Storing Ammunition: The 13 Tips Every Gun Owners Needs To Know

Ammunition is as much an investment as the firearms it is used in. Whether you are spending a few dollars on a box of range rounds or hundreds of dollars on self-defense ammo or specialty hunting ammunition, that is money you would rather not lose through faulty handling of the ammunition. Sadly, far too many gun owners take meticulous care of even their cheapest firearm while at the same time throwing their ammo supply behind the seat in their truck, in an unused closet or behind the workbench in the garage. The end result is ammo that cannot be used and money lost. But we are here to help you avoid that from happening.

Where can ammo be stored?

The simple answer is anywhere that is dark, dry and cool. These conditions provide the best overall conditions for long term viability. But what does dark, dry and cool mean? It is also important to understand why each of these conditions are important as this will assist you in evaluating a potential storage method. Let’s start with the why.

Store ammo in a dark, dry and cool space

The guidance dark, dry and cool is a long-held standard for ammunition storage. It is easy to understand why each of the three rules were important in a time of powder, ball and wad. A dark, dry, cool location protected the ammo for getting the biggest causes of deterioration- humidity, chemical break down and fire or explosion. Although today’s ammunition is far more stable than kegs of powder it is still susceptible to damage.

Humidity is by far the single greatest danger when it comes to ammunition. Even a little bit of moisture can promote rusting or similar corrosion, something many people think is only the result of getting wet. It takes very little moisture to result in a failure, especially if it penetrates the primer or main cartridge case. No matter what else you do, if you can not keep your ammunition dry as possible it will eventually be ruined.

Can ammo get wet?

Yes, ammunition can get wet and still function. It happens to some degree all the time, whether it is the result of a hunter who gets caught in a rain storm or a Navy SEAL who swims ashore for a mission. While there was a time when even a minor spring shower could stop an army in its tracks that is no longer the case. Thanks to major innovations in design, manufacturing and chemical composition of powders today’s ammunition are more than capable of withstanding normal exposure to water if it is dried and checked for damage prior to being stored or used again.

What happens when ammo gets wet?

In most cases nothing dramatic will happen if your ammo gets wet. Unless damaged the primer and bullet will be virtually waterproof and prevent water from reaching the powder. Of course, there is a limit to any item that claims to be “waterproof”, which tends to be more accurately “water resistant”. After prolonged submersion, repeated exposure or poor care after such exposure the seals are likely to be compromised and may fail when you attempt to fire it.

Corroded Ammo

Darkness does not prevent fire, but it does prevent premature break down of seals and packaging matters. Think about what happens to a shirt or hat left in your vehicle for an extended period. The material discolors, becomes faded and eventually unused. Same holds true for ammunition. Even if the case appears well taken care of extended exposure to light can weaken seals and damage packaging, which is the first step towards compromised ammunition.

Now we come to keeping your ammo cool. This is one area where the modern requirements differ greatly from those needed to protect early powders. Where original powders were unstable and could react violently to heat modern ammo is far more reliable. Despite the saying “dark, dry and cool” cool has come to mean “free from temperature fluctuations”. Now days it is not necessarily extreme cold or heat that is dangerous, it is the frequent change in temperature that results in damage. Ammunition is more than capable of withstanding temperatures in excess of 100 degree or below freezing but cannot be subjected to constantly changing temperatures.

Let’s look at some of the more common questions gun owners have when it comes to ammo storage and temperature:

Can ammo freeze?

Ammo will not freeze unless there is moisture present. As stated earlier, moisture is already a problem. The real question is whether ammo can be stored in freezing temperatures? To this second question, the answer is no. While storing in freezing temperatures will not cause your ammo to freeze it will cause the cartridge to constrict, thus having the potential to alter how the bullet is seated. This, in turn, will likely change the ballistic characteristics of the ammunition.

Can ammo be stored in heat?

Unlike cold, which does not necessarily damage ammo but can impact performance, extreme heat will eventually damage the round itself. Factory loads are designed to withstand high temperatures, but by high temperatures, designers mean hot weather and not unnatural temperatures. At temperatures above 125-150 degrees, a point easily reached inside a car during summer, the components will start to breakdown. Over time the primers can fail, or the powder can stop burning properly.

What happens when ammo is in a fire?

This depends on how the ammo is stored and the level of exposure to heat or flame. If loose or packaged ammo is exposed to the heat of a fire it will rupture at temperatures greater than 250 degrees. In this case, the case is likely to rupture, and the primer will probably be unharmed. When placed directly in a fire the cases will probably explode. In neither case will the round fire in the same way it does when loaded into a firearm.

What happens when ammo burns?

Very little will happen when ammo is in a fire, at least at first. Until the temperatures reach critical levels, approximately 250 degrees, the ammo will not react to burning. As the temperature rises the cartridge case will usually rupture although primers may withstand far higher temperatures without damage. It is possible that the bullets will discharge as the pressure in the cartridge heats and expands, however, it will not have the velocity of a round fired from a firearm.

Where can you store your ammo?

So, now that you know what your need to protect your ammo from it is time to decide where to put it. If money and size were of no concern you could do what the military does – construct large concrete lined, underground bunkers. By being underground you obtain protection from temperature changes. The concrete or steel lining can keep out moisture or keep it at manageable levels. This construction also protects from direct sunlight. You would meet at three portions of the “dark, dry and cool” scenario.

But who has the ability to build such an elaborate storage facility? You need an alternative. Luckily, most homes have spaces suitable for long term storage. Almost any space can be converted to a proper ammunition storage area IF it keeps everything dark, dry & cool. There are, however, some places which are better than others. Let’s see how some of the more popular areas stack up.

Can ammo be stored in a garage?

The garage can be the perfect place to store you ammo, if it is a cool, dry & cool environment. Storing in a safe will provide additional protection, some even include dehumidifiers. If you live in a northern environment be sure to equip the space with a heating/cooling system to avoid extreme temperature spikes or drops.

Can ammo be stored in a basement?

A properly constructed basement is an excellent place for your ammo stockpile. Being below the normal surface means protection from direct sunlight and fluctuations in temperatures. Of course, every plus has a negative attached and when it comes to basements as ammo storage locations that negative is potential moisture. Although the basement may be a viable ammo storage location doing so may increase the potential for long-term damage.

How can you store your ammo?

Once you have selected a location it is time to decide how you will store your ammo. You can always purchase a large safe, similar to those used to store firearms, which will protect from environmental threats as well as theft or unauthorized use. But doing so can be very expensive and not everyone has a situation suitable for a large, heavy safe. If you are on a budget, live in an apartment or do not have a stockpile large enough to justify a safe there are other options.

The easiest means of storing ammo is to do so the same way manufacturers do- by simply keeping it in the original containers.  Although cans and original boxes are the best means of storing ammo there a host of other ways to store and organize ammo as well. Loose rounds can be stored in buckets, coffee cans or even large heavy duty ziplock bags. Some people have even used vacuum food savers and literally sealed the stored ammo in long sleeves. Bottom line is you can store ammo in almost anything, but still need to protect it as much as possible from the elements. Even if your container is placed inside a room, safe or other area selected because it provides protection anything can fail, and it is the container that provides one last level of protection

Why use ammo cans?

Ammo can are probably the most popular method of storing ammo. It makes sense because that is exactly what they are designed for and you are not trying to repurpose something to meet you needs. There are two types of ammo cans available, metal or plastic, and two sources available, new construction or military surplus. There are pluses and minuses to each.

50 Cal Ammo Can
All-Metal 50 Cal Ammo Can

Although surplus cans tend to be a bit more durable and available in a variety of sizes, they are second hand. You run the risk of getting a can that has been previously damaged or that has worn a seal.

New commercial cans, on the other hand, may be constructed of lower grade materials or plastic, each of which may fail if filled to maximum capacity. These plastic cans have also been reported to fail when submerged or under heavy water exposure. Best advice is you inspect any can and select only those that are strongest and in the best condition.

How long can you expect your ammunition to last?

Modern ammunition standards have without a doubt surpassed anything that could have been imagined 100 or even 50 years ago. There was a time when even the best carried for ammo had a surprisingly short shelf life. That is no longer the case. Where ammunition was once capable of safely being used for only a few years from manufacture modern ammo has a shelf life that can stretch into decades.

Can ammo go bad/expire?

Ammunition does not have an expiration date, at least not in the way that food or other perishables do. There is not a date after which ammunition is “bad” and needs to be disposed of. If properly cared for ammunition can be viable for decades. Of course, the single biggest factor in determining just how long ammo can be stored is how it is stored.

What happens when ammo goes bad?

Despite the fact that modern ammunition can be safely stored for much longer periods than before it can, and will eventually, go bad. What this means depends on why it went bad. If this was due to poor storage (ie. allowing it to get wet) you will likely see the cartridges rust, corrode or fail. Barring visible damage, the biggest concern is that the longer it is in storage the greater the chance is the powder will have lost its potency. When this happens, the round may still fire, in fact, it is likely this will occur, but the round will suffer from reduced power and either lose ballistic performance or even become lodged in the barrel.

So how long can ammo be stored?

Unfortunately, there is not a hard fast rule for how long ammunition can be stored (also called ammunition shelf life). Remember, it never really expires and how long it will remain viable depends on storage conditions. However, many manufacturers recommend not keeping any ammunition older than 10 years.

The best way to make sure you’re using ammunition in its prime is to shoot it on a regular basis using a First-In-First-Out (FIFO) rotation method. So, take your oldest cases of ammo to the range with you and leave the boxes of the new rounds you just got from BulkMunitions at home (for the next range day)!

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