Today’s combination of limited ammunition availability and high prices have many people wondering, How can I buy ammo cheap and stack it deep? Is it even possible?
It is, through patience and consistency.
The ammunition market is similar to the gun market – subject to highs and lows. We’ve seen this play out many times, often associated with a change in the election cycle or some unfortunate tragedy spurring concerns over gun restrictions. There’s a mad rush for firearms and ammo. Everyone rushes to make a purchase, inventory dries up, and prices climb. Eventually things calm down, ammo becomes available again, and we begin the cycle again.
It’s a boom (no pun intended) and bust cycle, and it can be frustrating when all you want is a reliable supply for range use. Unless you have a healthy supply that you can dip into during a boom period, your only choices are buying small boxes of high-end ammo, paying high prices for bulk ammo, or going without.
The only way to break this cycle is treat buying ammo like long-term food storage: look for deals during times of plenty and stock up to get you through the lean times. In other words, buy it cheap and stack it deep!
5 Tips on How to Buy Ammo Cheap
Unfortunately, the days of buying ammo “cheap” are long gone. Even in times of plenty it still feels pricey. Hobby shooting has become a rather expensive hobby. There are ways to stretch your dollar, however.
#1 – Stock Up in Times of Plenty
We don’t know when “times of plenty” will return, but they will return. When that happens, it’s time to stock up and build your reserves. This strategy will help alleviate the frustration of trying to find ammo in stock when everyone else is doing the same.
#2 – Stock Up and Sit On It
Back to the long-term food analogy, if you buy a pile of food with a 30-year shelf life, it will likely be more expensive ten years from now. It’s basic inflation. Of course, our income “should” rise with prices over time, but that isn’t always the case. It depends on the source of income and the products in question.
Take, as an example, this can of 420 rounds of Federal M855 that I bought in May 2012. This was fresh off a period of limited availability. The store had a pallet’s worth of these and it seemed every shopper had one (or more) in hand. I bought the can for $189.99, marked it with a purchase date, and I stacked it deep.
Now, if I go to an inflation calculator and enter today’s date, the cost (in today’s dollars) would be $215.47. In other words, if I could find 420 rounds of Federal XM855 today for $215.47, it would cost the same as it did in 2012 at $189.99 in “real” (inflation adjusted) dollars.
Looking today at this same ammo at Palmetto State Armory, the last time this was in stock it was selling at $0.60 per round, or $252.00 for 420. That’s the last time it was in stock, however. Less reputable ammo sellers have marked this same product up to $329.00 – and it’s still out of stock!
The takeaway here is that – generally – buying and holding ammunition will get you ahead of inflation. You “save” through buying and holding over a long period of time.
#3 – Buy in Bulk
If you buy ammo in bulk, it will cost less on a per-bullet basis. The “per-bullet cost” is the measure you want to use when buying ammo cheap to build an inventory. Buying 50 boxes of 20 rounds per box is going to cost significantly more than one box of 1000 rounds.
#4 – Be Careful About Quality
You might be tempted to stretch your dollar by skimping on ammo quality; buying steel-cased cartridges, as an example. You can do that, just do it for the right reason.
In other words, stock lower quality ammo because you want that ammo, because it makes sense for how you’ll be using it. Do not buy cheap ammo to buy ammo cheap. Buy it because it fits the intended use.
#5 – Buy Ammo Online
Generally speaking, there are 3 places to buy ammo:
- Gun shows
- Local gun stores
- Online retailers
Like most of you, I’ve bought ammo at all three. I have not found gun shows to have the best availability (or pricing), but that’s just my experience. I always prefer to support local gun stores whenever possible, but that can be challenging. Checking ammo availability and pricing at local stores involves phone calls or visiting them directly.
I don’t have the time for that. So, like many of today’s shoppers, I’m guilty of moving more of my money to online shopping. The ease of online shopping, price comparison, and convenience is just difficult to overcome.
Shopping for Ammo Online
I monitor online ammo prices and update the Bulk Ammo Deals page weekly. I see how different retailers price their ammo over time. These sellers break down into two categories: larger and smaller businesses. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Larger retailers sell out faster but have more reasonable prices; smaller retailers have more in stock but charge more.
So, if you need to buy ammo regardless of the cost, search smaller sites like Bulk Munitions, Gorilla Ammo, Lucky Gunner, and Natchez. But for “buy it cheap” purposes, we want larger retailers. They have better economies of scale so they can buy ammo cheaper at wholesale and set their price and leave it.
Larger online ammo retailers I like include:
- Guns.com – The site is dedicated more toward selling firearms than ammo, but when they do have ammo in stock, the pricing is usually within the range one should expect to see.
- Optics Planet – Optics Planet has earned my respect. They are one of the very few online ammo sellers who keep prices the same, but also allow customers to place backorders. This is key for the patient, consistent approach to buy ammo cheap and stack it deep. You place your backorder at a “normal” price, and just wait for their inventory to replenish. When it does, your order gets fulfilled in the order in which it came.
- Palmetto State Armory – I like PSA a lot for AR-15 parts, but they also sell ammo and offer bulk ammo deals. Their deals page can be a good place to stock up – when in stock.
- Sportsman’s Guide – Most outdoor enthusiasts know this company. They are great for hunting and shooting supplies. Ammo is no exception – when in stock. Their Buyer’s Club and the Rakuten extension can increase savings at this site.
Once you have placed an ammo order, and then another, and then another, you may face a new challenge – How do I organize and store all of this ammo?
How to Stack Ammo Deep
It’s not uncommon for me to have ammo coming at me from different directions. I have received ammo to review, I’ve had stacks of ammo of questionable age given to me, I receive it as holiday gifts, and I buy it. These random sources can leave me with a strange mix of various ammo boxes that piled together look something like this:
There are advantages to buying the same type of ammo – consistently. First, different types of ammunition perform differently, regardless of the caliber. So, buying the same ammunition consistently will give you consistency in performance. Second, it makes the “stack it deep” principle much easier if you have similar-sized ammunition in similar-sized containers.
Your ammo is going to come in some type of container. That’s usually a paper or cardboard box, not something designed for stacking. You need purpose-built ammunition containers for this, which come at an additional cost on top of the ammo itself.
Random, odd-sized ammo holders/containers will work for smaller quantities or specific purposes (usually in the field or on the range), but they are less than ideal for stocking serious quantities.
Steel Olive Drab Ammo Cans
These are the military surplus cans most people are familiar with, most people use, and that I prefer. They are strong, battle-tested (literally), plentiful, reasonably priced, and best of all – stackable.
These cans are most often purchased in a used condition. They can be found new, but I don’t find the higher prices for new condition to be worth it.
They have a rubber gasket around the inside of the lid that keeps them air and water tight. Seams are welded. Used cans may have spots of rust, but it usually doesn’t impact function. If it bothers you, just scrape it clean and repaint it.
Military surplus cans can be found in a variety of shapes and sizes, but the 4 most common are:
- 30 caliber
- 50 caliber
Put another way: small, regular, large, and huge.
The picture of the 50 caliber can on the left shows an indent on the bottom, which allows the carry handle of the can below it to fit neatly inside so they sit flush on top of each other.
The picture of the 40mm can on the right shows the corner brackets that sit on top of the lid, designed to seat the base of the can sitting on top of it.
Small .30 Caliber Ammo Cans
The .30 caliber can at its widest (lid) measures 3.5″ wide x 7″ tall x 10.5″ deep (there are actually two sizes of .30 caliber cans with slightly different measurements). They weigh less and take up less space than their bigger siblings. Their size also makes them worthwhile as general utility boxes. Expect to pay around $10 for one of these.
These cans have hinged lids that can be removed entirely. They are narrow, so even though they can be stacked one on top of the other, you can only go so high before the tower becomes unstable.
The can pictured above came with the 420 rounds of 5.56 stored inside. It has not been opened since it left the assembly line. I bought it and stored it.
In the picture below you can see that the .30 cal can will hold 300 rounds of M118 7.62. Packed with an overkill of oxygen absorbers (see this guide to know how many to use), it is ready to be sealed and labeled for long-term storage.
|.30 Ammo Can||Retailers|
Regular .50 Caliber Ammo Cans
I call this can “regular” because it is the most common. The .50 caliber ammo can at its widest (lid) measures 6″ wide x 7″ tall x 11.5″ deep. Many people know it as the M2A1 can that came about in the 1950s, designed to hold 100 rounds of .50 caliber ammo. It is wider than the .30 caliber can making it better for storage and more stable for stacking. These will cost you around $25 each.
|.50 Ammo Can||Retailer|
|.50 caliber 12-Pack||Amazon|
Large 40mm Ammo Cans
Depending on how much ammo you plan store and stack, the 40mm can could be the perfect size. The 40mm ammo can at its widest (lid) measures 6.5″ wide x 10″ tall x 19″ deep. They were designed to hold a total of 32 belted 40mm shells. You can store a large sum of small arm cartridges in one and it can be still be easily moved around. These cost in the ballpark of $15-$25 each depending on condition.
Cans of this size loose the hinged lid, because carrying a “loaded” box of this size with one hand is not realistic. Ammo is heavy! Instead, the box has a carry handle on each end; however, the lid can still be removed entirely.
Huge 20mm Ammo Cans
These monster-size ammo cans are almost too big for most practical purposes. The 20mm can at its wides (lid) measures 7.5″ wide x 14.5″ tall x 18.5″ deep. It’s harder to dig into and when one is full it is very heavy. Expect to pay around $50 for one of these. This is one can where you may find a better deal at gun shows.
Like the more manageable 40mm can, the 20mm has a carry handle on each side. Don’t pull your back out trying to move one of these when full!
Plastic Field Boxes
These have become quite popular among outdoor enthusiasts. They are not true “ammo cans” per se, but they can certainly function like them. They have their pros and cons, however.
The box on the left has a removable toolbox-style tray at the top for smaller items such as fishing lures or, in my case, cleaning supplies. It does not have a rubber gasket for an airtight seal, so it is truly designed more as a gear box than an ammo can.
The box on the right, Cabela’s brand, does not have a tray, but it has a rubber gasket inside for airtight storage. Both boxes have a top compartment for small items and both have carry handles. Neither of these boxes are designed for stacking on top of each other like conventional steel ammo cans.
Still, they have their place. I like them for going to the range because they are better suited for cleaning supplies and more lightweight to transport. They come in various types, sizes, and styles. Here is a sampling:
|Deep Water Resistant Field Box with Lift Out Tray||Amazon|
|Extra Large Dry Storage Box with Tray||Amazon|
|.50 caliber-style Ammo Box||Amazon|
|Sheffield Field Box / Ammo Storage Box||Amazon|
MTM Ammo Storage Products
MTM is the same company behind the Survivor Ammo Can that I mention in the article on gun/ammo burial. They have a unique line of products for ammo organization and storage. This is the only company I know of that has built a business dedicated to ammo storage. As a result, you get a whole variety of options from ammo cans for loaded magazines to ammo can carrying trays.
Most of their products have o-ring seals, are stackable, and make ammunition management much easier for serious shooters, range operators, etc. Following is just a sampling of their products, but you can see more of their products at each retailer.
|Tactical Mag Can||Optics Planet|
|3-Can .50 Caliber Ammo Crate||Optics Planet|
|Ammo Crate Storage Case||Optics Planet|
Heavy Duty Shelving
The weight of ammunition is going to require serious shelving. Your average laundry shelves will not cut it. I went to Sam’s Club and purchased the shelving in the picture below. It wasn’t cheap or light, but it’s rugged.
These are harder to find online and, due to shipping weight, are probably cheaper purchased at a store. You could also build your own out of 2x4s and plywood.
Label Your Ammo
If you’re stacking ammo deep you will need to stay organized. A stack of unmarked cans of the same size and color will leave you opening them over and over again to see what’s inside. This is something you want to avoid, particularly if you are storing the cans with oxygen absorbers. Rotate stock, the same as you would with your food pantry.
Buy Ammo Cheap and Stack it Deep Summary
The only way to avoid the frustrating swings in the ammo market is to buy ammo cheap and stack it deep; slowly, steadily, and consistently. You buy a bit more than you are shooting in a given period so your stack is always growing.
Do this until you get to the point where you have enough so that you don’t have to buy overpriced ammo during periods of limited availability. Store it in appropriate containers that meet your needs, label them, get decent shelving, and stack it deep!
Do you have a different strategy or additional advice? Sound off in the comments section.