Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Let’s start out with a simple fact: Contrary to what you may have heard, ammunition does have a shelf life and will go bad eventually.
Here’s another simple fact: Ammo is not cheap and adds up quickly, especially when you purchase ammunition in bulk. If you want to protect your investment, you’ll want to extend your ammunition’s shelf life for as long as possible.
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Proper ammunition storage should become an even greater concern for you when considering that ammo shortages happen fairly regularly. And one day, there could be a major disaster that severely reduces ammunition production for a long time.
For example, when new Federal gun control laws were thought to be a near-certain thing in late 2012 and early 2013, there was a massive shortage of ammunition in general, and the prices skyrocketed.
If there were to ever be a major disaster in the United States, such as an EMP attack or cataclysmic natural disaster or total economic collapse, there would almost certainly be a major ammunition shortage as well.
And even if a shortage never happens, failing to store the ammunition properly will result in it degrading or corroding, which will greatly impact performance and perhaps even result in it becoming unsafe to shoot at all.
This is why it’s not just enough to stockpile ammunition. You need to know how to stockpile it. The good news is that properly stored ammunition in the right conditions can last for decades while still retaining safety and performance.
With that in mind, here are some tips you can follow to ensure that your ammunition lasts for decades:
Rotate Your Ammo Out Regularly
Perhaps the number one piece of advice to follow for ammo shortage is to rotate it out. This means that if you buy a new box of ammo, think twice about shooting that ammo right now.
Instead, consider taking out an older box of ammo you’ve had for a while and shoot that, while placing the newer box into storage.
Store Your Ammo At Room Temperature
You need to be extremely selective about the location where you store any kind of ammunition. Anywhere outdoors, in a shed, garage, or damp basement will be an automatic no-go.
Even though ammunition today is manufactured to be used in extremely hot or cold conditions, storing your ammo in either of those temperatures over the long term will shorten its overall life. A golden rule of thumb to follow is to ensure that your ammo is stored at room temperature.
Ensure That Your Ammo Is Kept Dry
There is no greater threat to ammo than moisture and humidity. In fact, keeping your ammunition free of moisture and humidity is even more important than the actual temperature of the room.
Moisture will foul up your ammunition’s primers, it will make the powder inside absolutely useless, and it can corrode the bullets and the shell casings alike.
The good news is that these kinds of headaches can be avoided by simply storing your ammunition away in a location that is dry. Basements are often not a good location for storing ammo because they are often a room where moisture can easily collect.
Always choose the driest room possible at room temperature, and also consider placing a dehumidifier in the room as well to ensure that any and all moisture is kept completely out. You can also use a device such as a hygrometer to measure the humidity in a room as well.
Store The Ammo In A Dark Room
Another important rule for storing ammo is to keep it stored in a dark room. This isn’t as critically important as room temperature or the absence of moisture, but it’s still important.
Why keep your ammunition in a dark room? Because UV rays will be damaging to the ammunition (just as it can to your skin). Storing ammo away in a closet or safe will keep it cut off from UV rays forever.
Something else that will keep your ammo cut off from UV rays is storing it in a container, which is what we will talk about next.
Choose Your Containers Strategically
When storing ammunition, don’t just store the actual ammo or the boxes out in the open. Instead, place the boxes or individual rounds in a storage container.
The best kind of ammo storage container for overall value will be the green, metal military ammo cans. These are widely available, very inexpensive, and do a great job at keeping humidity and the elements out.
So long as the ammo cans are properly sealed, you can even put them completely underwater and the inside contents will remain completely dry.
Go with newer ammo cans in good condition and proper sealing. They should be free of cracks, dents, and other blemishes. When storing the ammo in these cans, place silica gel packets into them in order to help prevent moisture from ruining the ammo.
The best size of ammo can to get will be the .50 caliber size. These are large enough to hold fair amounts of ammunition (you can easily fit between five hundred to a thousand rounds of pistol ammo in one), but they will also not be so heavy when fully loaded so that they are no longer portable.
Prevent Unauthorized Access
You want to ensure that your ammunition is secured in a way to prevent unauthorized access, just as you would with firearms. After all, the last thing you should want is for your ammunition to wind up in the hands of children, criminals, or anyone else who shouldn’t get their hands on it. If you fail to prevent unauthorized access, then how can you keep your ammo over the long term?
The safest solution is to lock up your ammunition. Don’t bet on the idea that you can hide all of it somewhere nobody else can find it. A determined and experienced burglar will be able to find almost anything they want when they are searching hard for it (or otherwise, they could end up finding your ammo storage accidentally).
You should give strong consideration to storing your ammo in a metal cabinet or safe that is designed specifically for ammo storage. You can also take the added step of locking the room that the ammunition is in, or storing the ammunition in the ammo cans and then placing a lock over each of the cans.
Monitor Your Ammo
Last but certainly not least, remember to monitor your ammo as well. Write down the date you stored the ammo on a piece of paper and tape it to the outside of the can.
At least once every six months, you would be wise to take a visual look over your ammo and look for any signs of corrosion or imperfections. If you notice any ammo that has become seriously corroded, you will need to throw it out rather than risk shooing it.
Then you can replace the ammo rather than going years without looking at it, only to open it up later to see that the ammunition has been ruined and is no longer shootable.
As one final piece of advice, remember that you should use different kinds of ammunition as it was intended to be used. Cheap range ammo, for instance, isn’t designed to be particularly long-lasting and ensuring that it is kept in a totally moisture-free and dry environment becomes even more important.
Your carry ammunition should also be rotated out normally; the carry ammo you have in your everyday carry pistol now should not be the same ammo you have loaded in it a year or two from now. Also remember that any ammunition you take out into the field will most likely not be suitable for long term storage, because it’s been exposed to the elements.
The good news is that ammunition storage is not nearly as difficult or complicated as you may have previously thought it was, and if you follow the above tips that we have followed here, you can ensure that the ammo you buy today is still good to go ten or more years from now.
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Gerald Lee Kuntze says
I used to store ammo in my basement-rimfire and centerfire, a few years ago my basement flooded and about 40,000 rounds was underwater for about an hour. Amazingly it still shoots fine. I only use it to shoot at steel targets on the range to be sure the bullet has exited the barrel.
WTF? Now there are even advertisements in the posts. !!!!!!
Bob McPherson says
I Have ammo I loaded 35 years ago and stored in 50 cal cans in MTM cases, it all shoots fine.
I think it is cute that some folks think a thousand rounds is stock piling. Heck I go through that in a couple of months at the range. But to stay on the subject. I use the HDX tough storage containers I get at the home depot. I never though to put in some silica jell packets. But I will start doing that. They sit in a climate controlled room. The temperature stays in the mid seventies all the time.
Just because your ammo has never suffered from where it is stored, does not mean you are storing it in the best of conditions. Most modern day ammo will do fine if it stays dry and at roughly the same temperature all the time. If it is in a shed with unconditioned air, the metal can expand and contract enough to damage the power. This doesn’t always happen, but it can. Why take chances. All the information in this article is spot on, even if it is somewhat over kill. Remember, exceptions to the rule, do not necessarily mean the rule is wrong.
I use Flambeau plastic ammo boxes made with Rustoleum addictive guaranteed rust free for 5 years
All sounds great,will have to do this.
ok… if I’m a reloader, what about “new” boxes of powder? still sealed in original containers, but what if I started using some…how to measure condition of the remaining powder?
life long hand loader, and I still have some powders from 1984 and they have been used recently to load some rounds. if it’s kept sealed and dried there isn’t a need to worry on this. I have 7.62/39 ammo from the Vietnam war era and it still fires.
Primers can have problems long before powder. Store away from water sources and in sealed containers in dry cool environements.
“Let’s start out with a simple fact: Contrary to what you may have heard, ammunition does have a shelf life and will go bad eventually.”
Seems a bit misleading, really. Of course ammo has a shelf life. With even the simplest measures it will last decades…I have ammo from the WWII era that fires just fine. so if it lasts that long, then I don’t think this is a truly a critical concern. It just isn’t.
Pete in Alaska says
A vacuum packer such as a Food Saver or the like is very handy when storing munitions and reloading materials. Even long term storage of firearms my be accomplished with one of these Vac Packers.
Rifles or pistols cleaned an places inside a silicon protective sock with some rice or silicon beads put in the bag will keep a firearm perfect an ready for use years down the road.
Ammunition and reloading supplies stored in this manner, minus the antitrust sock, is a huge time extender as well.
All of my “go” bag firearms and munitions are protected in this manner. Also the survival kits an contents on both boats an aircraft are sealed from the elements with this extra level of protection.
The Climate and conditions where you live is a factor in determining where and how your surplus should be stored. I live in an arid area of the US (Colorado), so moisture collecting in the basement or garage isn’t an issue. Even so, don’t set your container directly on the concrete or floor, as that’s the first place moisture will begin to collect. A riser assures air can circulate around yyour container. I use surplus amm cans. I only buy cans that are in very good condition, and even then I still treat the cans. They’re bead blasted and the repainted inside and out with an epoxy enamel. The O-ring seal is removed prior to treating the can and reused if intact. Silica packets are placed with the ammo in the cans and then sealed.
I inherited a couple of thousand rounds of ammo when my Grandfather passed away a few years ago. Mostly .22LR, some of this ammo is pushing 60 years of age (some of the boxes are 50’s era packaging). A few boxes, due to their packaging uniqueness have been vacuum sealed and set aside for posterity (lol). Most of the old .22’s are being shot up, and suprisingly, there’s been very few complete failures to fire. A gun with second strike capability is a must have for old rimfire ammo. Even so, there’s been less than a dozen rounds that completely failed to fire out of the 700 to 800 rounds I’ve fired so far. Would I depend on any of it for small game hunting? No, but it’s fine for target practice. The point is, that if 50 to 60 year old rimfire can still function after its spent most of its life stored in a cool, dry place, centerfire ammo, which is more reliable ignition wise, can be kept for many years without issue, as long as its been stored properly.
I have a lot of Wolf Steel AK ammo and i noticed it getting spotted with rust just in storage! I coated them with Eezox and let dry (yes it is safe to do) and the rounds have not rusted further. I have about 1000 rounds of this stuff so naturally i want to use it later….I have around 5,000 rounds of several calibers, and I store as much as possible in Z-corr and other anti rust bags – in GI ammo cans, there are none better.
Forrest Erickson says
As a former military person and one who visited military storage facilities more than once, I can say that I have seen ammo stored in igloo’s that were damp and cold, I have seen it stored in the heat of the desert, 130 degree’s. and I have fired ammo that was dated from WWII. All of it fired perfectly. I never saw or had very many failures to fire in my 26.5 years in the military. So, in a perfect world, keep your ammo in a cool dry place for sure, but I wouldn’t get all worked up if I kept a few boxes in the garage.
Aniket S. says
Indian law dosent permit to keep small arms , need to take licence it is heard to get without bribe. I STRONGLY BELIEVE SMALL ARMS LICENCE MUST END, THAT WILL END MAFIA AND CRIMINALIZATION OF SOCIETY.
i m against violence but even empty gun out of pocket is more then enough?✌
This comment will be censored because I’m not going to kiss up to the author.
In a dark to to protect it from UV light. What harm will UV, indirect UV specifically, do to a brass case or a lead or copper clad bullet? NONE
More to the point, who leaves ammo laying around loose and not properly stored? Nobody
Don’t store it in a garage? This is utter BS. My dad stored ammo in a garage where his reloading was done for as long as 42 years before he died. Then I inherited the ammo and it all still fires just fine, both reloads AND arsenal ammo from WWII. I also store in the garage. The heat up to 105F and cold down to -25F has not affected the ammo at all. You don’t know what your talking about.
If its good enough for food it certainly is good enough for ammo. Just to make certain, a few anti moisture packs can be placed in the sack before vacuum sealing.
Shooting with your Carry Smmo needs to be a routine anyway. I simply buy a new box every month. My mags are numbered 1 thru 4. No 1 is usually my carry mag and it’s the only 1 that is a 10 round magazine. The other 3 are 12 round capacity (I find the 10 round doesn’t print under clothing as much as the extended mags can. The fodder of choice comes in 25 round boxes, so I drill with 25 rounds once or twice a month. Ammo from mags 3 and 4 goes into mags 1 and 2, and the new box refills mags 3 and 4. This system is easy to follow and ensures the oldest ammo gets used up first.
Your rotation schedule is very good. However, it seems to me that you are severely lacking in quantities of backup ammo should there be a disruption of manufacture or delivery of such. I would suggest you have at least as much ammo as you would use in a year or so of constant practice. That way, you could still have a numberable rotation and maintain your skills while still having a reserve for serious situations and disruptions.
Having a sufficient back up supply can be accomolished by delaying the start of the exchange cycle by anywhere from one to six months. 25 rounds at nearly $25/box is cost prohibitive for me as a retiree, so buying 4 or more boxes a month wipes my budget. So for two months out of the year (not consecutive), I break the cycle. Since I’ve been following this for plan for 6 years, I’ve a little over 400 rounds of reserve carry ammo. Each box is dated with month and year, to assist in using the oldest ammo first. Once a box goes into the cycle of magazines and gun, it’s used within two months (the brass goes into my practice ammo reloads, which I also date, to assure I use the oldest target ammo up first. In target ammo, 9mm and .40 S&W surplus is at 1800 and 2600 rounds respectively.
This system works, but it does take a little longer than some others. The key to its success is making that one box purchase every month on a regular basis.
Same system I use with my carry ammo. It’s not cost prohibitive. It ensures I’m practicing with my carry ammo at least once a month, and all the other pluses you mention. Great minds think alike ?
Does anybody know if it is OK to store ammo in a vacuum sealed bag. I was using my vacuum sealer in the kitchen the other day and it made me start thinking: This would be perfect to help me keep my ammo dry. Just wondering if anybody has any opinion on this idea…
Steven Niccoli says
Sounds like a great idea! I use 5 gallon, new, food grade buckets. I always add desiccant packs to the bucket, so, if the idea is to remove moisture, I would think a vacuum sealer would be great! Use desiccant packs also!
Russell Hloding says
I have used that method for many years and have had no problems at all with any of it not working like new.
ROBERT SNYDER says
I looked around the web and found a blog that had as many pros as cons. Most ONLY use cans. Some use zip bags with desiccant. One question that spooked people was will the vacuum dislodge the bullet from its cartridge. An answer debunked the concept by scientifically calculating the vacuum at .55 lbs. of pull (or push from within: draw). If your round comes apart at .55 lbs you have a bigger problem than storage.
I use .40 ammo and put it all in MTM cases and then put them in individual zip bags, each with a desiccant. I then put them all in a zip bag with a desiccant bag. I then put it that in an MTM ammo can with a desiccant bag. Over kill…maybe.
Keep your powder dry
William Robinette says
Yes I use the vacuum sealer all the time, I reload lots of different ammo and store most with
the vacuum sealer. I did and experiment on this. I took 10 rds. of 9mm and vacuum sealed, then I took them to my rural property, opened the bag and immediately loaded a mag and fired as soon as I could. No misfires at all. The thought and concern was that a vacuumed pack of ammo would be the rounds would be w/o air/oxygen to fire off. Not the case. I also store ammo in sealed 55 gallon drums inside military ammo cans and vacuum bags. These are kept in either a pole barns or sheds……No problems. I,m in Michigan so the weather is all over the place.
Yes, nothing wrong with it as wrong as you are certain you’re not trapping moisture in the bag too (for instance doing it on a very humid day).
I have done just what you are talking about, and the biggest problem for me was, poor quality bags! The bags would become unsealed after a couple months and i don’t know how to correct that..probably better quality bags, I guess, but whose?
Often the loss of vacuum is not the bag material but the sealing. Often there are failures of the heating element or a slight wrinkle in the bag material at the sealing point that makes for a slow leak. I double seal every seam as I used to have ‘leaks’ with food items. Try double sealing your next bags and see if that helps.