Ammo Storage: How To Avoid Common Amateur Mistakes

Ammo Storage: How To Avoid Common Amateur Mistakes
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Ammo StorageAre you protecting your ammo storage? Are you treating it like the key survival investment it is? I sure hope so because…

If you can afford ammo, you owe it to yourself to store it properly.

You should treat your ammunition stockpile as you would a precious metal investment. An investment that requires good practices to maintain for the long haul.

If you don’t maintain your ammo, if you neglect it, your ammo’s useful shelf life is significantly reduced. Which is a travesty, because ammo will be the lifeblood when SHTF. Remember, in a prolonged survival scenario, he who has the most firepower; often wins.

Ammo is arguably the most important item you can stockpile. It provides the ability to hunt, barter, defense your home and family, intimidates others, etc. And these are all critical survival tactics.

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But to rely on these survival tactics you must:

  1. Purchasing large quantities of ammo
  2. Store it to last as long as possible

It’s obvious, but worth saying again, “guns are worthless without ammunition.”

So how quickly can improperly stored ammo become compromised?

stacks of old military battle rifle ammo2Ammunition Shelf Life

Let me start out by saying ammo, does, in fact, have a shelf life. But unlike food, that has a shelf life measured in days or weeks, ammo’s shelf life is measured in years and decades.

It all depends on how you store it. If you store it right, ammo will easily outlive you, probably outlive your kids, and possibly even your grandkids. In the right conditions, modern ammo will last centuries.

But if you store your ammo in improperly, degradation starts day one. Slowly at first, but over a few years or decades, you may find your ammo useless. And even if it still fires, the accuracy will likely be jeopardized.

Old Ammo vs. New Ammo

Modern materials, design improvements, and automated manufacturing processing have helped to improve the shelf life of today’s ammo. And that’s great news for those of us who started stockpiling ammo over the last couple of decades.

When we talk about older ammo, I’m primarily referencing ammo that was manufactured pre-1930’s. After the 1930’s smokeless powder was introduced.

Older bullets had a much shorter shelf life unless they were meticulously stored, and regardless they are quickly reaching the end of their reliable shelf lives. Today, the risk vs. reward of shooting older ammo may not be worth it. And the risk vs. reward equation keeps getting worse as each year passes.

The bottom line is your ammo stockpile is an investment in your future. You want to protect this investment as long as humanly possible. So let’s learn how to do that.

How To Store Ammo

Properly storing your ammunition is not a complicated process. You just need to follow a couple simple storage principles and take meaningful action. Yes, that’s it.

Here’s our primary storage Principle:

Store your ammunition in a cool, dry, dark location.

Let’s break that down; if you keep your ammo in a

  • Cool
  • Dry
  • Dark

place, you win.

Follow this, and you’ll extend your ammunition stockpile from decades to centuries.

Now, once we begin analyzing these principles, we discover there’s a bit more to it. So let’s deep dive into each of these ammo storage principles.

ammo federal 45 autoKeep Your Ammo Cool

You want to keep your ammunition cool. Not cold but cool. You also want to avoid storage locations that are hot.

To be honest, constant high temps or consistent low temps are not the issue. It’s the extreme temperature swings that are the real concern.

The integrity of ammo is compromised if it’s subjected to extreme temperature cycles. It’s hard on ammo to go from 100 degrees to 0 degrees back to 100 degrees, year after year.

Why is this bad? These temperature swings tend to invite humidity. And as we’ll discuss shortly, humidity is the real threat to your ammunition.

That’s why garages, attics, unheated cabins, and vehicles are such poor ammo storage locations.

Now it’s highly dependent on your local climate, but for most of us, these storage locations move through extremes temperature seasonally. In winter, overnight temps can reach sub zero degrees in garages, attics, etc. And in the summer, north of 100 F.

Ammo stored in these conditions for just a couple of years won’t hurt it much. Your ammo won’t typically go bad in a matter of a couple of years. But if left in these locations over a series of decades the temperatures swings will take a significant toll on your ammunition’s shelf life.

So where should your ammo be stored?

Traditionally, basements are popular ammo storage locations.

Why? Because basements are located below ground level. Ground temperatures, change much less than air temperatures. So while air temps will change from 0 degrees to 100 degrees seasonally, ground temps 10 feet below the surface tend to stay in a range of 20 degrees.

So for example, if soil temps 10 feet underground averages 50 degrees, it may rise to 60 degrees in the summer and drop to 40 degrees in winter. This is significantly less variation than air temps.

And at 30 feet below the surface, temperatures swings become negligible. At this depth, ground temps stay constant regardless of the air temps .

So we can take advantage of the earth and support the “constant cool” principle of ammunition storage.

That’s why basements tend to be popular ammo storage locations, but they have their downsides too. Which we’ll cover next…

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Caching Ammo-Small 2Keep your Ammo Dry

Moisture (a.k.a. humidity) is even more dangerous to your ammunition than temperature swings.

Moisture is corrosive to metal. And ammo’s is made of metal (casings, primers, and the bullet). Hence, moisture exposure will eventually rust your ammo.

It will begin with small amounts of surface rust, which you can sand off, and your ammo will still fire, but even this may affect your ammo’s accuracy. And if this rust is allowed to fester it will eventually (over several decades) render your ammunition useless.

So we need to control moisture exposure to our ammunition.

But guess which part of our homes tend to have the highest humidity levels? You’ve probably guessed it, basements.

Rain soaks into the ground. Ground contacts your homes foundation. This ground moisture is dangerous to foundations if allowed to accumulate. That’s why it’s so important to ensure your gutters and downspouts are working properly to avoid foundation problems (i.e. cracking, settling heaving, etc.)

Many homes have sump pumps to help manage basement moisture issues. Basements and humidity are a big concern to your ammo.

When massive flooding occurs, which area will get wet first? Your basement.

So from a moisture standpoint, basements present a bit of a problem. However, there are solutions to help manage these risks.

First, if you do store your ammo in a basement, don’t set it on the floor. Keep it in cabinets or racks. The higher, the better.

That way if your basement does flood, your ammo will likely remain above the water level. And if your does basement flood to the ceiling, then you’

Another way to manage the increased humidity in basement air is to get a good dehumidifier. This dehumidifier unit will continuously pull moisture out a damp basement.

The third way to manage humidity is to store your ammo in rubber gasket military surplus ammo cans. The key is to ensure the rubber gaskets are in good shape and create an air tight seal when latched.

That’s why I steer clear of used ammo cans. I don’t trust used seals. They are often dried out and cracked. It’s not worth the risk to me. Fresh seals ensure a quality air tight seal.

Ammo can’s isolate the internal air (inside the can) from the external air (outside the can). Keeping the air inside the ammo can from co-mingling with the air outside the ammo can.

Essentially, you want complete control over the air inside the ammo can. When you isolate and control the ammo can air, you can now control the humidity. How so?

With Silica Gel Dehumidifier Desiccants. Toss one of these desiccant canisters into each air controlled ammo can and they will remove the moisture from the air. Silica Gel Desiccants use particle physics (osmosis) to attract air moisture particles. By trapping the moisture into the desiccant, the remaining air inside the ammo can will be dry.

So the surrounding ammo can air that touches your precious ammo will be arid with little to no moisture.

And as we discussed earlier, moisture is what causes metals to corrode. So by removing moisture from a controlled box of air, you eliminate ammo corrosion.

It’s simple math.

No moisture equals no rust. No rust equals no corrosion. And eliminating ammo corrosion, extends your ammo’s shelf life, reliability, and accuracy.

Military Surplus AmmoKeep your Ammo In the Dark

UV light is also a destructive force. Over long periods exposure, the sun’s light will break down nearly everything. You’ve seen this process with vehicles. Leaving a vehicle out in the sun for years will deteriorate the exterior metal and paint. Now compare that vehicle to one that’s stored in a garage when not in use.

Over extended periods of time, UV ray exposure will take a toll on your ammo. The good news is most indoor storage locations will do just fine.

So a closet, pantry, basement are all protected from UV rays. Plus, the inside of your ammo cans will be dark as well. So if you store your ammo in a windowless location in ammo cans, UV rays will not cause you any ammo problems.

Organized Stack Of DocumentsOrganization Matters…A Lot

Good ammo storage take organization and discipline. Remember you’re potentially stockpiling your ammo for decades. So it’s important to stay organized and maintain control of your ammo storage efforts.

It’s not set and forget. You need a maintenance process.

First, you should label your ammo cans. You want to identify what’s in your ammo can without opening it. Labels will help quickly inventory your stockpile and save you time in an emergency. If you need ammo right now for your 22 survival rifle, you want to avoid dumping out several ammo cans on the floor to find which ones has your 22 LR’s.

So get a good labeler. A labeler is one of my favorite prepping tools. It comes in handy for more than just your ammo. It’s also perfect for food stockpiles and rotation practices. It also helps keep my gear and survival supplies organized.

I also label key areas of my home for emergencies. I’ve labeled the main water shutoff value, the natural gas shut off value, etc. As the head of household, it’s my responsibility to know how to find and shut these components off in emergencies. But for my family, it’s less intuitive. So with labels, it’s easy to walk them through the process and for them to recall and find them in an emergency. I can’t assume I will be available when emergencies happen. Worth every penny for my peace of mind.

Next, create a desiccant check schedule. Every few months, open up each ammo can and check your desiccants. Create an email reminder, write it on a calendar, or whatever, just make sure you check your ammo storage regularly.

In this process, you’ll occasionally find desiccants that need a recharge.

I like these particular desiccants for four reasons.

1 – First, they’re designed for up to a 3 square foot area.

3 square feet is more than enough for a regular sized ammo can. So I can standardize with one desiccant style and size for all my ammo cans. I prefer to use universal parts and components whenever possible. It’s always a headache to use several styles of desiccants and then have to keep track of backups for each can. No thanks.

2 – Second, they include a color code.

If you see an orange color, they are still doing their job. If it’s no longer orange but clear, it’s time to recharge them. This color coding makes it stupid simple. Open your ammo can, look at the desiccant color, note the ones with clear color and replace. Easy peasy.

3 – Third, they are rechargeable.

They pull moisture from the air continuously until they “fill up”. At some point, the desiccant can no longer draw more moisture from the air because it’s reached its moisture capacity. It’s at this time that the color turns clear. But they are not one and done. You get to reuse them over and over again.

These desiccants just need 3 hours in an oven at 300 degrees to reset them. So these amazing desiccants are a nice little investment and worth every penny.

4 – Fourth, they don’t use cancer-causing chemicals agents.

They don’t use Cobalt Chloride. This chemical has become classified as Group 2B, which states Cobalt Chloride is possibly carcinogenic to humans. No way I’m handling a carcinogen and putting them in my oven. With these desiccants, you won’t have to worry about that.

Action PlanAmmo Storage Action Plan

1-      Decide on a cool, dry, dark and safe location.

Put a bit of thought into your ammo storage site based on what we discussed earlier in this article. The best advice I can provide is where NOT to store your ammo.  Don’t store your ammo in:

  • An unheated/cooled garage
  • An unheated/cooled attic
  • Your vehicle

2 – Purchase high-quality ammo cans and put all your ammo into them.

I recommend you dedicate each ammo can to only one caliber size for sound organizational practices. Don’t mix and match. Then label each ammo can so you know exactly what’s inside without having to open it.

3 – Add fresh desiccants to each ammo can.

4 – Create a master schedule and reminders to check your ammo can’s desiccants. Replace and recharge as necessary.

Here’s a short video overview of your ammo storage plan:

And finally, it’s a good idea to keep all your ammo cans stashed away in a large gun safe. That way everything is double secure from intruders, fires, or kids.

Congratulations! You are now on your way to protecting your ammo storage investment the right way. The way that maintains your precious ammo investment for years, decades, and centuries to come.

As A Way To Introduce You To Skilled Survival, We’re Giving Away Our #104 Item Bug Out Bag Checklist. Click Here To Get Your FREE Copy.
Remember: Prepare, Adapt, and Overcome,
“Just In Case” Jack
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  1. Paul says

    Jack, I was wondering if it would be proper ammo storage with a silicone pack inside a plastic bag,like a seal a meal and stored in a cabinet would be ok. Thank you Paul

    • Just In Case Jack says

      Hey Paul,

      I would use mylar bags and not thin weak plastic. Here’s a post that goes over using mylar bags for food storage and I can’t think of any reason why this wouldn’t also work for ammo. Personally, I like my ammo cans but sealed 5 mil mylar bags with oxygen absorbers would technically perform the same function I suppose.

      – Jack

  2. Daniel Hartong says

    Just as an FYI some companies when you purchase a “quantity” crate of ammo come with 1-5 boxes of ammo in mylar with airtight seal so you can just break out 20-200 rounds depending on the quantity and caliber of ea package. Nice part about those they usually also carry a “warranty” so that if you do break out a “sample” package and find any leakage or bad ammo you can get it replaced. Some also include an ammo can. It may be heavy grade pvc, but if it is it’s as thick as your sewer pipe and strong enough to give no worries, you can even get those at Harbor Freight or Walmart.

  3. Michael says

    Actually, smokeless powder was introduced in 1890 but still great info here!

    Look on Amazon for Zcorr products. They make moisture resistant bags that fit in .50 cal and .30 cal ammo cans to give you even more protection.

      • Freeheel says

        Smokeless powder was invented much earlier in 1846. It was perfected and used nearly exclusively in ww1 in rifles, pistols and large caliber artillery. Improved military rifle powder (IMR) and Cordite were both used. The ball powder developed in 1933 is yet another type of smokeless powder. It became popular for its quicker burn time than stick powders. But it neither replaced nor became the “powder that ended black powder”. That had already occurred long before.

        Oxygen absorbers are not very efficient for ammo storage. Simple desicants are much better at controlling moisture levels in ammo cans. Oxygen absorbers don’t hurt but they really don’t help either. Oxygen absorbers need a small amount of moister to work so putting oxygen absorbers and desicants together negates any usefulness of the oxygen absorbers. Additionally oxygen absorbers cannot be recharged so they are more expensive in the long run.

        Obviously only steel cased ammo rusts. Brass, nickel plated, even aluminum cased ammo will degrade with exposure to oxygen but moisture is the real problem here. Much more ammo is brass cased than any other type so desicants are more effective.

  4. Lynn says

    We store ours in a old lockable freezer. It does not work but we leave it pluged in and locked so it looks just like any other freezer. We use the absorbers in the boxes and in the inside of the freezer as well. We have only color coded our boxes so if it does get broken into the lables do not give away the contents.

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