Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cost Effective Rifle Cartridges Guide

What are the best cartridges and calibers to use when you intend to practice a lot, or if you simply want to keep your cost of ownership low?

When you pick a cartridge, you pick it for functional reasons that have to do with your purpose in using the round. However, you also expect, in general, to get decent pricing for your ammunition, and to find it available reasonably easily. This, unfortunately, does not always happen. We found out that, between two almost identical rounds, the difference in ammunition (or ammo) cost can sometimes be 100% or more. As for availability, some cartridges can be found anywhere, while others can only be obtained, with difficulty, from specific online providers. Our purpose in this guide is to focus on cost, on present availability, and on future availability, and to issue recommendations based on these criteria.

How we surveyed ammunition availability

To find out which calibers were the most economical and available, we selected two online ammunition retailers (Midway USA and Wholesale Hunter), and averaged the price of the three cheapest types of ammunition that were actually in stock, for each cartridge, across both retailers. If we could not find at least 3 SKUs (i.e. distinct products) available for the cartridge in each retailer's stock, we flagged it for spotty availability. If we could not find at least 10 SKUs in stock for the cartridge between our two online retailers, we flagged the cartridge for low availability.

We confirmed our findings by visiting three large brick and mortar stores (Cabela's, Midwest Shooters Supply, and Gander Mountain) and, as a validation, compared availability and relative prices with what we had found with online retailers. Our conclusions were confirmed for every caliber. We had one incident, where we found no 7mm-08 available at Midwest Shooters Supply, despite the fact that we had good availability everywhere else. We we told by the staff that it was a very unusual occurrence. If anything, it should show that availability is an important factor to consider when choosing a rifle, since even common calibers may sometimes run out.

The cartridge list: how we assembled it

In order to identify what cartridges to put in our comparative list, we went through every cartridge listed in the inventory of both online retailers, and retained all rifle cartridges where there was at least one choice listed as being in stock in each retailer. We actually added a few cartridges which were missing from one of the retailers or the other, when we felt they were of some potential value to the shooter. We listed, as candidates for removal from the list, all cartridges with less than or exactly a total of 6 choices in stock between the two retailers. Once we had a list of candidates for removal, we formed a committee of three voting staff, and asked for a minimum of 2 votes to actually remove the cartridge from the list.

The cartridge list: what we removed

In the end, we only removed a small number of cartridges from consideration. Others, of course, were not included in the list from the get go, because they were not listed in the inventory of at least one of the retailers, and because we did not add them by fiat. The 218 Bee, 223 WSSM, 243 WSSM, 240 Weatherby Mag and 8mm Rem Mag have no new chamberings commonly available, and were not felt to be significant to the modern shooting community. The 17 Mach 2, 17 Rem, 35 Rem, and 376 Steyr we considered too rare to be of import. As a note, other cartridges suffered from the same drawbacks, but did end on the list because they were felt to be of more significance.

Next we review actual availability statistics for ammunition... So come back soon!

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