When stocking up on goods, equipment and provision for sustainment after a long term crisis, it is a good idea to stash more than you think you’ll need. Aside from being simply good policy, this ensures you will have a buffer against loss, spoilage or breakage. Having extra beyond your projected requirements also means you’ll have enough to hand out to those in need, neighbors, family or strangers.
But for those who are thinking big, thinking really long term, they may choose to stock significantly more than they anticipate using, even things they don’t want or need specifically for the purposes of barter.
This is not a new concept. Water, medicine, liquor, foodstuffs, clothing, tools, are all as good as gold in times of scarcity, more so when the lights don’t come on at the flip of a switch, and water does not run clean and clear from the tap when the handle is turned.
In a severe enough end-of-society event, things humans typically appraise as valuable- paper money, jewels, precious metals, etc., will be worthless or nearly so. The remorseless calculus of Need will be the arbiter of the new economy, and things like food and water, clothing and footwear, and lifesaving equipment will become truly precious.
In this world after the end, security will be at a premium. While there are guns enough in North America alone to arm nearly every single U.S. citizen, they will be useless without ammunition to feed them. Ammo is high on the stocking list for a great many preppers, with some keeping supplies of thousands, or even tens of thousands of rounds on hand. Some go as far as stocking ammo for guns they do not possess, anticipating using it as precious currency for trade when cash and credit are worthless.
In a theoretical scenario like the one we described above, is this good idea? Is ammo too precious to trade or just another commodity when it is time to barter?
Is it Worth Keeping So Much Ammunition on Hand?
Seems like a pretty dense question, even for a hypothetical, right? In seriousness, security is high on the list of human needs. I am talking about physical security for the purposes of this discussion, not emotional security or whatever, but the two are more closely linked than you might think.
Assume we are smack in the middle of Life After The End™. Gone are the tenuous links and rules that incentivize most people to cooperate, or at least not attack each other. Now pour on to that a heaping serving of life-changing stress, desperation and utter need, and you have a great fomenting of the darker impulses that lie on the backside of many folk’s hearts.
Whatever their reasons, some of your fellow citizens will attack you, try to steal from you, or just attack you for the sheer, bloodthirsty joy of it. That’s a sucky thing to hear, but it is in all probability true. The personal weapon of our era is the firearm. They serve good and bad alike, but for a potential victim, the gun is what will help turn the tables on the victimizer, or at least halt his depraved act.
Guns are obviously no good without ammo, and most modern ones can chomp through it with quickness. It makes sense to both carry and stash considerably more than you think you might need. Barney Fife might have gotten by with one bullet in his pocket, just in case, but you aren’t Barney, and this ain’t Mayberry.
A real quick aside: I know a few of you readers might not keep or even like guns, and have alternate plans for self-defense in good times and post-SHTF. They can break, malfunction, run out of ammo, etc. I get it, and you are entirely correct on all counts. You do you; I’ll assume you have valid, well-reasoned arguments for why you are omitting the single most effective weapon system you can carry for combating another human being. Even if that is the case, hear me out, as those little bang-bangs may become very valuable in very bad times, and you’d do well to keep some on hand for just such an occasion. Moving on.
If keeping the guns running and fed is a big part of ensuring physical security (assuming you can use it well), that means the ammunition is a crucial commodity. If the factories aren’t cranking out mountains of fresh cartridges, that means the supply is steadily dwindling, more or less. Sure, handloaders will be smirking with every clink of a newly minted, homebrew round into the bucket, but the rest of us will be forced to make do with what is on hand, what we can scavenge, and what we can barter for.
Even for the handloaders, their supplies of essential components like primers will eventually run out, and they’ll be in the same boat as the rest of us. It is the last source of ammo I mentioned, barter, that will make it worthwhile to keep a surplus of ammunition on hand.
The Lead Standard
I propose that in times of utter lawlessness (or in times of peace) there is only one universally accepted medium of exchange, and that is force. Force conveys the same thing in every language, no matter where you come from, or what your opinion of its worth might be. Force has been used since before history began, and will be used until it ends. When all other means of diplomacy and negotiation fail, the only question left is, “Can my force conquer yours?”
It is the threat of force that will keep the looter and marauder at bay. Force is what you and your tribe of survivors will use to keep the wolves outside the proverbial (or literal) walls. A means of projecting force farther will help keep you from harm, and is proportionally more valuable still.
Guns project that force, and do so in an efficient manner. That value is taken for granted now, but after a society-collapsing event, it will be the rare person who does not come around to the “lead” standard of a loaded firearm. This truth is what ensures ammunition will be valuable trade fodder virtually everywhere. I believe finding guns, working guns, will be comparatively simple. Guns are the ultimate in durable goods, after all, and don’t forget their enormous quantity the world over. It is finding ammo that will quickly become difficult in any kind of protracted situation, especially if you inhabit an area riven with violence, or one that demographically was anti-gun.
So when folks’ supplies run out or get low, if you are sitting on a small mound of ammunition you will have a significant advantage in any post-collapse market or trading post. There are other considerations, however.
What is Ammo Worth in Trade?
That question is tough to answer with any kind of certainty. A likely response is, “whatever people are willing to trade for it.” Someone on their last magazine or completely empty may be willing to pay dearly for it. You might have ammo enough to outlast the sun, but need medicines, fuel, tools, parts, or expertise that another survivor could offer in return. Per basic laws of economics, as supply dwindles, price increases. So while a fistful of .22 or 9mm may rate small bills or coins initially, let the supply dry up and the guns go quiet and you’ll see that same amount of ammo fetch a princely sum with those who lack it.
If you are stocked to the rafters with ammo, now will be your time to get whatever you are running low on or failed to stash before the world went mad. So much the better if you are trading away ammo that your guns don’t chamber. Whatever you keep on hand for your guns, you’d be well advised to maintain at least a small reserve of the most common handgun, shotgun and rifle rounds: .22 LR, 9mm, .45ACP, 12 ga., 5.56mm/.223 Rem. and 7.62mm NATO/.308 Win. if only for trading.
Security is Paramount
In any situation where people are desperate, missing meals, lacking basic care, and living in squalor, you’ll have the potential for thievery and violence. If you are seen by your fellow survivors to be well-armed, well-fed and generally better off than they are, they’ll probably remember that. If they see you more than once, or see several members of your party in the same sporty shape as you are, they’ll begin to wonder where you keep your cache.
That kind of attention leads nowhere good, and fast. It might amount to simple thieves poking around. It might lead to a coordinated raid or strike on your location by an organized group intent on plunder or desperate resupply. They may target and roll you on your way to or back from a deal. Sure, generosity may win the day here, but word travels, and takes on a life of its own. If you get the reputation as Bill The Bullet Man, that can be good and bad.
Remember the old wartime warning of “loose lips sink ships?” Even if you trade regularly in a marketplace or something similar, rest assured the wrong people will be keen to find out where that steady supply comes from, and help themselves to a All-You-Can-Carry special.
If you are planning to barter ammo as part of a greater strategy, you must take care that only your most trusted insiders know that where your stash is, same as any other basic prepper precautions. If you are a lone wolf or member of a small group, ensuring the physical security of the stash location and any forays to trade will be doubly difficult. The only people that need to know you are prepping are you and yours. Let anyone else in on that fact only after significant deliberation.
The specifics governing day-to-day interaction with other survivors or travelers in the aftermath of a major event are almost too many to anticipate. The situation may be so chaotic and nihilistic that trade is impossible or curtailed, though I believe this outcome to be unlikely. In such an instance, though, it would be better to have far too much ammo than too little.
Keeping a literal ton of ammo on hand will necessitate a few changes in the way you do things. Most obviously, you’ll need some place to keep it. Modern cartridges, given just a little attention to storage, will last a very long time, so you don’t need to worry about spoilage or anything like that. However, ammo takes up a fair amount of space and is pretty heavy for its size. Keeping anything more than a few thousand rounds on hand will see much of it will be left behind if you bug-out or hit the road in anything but a large vehicle or something equipped with additional storage or towing capacity.
The implications of such a heavily-laden move are a whole ‘nother conversation. Essentially, if your initial response plan is to leave your residence and head elsewhere, your hard-reserve need only amount to what ammo you can take with you, or at least account for the fact that much of your stock will be left behind as mentioned. If you have a prepared bug-out location, secondary residence or similar, you might choose to prep that location with the bulk of your stock. You will of course need to take standard precautions for keeping both the location and its contents safe or well hidden.
Since you are taking the time to lay-in such a large quantity of ammo, it pays to anticipate the needs of others that might be in your group, be they a planned or incidental addition. Neighbors, friends, coworkers, anyone you care about who may be in need of a top off. You may be planning to go dark, make yourself scarce, and wait for the whole crisis to blow over (hopefully), and that’s fine. But don’t forget that your friends can help you get there, and you can help them in return, even if it just to help them get a little farther down the road.
Ammunition has only a dollar value attached to it, for now. Factories burn day and night cranking out ammunition in a veritable sea of brass and lead. But in the aftermath of a major catastrophe, it is my opinion that ammunition will become increasingly valuable as supply dwindles and what limited production remains ceases, certainly worth enough immediately after the onset of any long-term society-altering event to make for universally accepted trade commodity.
You’d be wise to keep plenty on hand, both to ensure you and yours remain protected for the duration, but also to ensure you can get what you need in exchange from fellow preppers and survivors.
How much ammo do you plan to keep on hand in case SHTF? Would you be willing to trade it for other goods, or not? Let us know what you think in the comments!
Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.