Is Old Ammunition Safe to Shoot?

As a long-time firearms instructor and head of a gun rights group, people ask me all sorts of questions. All questions have merit, especially for people new to guns. Among these questions, folks will ask about the safety of shooting old ammunition. I tell them that in general, old factory-loaded ammunition should be safe to shoot.

Is old ammunition safe to shoot?

The ammo gods showered me with old ammo these past few days.  A long-time friend and fellow instructor cleaned out his garage and found several hundred rounds of old .22 Blazer ammo.  Yeah, it looks rough.  At the same time, I’ve shot plenty of old .22s and they usually function pretty well.  I would not use them for a match or competition, but for plinking or skills-building?  You bet.

Is old ammunition safe to shoot?

Another friend came upon a massive collection of old shotgun shells at a sale.  More than he could use.  So he shared the wealth.  In fact, he shared boxes and boxes of shotshell wealth, about a hundred pounds’ worth.

Is old ammunition safe to shoot?

I cheerfully accepted the windfall, as I know shotgun ammunition also does well, regardless of age.  Unless one stores shotgun shells at the bottom of Lake Michigan after a boating accident, shotgun ammo tends to forgive owners who store them under less-than-ideal conditions.

If you have old shotshells that do not fire reliably, consider giving them to a reloader to recycle the components.  Or sell them to someone you don’t like.  Or simply discard them in your trash.  If you burn your trash, disregard that last bit of advice, of course.  At the same time, discarding them in the neighbor’s burning bin might not earn you a Neighbor of the Year award, either.

While most experienced shooters including myself will merrily dispose of (that’s spelled s-h-o-o-t) your “old” factory-loaded ammo, I avoid homemade reloads.  You probably should too, unless you know the person who made them and trust them with your health and well-being.

Shooting someone else’s reloads carries an increased risk of problems.  People with attention deficit disorder sometimes don’t make good reloaders.  Certainly neither do folks with early-onset Alzheimer’s or full-blown Dementia.

I’ve “inherited” reloads on a number of occasions in my life.  Today, I pass them on to reloaders to recycle components.  Those folks will usually discard the powder (it makes great garden fertilizer) and sometimes the primers, and then reload the cases with fresh, known powder and the original bullet.

Why don’t I like reloads?  In short, squibs.   Squibs happen when the person or machine fabricating the cartridge failed to include a powder charge in the round.  The primer of the squib will push the lead bullet into the barrel, where it will remain lodged.   If the squib goes undetected, and a shooter then fires the next round into a now-obstructed barrel, bad things happen.  In not so good cases, it can result in serious injury to the gun and shooter alike.

I have shot over 200,000 rounds in my life and the only squibs I’ve experienced came with shooting the home-rolled stuff.  Specifically, they all came from old folks who should have stopped reloading long before they finally did.  In the last instance, the man failed to charge every third or fourth round with powder.  I used a handful of them to make a malfunction video to show our students exactly what a squib load looks, feels and sounds like.  And then I discarded the rest.

Is old ammunition safe to shoot?

Unfortunately, squibs can wreck your barrel and potentially your firearm as well.  Barrel obstructions almost always destroy shotgun barrels, sometimes causing injuries too.   A barrel obstruction in a high-powered rifle can cause a sudden and catastrophic disassembly of the receiver and chamber.  And damage to all things nearby – including the shooter’s hands, arms and face.

Conversely, if a reloader double-charged the powder in a shell, that can also cause an unwanted, rapid discombobulation of things in your gun.

If you suspect you’ve inherited some reloads, my advice remains to pass them on to a reloader for components.  How do you identify reloads?  First off, rimfire ammunition is virtually always factory made.

Is old ammunition safe to shoot?

With American-made centerfire rifle and pistol rounds, and shotgun shells, factory boxes usually serve as a clue.  At the same time, one must inspect the individual shells in each box.   Do they all share the same headstamps and color (nickel vs. brass)?  Are the primers of uniform color?   Are they all the same gauge or caliber (see above).

Do the headstamps match the box?  For instance, do the headstamps say Winchester in the Winchester box?  Or do you have Remington rounds in a CCI or Fiocchi box?

If everything looks consistent and the case headstamps are uniform and match the brand on the box, the ammo is probably factory loaded.  Furthermore, if the cartridges lack scratches, or other signs they have been loaded, fired or all of the above, that also suggests factory ammo.

Is old ammunition safe to shoot?

In shotgun shells, do the shells all share the same color and print on the sides?  Is the brass base of the shells uniform in height?  Do the shells all appear to be factory crimped?  If so, that points to factory ammo.  Watch for any shells that look like they’ve been already fired and then reloaded (and recrimped) like the shell on the left above.

Is old ammunition safe to shoot?

Any rounds that show any signs of tampering like the 12-gauge shell above, right should find their way into your trash.

Is old ammunition safe to shoot?

With all ammunition, all manner of shells can find their way into a box.  Compare the shells for consistency – and gauge.  If in doubt, take a pass on them.  Or at the very least organize them.  Don’t feed 16-gauge shells into your 12-gauge shotgun.

I mentioned American-made ammo above.  Old foreign ammo will also shoot in modern firearms of the appropriate caliber.  However, some old foreign ammo may prove corrosive to some degree.  For those who clean their gun before the sun sets, no problem.  For those like me, you may find a light patina of rust on your barrel two weeks later.  Lesson learned.

Remember, if you encounter old ammunition, do not use it for self-defense unless you have no other ammo available.  Don’t buy someone’s old ammo to protect yourself and your family.  Yes, even if you find some old .357 Magnum hollow-points.

Storing your ammo.

When buying ammunition, American or otherwise, you should store it in air-tight containers.  Just coincidentally, military surplus ammo cans make great ammo storage containers for your ammo boxes.   Regardless of container type, label the outside of the container, too.  You will thank yourself later.

And for those who have more than a few rounds, ammunition cans make great organizers as well.  Ideally, keep your ammo cans stored in a cool, dry place.

If you have an impressive ammo fort, don’t try to stack it tall and deep to minimize the footprint in wood-frame construction.  Excessive weight, like numerous cases of 7.62×51 NATO, 5.56×45 (.223), 9mm Luger, .45 ACP and .38 Special can cause floor joists to sag over time.  Ask me how I know.

In general, old factory-loaded ammo typically will retain its functionality for a long, long time.  Yes, even if it does not look pretty on the outside.  One may encounter a few duds with really old or very poorly-stored ammo, but by and large it will go bang every time.  To stay extra safe though, try to avoid reloaded ammo to reduce dangers from someone else’s home-made mistakes.

comments

  1. avatar Indiana Tom says:

    Most old factory ammo works just fine. I have fired ammo over 20 years old with no problem. I have bought .223 reloads which were questionable and erratic.

    1. avatar Jackass Jim says:

      20 years is by no means old for ammo.

      I’ve got ammo (22lr, 30-30 Win, and .38 special) from my grandfather (1896-1974) that I acquired while he was still with us. He probably bought it in the 50’s or 60’s.

      Ammo works great to this day.

      1. avatar Ed Schrade says:

        I still sometime shoot some of my old rifle reloads from the 1960’s and 1970’s. They have been kept indoors and not in a shed or anything. Have not had any problems.

  2. avatar Marty says:

    I used to shoot trap competitively. Although I always used Federal commercial loads for the matches, I did load my own for practice. I used a MEC 3000 for realoading and for some reason, I ended up with no powder every now and then. No problem in practice, I’d just drop a weight made for the cause down the barrel and out would come the wad. I tried to figure out the cause of the no powder load, but never could. It was a great progressive loader, but just not for competition. And just for note, reloading is the only good thing about “progressive”. lol.

  3. avatar Joe R. says:

    Is Old Ammunition Safe to Shoot?

    Who knows.

    Buy new ammo regularly, and shoot it up.

    ; )

  4. avatar former water walker says:

    I have seen a lot of old ammo at flea markets and garage sales. Unless it’s in a “collectible” box I pass. YMMV…

  5. avatar Kevin (The other one) says:

    I had some 7mm Mauser ammo that was between 60 and 100 years old, oldest stamp I found was 1915 (Bought it from Samco Global). Some of it worked fine, some of it were duds, and a lot of it liked to hang fire. I stopped shooting it after a few hang fires….it isn’t a comfortable feeling when you hear the firing pin strike then a second later it fires….

  6. avatar the ghost of ironicatbest says:

    Ironicatbest at best has shot some pretty old ammo, somtimes they don’t go off and it is not wise to look down the barrel to see why, because sometimes they do go off about 10 seconds later. Sometimes they just go pfffftt and the bullet sticks in the barrel. Using old steel shot loads sometimes they rust together and make funny patterns. Ironicatbest has thrown shotguns shells in his trash and burning it, was a disappointment. However throwing metallic cartridges in the trash and burning it is fun, it’s kind of like ” light fuze and get away fast. “

  7. avatar Big Al says:

    Hell Fire!!! In 1969 (after Hurricane Camille) I fired 1918 vintage military 45acp, 12ga and 22lr. ALL had been submerged in SALT water. After a thorough fresh water rinse I observed near 100% on the 45, about 80% 22lr and about 80% on the 12ga, if the base wad was not severely swollen. Safe??? You bet, unless you were on the receiving end.

  8. avatar Michael says:

    “Sell them to someone you don’t like”. Like, I’ve got this old car and the entire brake system needs to be replaced, I can get a good price from this guy I know…I’ll tell him all about it after I get his money…and you are “head” of a gun rights group? Go some where and get your moral compass adjusted. Can we get a clean up from a site moderator here. I hope no one you’ve sold ammo to lately reads this article…a mother, karma is. 30

    1. avatar Squiggy81 says:

      Pretty sure that was just a joke.

    2. avatar John Boch says:

      Lighten up, Francis.

      1. avatar Sgt. Hulka says:

        ^this

  9. avatar Isaac says:

    When I started reloading one simple rule was impressed on me by a few people (mostly close friends and a couple relatives):
    YOU NEVER SHOOT SOMEONE ELSE’S RELOADS! ONLY exception being its okish to share with my spouse.

    1. avatar Southern Cross says:

      One compliment is when someone says they would shoot your reloads. After seeing someone blow up TWO Swedish Mausers from dodgy reloads bought at gun shows I only trust ammunition made myself or from a few other people.

      I’ve used various surplus ammunition made from the early 1950s to the mid 1980s. Turkish 8mm generally worked well but crates made from the same year would perform differently. One lot would shoot as well as any modern ammunition. The other crate wasn’t as good and only used at 100m was nickname the Ramadan batch. Other than that, no misfires. FNM 8mm from the 1970s was as good as any match ammunition. 10 round 2″ group at 300 metres using a Yugo M48 with a 2.5x Scout Scope is enough proof.

      HXP .303 is the gold standard for milsurp ammo. 1950s Albanian 7.62x54r wasn’t the most accurate and clearly made on tired tooling but always fired.

      I know some people who really like the steel cased Romanian 8mm. And others will go to great efforts to find the Swedish 6.5×55 military ammo.

      I heard in the gulf wars the US military was using WW2 produced 50-cal ammunition, which taught new generations how to clean guns after using corrosive ammo.

      1. avatar LarryinTX says:

        I recently finished shooting up a can (820 rds) of 5.56 milsurp that I bought in 1994. Figure it was probably 40-50 years old (they don’t sell it when it’s new!) and worked perfectly. Perhaps sealed ammo cans help, I’m not sure.

  10. avatar Rusty Chains says:

    I have fired off some military ’06 ammo that was almost 60 years old. The headstamp indicated it had been loaded in the ninteen twenties, clearly it has been a while but I had no problems with it.

    I have taken to marking boxes when I buy them with the month and year and then store them in cheap steel fake 50 cal boxes from Walmart with a desiccant pack. That way I know how old the stuff is and how it was stored.

    1. avatar Lupinsea says:

      Yeah. . . I don’t have enough of a stash yet to really start storing it in the ammo cans. Or I should say, I go through my ammo quicker than that. But I have gotten in the habit of at least putting the year on the outside of the box it came in. I do have some ammo that goes back a couple years.

      Which is an indication I need to buy more ammo.

  11. avatar Michael says:

    I am not laughing. Can we please get a moderator here before some anti-gunner runs this viral, please. 30

    1. avatar ACP_armed says:

      It was sarcasm, tongue in cheek, Michael….

      1. avatar Swarf says:

        And quite clearly so. In fitting with the tone of the rest of the article.

        Loosen the band on your Fedora, Michael.

    2. avatar RidgeRunner says:

      Man, you must walk around in a permanent state of near panic. It’s going viral! They’re coming to get us! The sky is falling! Quick, take it down, run for cover!
      What, exactly, would those mean ol’ anti-gunners do? NYT will have a story, “Gun Blogger Urges Readers to Give Enemies Bad Ammo!”
      We’re screwed! 2A repealed!

  12. avatar Kenneth says:

    A squib load lodged a projectile in the bore of the .44 that killed Brandon Lee, son of the great Bruce Lee.
    A prop man pulled the bullets from some .44s, dumped the powder and then reseated the bullets so they could safely film the revolver pointing at the camera without it being obviously unloaded. Brandon Lee was no where around while this happened. Later, the gun was brought out of the prop room and loaded with blanks for a scene where Lee was to be fired at. The gun was fired and Lee was killed. No one seems to know how the slug came to be stuck in the bore, but a .44 slug was recovered from Lee’s chest, and the bore showed the characteristic ring of a barrel obstruction having been shot out by a later discharge.

    1. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

      ‘No one seems to know how the slug came to be stuck in the bore…’

      The pri mer will generally have enough energy to lodge the bu llet in the ba rrel. Then you fire the blank with the bul let lodged in front of it and it essentially becomes a live ro und.

      1. avatar Swarf says:

        But only if Props was stupid enough to leave a live primer in the “dummy” round and somebody else was stupid enough to fire the primer-only load, hear the noise, and not thing it was worth further investigation of the firearm.

        That’s a lot of layers of stupid in one cake.

        1. avatar Kenneth says:

          Exactly. I was being nice by just stating the facts as they were found after the fact, but the obvious conclusion is that SOMEONE must have pulled the trigger on the doctored ammo, heard the squib discharge, and then pretended to not notice and just put the firearm back with the other props, with the slug still stuck in the bore.
          Later, the firearm was loaded with blanks, in effect creating an ‘accident’ just waiting to happen. I put the single quotes around “accident” to signify that it was actually negligence, even though it might not be possible to figure out exactly whose it was. Yet another layer of stupid was that no one seems to know what happened to the rest of the doctored rounds. At least no one came forward to admit to throwing them away. It would seem obvious that whoever put the firearm back into props, would likely be the same one who pulled the trigger, and then threw away the doctored rounds in order to avoid potential trouble over his negligence. Anyway, it is claimed that no one remembers who that someone might have been.

  13. avatar davida says:

    Lots of good comments on this topic head stamp date ( mostly on govt surpluse ammo ) not likely an issue if it looks clean .

    I have shot 30-06 ammo over 80 years old no problems that was some 30 yrs ago and i probably still have some that were / are kept in proper ammo cans in a cool dry place .

  14. avatar skiff says:

    Sometime in the 1980’s, I shot .45 acp ammo that was head stamped FA 18. That’s Frankford Arsenal, 1918. Every cartridge case fired. Of course I cleaned my gun well after firing them. In retrospect, I wish I had not fired them although I still have the original 20 round box.

    The shotgun shells shown are plastic. Shotgun shells used to be made of cardboard. I have some that were made in the 50’s and 60’s that I’ll attempt to fire someday. I will be aware of hang fires.

    1. avatar Marty says:

      I’ve got several boxes of old Remington and Federal paper shells I had on a display shelf 30 plus years ago. They’re packed away somewhere and I will put them back on display when we move to our final home. No I have no intention of shooting them, as I have an unlimited amount of reloads to shoot and these were collectors editions way back then, and I’m sure my daughter would love to display them when we are long gone.

  15. avatar Timothy Toroian says:

    I once saw a 1911 messed up by crappy range ammo that produced a squib that the shooter didn’t comprehend. And I’ve had misfires go off well past the 10-second wait that some recommend at least three times so I’ll keep a weapon pointed down range for a full minute. Something going while racking a slide or opening a bolt wouldn’t be much fun.

  16. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

    Back in the mid 90s I purchased a Lee-Enfield that came with a half a dozen boxes of mili tary surp lus am mo (for $100). I shot up one box and was grouping something like 8-10″ at 50 yards. Then I took a closer look at the boxes and deduced that they were produced in 1951. I still have the re st of the boxes which are kept purely for decorative purposes. I was too afraid I’d get a squib and my Lee-Enfield would blow up in my face.

    Better safe than sorry.

    1. avatar Southern Cross says:

      Sounds like Radway Green ammunition. Headstamp has RG and a year code.

  17. avatar DerryM says:

    Be aware that Century Arms sold a quantity of Brazilian .308 in the mid 80’s that were found to be extremely dangerous. The following explains the issue and how to identify the ammo should you stumble upon any lurking about:
    “Surplus” Cartridges Dangerous
    Companhia Brasileria de Cartuchos, CBC, says its 7.62mm x 51mm cartridges from lots dated 1975 pose serious safety risks because of excessive pressures. The cartridges, headstamped “CBC 7.62 75”, should not be used, given away or sold under any circumstances. There have been reports of rifles bursting as a result of the excessive pressure. An independent testing lab detected peak pressures in excess of 130,000 CUP, in one of 20 of the cartridges it tested. CBC calls these rounds outdated.

    The particular round was manufactured solely for military use in several countries. They are not intended for civilian use at all.

    CBC also has issued a warning for any of its 7.62mm x 51mm cartridges from any year which have a label on the packing material with the Spanish word “reengastada.” The label was not affixed by the manufacturer and its application to ammunition is unclear.

    If you have any ammunition with the 1975 headstamp or with the Spanish word, contact CBC at 800-742-1094.

    – Originally published by the author, un-bylined, in the 1 June 1992 Firearms Business.
    That toll-free number is no longer operative (2007) but it was answered in the San Francisco, California offices of Brobeck, Phelger & Harrison where CBC was being represented in this matter.

    Deconstructed CBC 76 7.62mm round, courtesy of http://www.chinesefirearms.com According to the attorney, Gary Fergus, on point at the time they were contacted in Spring 1992, the suspect “CBC 7.62 75” cartridges had been involved in 83 catastrophic failures of small arms ranging from numerous M1A/M14 rifles to machine guns such as Kent Lomont’s M1919A4 and M2 “Ma Deuce,” both of which were destroyed at the April 1992 Knob Creek meeting. He had obtained the rounds from Century International Arms.

    In an interview by fax from Sao Paulo with CBC’s President, Antonio Marcos Moraes Barros, it was learned that his company had originally manufactured those particular rounds on an Argentinean military contract. He was unable to provide any information about how the ammunition came to be made available to Century, which had imported the bulk of it, or Samco Global Arms, only that neither of those concerns had obtained it from CBC.

    Century issued a recall on this ammo as soon as they became aware of its danger, but it is not certain if all of it was recovered. The ammo marked “reengastrada” MAY have been loaded with pistol powder, not rifle powder. Both are Berdan primed, and CAN be used for components with a fresh powder charge of a known powder and charge weight. It’s a 147 gr bullet, I think.

    I have shot old surplus cartridges with no problems, mostly in rifles. I am still shooting Canadian .303 British made in the mid 1950’s in my Enfield No. 4. I have seen other guys have squibs with their reloads, but always realized what had happened and no damage or injury. The worst damage to a handgun I ever saw was when some idiot put Factory +P .38 SPCL in a Smith & Wesson Airweight and blew the cylinder open and reformed the top strap into and effigy of Mt. Fuji. (Did not witness the injury, but a Range Master friend showed me the revolver and told me about the incident.) He only lost part of a forefinger reportedly. Lucky Idiot was he.

  18. avatar Cloudbuster says:

    Unless one stores shotgun shells at the bottom of Lake Michigan after a boating accident

    What? You mean the one where I lost all my guns?

  19. avatar Mark H says:

    None of the ammo pictured is in any way OLD.

    For US ammo, OLD = WWI or earlier
    For Foreign ammo, lets call it WWII or earlier

    Shotgun ammo with cardstock hulls are old (usually), plastic no.

  20. avatar Kendahl says:

    The US military began WW2 with ammunition left over from WW1.

    When I resumed shooting a couple of years ago, my reloads, which had sat on a shelf in the basement for 30 years, worked flawlessly.

    Shooting a squib won’t blow up your gun. Pulling the trigger again, without making sure the barrel is clear, is a good way to blow it up.

  21. avatar Toni says:

    i have some old 8x56R ammo from 38. some works some does not. to get more ammo though i need to go through this stuff to have some shells to reload. also as Timothy Toroian says while i dont wait a full min i do wait at least 30 seconds. especially with a heavy caliber it can be unnerving 30 seconds as you dont know when the recoil will hit if it does indeed go off. heavy recoil i dont mind when it goes off when it should. it is the delay that makes it unnerving

    1. avatar LarryinTX says:

      Believe I’d invest in a bullet puller. They can’t be very expensive.

      1. avatar Toni says:

        yeah i have one. just have to find a source of the right primers for those cases (old berdan stuff) and already have a device made to push the primers out with water pressure. need to get a good tumbler as well as the brass is pretty disgusting looking though clean. get my forge built and a lead pot and am all set. the projectiles are a bit of an oversize 8mm for this rifle so casting my own the best way to go

  22. avatar Arc says:

    Still got some old hand loads I got from some guy at the range, never used em, don’t want to. I would like to properly surrender them along with a dud .50BMG round, but then the local fuzz will probably add my name and calibers to the round up lists when confiscation starts. The trash is unacceptable for a 50 cal round, given a microwaved one will punch a hole straight through the oven, wiggling the bullet out with a multitool is playing with fire, and burying it makes a UXO hazard 50 years from now.

    So it sits in an ammo can until I figure out what to do with the damn thing. Maybe burying it deep is the way to go.

    1. avatar Gralnok says:

      A bit hard to pull a .50, but I’d say just wiggle it out with some pliers. Unless it has a painted tip, it likely is just a normal FMJ. Alternatively, if you’ve got a rifle and are accurate with it, maybe take it out to the middle of nowhere, set it up, then shoot at it. The case will go the farthest, even if it does go off, and because it’s lightweight, it won’t go far. However, I highly doubt the police will make you fill out a report or form just to turn in some rounds. If nothing else, write down a false name then exit post haste. If they are anything like my local cops, they probably have other, more pressing matters to attend to.

      Then again, I could be wrong. =/

      1. avatar LarryinTX says:

        I don’t know where you are, but I have done that in TX, and it seemed like the cops were falling over themselves to make it clear they did not know or care who I was, and thanking me much. Which is what we should expect, or perhaps demand.

    2. avatar Klaus Von Schmitto says:

      Put the ammo in a coffee can filled with transmission fluid. Leave them in it for a few months and then disassemble.

      1. avatar LarryinTX says:

        Does nobody have inertial bullet pullers any more? Looks like a hammer, with a hollow head that can be opened to mount a cartridge in a shell holder, then beat on the floor (or whatever) with it so that inertia pulls the bullet from the case, leaves the bullet reloadable, the case and primer usable if you trust them (new, for example, or unknown handloads). Some pretty extreme methods discussed here, compared to the simplicity of a puller. I doubt anybody makes one for a .50 BMG, but likely everything else.

  23. avatar Gralnok says:

    I’ve shot all sorts of old, corroded, pitted, and otherwise messed up .22lr ammunition. In my experience, there’s only two outcomes. 1: it fires. 2: It doesn’t fire. I’ve never had a squib load with .22lr. As for shotgun shells, I would scavenge the ranges in the middle of nowhere for unfired rounds. Trying to see if they’ve been reloaded is impossible, as they’ve either been out long to develop a light patina on the brass, discolor the hull, or sometimes, they’ve been run over by cars or trucks who didn’t see it lying on the ground amidst a pile of shells. When I feel adventurous, I fire some of those older weathered rounds. As for the .22lr, again, any dents in the case or bullet don’t matter. What does matter is cleaning the rounds thoroughly, since I don’t want sand or grit getting into the bore and scouring it. A bit strange, admittedly, when I don’t care about split cases.

  24. avatar oliver says:

    Short answer: yes.
    Slightly longer answer:no, not for the ammo if its collectible.
    Longerer answer: no,definitely not if it is a hang fire and you decide to stare into the muzzle to see where the bullet went.

  25. avatar dlj95118 says:

    Obtained two bricks of Western SuperX .22LR, circa ’75 vintage.

    Shoots fine. Although the burned powder smells vastly different to any other recent brand.

  26. avatar Ogre says:

    My experience with old ammo goes like this: When I was a teen (and invulnerable), we had a habit of shooting shotguns toward the sky on a friend’s farm on July 4th back in the ’60s. One time, the ammo came off the basement beams of my friend’s house. It was low-brass, paper hull, rolled crimp loaded with birdshot and nobody knew how long it had been there. So we fired it off after dark in old single-shot break-open shotguns. I remember that the flame from the shots would extend three feet beyond the muzzle and there was a good deal of recoil. Nobody was hurt and no guns blew up, and later I figured that the shells probably had absorbed some moisture over the years and that affected the powder. So, no, I don’t shoot old ammo these days. I don’t reload and won’t shoot ammo reloaded by other people.

  27. avatar Timothy says:

    I had a squib load from a factory Winchester White box of 9MM. Thank God I had been warned about squib loads from my father. I rather like my CZ and would have been really sad if I’d pulled the trigger again. Not as sad as that Anaconda owner is today probably.

    I reload with a progressive Dillon reloader and one of the stops adds the powder. You can still make mistakes, but as long as the round travels through all of the stops, it gets powder. I also buy reloaded ammunition online from time to time. So far, my only squib load is from that factory box.

    1. avatar Nigel the expat says:

      Seriously, that destroyed Anaconda made me wince.

  28. avatar Chris Mallory says:

    Unless ammo is in a chamber, fire doesn’t cause that much of a risk. Yes, it will go off, but without the chamber of a firearm to direct the blast it disperses rather quickly.

  29. avatar Gramps says:

    All my reloads and factory ammo gets the vacuum bag treatment. Should last forever!

  30. avatar gp says:

    I’ve shot plenty of old milsurp rifle ammo, some over 70 years old, manufactured all over the world. I’ve had two dud primers out of hundreds of cartridges. Safe to shoot? Dunno. But it usually works.

    During the 22LR ammo drought of six years ago, I had a lot of dud primers in brand new factory 22LR ammo, and saw a few casings fresh out of the box deformed in seating. I also saw 22LR case failures other shooters experienced. That was a bad era for ammo quality.

    I found ancient boxes of frosty-looking Tenex and Winchester Supreme dirt cheap last year. Chronographed them, and their velocity variance was impressively low, so age didn’t seem to hurt them any.

    Other people’s reloads? Probably shouldn’t shoot em. Use em for components if you can get em cheap enough.

  31. avatar G says:

    But how effective is old ammunition? Does it lose significant FPS as it ages?

  32. avatar Sich says:

    Old Ammunition is anything over 35 years old and don’t buy any ammunition dated before 1924. Before 1924 all Primer Caps used Fulminated Mercury which is Highly Corrosive and doesn’t have a Long Storage Life.

  33. avatar Mikial says:

    I think the oldest ammo I’ve shot in the past 10 years was some 1942 issue 30-06 Garand ammo I found still loaded in the clips at a pawn shop where I knew the owner well. I shot some of it for the sheer cool experience of it and saved the rest as collectibles. It worked great.

    Regarding the author’s experience of only finding squibs among reloads, my experience was completely different. In truth the experiences involved two wives, my EX and my current wife (who has much higher coolness, gun skills and intelligence quotients than the Ex ever did). In the first case, the Ex managed to blow up her P32 by shooting it after a squib round lodged a bullet in the barrel. In the second instance, my current wife immediately recognized that something wasn’t right after she fired the squib round and stopped shooting her Walther. It was a simple process of knocking the stuck bullet out with a cleaning rod after that. But my real point in telling this is that both squibs were experienced with brand name factory ammo. So, just because you’re shooting new factory ammo, don’t be complacent.

    1. avatar Sich says:

      Tell your wife to use Cordite SC Propellant (if she can still find it), also known as a “Yankee Candle”. When Fire it leaves a “Natural” Scent” that can be easily be mistaken as smelling something produced in Nature. German Snipers in WWII, used it to Mask their Hiding Position, because it didn’t leave a Typical Gunpowder Propellant Smell…

  34. avatar Alan says:

    Generally speaking, the worst that can happen with old ammunition is that instead of hearing a satisfactory Bang, the shooter ends up with a less than satisfactory Click. Even with “fresh” factory ammunition, no telling how long it sat and or where it sat before bought by the purchaser. I personally have experienced malfunctions with “factory” ammunition, but virtually never with my own handloads or reloads.

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