Does Old Ammo Go Bad?

Dear Fellow Survivalist;

With the ammo shortages that we’ve all seen over the last decade, more and more gun owners are stockpiling ammo. That goes for everyone from casual shooters to serious survivalists, with freedom-loving patriots falling in both of those camps. This raises the question though, of just how long that ammo will last and will it eventually go bad?

I’ve heard stories about how back in the early days of World War II, Marines were being issued ammunition that had been made during World War I, over 20 years earlier. That didn’t inspire much confidence in the troops, especially when some of that ammo misfired. That didn’t stop the military from keeping old ammunition in stock though, as I was issued ammo in Basic Training that had been made during the Vietnam War. Granted, that wasn’t 20 years earlier; but it was still old ammo in my eyes.

On one hand, this makes sense, as ammunition is expensive, especially ammunition made to meet MILSPEC standards. On the other hand, I don’t think I’d want to have to use that ammo, when my life was on the line. Training is one thing, combat is another. So, the real question is, just how long does ammunition last?

There’s actually no definitive answer to this question, although you can find a lot of opinions online. The real reason why there is no definitive reason, is that how the ammo is stored has a lot to do with it. Ammo that is stored properly will last, as the biggest enemy to ammo life is humidity.

I’m sure the Quartermaster Corps has always needed to deal with how ammunition was shipped and stored. Back in the Revolutionary War, Colonial troops carried paper cartridges in leather cartridge boxes. The paper cartridges made for faster loading, even in the muzzle loaders of the day. While black powder isn’t as susceptible to humidity and moisture as modern smokeless powder, I’m sure they tried to make sure the ammo remained dry.

Modern ammunition is much more moisture proof than those paper cartridges, being made in brass cartridges. The brass case is crimped around the bullet, making a good seal there. Likewise, the primer is pressed in to the cartridge, creating another metal to meal contact. For extra security against moisture, military ammunition has shellac applied over the primer, just in case it didn’t seal fully.

Ammo cans, as we know them, are an invention of World War II, designed first for holding .50 caliber, belted, machine gun ammunition. These were the first metal ammo cans in existence, although they were not the first ammo cans used. Before that, they were well-constructed wood boxes, made to the military’s specifications. But the metal cans brought something into the storage of ammo, which had never existed before – rubber seals to keep moisture out. This was especially important in the Pacific War, where moisture was a real problem.

Ammunition stored in sealed containers, like these, can last for decades. Various firearms instructors have tested ammo that has been stored in cans for 50 years or more, without misfires. Storing ammo in ammo cans is obviously the way to go, if we want our ammo to stay fresh. The combination of a metal or even plastic container, with a rubber seal protects the ammo well.

While not all ammunition is shipped in ammo cans, military ammo of all calibers is. You can buy authentic metal cans at military surplus stores or opt for the plastic ones, which are available through a variety of retail outlets. They even sell plastic ones at Harbor Freight.

So, the real issue for us isn’t how old our ammo is; but how well we are storing it. Ideally, all ammunition should be stored in sealed ammo cans. That not only protects it from moisture, but it makes moving that ammo around easy. I keep my calibers separated, with only one caliber per can. That makes for cans that may not be all the way full; but that’s not really an issue. It’s easy to grab a can and head for the range when I need it.

I think the oldest ammo I have on-hand right now is about 15 years old. That’s nothing, compared to the 50 year old ammo that has been tested. I’m sure that I’ll have shot and replaced that ammo long before it gets anywhere near the 50-year mark. So, all I need to do, is make sure I keep it in the ammo cans I have it stored in.

Just another way to keep prepared… keeping your powder dry. That applies to our modern firearms, just as it did to the black powder ones that phrase was invented for. Oh, and don’t forget to keep your survival gear close at hand.

Dr. Rich

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