How to Safely Store Ammunition

Posted by Alice Jones Webb on Jun 30th 2020

How to Safely Store Ammunition

There is plenty of information out there on how to properly store a firearm. Information about storing ammunition isn’t so readily available. However, how you store your ammo can be just as important as how you store your weapon. After all, a firearm without ammo isn’t a particularly effective weapon.

Whether you’re stockpiling for the zombie apocalypse or you just want to keep an adequate supply for training, there are a few things you should know about stocking up on ammunition.

How Long Will It Keep?

Ammunition has a shelf life, just like canned vegetables. Unlike a can of green beans, ammo doesn’t have an expiration date stamped on the bottom of the box.

Most companies claim their ammunition should last for at least ten years. However, they are probably pushing a conservative message to reduce their liability should something go wrong. In actuality, if ammo is stored under the right conditions, it can last much longer than the ten-year recommendation.

Keeping It Cool

Ammunition can handle some pretty high temps (Ask any soldier or Marine in the Middle East). However, extreme heat can wreak havoc on perfectly good ammo. When the thermometer hits 150 F, the nitrocellulose in gunpowder can begin to destabilize.

You may not be able to see the effects, but as the nitrocellulose breaks down it can cause unevenness inside the cartridge. As a result, when you attempt to shoot the affected cartridge, it can produce inconsistent pressures inside the chamber of your firearm.

You shouldn’t have a hard time keeping your ammo under that 150-degree temperature. The highest recorded temperature on earth is only 134 degrees, so your ammo should be perfectly fine inside your house. However, you should make sure not to leave any ammunition inside your car, especially on a hot summer day when the inside temp can climb to 172. And you definitely want to retrieve those stray hunting rounds rolling around on the floorboard of your truck.

Keeping It Dry

Moisture is the primary cause of ammo deterioration. It can cause brass cases and copper jackets to corrode. Corrosion can also cause the cartridge to warp, making it unsafe to shoot.

Avoid storing your ammo in places that have mold, mildew, or a constant damp smell. In other words, your Grandma’s Louisiana basement is not a good spot.

If you live in a damp climate, you may need to take some extra steps to keep your ammo dry. A dehumidifier can add years to the shelf life of your cartridges in high-humidity areas.

Quality Counts

If you plan to store ammo long-term, you’ll want to invest in quality cartridges. Although it may be tempting to buy the cheapest ammo you can find, quality ammunition will last longer. Quality components (including the primer and powder), careful loading techniques, and proper sealing can increase the shelf life of the cartridge. However, quality comes at a price. If you want your ammo to last long-term, don’t pinch pennies on quality. If you invest a little extra per round, it will pay off in the long run.

Keep It In The Box

The best place to store your ammo is in its original package. This helps prevent your cartridges from sliding around and causing them to get scratched, dented, or otherwise damaged.

Also, the original ammo box is labeled, so you know exactly what you have inside. By simply looking at the box, you can tell the cartridge, bullet weight, and number of rounds inside. Open up a random bag of loose ammo, and you may only have a vague idea of what you’re looking at.

Keeping ammo in its original box can also come in handy if you ever need to swap cartridges. For example, if you decide to trade in Grandpa’s .30-30 hunting rifle for something sleek and modern in .300 BLK. We promise it will be much easier to trade in those .30-30 soft points if they are in their original packaging.

Ammo Cans

Most ammo cans are built with a waterproof seal designed to keep moisture out of the container, and they can be a great option for long-term storage. However, you need to make sure you aren’t sealing moisture in there with your ammo.

Before you seal up the ammo can, hit the inside of your can with a hairdryer to dry up any excess moisture. You can also toss in a silica gel or carbon desiccant pack. These packets absorb gas, moisture, and odor, and they work just as well in an ammo can as they do in bottles of vitamins or packages of beef jerky.

We know it can be super tempting to dump 500 rounds of .556 into an Army green ammo can. It just seems like the cool thing to do. However, it’s a much better idea to keep your ammo in the original box. Just place the boxes inside the can and then seal it up.

Spam Cans

Some types of Russian ammo come in surplus “Spam Cans.” Spam Cans are usually limited to 7.62x39 or 7.62x54R loads.

Spam cans are sealed steel cans that require a special tool (or a screwdriver in a pinch) to open them. Because these cans are sealed, they do a pretty good job of keeping out air and water. Some shooters swear by them. Others are pretty critical.

Keeping It Safe

Plenty of gun owners choose to store their ammunition in a gun safe or gun vault right alongside their firearms. Most gun safes are air tight and temperature controlled. Some even have built-in dehumidifiers, which makes them perfect for ammunition. If your safe doesn’t have integrated climate control, you can toss in a few desiccant packets just to be on the safe side.

Label and Rotate Your Ammo

When you purchase new ammo, it’s a good idea to mark the container with the date of purchase. Although you may think you can remember, it doesn’t take long for all those purchases to blur together, especially if you buy ammo regularly.

When you head to the range or out to the deer stand, make sure you grab the oldest ammo first. This will keep your ammo constantly rotating so you always have fresh, reliable rounds.

Final Thoughts

You can’t just buy a bunch of ammo, throw it in the attic and expect it to last. Just like your firearms, your ammo deserves a little TLC. Thankfully, it doesn’t take hard work to extend the shelf-life of your ammunition by years (if not decades). Just avoid excessive heat and high humidity, and don’t forget to rotate your supplies.