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What is the Shelf Life of Ammo?


We talk about the shelf life of lots of things around here:  food, medicines, liquor, but there is one thing we have not discussed, and that is the shelf life of ammunition.

Manufacturers often indicate that properly stored ammo lasts for ten years.   But in reality, that may be more of a guideline.  Some may last for decades – we’ve all heard of people shooting ammunition from 40-50 years ago with no problems. Just like food storage, how long ammo is good for depends on how it is stored.

Proper storage

To make sure your ammunition does not degrade, here are a few considerations:

  • Ammunition must be stored in a cool, dark and dry place with low humidity.
  • Maintain consistent temperature – temperature swings threaten the condition of ammunition because the humidity will likely set in.
  • Avoid any type of moisture as it will cause corrosion.
  • Make sure it is away from direct sunlight or heat.
  • Store in a sealed container.  A good quality ammo can with an airtight seal keeps external air from coming in and ruining your ammo.   Throw in a silica gel desiccant pack for extra protection against humidity.
  • Label your containers so you don’t have to constantly open each can every time you need a certain type of ammo.  Include the date of purchase on your label.
  • Use the “first in, first out” rule in your ammo inventory:  use the oldest ones for target practice so you are constantly rotating your stock on a regular basis.
  • Inspect your stock periodically.

Signs of damage

Before using old ammo, look for signs of damage such as:

  • cracks in the case
  • rust or corrosion
  • warped shape
  • improper fit in the chamber
  • the bullet tip is pushed into the cartridge

    What happens when ammunition has degraded?

    The casing can corrode or rust, the primer can become deactivated.

    As far as the powder, the risk is the bullet may never make it out of the barrel of your gun when fired because it does not have enough momentum.  When this happens the bullet becomes lodged in the barrel and cause a blockage.  The next shot fired will cause the destruction of your firearm and possibly injure you or others.  If in doubt, don’t use it.

    How do you dispose of bad ammo?

    I’ve brought old ammo to the gun range for disposal.  The proprietors had a canister of old ammo awaiting pickup from a recycling company and they allowed customers to drop them off there.  Ask first.

    You can also call the non-emergency number of your local police station to find out if you can arrange to drop them off.  Or, check with your favorite gun store and they may just take it off your hands or steer you to someone who will.

    The final word

    Your firearms are no good without ammo.  Take care of your investment.  With proper storage and care, your ammo will last for decades.

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