The ammo shortage hit home for me when I could not go duck hunting one cold Saturday morning earlier this year because I was out of waterfowl loads. I stayed home and called around to friends and gun stores. Eventually I found some No. 4s, but that was well after the woodies and mallards made their morning flight.
You might have had similar experiences if you shoot centerfire, rimfire or shotshell. For the last two years at least, ammo has been like hen’s teeth.
“We can’t keep up with the demand,” said Jason Vanderbrink, the president of Sporting Products at Vista Outdoor, which creates more ammo in the U.S. than any other company.
Last year, an estimated 5 million Americans bought their first gun. Gratefully, we saw one million new hunters join the ranks in 2020. That sent ammo demand way up. Supply-chain problems also slowed the delivery of raw materials. It’s been a perfect storm of demand and it’s not being supplied.
Vanderbrink said his factories are working at or near full capacity. People have suggested Vista build new factories, he said. But supply problems mean that a new factory could be idle without the lead, propellant, steel and other raw materials. So, Vista didn’t build one. They bought one.
In October 2020, Vista, the parent company of Federal, CCI, HEVI-Shot and Speer, purchased Remington Ammunition from bankruptcy. Vista did not purchase Remington’s firearms division, only the ammo side of the legendary company founded in 1816.
As the ink dried, the Minnesota-based company took possession of the “Big Green” brand, its technology, iconic products like Core-Lokt and Golden Saber, and even the rights to the distinctive green color. Most importantly, they controlled the Remington factory at Lonoke, Arkansas, its employees and its capacity to make hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammo a day.
However, Remington was a shell of its former self. The Arkansas factory had been limping along for the past six years with a skeleton crew of only a few hundred people. Ammo was trickling out of the loading docks.
Nick Sachse, Remington’s director of product management, said at one point they couldn’t get raw materials for manufacturing. “Not because it was scarce, but because we didn’t have the cash up front to buy it. No one would sell it to us on credit.”
Immediately after the October surprise, Remington employees at the Lonoke plant breathed a sigh of relief. Firing stopped. Hiring began. Raw materials, talent from the Vista ammo plant in Anoka, Minnesota, and cash poured into Lonoke. The figurative rubber bands and glue that held together extruders, loaders, annealers, packers and many other machines, got modern parts.
The plant has hired more than 600 new employees since early 2021 and there are now well over 1,000 working four shifts 24/7.
Will Remington solve our ammo deficit?
Nope. Not alone. But they are producing more ammo than they have in at least 10 years and this new arrangement without a doubt helps put more ammo on the shelves.
“We can’t satisfy everyone overnight,” said Craig Thomas, plant manager. “But we’re doing all we can to supply that demand. We’re fully funded and now have as many employees as we’ve ever had. We’re running around the clock. We brought this factory up from the ashes, and we’re flying again.”
Consolidation in any industry could have its own long-term concerns, but the maker of legendary products, like Core-Lokt cartridges, Golden Saber handgun ammo and Premier STS shells, are back in action.
RUBBER MEETS THE ROAD
As of writing this in April 2022, I still have a hard time finding 20-gauge duck loads. But on a recent tour of the factory, I saw hundreds of focused employees pumping out ammo. They loaded it into trucks that rolled out onto Interstate 40, traveling east and west.
There is a sign at the front of the Remington plant in Lonoke. You can’t miss it. “Our mission: Build better ammunition in America, to create community, power defense and conserve our heritage.”
When you enter the rumbling factory floor, you get the feeling that that is exactly what is happening. It’s full of loud machines, the smell of electricity, the feel of grease and a sense of purpose.
This factory is actually a 45-building complex on a sprawling 1,200-acre campus just east of Little Rock. It was built in 1969 to produce Remington centerfire ammo. DuPont owned Remington then, and they wanted to get out of Bridgeport, Connecticut for several reasons.
Arkansas was a central location in the U.S. for shipping to both coasts, for one. Also, they were beginning to feel the same political pressures that more recently drove companies like Weatherby out of California and Beretta from Maryland to Tennessee. Shotshell production moved here in the 1970s, and rimfire followed in the ’80s. If you shot Remington ammo in the last 50 years, chances are it came from Lonoke.
On one end of the multi-level building, 90-pound bars of lead are dropped off in front of an extruder that pushes that raw material into wire. The wire is forklifted to another part of the factory where it’s formed into 9mm, .30-06 or many other bullets. The bullets meet up with casings, primers and propellant. Farther on, they’re packaged, stacked on pallets and hustled off to the 18-wheelers. All the while, random products are put through a battery of quality-control tests.
Some of the factory is upgraded with modern manufacturing technology. Other parts of the plant look like they haven’t changed since 1969. Yet they’re all humming now.
Many of the high-volume machines are dedicated to uber-popular .223, .45 and 9mm. But I noticed they are also producing many other hunting and shooting cartridges.
In a newer section of the plan, called Eli after founder Eliphalet Remington, there are turret-style loading machines, each producing thousands of cartridges in a 12-hour shift, explained Ronnie Evans, Remington’s product manager.
Evans excitedly shows off a computer-monitored machine the size of a pickup truck that has seven spinning turrets. The first turret receives the shell, the second inserts powder, the next detents the powder, then another inserts the bullet, and then the next seats it. A camera then checks to confirm the cartridge profile is correct and then another turret is a receiver gauge that confirms the cartridge will fit into a gun.
Remington Ammo and Vista Outdoor have big plans for Big Green.
Remington, Federal, Speer, HEVI-Shot and rimfire pros at CCI are all on the same team now, said Jared Kutney, who had been at the Anoka plant and is now the senior director of engineering in Lonoke.
“We’ve opened up our notebooks and are sharing what we’ve learned over the years,” said Kutney. “It will make all of our brands and products stronger.”
Joel Hodgdon is Remington’s director of marketing. He also moved south to Arkansas with the acquisition.
“We’re full speed ahead,” said Hodgdon. “We’ll be bringing innovative new products to market quicker.”
Hodgdon pointed to several new centerfire, shotshell and rimfire cartridges Remington brought to consumers this year.
Turkey hunters now have a tungsten shell made by Remington. Premier TSS uses Tungsten Super Shot, a popular shell payload also loaded by other Vista brands, such as Federal in Anoka, Minnesota, and HEVI-Shot in Sweet Home, Oregon.
Speaking of shotshells, a surprise addition to the 2022 lineup is the throw-back Peter’s Premier Blue Paper Shells. Sporting clays, trap and skeet shooters might notice less recoil and at the very least, a unique paper shell that lines up nicely with Remington’s nod to tradition. New centerfire options include Premier Match, Remington’s top-of-the-line rifle ammunition now in .224 Valkyrie, 6.5 PRC and 6.5 Grendel.
And if you haven’t been paying attention, last year Remington introduced an upgrade to the “deadliest mushroom in the woods,” and revealed new Core-Lokt Tipped. It’s a redesigned bullet topped with a polymer tip for better aerodynamics.
Hodgdon said they’ll always offer their famous Core-Lokt as-is in just about every caliber there is to hunters in the USA and all over the world.
“Core-Lokt is our bread and butter,” he said. “But now we’ve got room to offer products that we’ve only been able to dream about. Big Green is back.”–John Geiger