Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Lore of Birddog

This article has been out on the internet for many, many years.  It's one of the best I've seen on the subject, although I have added a few relatively unimportant comments in red through the text. 

I generally follow his precepts, with one exception. I keep my ammo in climate controlled environments. That helps me not have to worry about temperature or humidity issues. For me, long term means that I bought the ammo within the last 30 years. Some people have been storing it for a lot longer than that.

Without further ado, here's Birddog's article.

By Birddog

There has been much debate on what is the best way for long term storage of ammo, and while I can’t say it’s wrong to place your ammo in a bucket and suck out all the air and replace it with nitrogen I can say it is a waste of valuable resources.
O.K. if you plan being cryogenically frozen for hundreds of years then maybe. The rest of us just need to know what is the best way to properly store ammo so that it doesn’t degrade over a period of time and that it functions as designed when put into use.
 Now. I need to give you some background on how and for what condition ammo is built. Military cartridges are designed so that they can withstand storage temperatures from minus 65 degrees F. to 122 F.   So as long as you don’t keep them in an oven you’re fine. They’re  made for soldiers to use in battlefield conditions under the most horrible conditions conceivable and still function.
The manufactures (OLIN, Winchester, Remington Etc.) know this and they also know they will lose a big fat Govt contract if they don’t pass this criteria. Here is one for you, the same folks that make 5.56mm make the exact same cartridge and call it a .223 ,change the label and sell it civilian.  (Just a note: there are actually some differences, primarily in terms of pressure. Most people don’t know or care about these.)
Same with 308 (7.62 NATO). (Same note above applies)

 So now you know that there is hardly any difference between civilian and military ammunition manufacturing. Let’s get down to storage.

Shelf life refers to how long an item can remain in storage and still be functional. Well, all military small arms have an indefinite shelf life. This means as long as it is properly stored it will never go bad. (I’ve fired military surplus from the 1930’s with no trouble. I have read of people firing ammo from the Spanish American War, with no ill effects.)
Service life refers to how long a item can remain in a operating configuration and still be functional. Small arms ammo should be good from anywhere from 6 months to 18 months before you need inspect it. If the ammo has some corrosion on it take some copper wool or steel wool and take it off then it’s good to go unless it is to the stage of pitting, then get rid of it.

Now, most ammo comes in a wooden outer container with metal inner packs that holds the ammo. We store it on at least two inches of dunnage to keep off the floor. It is inspected every five years and then only ten percent is checked for defects and then thrown back into storage for another 5 yrs. (if nothing is wrong). So now what can you do as a civilian to store your ammo?
Your number one enemy is moisture, as long as you have a waterproof container you are fine. I use empty 20mm ammunition containers that you can get from any surplus store although PVC pipe will do. Try and keep the cartridges in the original packing and try and keep away from metal to metal contact.
To ensure that the ammo has no moisture I throw in a couple of dehumidifier packages. This is strictly optional as we don’t even do that in the military. Whether it’s military ammo you got at a gun show or 22 shells from K-mart it’s all the same. Before you store it make sure its clean, dry( and wiped off if you touched it) and that’s it! Wow, almost too simple!

 You don’t need to vacuum seal it, and you don’t need to store it at any particular temperature just keep it dry and out of the elements and leave it alone. I have been working with munitions for over 11 years, and this how the Army have trained me. I hope this sheds some understanding on storage.


  1. The ammo supply guys in the army used to tell me the only thing that would really hurt ammo was heat, especially if mixed with high humidity. I pushed about 300 rounds of some old .38 reloads over the Winter that were over 30 years old and had two that were bad. One was a primer and the other the powder. Those rounds had been in a plastic slip on box in a humid basement for all their life until I pulled em out and shot em.

  2. The only strange thing I ever had happen was with some Remington 8mm Mauser. I had twenty rounds, put them in four stripper clips, and put that inside a plastic "ready box" for quick loads. I opened it up a year later and there was green corrosion on the brass casings where they touched each other. I fired the ammo, had no problems, ran the brass through a tumbler and it was good as new. I've never had that happen before or since.

  3. The oldest ammunition I can confirm firing was .50 cal from 1952 or 53, I cannot remember. It functioned with no ill effect from age.

    Ammunition is generally pretty hardy stuff, doubly so if stored in airtight ammo cans, even more so if those ammo cans have silica gel in them.

  4. I have some Turkish 8mm Mauser from the 1930's and it is sure fire. I got it in wooden crates, in spam cans. You can be sure the Turks just stored it in a warehouse all those years, but that didn't hurt it any. I also bought a full case of Austrian 8X56R from 1936, and it works fine. I know the Austrians took better care of it in storage but still, it must have been sitting in a non climate controlled space for many years. It works like a champ. Once I get surplus ammo, unless I intend to shoot it I keep it in the wooden case, unopened. I look at it as an emergency reserve. You're absolutely right, with just a little care ammo will outlast the purchaser.