Without ammo, your prize firearm is an expensive club. Shooting is based on three pillars: guns, ammo, and training. Lose any one of the pillars and your shooting hobby becomes past tense. Done right, investments in guns and training are permanent. Ammo, on the other hand, is a consumable. Every time you pull the trigger (excluding dry fire), you will have to replace a bullet. Ammo will forever be an ever-present cost of shooting. But how much does ammo cost? In short, ammo prices fluctuate based on caliber, political climate, and demand. Average prices for the top ammo calibers are currently:
|Caliber||Average Cost Per Round|
|.22 LR||$0.09 – $0.29|
|9mm||$0.26 – $0.48|
|45 ACP||$0.46 – $0.65|
|.223 / 556||$0.38 – $0.85|
|7.62×39||$0.43 – $0.90|
|12ga 00 buck||$0.52 – $1.40|
So how much will it cost to feed your favorite carry piece or hunting companion? As you can expect, there are several variables that go into that question. In the next few sections, we will look at what you are shooting (caliber), how you are shooting (plink vs. competition vs hunting), and how much you are shooting (single boxes or bulk–here’s a preview… buy in bulk and thank me later). With all that on the agenda, let’s dive in!
Organizing Your Ammo
The first step of identifying the cost of ammo, starts with organizing and categorizing what you shoot. It may seem obvious, but we need to start somewhere. The easiest breakdown is first by firearm, and then by caliber. There may be some crossover, as in a pistol caliber carbine, a .357 lever action rifle, or the Thompson Contender pistol that shoots 308, but by and large, the divisions work.
The king of the plinkers, the rimfire cartridge, and, more specifically, the .22 LR is the caliber most shooters started out on. Mechanically different from center-fire rifle and handgun calibers, rimfire cartridges have a ring around the base of the cartridge that contains the primer.
The most popular rimfire cartridge is the .22 LR (Long Rifle). Followed by a few variants, including the 22 short and 22 long. Also included in this category are the 22 Winchester Magnum Rifle (WMR) and 17 Hornaday Magnum Rifle (HMR).
22s are popular for handguns and rifles alike. There’s probably more 22 rifles in closets and safes around the world than most other firearms. Aiding to its popularity is the availability of inexpensive ammo. You can source cheap plinking ammo for a few cents a round as well as invest up to $.20-$.30 per round for target or specialty ammo.
The next category covers cartridges designed primarily for pistols. Most of this ammo is considered center fire, where the casing contains a primer (the component that initiates the explosion within the round) that is pressed into the center of the brass cartridge. In most cases, this primer can be removed and replaced, which allows for many pistol calibers to be re-loaded (we will cover this process later and discuss why it’s important to the prolific shooter).
There are many, many pistol calibers. However, when considering popular defensive, target, and hobbyist there are thankfully only a few. I would hazard a guess that 9mm and 45 ACP are the most popular, followed by 380 ACP and 40 S&W. Rounding out the top are the 38 Special, 357 Magnum, and 10mm. While there are many others, I’d argue that 25 ACP, 32 ACP, 357 Sig and 38 super have had their day in the sun and are now in the minority. They are still made, but you pay a premium for the rarity.
If there were a lot of pistol calibers, then rifle calibers are darn near uncountable. Most are center fire, like their pistol brethren. Let’s narrow the choices down by common use: common battle and sport rifles and then hunting/precision rifles.
The AR-15, or modern sporting rifle, is commonly chambered in .223 or 5.56. is arguably the most prolific semi-automatic out there today. To keep a rather deep conversation short .223 and 5.56 are nearly identical from the outside however, internally they are very different. Every modern firearm has the chambered caliber imprinted on or near the barrel. Rifles chambered for 5.56 NATO can shoot .223. You cannot, however, shoot a 5.56 out of a rifle chambered for .223. The chamber pressures generated in a 5.56 exceed the tolerance of a rifle chambered in .223. Know your firearm and choose your ammo accordingly.
Next on the list is the 7.62×39 for the venerable AK-47. Pushing a bullet twice the weight of a .223, the 7.62×39 is the workhorse of the battle rifle world. Couple the abundance of inexpensive ammo from foreign sources with the ability of an AK to just run dirty and nasty and you have a dream truck gun and range plinker.
The new kid on the block is the 300 AAC Blackout, or just 300 BLK. The 300 BLK has found popularity with the NFA crowd, as it has good terminal ballistics and can be effectively suppressed. This has led to a solid fan base with Short Barreled Rifles (SBRs) that are whisper quiet and all the defensive capabilities of a full-sized rifle.
I’ll cover .308 (7.62×51) for your AR-10 in the next section.
The next broad category of rifle bullets support hunting and precision rifles. Be it your grandfathers .270 that has dropped many a deer, or a tricked-out Remington 700 chambered in .308 with $1K worth of glass mounted to it. This is where legends are made (.308 and 30-06) and newcomers take the industry by storm (6.5 Creedmoor).
As I alluded, your grandfathers probably shot a .308 or 30-06. If they did, it was because that’s what they could buy at the corner store or out of the Sears catalog, or it was what they shot in “the war.” Today, both the .308 Winchester and the 30-06 Springfield are common among hunters and high-power shooters alike.
If you hunt the big hills out west or hunt moose and caribou, then you may be looking for a caliber with a little more, “reach out and touch someone.” There’s not much that you can knock down with a .338 Lapua or a .300 Win Mag, that will ever get back up again. Especially in North America. These are big rounds that are reliable over 1,000 yards.
The latest newcomer on the scene is the 5.6mm Creedmoor. A divisive round that people love or hate, but it gets the job done with a flat trajectory and minimal recoil. Not much more you can ask in a large game caliber.
Another consideration with hunting and precision ammo, prices accelerate quickly. The low volumes, tight tolerances, and increased required materials quickly add up to dollars per round. Luckily you won’t be doing mag dumps with your precision rifle.
The final major category of ammunition is the shotgun. At least with shotguns, we only have to focus on a few different calibers and variants. The main calibers we focus on for shotguns are 12 gauge, 20 gauge, and the diminutive .410.
Shotguns are adaptable to many situations, and their ammo reflects that. Hunting birds? Grab some #7 or #8 shot. Want to take down a deer? Sabot or rifled slugs will do the job. Want to defend your castle? Nothing says defense, then a few rounds of 00 buck will do the job.
Defensive Ammo And Per-Round Ammo Cost
The final category of ammunition we need to consider is defensive ammo. Generally speaking, defensive ammo, particularly for handguns and battle rifles, can be considerably more expensive on a per-round basis than normal range ammo. Once such example is 9mm, one of the more popular defensive rounds. Your average range ammo is about $0.30 per round. Defensive 9mm can be up to three times the cost.
Defensive ammo is also a personal choice. You’re most likely going to pick a manufacturer. Run it through your gun until you have the utmost of confidence in it, and then stick with that ammo for a long time. Just for an example, I carry a Glock 26 or 19 chambered in 9mm. I back these up when camping with a KelTec Sub2000 that uses the same magazine. Finally, one of my “bump in the night” firearms is an AR-pattern SBR. The Glock 19, Sub2K and AR are all shot suppressed. I spent a long time picking ammo that worked on all three flawlessly suppressed and unsuppressed (Federal 147gn +P HST). I’ve invested a significant amount in this ammo and won’t be changing any time soon.
Things I’m Not Considering
There’s about a million things, however, but to keep it a bit more manageable, I’ve left a few variables off the list of ammo that follows. The primary one is bullet weight. Heavier bullets require more lead and are therefore more expensive. So,we have picked an average cost. You will need to decide if you want to shoot 9mm in 115, 124, or 147 grain, or 45 in 200 or 230 grain, or .223 in 55 or 62 grain, etc., etc., etc.
I’m also not considering very high-end precision ammo. Once you get into bullseye, silhouette, and precision high power, you are probably matching your ammo specifically to your gun. Lots and lots of testing will go into your decision and you’ll most likely shop the sales for your preferred ammo.
Finally, we’re not considering specialty ammo. Even outside of defensive ammo there are specialty rounds. From frangible (for indoor lead-free shooting) to extra hot (e.g., Black Hills is known for pushing the limits). These varieties get expensive quickly.
Components Contributing To Ammo Cost
So what goes into the cost of a round of ammo? To understand this, we need to look at the components. There’s the casing, powder, primer, and the projectiles. The brass and the lead are the most significant cost drivers.
That being said, when purchasing ammo you can sometime choose cheaper materials. Many pistol rounds come in brass, aluminum, or steel casings. Steel and aluminum tend to run a little more inexpensive and are the first to go when there’s an ammo crunch. Similarly, .223, 5.56, and 7.62×39 are all available in either brass or cheaper steel.
Ammo Price Trends
As we have seen, multiple times over the past two decades, ammo prices can fluctuate wildly. Politics, social factors, and even supply chain issues can affect the prices significantly.
After each publicized shooting, there seems to be a run on firearms and ammo. Each event has a publicized political response. The resulting fear of increased legislation sends gun owners to the store to stock up.
The other trend we have seen over and over is the increased purchased based on the occupant of the White House as well as which party has control over the house and senate. As control ebbs and flows, so does increased purchases.
The last black swan to hit the industry was the pandemic. As company’s ability to keep manufacturing lines staffed and running output decreased, scarcity reared its ugly head. This happened for hamburgers, car parts, as well as ammo. Add in a little extra desire to be “stocked up” and ammo shelves were at historic lows during 2020 and are still recovering.
Current Ammo Average Prices
As I think we’ve impressed upon you, ammo prices vary. To give you an idea of current costs, we have surveyed several online outlets and have provided a range for each caliber. We looked at prices for inexpensive ammo, purchasing in bulk, all the way up to premium selections (not defensive) and purchasing as little as 20 rounds per box. This should give you a good range for what you can expect to pay.
How Much Does Ammo Cost for Rimfire Rifles and Pistols?
One of the most inexpensive ammos, there’s a reason that rimfire makes for great a great practice round.
|Caliber||Average Cost Per Round|
|.22 LR Plinking||$0.06 – $0.08|
|.22 LR Hunting||$0.08 – $0.14|
|.22 LR Competition||$0.20 – $0.24|
|22 Short||$0.10 – $0.18|
|22 WMR||$0.36 – $0.40|
|17 HMR||$0.31 – $0.45|
How Much Does Ammo Cost for Pistols?
Pistol ammo remains inexpensive mostly due to volume.
|Caliber||Average Cost Per Round|
|9mm||$0.26 – $0.45|
|380 ACP||$0.31 – $0.53|
|38 Special||$0.46 – $0.60|
|357 Magnum||$0.49 – $1.10|
|40 S&W||$0.34 – $0.66|
|45 ACP||$0.46 – $0.92|
|10mm||$0.50 – $0.70|
How Much Does Ammo Cost for Sporting Rifle?
While sporting rifle ammo contains more materials than most pistol ammo, it remains affordable because of the economies of scale and the massive amount of ammo that is bought and sold.
|Caliber||Average Cost Per Round|
|.223||$0.39 – $0.90|
|5.56 NATO||$0.42 – $0.54|
|7.62×39||$0.37 – $0.90|
|.300 AAC Blackout||$0.67 – $1.41|
How Much Does Ammo Cost for Hunting and Precision Rifles?
Most rifle calibers are shot in low numbers and have much tighter tolerances than rimfire and handgun ammo. These factors add up to increased per-round cost.
|Caliber||Average Cost Per Round|
|.308 Winchester||$0.81 – $2.50|
|30-06||$1.25 – $2.75|
|6.5mm Creedmoor||$1.09 – $2.50|
|338 Lapua Magnum||$7.45 – $7.50|
|300 Win Magnum||$2.12 – $3.39|
How Much Does Ammo Cost for Shotguns?
The cost of shotgun ammo is directly related to the demand in the industry. Bird shot is popular for hunting and trap/skeet and therefore cheaper than lesser used 00 buck and slugs.
|Caliber||Average Cost Per Round|
|12ga bird shot (#6-#8)||$0.36 – $0.86|
|12ga 00 buck||$0.52 – $3.90|
|12ga slugs (rifled and sabot)||$1.00 – $3.80|
|20ga bird shot (#6-#8)||$0.47 – $1.13|
|20ga 00 buck||Not Widely Available|
|20ga slugs (rifled and sabot)||$1.57 – $4.00|
|.410ga bird shot (#6-#8)||$1.20 – $3.90|
|.410ga 000 buck||$1.20 – $4.00|
|.410ga slugs (rifled and sabot)||$0.42 – $1.58|
While not as available as it was years ago, where every corner store and department store had a healthy stock of several calibers, ammunition is still a staple of your local “brick and mortar” gun store as well as online vendors beyond count.
There is nothing quite like a local gun store with regular customers where you can benefit from the years of experience of those behind the counter. I know it’s not much, but I try to pick up at least one box of ammo with each visit. That being said, most local stores charge a premium for their ammo.
If you want the savings that come with volume purchases, then I highly recommend several online outlets. Not only can you easily get larger quantities, but the selection is generally much broader than your normal brick and mortar store. A few of our favorites are:
Tools and Tactics for Stretching Your Dollar
These days, every dollar counts, and your firearm and ammo dollars are no different. Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your ammo budget.
First, shoot the appropriate ammo for the task. Hunting with the potential for a 400-yard shot? Use a premium ammo. Spending a weekend plinking? Then reliability and accuracy aren’t of primary importance. Use cheaper steel cased ammo rather than the premium stuff. No need to spend more on the task than is necessary.
Second, when your budget allows, buy in bulk. Case prices of common calibers can be had at a 20% discount or better. When hitting the range for some serious practice or tuning up during the competition season, stacking a few cases may save you more than just a little cash.
Third, if you purchase from one site more than once or twice a year, then it may pay to buy into a preferred shopper program. For example, the Ammo+ program at TargetSportsUSA.com gets you a price discount, free shipping, and early notice on new ammo stocks.
Finally, hit the sales. Save up your cash in preparation to save a few dollars when the sales hit. July 4th, Presidents’ Day, Labor Day, and Black Friday are all common events that can save you a few percent on your order.
If you’re a serious enthusiast such as an active competitor or a precision shooter, then you may wish to take more extreme steps to saving money.
Reloading is the natural first step for any serious shooter. While the initial investment may be a little steep (e.g., the Dillon Precision RL550C workhorse is about $600) you can save up to 50% on your ammo costs. Especially if you have a source of once fired cases (e.g., at your local range or spent brass after a competition).
You can also tune your ammo to your firearm. During my competing days, I tuned my loads to the most accurate powder and bullet grain combination. The accuracy improvements can especially be seen in rifle loads when they have been loaded after having been shot once out of the rifle to form the cases to the chamber.
Reloading is worthwhile, especially if you like to experiment, are mechanically inclined, and like saving a little money to shoot more.
Casting Your Own Bullets
Want to really stretch your dollar? Try casting your own bullets. During the deepest ammo crisis, avid shooters moved to casting lead bullets.
Casting is a skill set that is as far removed from shooting as possible. That being said, it can be rewarding to cast your own projectiles and then take them to the range. The biggest benefit of casting is that you can often find sources of inexpensive lead for the bullets. Wheel weights at your local mechanic can be used with just a little treatment during the melt. Once you have the process down, you can shave a few more cents off the price per round of your ammo.
Summarizing How Much Does Ammo Cost
Ammo is a required part of shooting. There’s nothing worse than hitting the range and not being able to get in all the practice you had planned on because of a lack of ammo. There’s nothing worse than purchasing a new firearm only to find out that shooting it is prohibitively expensive. So do your research now.
Choosing the right caliber combined with the right sales venue and buying in bulk, you can spend more time at the range doing what you love about this hobby. Shooting!
So, what does ammo cost? As we’ve seen, it can be cheap or incredibly expensive to pull the trigger. Keep up with trends and monitor for sales and you’ll be able to stack up a comfortable amount of ammo. When your safe is full, then you will be less likely to purchase under pressure when social or political events drive the cost of ammo through the roof.