For decades, ammunition prices have been on the rise in the United States, outpacing inflation in 15 of the last 20 years. During the pandemic, consumer demand surged as ammunition manufacturers faced a scarcity of raw materials, driving up prices even further.
While many sports men and women are feeling the pinch, shooting sports do not necessarily need to break the bank. Small arms ammunition ranges significantly in cost, depending on the caliber. Ammo for some firearms sells for as little as a few cents per round, while rounds for other guns can cost well over a dollar a piece.
For cost-conscious shooters, as well as those looking to get into recreational shooting, it is worth knowing what you can expect to pay for ammunition before you head to the range or buy your first firearm.
Using data from Ammo Prices Now, a small arms ammunition price tracking site, 24/7 Wall St. identified the typical price per round for 27 common firearm calibers, ranked from lowest to highest. Listed prices are averages over a specified time period. It is important to note that even within a given caliber, ammo prices can range substantially by brand, cartridge ballistics, retailer, and geographic area, and these prices are only benchmark estimates.
Among the 27 calibers and gauges on this list, .22 Long Rifle, or .22 LR, is by far the least expensive, averaging about 10 cents per round over the past two and a half years. Unlike most cartridges on this list, which are centerfire rounds, the .22 is a rimfire. Rimfire ammunition is much cheaper to manufacture than centerfire rounds, partially because they are relatively low pressure and can therefore use a thin-walled cartridge case.
Rounds for 12 gauge shotguns can also be relatively cheap. The lowest cost 12 gauge ammunition, generally target rounds or light birdshot, sold for an average of 35 cents per round in the past two years. However, 12 gauge shells containing slugs or buckshot typically sell for several dollars a round, though those loads were not considered for this list. (Here is a look at America’s top shotgun companies.)
The most expensive small arms ammunition in the United States are for centerfire rifles, commonly used for hunting and target practice. These rounds tend to be more reliable, powerful, and accurate than their rimfire counterparts. They are also reloadable, meaning, with the proper tools and knowhow, the shell casing can be hand-loaded and reused – both to save money and to customize ballistic characteristics for the desired use. (Here is a look at the most versatile hunting rifle cartridges.)
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