What is the Shelf Life of Ammo?

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This post is by Bernie Carr

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.

What is the oldest ammo you’ve ever shot?  Please share in the comments.


Post sponsored by Wideners.com a great source of reloading and shooting supplies.


About the author:

Bernie Carr is the founder of Apartment Prepper. She has written several books including the best-selling Prepper’s Pocket Guide, Jake and Miller’s Big Adventure, The Penny-Pinching Prepper and How to Prepare for Most Emergencies on a $50 a Month Budget. Her work appears in sites such as the Allstate Blog and Clark.com, as well as print magazines such as Backwoods Survival Guide and Prepper Survival Guide. She has been featured in national publications such as Fox Business and Popular Mechanics. Learn more about Bernie here.



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  1. Last week used ammo that was purchased in 2000. was in a ammo can. but subject to temp swing. Fired without flaw.

    1. Hi tuesday, Good to know 18-year-old ammo fired with no issues even with the temp variances. Thanks for sharing that.

  2. the oldest ammo I have ever shot was 5 years ago and was US M1 ball dated 1938. Fired just fine and yes it was corrosive primed. I have some Military 45acp dated 1921 that I have not shot and probably will not. I have shot a lot of US M1 ball from the mid 1950’s and late 1960’s with out any problem. just some FYI what most folks call ammo cans are really ammo chests, true ammo cans are the span type metal cans that can not be re-sealed.

    1. You have some old ammo! Glad the 1938 ammo still fired fine. Oh, thanks for mentioning ammo chest vs ammo cans. Making a note of this for my next article!

  3. keep all ammo away for any penetrating oil (WD40 and the like) and solvents. And never store any spray cans of oil or solvents in the same container with ammo. I have seen ammo chests that had spray can leak in them and pressurize the chest. Because I shoot an M1 Grand I have to load the clips I always wear clean cotton gloves doing this and I have never had any case corrosion that you see from finger prints.

    1. Hi oldguy, I am glad you mentioned that ammo must be kept away from penetrating oils and solvents. That is a great tip and good for all of us to know. Thank you!

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