I’m a shooter who likes to hang out with other shooters. My group of shooting buddies regularly go through a lot of ammo, mostly .22 LR, 9mm, .45acp, and 5.56 for the AR-15s. Oh, and 7.62×39 and 5.45×39 for the AKs, 7.62x54R for the Mosin Nagants… oh dear. We really do go through a lot of ammo. However, each of us has a stash of ammo that stays absolutely untouched, just in case the s&*t ever hits the fan. The SHTF stash is spoken about rarely in person, in hushed tones and only with close friends. More often it is discussed over the Internet, where folks take comfort in relative anonymity, as if the government will track you down and take you away for hoarding ammo. In reality there is no legal limit to the amount of ammunition we can possess here in the USA, despite that forwarded junk e-mail you got claiming that a new “arsenal law” will soon take effect. The SHTF stash is more common than a lot of people want to admit. Simply, it’s the high-quality stuff you don’t intend to shoot just for fun, carefully stored in a cool, dry place. Hopefully the SHTF stash stays carefully packaged for the rest of your natural life. But should the unthinkable occur—social unrest, government tyranny, foreign invasion, or green aliens from Mars—just how much SHTF ammo will you really need? The answer is “probably not as much as you think.”
I know some guys who really live by the motto, “Buy it cheap, stack it deep.” A very good friend of mine liked to buy a case of corrosive surplus 8mm Mauser ammo with every paycheck, back when that stuff was super cheap. I don’t know how much he has, but if he gets paid every two weeks and he followed this plan for two years, he would have nearly 50,000 rounds of 8mm ammo. That’s pretty close to a lifetime supply, assuming he continues shooting it through five-shot bolt-action Mausers. Not everyone can afford to do what he did, but I’ve seen posts on the internet seriously suggesting that 10,000 rounds of ammo is a “minimum” cache to survive the coming troubles. Really? Lets think about this from a practical standpoint and work it backwards. Don’t think about how much ammo you have in reserve, think about how much ammo you can actually carry!
Lets assume that your SHTF gun of choice is a high capacity semi-automatic carbine, like an AK-47 or AR-15. And lets assume that when the lights go out and things go bad, you’ll be wearing a standard style chest rig with enough pouches to hold six 30-round magazines, all day every day and sometimes at night too. Further, you’ll have one more 30-round magazine in your rifle ready to go, giving you a sum total of 210 rounds of ammo on your person. If you’re rocking polymer Magpul P-Mags, that’s 28 pounds of ammo and mags to carry wherever you go. Kalashnikov fans, those steel AK mags and the ammo in them weigh even more! The rifle you’re carrying started out as a lightweight carbine, but after adding a rail system, a red dot sight and a tactical light, its about ten pounds now. You’ll need two liters of water in a camelback (five pounds), some food (two pounds), a sidearm and its holster (nearly three pounds loaded), ammo for the sidearm (two more pounds)… phew, we’re already at fifty pounds worth of stuff. Then, if you’re super tactical like me, you sandwich yourself between two Level IV stand-alone ceramic body armor plates. Weight: 15 pounds, not including the weight of the plate carrier that holds them. If you think this sounds ugly, I’m actually going easy with these estimates—our young soldiers out in harms way often carry much more. My point is that 210 rounds is a pretty standard combat loadout and if you’re tempted to reply “I can carry a lot more than that,” you need to start thinking about what other important things you’ll leave behind in the name of carrying more ammo.
Two hundred and ten rounds of ammunition is actually quite a lot. The chances of you blowing through that much ammunition all at once with a semi-automatic firearm are pretty slim no matter the circumstances. Only high volume of fire events like “break contact” drills or defending against a “human wave” assault (the zombie guys just got all excited) are going to see that much ammunition expended. Your chances of surviving a scenario like those even with plenty of ammo aren’t very good, either. But lets say you kept seven more spare mags in a duffel bag behind the seat of your truck, and you managed to resupply while the Chinese paratroopers regrouped for a second assault on your apartment building. We are getting silly here, but for purposes of argument we’ll say you survived a massive, video-game style firefight in which your trusty carbine expended double the amount of ammunition you can actually carry. That’s a sum total of 420 rounds. Now, if you somehow survived not one but two of these epic firefights, you would have used 840 rounds of ammo. If your SHTF stash had originally consisted of a single 1,000 round case, you’d still have more than enough ammo left over to fill five 30-round magazines.
The bottom line is that you personally don’t need ten thousand rounds of ammo to survive a SHTF situation. If you want to buy extra ammo to hand out to your friends and neighbors if things go bad, that’s great and I’m sure they’ll appreciate it. Maybe having extra boxes of rounds available to barter in exchange for other necessities is a good idea too. But at the end of the day, a couple of cases of quality rifle ammunition stashed away for yourself is more than enough to see you through any realistically foreseeable circumstance.