in the first three months of the pandemic, Flaugher explained. The stock of ammo in the warehouses, wholesalers and retail shelves sold fast. The manufacturers can’t build it back up because people are buying whatever they can find.
“I’m highly disappointed we can’t offer every consumer a good experience in buying ammunition. It’s not fun for us to have a situation where a customer wants to go out and hunt or shoot or buy ammunition for personal protection but can’t. It’s frustrating for us as well,” he said.
“What they need to really understand is that Winchester and every other ammunition manufacturer are doing everything we can to get more to that consumer. Just like they got caught off guard with this level of demand, we got caught off guard too. It just takes a lot of time to be able to get to the level of production based upon the level of demand today. So, hey, we’re frustrated as much as they are. We do not like disappointing our customers.”
Flaugher points to three factors that led to the dramatic increase in those early months that depleted the back stock of ammunition. The first thing that caused the supply chain to dry up was the increased level of concern that people have for their personal security because of the pandemic and civil unrest.
The second factor was the increase in people doing shooting sports, hunting and outdoor activities. The third issue is the public’s heightened concern about new gun-control laws and actions by the Biden administration and a Democratic-controlled Congress that would limit their ability to buy what they want.
The ammo demand matches gun sales. The NSSF adjusted NICS checks show that 21 million firearms were sold in 2020, of which about 9 million were sold to first time gun buyers. “Every time someone buys a gun, what do they buy with it? Ammo,” said Flaugher. “It was all in just a short period of time — that so many new gun owners went into the market.”
Like their competitors, Winchester is trying to do things to increase output. They’ve added equipment to their factories. They have hired and trained hundreds of more people.