Buying SHTF Ammo

All of a sudden it seems everyone wants to be in the ammo making business.  This has served in great measure to confuse many in How to buy survival ammothe prepper consumer movement as to what constitutes good quality, reliability, value, or junk in terms of purchasing ammunition for survival prepping use and SHTF endurance.  There are many characteristics and manufacturing standards that set apart the many brands and trademarks of ammunition now available within this vast worldwide marketplace.  American survivalist ammunition buyers may find it increasingly more difficult to sift through all these options to balance shootability with affordability.  In many cases it is a very fine line.

By Dr. John J. Woods, a contributing author to SHTFBlog & Survival Cache

Manufacturing Standards of the Top Makers

Years ago I was honored with being selected as an outdoor writer to attend the annual Sako Moose Hunt in Riihimaki, Finlandbest shtf ammoThis event was sponsored of course by the Sako Corporation makers of some of the finest hunting rifles and ammunition on Planet Earth.  Opening in the early 1930s, Sako first began making ammunition then later firearms for the civilian, military, and law enforcement markets.  Sako is now basically owned by a partnership with Beretta, another historically high quality arms maker in Italy.

As part of the moose hunt we toured their gunmaking and ammunition factory in Finland.  One might have thought you were entering a pharmaceutical factory and not a metallurgical environment turning out precision barrels, actions, and some of the finest walnuts to be acquired for rifle stocks.  It was the same on the ammunition side of the plant.  Shop floor workers were wearing either white lab coats or blue jumpsuits to maintain a “clean” environment.  The floors in the machining area were spotless as were the CNC manufacturing centers.  It was an amazing thing to see such a quality controlled manufacturing facility.  This level of quality has been maintained since the factory opened.

Also Read: Best Survival Carbine Ammo

I present all this background information to make a point about their ammunition.  While touring the ammunition manufacturingBest Survival Ammo floor, one of the engineers showed me a barrel nearly full of rejected 30-06 ammunition, fully loaded, but with flaws.  He asked me to inspect the cartridges to see if I could spot any of the defects.  I could not.  The engineer then pointed out some of the miniscule marks, scratches, and slightly dented bullet tips on the ammunition from the reject barrel.  He asked me, “What do you think we do with this rejected ammunition?”  I figured they recycled it.  His reply with a big smile was, “We kill moose with it.”  Turns out this rejected ammo could be used by the factory workers for hunting.

Even their reject ammo was plainly good enough for reliable use for hunting by their employees.  Imagine the “quality” of their first rate ammunition that was packaged for retail or commercial sale?  So what is my point here?  If you stick with a well named, well established company with a long running history of producing top quality ammo, then you are not going to have any issues with it.  Sure, there are recalls occasionally on practically any product made, but it is pretty rare with good quality ammunition.  As per usual, remember you get what you pay for even when it comes to ammunition.

Top Brands, Top Quality, Top Prices

As a kid, I grew up hunting with old ammunition brands from companies like Western, Olin, Remington Green, Peters, Western-Best Ammo For SurvivalWinchester, Super-X, Monark, and others.  I sure wish I had all those old ammo boxes back in a collection.  Even in the 50’s that ammo worked, and fired every time.  I don’t ever recall a misfire, except when we allowed some of the old paper hull shotshells to get wet and swollen.  Most of them fired, too.  I never had a brass loaded cartridge fail.  Today, if you buy Remington, Winchester, Federal, or Hornady ammo, the Big Four makers of modern ammunition, you are going to get well made, precision crafted, high quality ammunition for everyday use.  Ammo from these makers will be extremely reliable and highly suitable for survival prep use and SHTF scenarios.

Also Read: Understanding Shotgun Loads

The thing is though you have to expect to pay more for these brands.  Sometimes the prices of these ammo brands exceed their practical value.  Only you can decide if the extra expense is worth a higher level of reliability, consistency, accuracy, and function.  As you know buying anything these days that is well promoted in the marketplace like a Mercedes, or a Keurig coffee machine, you are paying in part for the big advertising campaign.  A good Chevrolet or Ford automobile or Mr. Coffee maker would do just as well to deliver the same end product at much less expense.  Get my point?

Second Shelf Ammunition

There are several other lesser noted brands of ammunition that will perform just as well as the top maker products.  From my survivalist ammoexperience these include such brands as PMC, UMC (Made by Remington), American Eagle, Speer, CCI, Blazer, PNW Arms, Cor-Bon, MagTech, and DRT.  Some of these brands may be hard to find on retail dealers’ shelves or perhaps in limited quantities.  Preppers may have to search for these additional ammo choices on line or in catalog sources like Sportsman’s Guide or Cheaper Than Dirt or other internet resources.  Be prepared to shop around to find these brands and shop for price, too.  It is debatable why some of these brands have not reached the pinnacle level of some of the top brands, but I suspect it is because of the maker’s unwillingness to spend big dollars to market them.  Their quality seems good, but watch the price points.

Really Cheap is Really Cheap

Well within the last decade or so the ammunition market has become flooded with all kinds of virtually unknown or untested How to Buy Survival Ammoammo.  Some of it may be perfectly fine, but I tend to stay away from it.  Much of it is made in foreign countries especially Russia under suspect quality standards despite what the catalog or internet descriptions might say.  Though this ammo may come from old established factories, this neither guarantees quality, reliability nor accuracy.

Also Read: Bug Out Ammo

In the case of much of this ammo, it may be suitable for practice shooting or as a backup to prime ammo choices.  Many of these brands come from the same factories but are often marketed under several different names further confusing the trust factor.  I advise generally to watch for ammo that uses steel cases that are reported to be sprayed with a lacquer or polymer coating to ease the cartridge case fitting into a firearm chamber.  Steel cased ammo is not good for most firearm chambers especially rifles such as the AR-15.  Those chambers are meant for brass not steel.  Brass cases seal to the chamber and release upon firing and extraction.  Steel cases do not always do this and have been known for failures to extract leaving the headless case stuck in the chamber.

Now if you have an old raggedy-butt AK-47 that may have a chrome lined chamber (or may not) then this lacquered steel ammo might work fairly well if the chamber has not been eroded out already by corrosive ammo used in the past.  Just be mindful of that.  If you rely on super cheap ammo, anticipate possible problems.

Inspection Points

When buying SHTF ammo here are some guidelines to follow.  Check the packaging for well made, sturdy, good printed, heavy stock paper board.  This implies the maker cares enough to package their products well.  I favor ammo that comes out of the packaging box with each cartridge inserted in a divided card honeycomb or a plastic one.  This protects the ammo during shipping and storage.  This isn’t mandatory, but just a plus.  When you inspect the ammo look for sharp pointed bullet tips, no smashed or bent over tips.  The brass should look new, fresh and bright.  Discolored, scarred, scratched, or dented brass may mean suspect quality.  The primers should be sealed.  Check to make sure the ammo does not use corrosive primers or Berdan primers, which means it cannot be easily reloaded if you choose to.  Look for boxer-primed cases, and non-corrosive powders especially with foreign made ammo.

Buy In Bulk

Here is one final tip about buying SHTF ammo.  Try to buy in quantity.  If you are buying common cartridges that you shoot a lot SHTF Ammoor want to keep in storage for a bad, rainy SHTF type day like the .223/5.56, 9mm, or .45 ACP, then shop around for 1000 round case prices.  As a rule of thumb for desirable ammo, shop for these prices.  For .223/5.56 use the benchmark of 33.5 cents per round.  Any good brand of ammo case priced at $350 or less for 1000 rounds is a fair price these days.  Try to buy 9mm for 26 cents a round or around $65 for 250 rounds.  The .45 ACP should be bought for about 40 cents a round.  These are basic factory loads with standard “ball” bullets and bullet weights.  If you are buying special hunting ammunition or some of the new self-defense ammo, then expect to pay much more.  Again the trick is to shop around.  By all means don’t be pressured to buy when the political or economic mood sends ammo prices spiraling out of control such as a pre or post presidential election.  Always gauge your needs with your budget.  Buy the best ammo you can afford for front line use.

Photos By:
Mr. Smashy
John J. Woods

37 comments… add one
  • Doc Montana August 19, 2015, 11:52 am

    Great read Dr. J.

    I think the popular acceptance of low quality ammo has its roots in the salesmen behind the counter. When there was a shortage of the good stuff a year or two ago, every Tom, Dick and Igor making ammo found a hungry market in the U.S. And if that’s all that a store can find to sell, then it must be good stuff. Right? Has to be if they want to make the sale.

    So while reality was on a holiday, many shooters early in their semiauto careers learned to accept that routine misfires filthy actions are facts of life. Personally I thought dirty ammo was for civil wars and hot desert dust ups. Hmmm. Wait a minute. Maybe there’s something to this after all….

  • Zombiefodder August 19, 2015, 12:53 pm

    Federal XM193 uses annealed cases, so the brass does not look shiny or new.

    • Tim October 22, 2015, 2:21 pm

      Once in US history an episode of Islamic terrorism was very quickly stopped. It happened in the Philippines about 1911, when Gen. John J. Pershing was in command of the garrison. There had been numerous Islamic terrorist attacks, so “Black Jack” told his boys to catch the perps and teach them a lesson.

      Forced to dig their own graves, the terrorists were all tied to posts, execution style. The US soldiers then brought in pigs and slaughtered them, rubbing their bullets in the blood and fat. Thus, the terrorists were terrorized; they saw that they would be contaminated with hogs’ blood. This would mean that they could not enter Heaven, even if they died as terrorist martyrs.

      All but one was shot, their bodies dumped into the grave, and the hog guts dumped atop the bodies. The lone survivor was allowed to escape back to the terrorist camp and tell his brethren what happened to the others. This brought a stop to terrorism in the Philippines for the next 50 years.

      Pointing a gun into the face of Islamic terrorists won’t make them flinch. They welcome the chance to die for Allah. Like Gen. Pershing, we must show them that they won’t get to Muslim heaven (which they believe has an endless supply of virgins) but instead will die with the hated pigs of the devil.

      • Dave from San Antonio November 1, 2015, 1:37 am

        ABSOLUTELY. We must make them fear us more than we fear them. “ol Black Jack had the idea…although, I’ve heard this story is more like an “urban legend”, but most ‘legends’ have a root in fact somewhere along the way.

      • Omar April 25, 2017, 12:42 pm

        Actually that’s a myth.1) Muslim heaven isn’t filled with virgins if you die a martyr you get virgins but there’s a specific place where martyrs are in heaven.2) pigs are not the devil. If you smear pigs blood on a bullet and shoot us muslims we will still go to heaven. We can’t eat pig there’s nothing more to that law. 3) the muslims in the Philippines were not terrorists the US was. We invaded the Philippines the muslims we in the Philippines before Christianity by 200 years. The christians started persecuting people who didn’t convert and the muslims were freedom fighters who defended their faith and religion. As usual muslims defending themselves from barbaric ignorant christians are terrirists even if they are not. But this post was about ammo thanks for the mythology. Just remember you ancestors were under the rule of mine for over 600 years.

  • BamaMan August 19, 2015, 3:00 pm

    Low quality is ok when there is a high demand. Supply and demand economics.

  • Hill Steppa August 20, 2015, 12:56 am

    Old raggedy AK? You must be another AR fan boy. I have several Saiga rifles in various caliburs that I converted back to original AK configuration and every single one of them has had thousands of rounds steel ammo from the various over-seas manufacturers and I’ve never had a FTF or a FTE. The ammo is plenty accurate as well. If you have an AK variant of any type (whether it be old and raggedy or new and modernized) do not hesitate to stock up on Wolf, Tula, Silver Bear, etc as your rifle was made for this ammo and vice versa.

    • Jack September 26, 2015, 3:28 pm

      First, learn to spell “caliber”… and “overseas” is not a hyphenated word.
      Second, WOLF is not accurate… ever. I’ve shot way too much of it to believe otherwise. TULA is absolute garbage, and the “Bear” lines (Silver, Brown, etc) are better than the steel-cased norm.

      I do, however, agree with you that AK’s of all types will feed steel cased ammo just fine because they were made for it and are loose and violent enough to process it without issue. Same with SKS’s, et al.

      In short, feed the rifle the stuff it was made to eat. You can never go wrong with better ammo, but there are risks with cheaper ammo. Go cheap for practice, go good for zeroing and defense loading.

      It’s not complicated. Let’s not make it so.

      • vocalpatriot April 8, 2016, 7:03 pm

        Jack…love when my wife corrects my grammar or spelling….but you’re better…oy.

  • Hill Steppa August 20, 2015, 12:58 am

    Old raggedy butt AK? You must be another AR fan boy. I have several Saiga rifles in various caliburs that I converted back to original AK configuration and every single one of them has had thousands of rounds steel ammo from the various over-seas manufacturers and I’ve never had a FTF or a FTE. The ammo is plenty accurate as well. If you have an AK variant of any type (whether it be old and raggedy or new and modernized) do not hesitate to stock up on Wolf, Tula, Silver Bear, etc as your rifle was made for this ammo and vice versa.

    • Codpiece August 20, 2015, 11:30 am

      1000s of rounds of overseas ammo and not one FTF or FTE?

      That is really cool. If it were true.

      • Hill Steppa August 20, 2015, 11:58 am

        100% true, Ive never had a single issue with Tula, Wolf, Herters, Barnaul, Silver Bear or Colt and I’ve fired literally thousands of rounds of x39, .308, .223 and .45. You shouldnt call some one a liar when you have no idea what youre talking about.

        • Codpiece August 20, 2015, 2:17 pm

          Well, then I guess it’s true. So cool.

          I hope to have that luck someday. I guess my raggedy butt AK needs a new firing pin.

      • Paul Patriot December 25, 2015, 1:44 pm

        He is speaking truth. I can say the same about Saigas, will eat, without fail anything fed into it. 15,000 + rounds, not one single problem.

    • joe August 20, 2015, 12:35 pm

      I’ve had Russian ammo misfire in an AK or SKS. I have had plenty of misfires in 9mm with PMC and Blazer brands.

      • joe August 20, 2015, 12:38 pm

        CORRECTION: I’ve not had Russian ammo misfire. The only problems that I can come up with them is that they are Russian made and steel cased.

  • Hill Steppa August 20, 2015, 1:00 am

    Sorry for the double post.

  • Charles August 20, 2015, 9:00 am

    Reload, reload, reload.

  • steve August 20, 2015, 9:22 am

    One good choice for ammo is the lake city factory seconds made by Remington for the military, these 556 rounds have primer and bullet sealant, which will help to keep moisture from getting into the powder making them a good bug out round. I have shot thousands of these rounds with no issues.

  • Texas Radical August 20, 2015, 12:28 pm

    Shoot what works for you – wherever it comes from. I’ve had no FTFs with PPU, Wolf, or Silver Bear. Nor have I had any with my reloads, or good quality factory ammo. I have had a few with Spam Can ammo though. In a real SHTF, use what you can find. Most of us won’t have the luxury of being picky if events lasts any time at all.

  • Hunkerdown August 20, 2015, 10:07 pm

    This article is like all other concerning ammo and guns: Very confusing! In fact, so much so, that I became overloaded with data, which is easy for me to do, early on in my prepper life and was forced through ignorance and inexperience back to the basics and have not strayed: 12ga. with copious amount of buckshot; 22lr. again with lots of ammo, and my .45 pistol. I’m just not smart enough, or well versed in all things guns and ammo to figure out the advanced stuff. So, as stated before, I just stick with the basics. I did purchase a .270 rifle for the long range theater, which I readily admit is limited by me, not the rifle. And in closing, brings us to this bridge of thought: Why own a weapon of any make, model, range, or caliber that you do no have the the knowledge to operate at optimum, nor can afford the thousands of dollars in ammunition and range cost it would take to achieve that level of competence? I spent my military service in tanks and armored personnel carriers which have large caliber weapons. I’m dumb when it comes to small caliber weapons. People, such as myself, should heed this advice. It will save you a lot of money, frustration, embarrassment, and maybe your life. So here it is: “Gun Dumb” people, should use “Dumb Guns”. Example given; the basics. It’s a smart move. thanks

    • Jack September 26, 2015, 3:33 pm

      Pretty good advice, actually. I see only one gap in your arsenal… a medium-range, common-caliber rifle or carbine. I would say get either a good AK-47 made by a reputable company/builder, or a good AR-15. Advantage AK = penetration power on light to moderate barriers, but accuracy is lacking beyond 200 yards. Advantage AR = lighter and more accurate, but lacking penetration power on moderate barriers. If you want “dumb and reliable”, go AK-47 or AK-74. And I say that even though I personally prefer AR-15’s (from my Army Infantry time).

      God bless.

  • Mitch August 20, 2015, 10:08 pm

    I shoot 8mm Mauser and ammo for that is particularly pricey. Prices here in Australia are generally much higher than the US for firearms, ammo and accessories.
    I can get Federal for $47.50 a box, not locally though so 2 hours travel time and petrol is required, or if I go on a huge road trip to Sydney I can get Ukrainian made crap (Highland AX) for $25 a box.

    The Highland has a spread of over 24 inches, Federal goes to where the barrel is being pointed.
    Best advice to anyone who shoots an uncommon caliber (anything but: 9mm, .223/5.56, 7.62s of all variants and 5.45) is buy a reloading kit, learn how to use it.

    On that note, I’ve got a fair bit of 1950s military 8mm ammo on hand too, it kicks like an ass, and yes it’s got corrosive primers but it costs less than 60c a round.

    • irishdutchuncle August 23, 2015, 11:49 pm

      some of the Mausers had tighter barrels than others.
      knowing your own rifle is a good thing, you could work up a reload that works best for yours…
      I don’t shoot mine often enough, to bother. my alternative would probably have been the .303 Enfield. my neighbor had one, when he first got me interested in firearms. either is more than enough gun for the wilds of Pennsylvania.
      if SHTF, I would have to rely on battlefield pickups, I’m too far behind in my other preps to worry about a proper battle rifle now.

      • irishdutchuncle August 24, 2015, 12:17 am

        … of course, if Ruger is listening, it would be great if they made a stainless mini-30, that took AK mags.
        and it would also be great if they made a ranch rifle that took USGI M-16 magazines.

        does Mag Pull make a mini-14 magazine?

        • Mitch August 24, 2015, 7:03 am

          Here in Australia with our firearm laws, bolt actions are the most common type of rifle. Frankly, I wouldn’t use an AR or AK even if they were available, 30-06 and 8mm Mauser are devastating on impact by design, and even as such.
          If I had $140 spare I’d buy a 20 round magazine for Mausers from over there in Maine.

          However, if the shtf, my objective is not to engage on every given chance; that’d just lead to me getting killed, but to evade. Any exchange of fire would only be brief with the objectives of: maximum output in minimal time as well as making the agressors believe they’ve encountered a much larger group

          • jack September 26, 2015, 3:38 pm

            …ergo, the semi-auto rifle.
            Here in the USA we’re more likely to come across large groups of marauders (LA riots, Ferguson, etc) than others trying to just get to the next food/water resource. Each person and weapon per his own environment, I say. There in Australia, your 8mm is probably ideal for power, range, and hunting…absolutely roll with that. Here in America, at least where I am, I’ll need a good, accurate, decently-powerful semi-auto rifle to fend off the mobs or I’ll be swiftly eaten.

            To each his own.

            God bless.

        • Anonymous September 24, 2015, 11:25 pm

          No, MagPul does not make Mini 14 mags. I asked them about a year ago and they said they were not interested in doing so.

  • mike August 22, 2015, 3:31 am

    Guns are like women. What one likes the other hates.

  • David Hotaling August 22, 2015, 4:23 am

    I used to shoot in competition and once you shoot enough rounds you realize factory ammo sucks for the most part.I have at problems with Winchester, Federal, Remington, CCI just to name a fw and these are centerfires don’t even get me started on rimfires I got into reloading to save money but i will say the ammo i make is more reliable then anything i have ever bought.

    • Jon August 22, 2015, 2:27 pm

      Most serious competition shooter tend to down load the power to the point is just cycle that gun being used in competition to reduce recoil. Not sure if your one of those comp shooters that does that! If so, I could see you not liking factory load, because they would be hot loads compared to a comp load!!!

  • redzonehunter August 25, 2015, 10:47 pm

    i to have very little problems with cheap ammo other than those tempermental ar’s they do need high quality brass .

  • Anonymous September 7, 2015, 8:55 pm

    American eagle is made by Federal, it’s cheap, never had any failures with .45acp. If your shopping online for ammo use, it shows realtime prices and availability from a variety of suppliers

  • LamarPye September 7, 2015, 9:07 pm

    From personal experience with various .308/7.62 x 51 firearms, wolf, Tula and silver bear are fun to shoot because of the cheap cost, but are extremely unreliable in this caliber, I would not trust my life with them.

  • Jake October 13, 2015, 10:37 pm

    The premium “law enforcement only” ammo is either in short supply or expensive, and doesn’t give me a lot of confidence in the long term. Also, governments are taxing bullets, or restricting the type of bullets. What I want to do is manufacture my own “premium” ammo that can meet the minimum FBI standards. How hard is that?

  • Juan Manos November 5, 2015, 8:19 pm

    In my opinion, the brand of ammo isn’t as important as the price. The lower the price, the better. All ammo ( and I mean ALL) is produced in factories that are designed to produce a product, without blowing the employees to smithereens. I’ve read comments that the Russian ammo is sub-standard. Most of Russian stuff is produced at the Tula Arms factory, which also made ammunition for the Red Army. For those who may have forgotten, it was the Red Army (along with the US Army) who chased the Nazis back across Russia, and fought in Berlin, street by street, until the Reichstag was a smoking ruin. That was “inferior” ammo.

    In a STHF scenario, I think knowing how to use a weapon, and having as much as you can, is the wisest plan. I’ve spent lots of money in the past on pricey ammo that never made my groups tighter. Only practice did that.

    • LamarPye November 6, 2015, 8:15 am

      Knowing how to use your weapon is most important, but this article is about buying shtf ammo. If you have to use your weapon in shtf scenario its most likely because of a threat. If you have a ftf/fte in that situation you could be killed. That Russian cossack garbage sucks out of a .308/7.62. There is a reason why it is cheap, substandard production and materials. The tula arms factory may have produced the ammo in WW2 but Stalin’s push of the Germans on the front was achieved by armor and the use of an overwhelming number of poorly trained conscripts threatened with death if they did not fight, millions died (maybe 10’s of millions,there are no known number of Russian causualties). Some were pushed into battle without weapons. With that said, Russian ammo sucks and so do they. But, to each his own, comrad.


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