How to Properly Store Ammo for Long-term Survival

Ammo Storage Cans

If you are like most preparedness minded people, then you probably remember how hard it was to find ammo a couple of years back. With each newly introduced piece of gun-control legislation, panic buying sweeps through the gun market and ammo prices either quickly skyrocket, or in some cases ammunition become impossible to find.

If you’re trying to build a stockpile of ammunition, either for long-term emergency preparedness or simply to protect yourself from the wild market swings that happen every time people start to get a little fidgety, then you need to know how to correctly store your ammunition for long-term survival.

Does Ammo have a shelf life?

Most manufacturers recommend that ammunition should not be stored for longer than ten years, but these recommendations are in large part written by corporate lawyers trying to protect the company from lawsuits. With the proper storage techniques you should be able to safely store your ammo for much longer than that — probably decades.

In the Pacific region, some armed groups are still using old .303 and .50 Browning Machine Gun (BMG) cartridges that date back to the Second World War. With proper storage (i.e. stable temperature and low humidity combined with properly sealed packaging), small arms ammunition can last 50 years or more without significant deterioration.

If you plan on storing ammunition for an extended period of time, you need to take environmental conditions like temperature and humidity into account. Improperly stored ammunition can and will deteriorate. In some cases, that could make your stockpile of ammunition unreliable, or worse yet dangerous to fire.

Improper storage can cause a whole host of problems.

  • Primers can lose their sensitivity
  • Excessive and frequent variations in temperature can be damaging to powder
  • Charges can deteriorate over time
  • Cartridges can weaken and even rupture when fired.
  • You also have to watch out for corrosion problems that can change the size or characteristics of the ammunition, making it dangerous to fire.

Tips for Protecting Your Ammunition Stockpile

Ammo stored for long-term survival

Storing Ammo in the Original Boxes

In most cases, the paper boxes that your ammunition was sold with are going to be more than adequate when storing ammo in your house. In fact, it’s my preferred method for a couple of reasons.

  1. I know exactly what type of ammunition is in the box and how many rounds are in the container.
  2. I write the date directly on the packaging so I know when I bought it, and I can then use an oldest bought, first out method of rotation.
  3. There is less chance of the cartridges becoming banged up by dumping them into another container.
Military Ammo Can

Storing ammo in military-style storage cans

If you are looking for something that is designed for long-term storage, then look no further than the military-style containers that are now sold in most outdoor gear shops. These things are designed to sit out in a warzone, often sitting for weeks at a time in extreme heat, torrential downpours, and a host of other weather conditions that your ammo will likely never encounter while stored inside your home.

One word of caution: If you are buying used ammo cans then you need to thoroughly inspect the rubber gaskets on the lids. These gaskets are what keeps the moisture out, so if they are old and cracked they need to be replaced.

Ammunition taken into the field should not be returned to your stockpile.

Rounds that have been taken into the field, exposed to moisture, of left in extreme conditions should not be stored with your long-term supplies. Once a box had been removed from your stockpile for use, it should be quickly used or stored separately so an not to introduce moisture or compromised rounds into your stock.

If you plan on storing your rounds for longer than a couple years, or plan on burying it underground, you need to take a couple of precautions.

  1. Vacuum Seal – Vacuum sealing your ammunition can help protect it from water, rust, and even burying it underground.
  2. Rotation – Just like long term food storage, the key to successfully storing ammo is to rotate your ammunition as often as possible. Make sure you mark purchase dates on your ammo cans, so you use the oldest ammo first.
  3. Humidity Kills – Humidity is probably one of the biggest things you need to worry about. Try to keep your ammo in a low humidity location, or use some sort of dehumidifying equipment in your storage area.
  4. Periodic Checks – If you’re not regularly firing your ammo, it’s a good idea to check your supplies at least once every six months for signs of corrosion. Doing periodic checks will help ensure your stocks are ready to fire when you need them.
  5. Silica Packets – Those little silica gel packets that come in just about everything these days, are a great way to keep your ammo in top notch condition. Silica Gel, or desiccant packets, should be placed in your ammo cans to help get rid of moisture.
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24 Comments

  1. take 2 tablespoons of dry uncooked rice and wrap it in a piece of nylon and tie it shut. Drop one in each ammo can and your ammo will stay dry as a bone.

      • Think about it. Rice might not be the best choice. However, there are many people that have used rice to absorb moister out of a phone or other electronic device for a reason as a last chance to restore it. Some people still use rice in their salt shaker…hmm.. for what reason?? To keep the salt in good condition of course.

        Here is a survival tip. If you are limited on water supply. And you have rice that needs to be cooked. Soak it in water first overnight. Then when you cook it hot. A lot less time is needed to finish cooking the rice. Less boiling time means less water being boiled into the air.

    • Great idea but an even better desiccant is to mix one part salt with three parts white rice (get the KOKUHO from an asian grocery store – cheap and very moisture absorbant and does not attract bugs!) This is better than silica and it’s cheaper.

  2. I’d like to meet anyone who wants to have a survivors’ group in Florida.
    You can email me your number if you want to get in touch.
    It is killiansredbeer at gmail dot com.
    If you don’t like guns or the idea of being armed, don’t bother me.

    • Seems to me that the Rem oil might seep into the cartridge and render it useless . Have you had any problems with that ?

    • This seems like an incredibly bad idea. Oil WILL seep into cartridges over time. If your intent is to prevent corrosion, oil will work to form a barrier on most metals. Hence oil isn’t a bad plan on firearms themselves, though I prefer a more proactive approach like Zerust. For ammunition, oil is worse than useless. You don’t care os the brass tarnishes. What you care about is deterioration of the primer and the charge. Oil will exascerbate both of those issues.

      The best way to store ammunition long term is to vacuum seal it and use a good desiccant. That’s what the US Military does.

    • Rem Oil is for your weapon, not your ammo. Hate to say it but for long term storage, spraying oil on your ammo can make most, if not all of it useless. Oil will find it’s way into the primers and to the powder, rendering both, unable to perform. I’d suggest using that ammo up asap while it still fires and replacing it with new brass case ammo such as Lake City Arsenal or plain old Winchester in an airtight container with a few dessicant packages. Oil will ruin your ammo. Humidity is your only enemy. Good luck.

    • What the…?? A very light oil on magazine springs is all you would want on a magazine. Too much oil will attract discharged gun powder dust and crud into tons of magazines out there.
      There seems to be no need to take the magazine apart over and over if its loaded. That weakens the springs more than anything.

    • Springs do not “set” from remaining in one position such as “fully compressed.” What will weaken a spring is repeated compression and decompression. Think about what happens to a paper clip or solid wire when you continually bend and straighten it. It will eventually break. Come to think of it, the only springs I’ve had to replace are ones that I damaged in some way when I took a magazine apart for cleaning. I have many “spare” magazines that get used on rare occasions, that have been fully loaded for over 20 years. I just unloaded one and took it apart comparing it to a newer unloaded one, and there is no difference in the spring. Check out this post for more info. http://www.ar15.com/forums/t_1_5/855236_The_Myth_of_Magazine_Spring_Set.html

      • When I left my m16 mags fully loaded in Iraq without using them for longer than a month the ammo would not chamber I ended up putting 25 rounds in each mag which eliminated the problem the last thing I wanted was to need to chamber a round and it wouldnt I’m not sure if it was the spring or magazines

        • Active duty here as well, that cause you’re talking about issued equipment. Some inventory magazines are decades old and have been filled, emptied, and refilled so many times that prolonged compression will cause already tired metal to be useless. You’re definitely not wrong on any point, but consider that we’re talking about magazine usage with limited, up to no-use conditions. Metal is still fresh, and even in heavy use range-type magazines, they’re not Grenada-era old.

  3. Great information! There’s a prettygood networking site over alt-market.com PulpFiction where I am sure you will be able to find a shooter or two.

  4. Good lord, there is some BAD information out here on the world wide interwebs. @Luis, why on earth would you cover your ammunition in any kind of oil before storing it? That will almost certainly guarantee that it will be useless when you need it. Oil will seep into the primer and the power charge. Rem oil is especially prone to this, since it’s very thin. Want a foolproof way to kill your ammunition? Spray it with penetrating oil.

    Modern ammunition is designed for long term storage, even at relatively extreme temperatures. The thing that will kill ammunition is moisture. In fact, the real problem with temperature extremes is condensation. There are some easy rules to follow when storing ammunition, but the overriding rule is this: KEEP IT DRY. I personally always use desiccant, and I vacuum seal the desiccant bags in with the ammunition. Vacuum packing absolutely is not necessary, but it’s cheap and easy and you’re assured that you’ve removed most of the possibly moisture-laden air.

    By the way, those little desiccant bags you get in your electronics have been absorbing moisture since they left the factory. You’ll want to “recharge” them in an oven before you use them. The manufactures specify 350F for 3 hours for metal desiccant cans. The larger desiccant bags, which are usually made of cotton, can also withstand that kind of heat. Most of the smaller desiccant bags are made of Tyvek. Be careful with these. Tyvek melts rapidly at 275F. These need to be recharged at 225F for a longer period. One manufacturer suggests up to 12 hours.

    New 10 gram desiccant packs are between 25 and 50 cents each at Amazon. Cheap considering the price of ammo these days.

  5. Purchase a couple ammo cans and keep your ammo in them along with some silica packets. Rubbing a tiny amount of petroleum jelly along the rubber liner to ensure an air proof seal. It is simple, cheap, and very effective. Don’t spray oil on it or anything of the sort. The idea is to keep moisture out of the ammo, not keep it looking pretty. I have fired ammo with the brass nearly black from corrosion, but it had been kept dry.

  6. I live in the southwest and it is hot and usually dry. Can ammo be safely stored in a shed where temps are above 100 degrees inside? If not why? thx

    • Heat will accelerate the chemical breakdown of your ammo. The powder itself will begin to breakdown immediately after manufacture. The short term results maybe noticed in variations in accuracies of the bullet. Long term – powder will become unstable. many variables can effect life span.

  7. There is some advice here both good and otherwise. The genetleman with the Rem oil is perhaps overdoing it a little. But then considering some Wolf ammo i;ve seen, perhaps not. I do know WD40, for instance, has been accused more then once of soaking around primers and killing them. But WD40 and guns is not a good combination anyway except perhaps, for wet guns and short term storage of guns. WD40 I use occasionally as a cleaner or to wipe off fingerprints, but no more then that. Despite what many think it is NOT a lubricant (nowhere on the can does it make this claim either) and Remoil, well, there are better lubes AND rust inhibitors around, i think some people use it because it’s everywhere and its cheap and your spouse probably won’t grumble about the smell. Other then that, I forget the WD40. But fact is, if you are concerned about ammo corrosion, Eezox is what you want. The company itself says you can use it as a lubricant, for installing primers in reload shells! So I admit, i have put Eezox on ammo case and bullet for long term storage and not worried about it. The worst corroding ammo i have ever seen is Wolf steel. Mostly the 7.62 x 39. I have wolf in 380, 9m, and 5.56 and only the 7.62 has rusted. I have pulled out wolf 7.62, gently painted with Eezox and stored loose bulk in a zcorr bag, that was so corroded you’d think it came from a sunken ship. If you have a bunch of wolf 7.62 either leave it in its box, or store in a plastic case with dividers…I suspect it was the steel on steel that accelerated the corrosion because the ammo i stored in the plastic boxes still looks fine!
    .22 rimfire and my .22 pellets for my PCP marauder, are a concern. Having opened more then one tin of older .22 pellets, to find them covered in that grey powder, I decided to soak them in Eezox since there is nothing to lose. I’ll dribble some in the tin and roll them around til they’re all covered with it and use a paintbrush to lubricate what i missed. Considering the cost of good pellets ($8-12 for a box of 500) I figured it was worth a try. So far, so good, havent shot my Marauder in 2 years and the pellets still look new. Same goes for .22 rimfire, especially because it is no longer easy or cheap to get! Dont worry about the case, worry about the bullets, the lead, especially on non copper washed bullets, does crumble and get white powdery after a time. I paint the bullets with eezox, let them dry for several hours, and store them away. Then i write the date of storage and the word “EEZOX” on the box and store em in a zip lock bag, with dessicant packets if i have them (then cross my fingers).
    Lets face it, ammo has now become too, well, precious to take for granted that more will ALWAYS be available or even affordable! So anything that might prevent it self-destructing is worth a try, by my thinking.

  8. Living in the South, humidity is a huge problem, especially during the summer months. I will have to keep in this in mind when storing ammo. I’ll also make sure to check on my ammo occasionally to prevent any mishaps. Thanks for sharing!

  9. KITTY LITTER
    The better kitty litter is 100% silica, some litter has clay in it ( that is a bad thang ). Just check back label for ingredients.
    I put it in 20 cup coffee filters, fold top a couple of times and staple shut. If you are using smaller boxes use smaller filters.
    I keep my ammo in non working refrigerators with powder and primers in freezer part. If you have limited space maybe use one of the small one’s that are about 2 x 3 feet. I use one just for buckshot.

  10. Rotation and twice annual checks will really ensure that your ammo is properly used or disposed of. Thanks for these tips!

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