Primers and The Great Primer Scare

Originally published at Notes from the bunker…. You can comment here or there.

As it turns out, Cabela’s has the SR primers I need on sale and, as fate would have it, an LMI buddy of mine will be passing by the Idaho store today on his way here. So…I’ll have him pick up a case and call it good.

It may be before the time of some of you, but back in the Clinton years there was what came to be called The Great Primer Scare. This is an excellent example of a self-fulfilling prophecy (of sorts) and a standout example of panic buying and supply/demand.

Gather ’round, youngsters…’Ol Uncle Zero is telling stories from the olden days.

A rumor went around that the Clinton cabal were going to pass an edict making it so that newly manufactured primers would ‘go bad’ or become inert within six months of their manufacture. The idea was to prevent evil militia-types from stockpiling ammo. As it sturns out, according to the ammo companies, such formulations and technology did exist but you couldnt accurately use it. What that means is that while they could make a primer that would go inert after a set amount of time, they couldnt really narrow it down to six months. It might go dead in six days, six weeks or six months…the precision timing wasnt there. Part of this rumor had a small basis in fact…a couple manufacturers had been experimenting with lead-free primers and the results had been spotty, and this may have led credence to the rumors about primer reformulation being in the works.


This rumor started gaining traction on the interweb and pretty soon you couldnt find primers for sale anywhere. People ran out an stockpiled tens of thousands of primers. Naturally, when Joe Blow went to the store and found they were sold out of primers he figured there must be something to that rumor and he went to another store and cleaned them out of primers. And in this way these rumors gain traction and become self-fulfilling…this despite the fact that, primer-wise, nothing had changed.

Think youre having a hard time finding Federal bulk .22 now? This was a zillion times worse. Guys who normally bought a brick of primers were buying entire inventories. The ammo companies were quick to point out that there was no mandate coming to make self-inactivating primers but no one really listened. It was some serious panic buying. Eventually it all slowed own, the rumor was forgotten and people calmed down. However, like many panics, it left an impression on some people. There are a lot of folks out there, and I mean a lot, who took a lesson from the experience and keep stockpiles of primers on hand to ward against any future shortages. Personally, I try to keep 10k of each kind on hand – SP,SR,SRM, SPM, etc, etc. If you store them properly, in an ammo can for example, they’ll keep for decades. See, while you can fab up bullets from wheelweights, mix up black powder from a few sources, and reload your fired brass cases, there is no practical way to reload your own primers. (Yes, I know you can reload your primers with compounds taken from match heads…but thats a spotty method and not very practical in large quantities.) Without primers, your back in the world of the rocklock.

So, anyway, I’ll get 5k of the SR primers today and I’ll be back at a happy threshold that keeps me confident in my ability to make ammo as I need it.

(Tangentially, theres a whole ‘nother issue present which is – why stock components to make ‘x’ amount of ammo instead of just keeping ‘x’ amount on ammo? But, as Alton Brown would say, thats another show…….)