Gun ammo shelf life

Discussion in 'Hunting & Fishing' started by KC8UXU, Nov 5, 2008.

  1. KC8UXU

    KC8UXU Member

    Is there a shelf life for ammo? Does it vary for different kinds?
    Best ways of storing ammo?

    Thanks - Tim
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2008
  2. ke4sky

    ke4sky ke4sky

    Ammo shelf life - 20+ years if kept cool, dry, dark

    This is a GREAT question and is also one I have some experience with.

    Store reloading components and ammunition in a cool, dry place, protected from direct exposure to sunlight. DO NOT store ammo in the trunk of your car or in your attic. A dark corner of your basement or bedroom closet is fine, but off the floor and not in contact with outside walls where it could be affected by condensation or flooded if your basement sump pump fails.

    Modern smokeless powder and primers are chemically stable for 20 years or more if kept in the original manufacturer's packaging. US military ammunition made since WWII is quite stable when properly stored. During Desert Storm mechanized units of the US Army expended the last stocks of WWII dated cal. .50 linked API M8 and APIT M20. I am still using TW54 headstamped .30-'06 Ball M2 and ECC43 WWII-era .45 ACP hardball.

    The only instances I have personally experienced where "shelf life" of commercial ammo was an issue occurred in paper cased shotshells and .22 rimfire. I had both 12-gr. and .410 shotshells which developed pinholes or case splits above the brass upon firing. I also have experienced .22 rimfire ammo from the 1960s in which age-hardened brass caused burst rims upon firing. The resulting gas leakage caused no damage to the gun, and other than being startled from a blast of "heat" in my face, I was not injured because I always wear glasses, as you should too!

    Another shelf life factor on .22 ammo with greased bullets is that some bullet lubricants "dry out" and flake off. This exposes the lead to ambient air and causes it to oxidize. Oxidation changes the dimensions of the exposed bullet so that rounds may not chamber. Loss of lubrication causes bore leading and poor accuracy.

    All is not lost if you are frugal and patient. I salvaged several thousand rounds of a prized 1967lot of paper-boxed Eley Tenex which would have cost over a thousand dollars to replace at current prices. This required painstakingly wiping each cartridge carefully with a cotton cleaning patch VERY lightly moistened with Mineral Oil, USP from the drug store, wiping again with a clean patch and then applying a VERY thin coat of Mobil lithium wheel bearing grease with my fingers and re-boxing it. This labor intensive procedure is not cost effective for cheap ammo which is easily replaced. I was delighted to find that my salvaged batch of Eley still grouped 3/4 inch for ten shots at 25 yards from my 1936 Walther Olympia target pistol and the same at 50 yards from my scoped Ruger M77/.22 and that I had saved roughly $1000 for my determined effort.

    I have since decided that the only .22 ammo I will save for long term storage is CCI brand, having unplated bullets lubricated with clear paraffin wax. I have several thousand rounds of CCI Standard Velocity ammo bought in the early 1980s "before Green Tag" and its familiar black bullets coated in "jelly jar wax" shoot every bit as well today as the day I bought it. The folks at Lewison, ID explained to me then that they used paraffin wax with a 160-degree melting point. In their lubricating process bullets are hot-dipped after they come off the knurling and crimping station, and the coating covers the case mouth so that the cartridge is waterproofed.

    This was is not the process used in other brands of .22 ammo. Winchester T22 and Federal Champion I bought about the same time, had bullets lubricated with a water-soluable wax emulsion. In this process bullets are washed in the lube prior to loading and allowed to dry before being assembled on the loading machine. Knurling of the bullet is done on the crimper. This results in the lubricant coating being non-continuous where it is disturbed by the knurling tool, and cartridges are not waterproof. After long storage their lube turned to a "flaky fuzz." I blasted them up in my old Remington 550-1 autoloader which "eats anything" and has some split cases and barrel leading, but nothing a good soak in Ed's Red wouldn't cure.

    These days I buy only two kinds of .22 LR ammo, CCI Subsonic Hollowpoint for hunting loads and CCI Blazer high velocity for plinking. These ammos give me the best bang for the buck.

    Not all CCI Blazer ammo has the black bullets coated in jelly jar wax. Since ATK Tech Systems bought CCI, Federal and Speer, some .22 Blazer ammo is loaded by Federal and has unplated bright lead bullets which have a clear, almost invisible dry lube on them which resembles Rooster Jacket. "Shiny bullet" Federal-ATK (Anoka, MN) Blazer .22 ammo shoots just was well as the "black bullet" CCI (Lewiston, ID) stuff, but I don't know its shelf life.

    Ask me again in 25 years. :)
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2008

  3. coinguy

    coinguy Guest

    Yes, keep it cool and dry. Ammo likes the same environment that you do. Modern ammo will out last most of us if stored this way. We shoot a fair bit of military surplus, often dating to the 50's, and it is mostly 100% firing. We occasionally get a lot that has misfires. You have no way to know how it has been stored over the decades. Maybe in a hot, humid warehouse in some third world country? Probably.

    Make sure you keep any ammonia away from it! This is the surest way to kill brass and could lead to all kinds of nastyness happening when you fire it.

    Military ammo cans make great storage containers. With a good seal in them, they keep it sealed from moisture.

    With lead bullets, especially .22, heat is a killer but not for the powder like you might think. The bullets are lubed with waxy lubes, and this lube will melt into and kill the powder and/or primers.

  4. KC8UXU

    KC8UXU Member

    Lots of good info.......

    Thanks - Tim
  5. e3mrk

    e3mrk New Member

    I keep My Ammo and reloads in Military Ammo Cans that still have a good seal,I also put a desiccant bag in each one to absorb whatever moisture is there.
  6. youpock

    youpock Well-Known Member

  7. Canadian

    Canadian Well-Known Member

    The majority of mine is surplus. I try to keep the temperature in the gun room constant and keep the humidity down. I have everything siting on insulating foam so there's no heat/cold transfer from the floor.
  8. headhunter

    headhunter Member

    The father-in-law had some 30 Luger and 303 Savage from the early '50s and no problem.
    In the '90s I had the privilege of dealing with some .22 ammo - 432K of rimfire DCM ammo which was starting to have problems because r it was transported from where to was stored to the range and the at the close of the season returned to storage. From the jostling the priming was breaking loose.
    Reloaded ammo will sometimes "bond" bullet and case together and at the end of three years should be reseated. This can be accomplished by setting the seating die about a quarter turn deeper. Some of the cartridges nothing happens on others there is a audible "pop" as the bullet is pushed back. I've read where some speculate it is the fact the used case contains powder residue which acts as a binding agent.
  9. turkeydog

    turkeydog Member

    Very thorough and (imho) accurate response to the question. I would add one VERY important point. Ammunition that is old, and I mean really old like 30 years plus, gets hotter when it degrades. The powder begins to degrade, thus becomes even MORE unstable, and therefore burns quicker and creates much higher pressures. do NOT shoot old military ammo unless you know your gun is stout and can handle it. inexpesive or light framed guns should not be used with really old military surplus, and the first few shells should be checked for signs of overpressure, such as cracked cases, flattened or split primers, etc. Stop shooting it if you see such stuff. If you determine it's unsafe to shoot, use a bullet puller and save the bullet for reloading and use the unsafe powder for garden fertilizer as it is extremely high in nitrogen!!!
  10. turkeydog

    turkeydog Member

    Another point. If you buy military style guns like M-1 garands , M-14, M1 carbines, Swiss 6.5mm, etc, etc, ONLY use military grade ammo in them. Newer civilian hunting ammo is generally much higher in pressure than the military ammo of days gone by, so the guns won't take it. Ex. the .30-06 ammo for WWII M-1 Garands and Springfield rifles only went about 2800 ft per second, maybe less. Modern .30-06 will push the same weight bullet to over 3000 ft per second. it takes a lot of pressure to gain that extra 200 feet per second, and that added pressure can, and has frequently, blown surplus military guns apart. Always buy military grade (either new or surplus) for military style weapons.

    Just a safety point.
  11. LongRider

    LongRider Well-Known Member

    In the 70's I shot a lot of WWII and Korean War era ammo, over a few years I must have shot thousands of rounds of .308 and .45 did not have a single FTF that I recall. Keep it dry, away from solvents and you should be good to go.
  12. ENIGMA6

    ENIGMA6 Member

    Ammo shelf life

    Back in 1975 my father-in-law gave me some US military 45 ACP ammo he had found in the county landfill. Some were headstamped 1914, others 1918. I decided to try some of it out, firing a mixed lot in my pistol. All that I attempted to fire went off correctly, and seemed to have normal recoil, except for a few whose cases had been corroded through [they didn't go off at all]. There is no telling how this ammo had been stored, but those that had clean cases were good to go.
  13. Magus

    Magus Scavenger deluxe

    DAMN GOOD safety point!Springfield Armory had in their paperwork in 85' that firing commercial ammo in their M1-A voided the warranty,likewise DPMS voids the warranty on their uppers for using steel case ammo.

    I still have some super corrosive German 7.62X51 I bought years ago made in 71' I usually take 100 rounds with me when I get brave enough to shoot my FAL.
  14. A-WAX

    A-WAX Member

    Very informative. Thanks
  15. usanightemplr13

    usanightemplr13 New Member

    ammo stored in hummid basement for years. is there a safe way to dry/de-humidify the loaded cases?
  16. Moby76065

    Moby76065 Texan!

    Thanks ke4sky, great response sir.

    I'm a firm believer in .50 ammo boxes and absorbent packets.
  17. zombieresponder

    zombieresponder random gibberish

    The simple answer to this is that unless it's corroded, it's probably safe to fire. That's not to say that it will perform as it should, just that it will go bang. In some extreme instances, I would be very careful of ammo stored(long term) in very high temps if I were also firing it in high temperatures. That's limited to cartridges that are already at the extreme edge of safe pressures though, like the .454 Casull at the full 60K PSI....commercial ammo(for this cartridge) isn't even loaded close to max SAAMI pressure to avoid any issues.
  18. LongRider

    LongRider Well-Known Member

    Simple and correct. Perfectly good practice ammo, I would not use it for self defense given a choice.
  19. rachilders

    rachilders Active Member

    I have ammo still in the original boxes from the 1970's that works just fine. It's mainly 22lr, 38spl and 9mm and I've been using it up first since supply's have tightened recently as practice rounds. I've keep it indoors where it's a/c'd and heated so it hasn't been exposed to extreme swings in temp and humidity. That has helped keep it "fresh" I'm sure. OTOH, I've had friends who also kept spare ammunition in a garage or shed for decades and didn't have problems. It seems that as long a it doesn't get wet or damaged in some way, most ammunition will outlast it's owners.
  20. Dakine

    Dakine Uber Newbie

    it might go bang, but that doesnt mean it's still as accurate as when manufactured. I had a box of ammo that was my uncles before his rifle was stolen when their house was burglarized.

    I dont know when he bought that ammo but I put a bunch through my .30-06 and it was all over the paper. I loaded up some new stuff I'd just recently bought and was punching clover leafs.

    Now the bullets were still on paper, so I guess it was "minute of elk" but it was NOT accurate by any means in my opinion. Better than nothing at least.

    The time frame that I know I had that box of ammo before shooting it was 20+ years.

    I also fired some PMC .223 out of one of my AR's that had been stored inside in AZ but in my garage in CA, and it does get warm here during the summers, those rounds were all within a paper plate at 50 yards, but consistently off target based on new ammo. It was still in the silhouette target, but shooting him in the left lower quadrant wasnt the goal when aiming at center mass which new ammo hit consistently.

    based on my experiences with factory ammo, they do degrade, every single one of them went bang, but they were definitely suffering from age and exposure to being poorly stored. (entirely my fault)

    Given those experiences and how scarce ammo has become, AND reloading materials... if I was going to be processing a batch of .223 or .30-06 cases to turn into reloads, I'd yank the bullets with the mallet, and I'd put all the powder into a container to properly dispose of while observing all city, county, state, federal, global and celestial rules and regulations, and then I'd reload them with new powder.