Where and how to buy ammunition

What’s the best or cheapest place to buy ammo? Can anyone order ammunition over the internet? What about local laws? This beginner’s guide covers all of the basics — however, this changes from one country to another, so this guide is focused on US buyers.

More: Check out the beginner’s guide to guns if you’re totally new to firearms.

Basics:

  • You can buy ammo online or from physical stores, including your local gun store and big-box stores like Walmart and Cabelas.
  • Although we are often asked “where’s the cheapest place to buy ammo?”, the market doesn’t really work that way — you just have to hunt around for whomever has a good deal on that day. There are price-comparison search engines to help.
  • US federal law states that you have to be at least 18 to buy shotgun and rifle ammo, and at least 21 to buy pistol ammo.
  • Ammo has an explosive inside (the gun powder), so when it’s shipped, it falls under special policies. Your box will likely have an ORM-D sticker on it, for example, and require an adult signature.
  • Those special shipping policies mean it can be a hassle to return online orders.
  • There are special restrictions for people who live in California, Massachusetts, Washington DC, Illinois, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York. Specifics below.
  • If you live in Alaska, Hawaii, or Puerto Rico and want to purchase ammunition online, you may need to use a freight forwarding service due to the logistics of shipping outside the Continental United States. Or find a local in-state shipper such as Alaska Ammo.
  • Some locations require that online ammo is shipped to a local trusted intermediary, known as a FFL (basically any local gun store), who is licensed to check any of your needed paperwork. Just google “(your location) FFL” to find one.
  • There generally aren’t limits on how much ammo you can buy. But there’s growing evidence that if you place large orders (eg. thousands of rounds at once), you’ll end up on some government’s radar.

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Price-comparison tools and where to buy ammo online

If you live in a jurisdiction that allows for online orders and don’t mind waiting a few days for it to arrive, buying online is usually the best way to save money.

Ammo prices are often different from one vendor to another, and current events can throw the demand-supply curve out of whack, creating weird shortages and spikes in prices.

During COVID-19, for example, it was often very difficult to find common calibers in stock — and if you did, it was noticeably more expensive than just before the crisis started.

Thankfully, there are a few search engines built specifically to find where ammo is in stock and who has the best price per round:

where buy ammunition price search
Example from Ammograb, searching for common AR-15 .223 ammo, sorted by price per round.
Example from Wikiarms where you can search for local Walmart inventory.

Some people don’t want to bother with a penny or two difference and just like to buy from a store they have an account with. Some of the most popular are:

Local stores and shows

Firearms are a market that still has local mom-and-pop shops. If you care to, it’s nice to shop from those “LGS” (the common acronym for your local gun store) to support locals and keep the firearm community healthy. Just google “(your location) + gun store”.

Big-box stores have unfortunately become a target / part of the political debates around civil rights, leading some stores to remove ammo from their shelves entirely.

There can also be inconsistencies in the same chain from one area to another — for example, a chain might continue to sell ammo in more rural parts of the country while not stocking any in high-crime cities. Or, as in Walmart’s case, they continue to sell “hunting” ammo (rifle and shotgun) while not selling pistol ammo — pistol ammo being more commonly used by / associated with criminals.

Common big-box stores (some of which also sell online):

  • Bass Pro Shops
  • Big 5 Sporting Goods
  • Big R
  • Cabelas
  • Dunham’s Sports
  • JAX
  • Murdoch’s
  • Sportsmans Warehouse
  • Walmart

Gun shows are another venue, although they’re only around once in a while. Contrary to some of what you hear in anti-2A marketing, most vendors at gun shows have appropriate federal licenses and follow all laws.

Local gun shows can be a fun way to learn and buy.

There isn’t much of a benefit to buying new ammo from a gun show — besides getting to learn from other friendly and knowledgeable people instead of a sales clerk.

However, gun shows can be a good place to buy “reloads” in bulk, which can save you a bit of money for stocking up and/or ammo you’ll just be using for practice.

Laws and bureaucracy

Every level of government or oversight that applies to where you live, even down to your HOA, might have restrictions that apply. If you live in a state/city known to be anti-2A, you may want to search for laws at lower levels than just the federal and state laws below.

Let’s start at the US federal level, namely 18 U.S. Code Section 922.

Who can buy and be in possession of ammunition:

  • Individuals over the age of 18 can buy rifle and shotgun ammunition. 18-year-olds cannot purchase handgun ammunition, but they can possess it.
  • Individuals over the age of 21 can buy a handgun, rifle, or shotgun ammunition.

Who cannot buy or legally own ammunition:

  • Anyone under the age of 21 cannot buy handgun ammunition.
  • Fugitives from justice.
  • People who are addicted to narcotics or controlled substances. This includes medical and recreational marijuana.
  • Military veterans who were dishonorably discharged.
  • People who have been convicted of domestic violence.
  • Persons illegally in the United States.
  • People subject to restraining orders.
  • Felons.
  • Individuals who have renounced their United States citizenship.

Most US states mirror that federal law. Some states, namely those known to be anti-firearm, make things more complicated.

California has some of the strictest gun laws in the country. Only licensed vendors can sell ammunition in CA and they must keep records of all transactions. Background checks are required on all ammunition purchases. Some online companies will ship to California, but they have to send the ammo to a licensed vendor who then acts as the trusted background checker. At present, there seems to be a legal tug of war between California and the Federal government regarding California’s background checks on ammunition purchases. If you live in California, it’s probably best to purchase locally until the courts figure things out.

Connecticut requires a driver’s license, passport, or government-issued I.D. along with one of the following: pistol permit, eligibility certificate for pistol, long gun eligibility certificate, or ammunition certification. You must be 21 to purchase ammunition. Ammunition purchased online can be sent directly to your residence.

Illinois requires a Firearm Owner’s Identification Card. You must be 21 or older. To purchase ammunition online, you will need to supply the vendor with a government-issued I.D. and your Firearm Owner’s Identification card.

Massachusetts requires a firearms license. If you buy ammo online, it must go to a local dealer who will check your license before handing you the shipment. Those are called FFLs (Federal Firearms License), and any local gun store can act as an FFL for you. Once you’ve placed your online order, you’ll have to ask the local FFL to send their certificate to the online vendor, so the vendor knows they can legally ship the ammo to an “approved” recipient.

New Jersey is complicated. Ammo can be purchased online and shipped directly to your home. It’s easy if you’re buying one of these calibers: .223, 5.56, .308, 7.61×51, 7.62×39, .270, .243, 30-30, 30-06, 12 gauge, and 20 gauge. If you buy something else, you have to provide either your firearms purchase identification card, handgun permit, or permit to purchase a handgun before the vendor will ship. Same goes for in-person purchases, too.

New York allows you to buy ammo locally, but if you buy it online, you have to have it shipped to a local FFL. Some online vendors will not ship ammunition to New York. The FFL will record the transaction, and if you’re buying pistol ammo, check your pistol permit. Background checks to purchase ammunition are not (yet) required.

Washington DC limits ammo purchases to people who already own a firearm, which is registered. You’re limited to buying ammo only for the firearms you have on file with the government. Ammunition can only be purchased in-person from a licensed dealer.

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