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(article) Ammo: Long-term Storage Tips
Publication Date: October 7th, 2010
Author: Walt Hampton
We’ve seen prices on ammo and components rise, supply shrink, and the ever-present threat of some type of government clamp-down on firearms-related products; serious shooters, hunters and ordinary gun-owning citizens need to protect their stocks of these items. With the current political situation in mind, here are a few tips for keeping your handloads and other ammunition safe and reliable.
I am not an alarmist nor do I consider myself paranoid but with all the political insanity that is coming out of Washington I can’t see the liberals holding off on the gun issue much longer, certainly they are mad after the recent court decision on the Chicago gun ban. Actually I’m surprised, given the government-sponsored multi-faceted attack on individual and states’ rights, that some form of attack on firearms ownership has not taken place already. With the administration holding the door open in the Southwest for illegal immigration and given the number of weapons caches uncovered in the Arizona desert, I think it might be a good idea to get the house in order.
Modern primers and gun powder, if properly stored, have a nearly infinite shelf life. Indeed, even the older smokeless powders and black powder can last centuries and still be perfectly usable if they have been stored with care. I have some DuPont black powder made in 1920 that is still as potent and reliable as it was the day it was packaged and some factory ammunition from the very first days of smokeless powder that will still perform. These items have been stored with the three watchwords of care; cool, dry and dark.
By cool we mean stable temperature in the 50 to 80 degree range. Extreme high temperature can cause the deterioration of gun powders over long exposure; we’ve seen it time and again, ammo left on the dashboard and heated to extreme temperatures or frozen and re-heated. The gun won’t work without ammunition; find a place in the home where the temperature is stabilized and you have a good start on proper storage.
“Keep you powder dry” is a phrase all shooters have heard and comes from the days when flintlock firearms ruled the field; it is just as important today as it was 200 years ago. Temperature swings from very low to high and back again causes condensation within modern brass-cased cartridges and renders ammunition inert. It doesn’t take much moisture to ruin a primer (duck hunters know this) and this is one reason I usually don’t recommend the basement for ammo storage, unless some type of dehumidifier is present to balance the humidity.
Not too long ago Ralph Catron and I bought some components and loaded ammunition from a lady who had stored her deceased husband’s firearms related equipment in her basement. The brass and pulled bullets were about all we were able to salvage. Ammo or powder cans that have neoprene seals work well to keep moisture at bay for storing loaded ammo; I do not recommend removing powder from the original packing cans but storing these cans in a wooden cabinet where the temperature and humidity are regulated will guarantee usable and reliable powder for long periods of time.
While the sun is the engine that drives all life it can be the worst enemy of ammunition and gunpowder by virtue of its heating ability. I keep my ammunition in cabinets away from sun exposure for this reason. For obvious reasons don’t leave your ammo on the dashboard of the truck and if you have a window in your handloading room make sure the sun doesn’t settle on your supply of powder and primers while you’re away. Don’t discount the heating power of the sun; I have the sunburn (smallmouth trip on New River last weekend) to prove it.
There is always some noise about long term storage of ammunition (and firearms) against some perceived insurrection or lawlessness and now there are on the market several storage options for those that wish to bury the evidence, so to speak, from simple cache tubes made of PVC or aluminum to sophisticated air-tight lockers that can be purged of air and pumped full of dry nitrogen.
A little common sense can go a long way in this regard; I’m reminded of the Confederate command that stored a few hundred muskets in caves in Southwest Virginia, a damp and gunmetal-unfriendly environment, for future use that were lost and later discovered in the early 1940’s, still operational and indeed in wonderful condition. The guns were heavily greased before storage, metal and wood, and stored in wooden barrels sealed with a mixture of wax and tallow. Gunpowder kegs had been stored within larger wooden barrels, also sealed with the wax/tallow, and the outside of the kegs themselves had been coated with the wax/tallow mixture. The powder was just as good as the day it was stored.
If you are going to put your ammunition away for a period of time look into the military surplus ammo cans with the neoprene seal rings, these work great if they are kept in a dry environment and protected from sudden swings in temperature. The military powder cans that have the same rubber seal rings (I use one to store my turkey calls) also work great, but don’t hold a heck of a lot.
I still like the good old heavy wooden cabinet, with proper locks, for ammo storage and for Pete’s sake, make sure you label your ammo when you put it away. If you’re like me, the memory isn’t what it used to be; and if you decide to bury your guns and ammo, just send me the map, I’ll look after it for you.
About the Author
Walt Hampton is a professional gunsmith and writer from Virginia. He and his son Wade operate Buck Mountain Rifle Works, manufacturing semi-finished gun stocks and building custom rifles on order. Visit his website at www.buckmountainrifleworks.com or email him email@example.com.