Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cartridge Selection Guide FAQs

Cost Effective Rifle Cartridges Part 22: Cartridge Selection FAQs

How did ConsumerPla.net determine cartridge availability in the ammunition survey? 

We selected two reputable online ammunition retailers, with good inventory - Midway USA, with a broad inventory, and Wholesale Hunter, with less breadth but good prices. We counted the number of SKUs ("stock keeping units" - they represent how many different items are available in a given category) available in stock with each retailer for each cartridge in our list.

Every cartridge that did not have at least 3 SKUs in each retailer we marked "SP" for SPotty availability. Every cartridge that did not have at least 10 SKUs in stock between the two retailers we marked "LO" for LOw availability. A cartridge with low or spotty availability may not be easy to find when you need it, and shows some disaffection from shooters.

More information about our ammunition survey process is available here.

How did you determine cartridge price in the ammunition survey? 

We averaged the lowest 3 prices for each of the two online retailers we used (less than three if there were less than three SKUs available), then we averaged across the two retailers. We followed up by checking our pricing information against three large brick and mortar stores: Cabela's, Midwest Shooters Supply, and Gander Mountain. We found that our calculated prices were in general reflecting well the low-end prices that we found found among these stores. Of course, premium ammunition pricing (such as high quality hunting ammunition, or target grade ammunition) we found to be higher - we expected that, given the process we used to drive cartridge price.

More information about our ammunition survey process is available here.

What do LO and SP mean in the charts?  

LO means Low availability, and SP means Spotty availability. Either indicates that a cartridge may not always be easy to find when you need it. In general, although not always, we found LO or SP cartridges to be more expensive than cartridges with good availability.

How did you determine existing chambering availability in the rifle chambering survey?

Gunbroker is the eBay of firearms, an auction site dedicated to firearms. It has the broadest set of firearms listings in existence. It is used for new and for used firearms. It is the best representation we know of for the overall firearms market in the US. It is not perfect because there is some bias for new chamberings, as many stores offer new chamberings on line on Gunbroker. At the same time, there is strong presence of used firearms as well, and we feel that Gunbroker is an imperfect but reasonable proxy for the market as a whole.

For each cartridge, we searched for rifles available on Gunbroker in this cartridge, and counted how many we found. We often had to use more than one search for a given cartridge, and made sure to take out hits that were common between our searches for the same cartridge, so as to avoid multiple-counting.

More information about our existing chamberings survey process is available here.

How did you determine new rifle chambering availability in the rifle chambering survey?

New rifle chambering availability was the hardest metric to find. The idea behind new rifle chambering availability is that it gives you a better way to evaluate what shooters like to use today, vs. what they might have liked 20 or 50 years ago (which is captured by the used firearms market or the existing cartridge availability survey).We first tried to aggregate all the chamberings that were available among the top four or five online firearms retailers. It was a very time intensive process, and we quickly found out that practically all of them were equally represented on the inventory of Bud's gun shop, a well known online firearms dealer with an online inventory that is easy to search. This finding greatly simplified our new rifle chambering survey, and we ended up using Bud's as a proxy to the new rifle chambering market.

More information about our new chamberings survey process is available here.

What is the difference between existing and new rifle chamberings? Why did you use both?

Existing rifle chamberings include all the chamberings that have been available in the past, and that can now be found on the used rifle market, AND all of the new chamberings available right now from firearms manufacturers. Existing rifle chamberings capture the widest picture of the existing rifle market. It is also a trailing metric to the new rifle chamberings, as new rifle chamberings are closer to what people buy today, whereas the used rifle market also considers what people were buying yesterday (or 50 years ago).

If we want to look at what cartridges will be available 10 to 15 years down the road (i.e. in the assumed period of time when you will be using a rifle that you purchase today), it is important to look at new rifle chamberings, as they are more reflective of the present state of the market, and more able to predict what rounds will be common 10 to 15 years down the road.

We investigated the correlation between ammunition availability, existing rifle chamberings, and new rifle chamberings here. We found out, as expected, that there was a good correlation between existing rifle chamberings and ammunition availability, and a less good correlation between new rifle chamberings and ammunition availability. There is a good likelihood that we would find a good correlation between new rifle chamberings today and ammunition availability 10 years or 15 years from today.

Why didn't you include every single cartridge in existence in your list?

There are approximately another fifty or so additional commonly mentioned cartridges, and many more wildcats (i.e. unusual cartridges with no commercial production). Putting too many cartridges on our charts would make them unreadable. We reviewed the most popular cartridges and went down the list. We stopped at a level which we felt was relevant to a reasonable number of people. The least common cartridges among our list, such as the 257 Roberts or the 470 Nitro Express are not common, and we feel that we went "low enough" on the availability list. The ones we neglected to include are less common, and are probably safe to ignore, since we are looking to find cost effective cartridges with wide availability. If you feel we left out cartridges that are common enough to be considered, let us know. If we agree with you, we will add them to the list.

Will I find a cartridge that you rate available at my neighborhood country store? 

You have a good chance to find our recommended cartridges in your neighborhood country stores, although no certainty. The most common cartridges are 223 Remington, 22LR, 308 Winchester, 30-06 Springfield, 300 Win Mag, 7mm Rem Mag, 270 Winchester, 243 Winchester, and  7.62x39 Soviet. These are the cartridges that you are most likely to find in a country store.

Can I find cheaper than the prices you listed for ammunition?

You can certainly find cheaper than the prices indicated. We wanted our price to be indicative of "real" brick and mortar prices, so we did not pick the lowest priced online retailers (these typically specialize on very common cartridges only), and we averaged the 6 lowest prices for available SKUs, making sure by our very process that the price listed for our cartridges would be higher than the lowest we had found.

However, if the brick and mortar stores we visited are any indication,  the price you will find at your local brick and mortar store should not, in general, be very far from our price index.

What criteria did you use for cartridge recommendations?

As we explained in our introduction post to this cartridge selection guide: "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." We did look at other attributes of a cartridge, in particular when we made recommendations for specific purposes - but the primary criteria were price, present availability, and future availability.

Our primary audience is that of new, inexperienced or infrequent shooters - although we do feel that our data is valuable to all shooters. There are many sites focused on experienced shooters - their criteria are different from ours. Our recommendations are data-driven and do not take our likings or impressions into account. In general, we neglected differences of 100-200fps in velocity, or 100-200ft.lbs of energy, which are often what cartridge selection is based on for experienced shooters, who already know what they want and like.

I am a reloader. Should I follow your recommended picks?

If you are reloading, the economics of shooting are structurally different to you, and availability and pricing to you are measured differently. Our present guide focuses on out-of-the-box ammunition, and does not apply to you, although our conclusions could be relevant to some of your criteria in making cartridge choices.

Should I only buy rifles chambered in the cartridges you rated best?

If you are an experienced shooter, you already know what works for you, and are looking for incremental improvements. For that, you might need to look at cartridges which are not widely available, expensive when purchased commercially (as opposed to reloaded), or simply unavailable commercially if you are planning to load your own. Our data is useful to you, but not primordial in making your decision.

On the other hand, if you are a new or inexperienced shooter, then you would be better off picking cartridges that we recommend. You will be guaranteed a popular cartridge pick, with easy to find and cost effective ammunition, a good choice in rifles, and, likely, an easier time selling your rifle used if/when you decide to upgrade in the future.

Why should I follow your recommendations?
Our recommendations are based on hard data, which so far has been unavailable anywhere, on line or off line, and which is difficult to derive on your own. You should feel free to ignore our recommendations and draw your own, using common sense and your own personal criteria. We suggest, however, that you carefully look at the data we accumulated here, and use it efficiently in your purchase decision.

Our Centerfire Rifle Selection Guide is scheduled for later this winter... So come back soon!

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