How Long is Ammo Good For? 7 Storage Tips for Ammunition Longevity

Ammunition is as much an investment as the firearms you use it in. Whether you spend your money on a box of range rounds, self-defense hollow points, or specialty hunting ammunition—those are dollars you would rather not lose through faulty handling.

Ammunition's shelf life depends on various factors. When stored correctly, it can last for decades. Whether or not you store it correctly, though, is another matter. Many gun owners take meticulous care of their firearms, only to throw their ammo behind their truck's backseat. The results are rounds that degrade faster and cost you unnecessary money.

That's why we'll answer common questions like:

  • What's the shelf life of ammo?

  • What does bad ammo look like?

  • What can happen if you fire old ammunition?

  • How do you extend the shelf life of your ammunition?

Before you fire your weapon, determine whether or not you're using bad ammo. Firing faulty ammunition can be harmful both to yourself and your gun. We've written this article to show you how to increase your ammo's shelf life with the perfect storage environment.

What's the Shelf Life of Ammo?

The shelf life of ammunition is relative and based on several considerations. It comes down to the individual manufacturer's loading methods, quality, and components (like powder, primer type, and sealant). However, shelf life also depends on ammunition type, storage procedures, and the environments in which it was manufactured and stored.

Steel-cased ammo, for example, is more prone to rust than brass-cased. An exposed lead bullet is more likely to degrade than that with a full metal jacket. The key to maintaining your ammunition's reliability and effectiveness is to keep it in a cool, dry place with consistent temperatures and low humidity.

Ammo manufacturers are more conservative in their shelf life estimates to limit their potential for liability. Plus, they sell more boxes of ammunition by encouraging more frequent purchases. This thinking is why most companies recommend you use their ammunition within ten years of its manufacturer date. However, with proper storage, you can extend your ammo's usability.

How Long is Ammo Good For graphic 1

What Does Bad Ammo Look Like?

Ammunition will expire over time, especially when stored in poor conditions. Eventually, the chemicals in the primer can degrade, the powder can become unstable, and the casing can corrode. Bad ammo can look different depending on the type of problem it has. Here are a few examples:

  • Casing Damage: If the casing is bent, dented, or cracked, the ammunition may not function correctly and can be dangerous to shoot.

  • Corrosion: Pitting or discoloration on the casing or bullet can be visible signs of corrosion. When handled, the ammunition may also have a foul smell or produce a powder residue.

  • Firing Pin Indentation: If the firing pin indentation on the primer is too deep, it can cause the ammunition to misfire or not fire at all. We recommend you periodically inspect ammunition in long-term storage, especially if you have concerns about its condition. If you notice any signs of deterioration, it's best to dispose of the ammunition safely and replace it with fresh rounds.

What Can Happen if You Fire Old Ammunition?

Have you ever found a box of ammo you stored and forgot? After opening it up, the cartridges look reasonable. They might not be in mint condition, but there's no rust on them—even though you've had them for a long time. So, should you fire it?

These are the most commonly occurring mishaps, should you choose to squeeze the trigger:

  • Acidic Reaction: You expose your gun to acid fumes that degrade its workings upon firing

  • Jellification: There is reduced ammunition performance, and the bullet may not expel upon firing

  • Misfire: The primer doesn't ignite the powder

  • Magnified Explosive Power: Explosive crystals form through a chemical process, making the ammo more potent and damaging the firearm when fired

  • Obstruction: A bullet may obstruct the barrel, making the next fired round extremely dangerous and unpredictable

Remember, it's better to be safe than sorry. If you have doubts, don't use the ammunition, especially if you suspect it is past its shelf life. If you ever fire your weapon and it makes an abnormal sound, immediately cease fire, safely unload the gun, and check its inner workings. Be sure to run a road through the barrel to ensure there's no lodged bullet.

How Long is Ammo Good For graphic 2

How Do You Extend the Shelf Life of Your Ammunition?

Your ammunition's shelf life depends on its stored conditions and how you limit exposure to temperature, moisture, and other factors. However, there are seven tips you can follow below.

Tip 1: Start the Clock

Any time you take your ammo out of storage, start the clock on its expiration date.

Any ammunition you take out into the field, whether on a hunt or to the range, should be used first because you've removed it from ideal storage conditions. So, separate ammo you took out but still need to use from the newer rounds placed into storage. This ammunition won't immediately degrade to uselessness, but it's something to watch over time.

Tip 2: Rotate Your Ammo

Rotate your ammunition, especially in concealed carry firearms.

Proper ammunition rotation is crucial for all firearms. However, it's especially critical for those you rely on in an emergency. The hope is that you'll never have to fire your concealed carry in self-defense. However, if you find yourself in that situation, the last thing you want is your ammunition to underperform.

Tip 3: Keep it Cool

The effects of heat and oxygen are more prevalent in warmer temperatures, so the threat to your ammunition stock increases. Plus, extreme heat will damage your round regardless.

Store your ammunition in an air-conditioned room, especially in hot climates. Keep it cool, but not cold. If stored somewhere cold, you risk condensation forming on the ammo when you bring it outside.

Tip 4: Evade Humidity

Constant exposure to humidity is the primary cause of ammo degradation, especially when it comes to corrosion.

If you live in a humid environment, the moisture in the air can damage your ammunition. You'll want to store your ammo in sealed storage containers (like ammo cases) to keep the moisture out. If you live in incredibly humid conditions, vacuum seal your ammunition or pack silica gel packets into storage containers to keep the ammo dry.

Tip 5: Limit Light Exposure

Direct and reflected light can cause degradation over time, so always store your rounds in a dark place.

Think about what happens to the hat left in your vehicle for an extended period. The material discolors and fades, and you eventually stop wearing it. The same sentiment holds for ammunition. Even if the case appears well taken care of, extended exposure to light can weaken seals and damage packaging, compromising it.

How Long is Ammo Good For graphic 3

Tip 6: Avoid Oils, Solvents, and Chemicals

We all like to keep our weapons clean. Storing your gun supplies in the same general location might be convenient, but there are better options for your ammo.

Oil, solvents, and other chemicals may atmospherically seep into the cartridge and compromise the powder or cause corrosion on the casing. Avoid storing them near your ammo to prevent mishaps.

Tip 7: Bypass Excessive Movement

In general, you should avoid storing ammo in places prone to lots of movement, like the trunk of your vehicle. Cartridges knocking against each other will eventually suffer damage and degrade.

Remember, vehicles are for transporting, not storing, ammo. Avoid storage places that allow your ammunition to rattle, shake, or roll.

Ammo Planet Storage Solutions

While most modern ammunition can have a shelf life of ten years, proper storage and regular inspection can extend its usability for longer periods.

Creating the perfect environment for your weapons and ammunition is an investment every gun owner should make. Ammo Planet recommends these gun and ammo storage cases, which are ideal for use at home and on the move.

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