How Long Will Ammo Last

Dear Fellow Survivalist;

A few years ago, back when Obama was president, we faced a nationwide ammo shortage. This, as well as other concerns, caused many of us to stockpile ammo, with some people building up their stocks to thousands of rounds. All that ammo is sitting in those people’s closets and basements, just waiting for the day that it is needed.

The question that faces those people is, how long will that ammo last?

If you ask ammo manufacturers, they’ll tell you that their products should last ten years or more under normal storage conditions. But then they seem to leave out the part of telling us what those normal storage conditions are. Even so, ten years, like most expiration dates, is a short shelf life for an item which can’t easily be damaged.

To figure out a more accurate answer, we need to start with looking at what can cause damage to our ammo. The outside of the ammo we use is usually made of a combination of brass, steel, copper, lead and plastic. Inside we need to concern ourselves with the gunpowder and the primer. Each of those materials reacts differently to different environmental conditions.

The specific environmental conditions we need to concern ourselves with are heat, moisture and oxygen. Oxygen is actually highly corrosive, bonding readily with a wide range of materials. Unfortunately, this can cause many of the materials used in the manufacture of ammunition to corrode. Of these, the most serious is steel-cased rounds, as they can rust.

This is why ammunition is best stored in ammo cans, which are sealed against moisture. Both metal and plastic ammo cans have a rubber seal, helping to ensure that moisture doesn’t enter the can. In fact, the seal is good enough, that as long as the ammo can is fully closed and not damaged (including the seal), it will protect the ammunition inside from moisture, even while submerged for extended periods of time. Yes, I’ve tested for this.

In addition, military grade ammunition has shellac painted over the primer. This provides a watertight seal at the most vulnerable point in the ammo. It is vulnerable because if either the primer or the pocket it seats into are out of round, moisture can seep in. There is no crimping at that point, like there is where the bullet enters the cartridge case. So that requirement exists to protect ammunition used by the military, guaranteeing it can be counted on to work, even after is has been submerged. There have been countless times, in many wars, where that has happened.

But civilian ammo isn’t usually made with this crimping in place. So we must count on the storage containers we use to keep moisture out. That’s part of the reason why it’s recommended to store ammunition in ammo cans, over other options.

With your ammo stored in ammo cans, it should keep for decades, longer than you or I will be around, without any problem of it going bad. Nevertheless, always inspect ammo that’s been stored for prolonged periods of time, before using it. Any corrosion is most likely to show up on the outside of the cartridge, especially with steel-cased rounds. Shotgun shells can have problems with moisture entering them through the crimp, without any visible signs on the outside of the round. But that’s the exception to the rule.

The bigger risk is ammo that you’ve taken hunting with you. That ammo has often been subject to the elements, with changing temperatures and the potential of rainfall. If it is not used during the hunt, it’s a good idea to burn it off in your practice time, so that you always have fresh ammo to use.

The same can be said for ammo carried in a concealed handgun. I don’t know about you, but I tend to sweat a lot. That sweat gets on my carry gun, which means that the ammo inside is subject to a moist environment. So there’s a chance that over time, that moisture can cause problems for my ammo.

The solution, just like with hunting ammo, is to use up your carry ammo from time to time and replace it. That’s a good idea anyway, as you should shoot at least some of your practice rounds, using the same kind you are carrying. It’s usually lighter weight than the ball ammo we use at the range and will have slightly different ballistics. Besides, loading and unloading will dent the casings, giving us one more reason to replace it. So, it seems that keeping your powder dry, as I’ve been quipping all along, really is important. But then, so is keeping your survival gear close at hand.

Dr. Rich

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