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When properly stored, modern ammunition has such a long shelf life that your grandchildren could spend their retirement years punching paper and filling their elk tags with those handloads you assembled last month. Riding around in your pocket or a sweaty leather holster ten hours a day (for months at a time) does not count as ‘proper storage.’ How old is your defensive ammunition? If you don’t know, you’re not alone.

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  1. I run through the ammunition in my carry magazine(s) every three to six months. So I don’t know exactly, but I know it’s less than that.

    • Same here. Policy requires rotation of duty ammo every six months, and I do the same with my defensive ammo – except the Mk 318 Mod O for my 5.56 ARs. I’ll rotate that when more become available. I shot a baseball-sized 20 round group at 50 yards with peep sights and 1987 Lake City Ammo about 2 years ago. The brass look terrible, but it still cycled just fine through that SOG Armory 16″ AR.

      • If the Lake City brass isn’t dinged up, keep it if you reload. LC brass is some of the better brass (in any caliber) that you can get your hands on.

        • I don’t currently reload on my own, but I do have leftover brass. I wish TTAG had a reloading program for those of us who don’t currently do so. Lake City, Silver State Armory (now part of Nosler), and Lapua sure do make sweet brass.

  2. I “rotate” my defensive cartridges in the magazine and chamber about once a month. I completely swap out for brand new cartridges once a year. Is there a generally accepted standard?

    • If you’re rotating cartridges that are getting cycled to the bottom of the magazines and replacing it all every 12 months then unless you’re cycling rounds in and out of the gun way too often you should be absolutely fine with any quality factory ammo.

  3. Because of local laws my defensive ammo is kept in my house. When I go to the range I shoot whatever loads are in the gun, plus cheap generic loads for practice, and then put fresh rounds in the gun at home.

    I try to keep a couple of spare boxes of defensive loads for a particular gun and the rest of the supply is what evers cheap and available.

  4. I cycle out my defensive ammo every 2 to 3 years. Rims tend to get dinged up and hollow points tend to get deformed when I unload. They always fire fine, but why take chances?

  5. I tend to rotate mine every 6 months, unless it becomes scarce in which case I’ll stretch it up to a year. Though I’ve really only had to do that once and learned my lesson and keep more carry ammo on hand now.

  6. Approximately 2 years old.

    Not defensive ammo but I shot some 100yr old .30-06 surplus ball recently and it functioned fine. I can’t say flawless since I didn’t chronograph it but it was right on at 100yds. I can’t imagine that had consistent storage conditions over its lifetime.

    • For military (.30-06 or .303 Brit) ammo of that vintage, clean your rifle afterwards. Do not wait a week or month to do it. Clean it pretty quickly.

      That was the era of corrosive primers in military ammo. While the ammo certainly lasted a long time, it isn’t as stable or as clean as today’s ammo.

    • I got some ww2 surplus 8mm that was made in the last couple of years of the war. Quality control was no doubt slipping. I got a lot of hangfires from that batch. Copper must have been in short supply as the metal jackets on the bullets was some bright, shiny, almost stainless steel looking stuff.

      • QC was slipping after ’44 in German production. You can see it in the quality of the weapons, too.

        Mauser 98’s made between the wars are of the highest quality. After ’42, things start getting less refined and less tight on the tolerances. After ’44, you can see expediency measures being employed all over the place.

      • @JWM
        I’ve also seen a lot of that with the 8mm surplus. Lots of soft primers too. I have seen lots of the the shiny jacketed stuff, I was under the impression it was a cupro-nickel alloy similar to in modern coins.

        @Dyspeptic Gunsmtih
        Thanks for the tip but I’m already well aware. It always gets a windex bath after while waiting on a more proper cleaning.

        • Makes sense. For milsurp ammo that stuff was quite styling. And it came on stripper clips. It just wasn’t very reliable.

  7. Karl Rehn with KR Training suggests shooting the defensive ammo you’ve had loaded in mags ready to go every 6 months. Seems like a good number to me.

  8. Every couple of range trips I’ll run 2 cylinders worth of Gold Dots thru my LCR while I’m there (mostly because it points differently then the guns I tend to shoot most, not because I’m worried about the ammo to be fair) . So 3 weeks to a month max.

    • That’s about how I handle defensive ammo. I go to my gun club every monday and shoot a few mags through my EDC and then plink with my AR for a bit. Every 4th trip I shoot out the two mags of ammo that I carry everyday and replace them with new. I try to shoot my defensive loads often to stay up on how it shoots.

  9. I try to change mine out every 6 months if I can, then I just shoot the old stuff.

    Is that too long? or too quick?

  10. no more than 6 months. I shoot about once a month, and at least twice year I shoot through the ammo that has been in the mags and unloaded and reloaded at range time.

    Its pretty easy, just whatever is in the mags… SHOOT IT. Then reload with new rounds.

  11. The ammo I’m carrying is about 3 months old. I can’t (contractually) carry at work, so it doesn’t stay on body except for the evenings an weekends.

    My .22LR plinking ammo is old enough to vote.

  12. Winchester .45 ACP Black Talons bought in the 90s… not kept in the same gun over the years of course…

  13. Carry ammo 3 years old since purchase. Stored in U.S. ammo cans. Actually load and carry it for one year. I switch both the loaded and spare magazine out for different ones every six months.

  14. Kind of off topic, but how long are magazines good for when stored full i.e. spring compressed fully for several years. Does spring fatigue develop and cause misfeeds? This is something I always wondered about – my guess is that it is not good.

    • If you keep your magazines loaded it will take about four of your lifetimes to see any appreciable wear and drop in performance. The springs are meant to be stored compressed or uncompressed. As said, loading and unloading (shooting) provides the most wear, but even then it’s doubtful you’ll notice a difference over thousands of rounds through a single magazine. The only danger with magazines is buying cheap ones that don’t work in the first place.

      • Both of the answers above are 100% correct, with one caveat. If you’re talking about magazines manufactured more than 25 years ago, then maybe you have to worry about springs “taking a set.” Anything manufactured in the last two or three decades is going to be just fine sitting stored.

      • Speaking of mags that don’t work in the first place…
        I bought a metal 10 round mag for my AR because well I just don’t always want to go around looking like I’m ready for a battle or something. Anyway, the first few rounds cycled fine but then it started jamming. The follower was getting cockeyed. Fast forward a few months and at a gun show I spotted some followers made by magpul packaged as “Enhanced Self-Leveling Follower”. After some effort in installing the new follower, my 10 round magazine that didn’t work much of the time has become a 7 round magazine that always seems to work.

    • Springs only get fatigued by compressing and depressing them. So regular use of the mag wears it out.

      You can leave them loaded for years, however, and they’ll be fine.

  15. For those who carry in hotter climates, or who might have to leave their carry piece (or the ammo) in an hot car in summer, know this:

    When you leave smokeless ammo in a high heat situation for an extended time, it changes the burning rate of the powder. I just lit off five rounds of .338WM that had been banging around in my pickup’s door for the last five years yesterday – it was considerably more “peppy” than ammo that had been stored properly – and it didn’t group worth crap – it shot 1 to 1.5″ high at 100 yards.

    You should rotate your ammo through your magazines. I think twice a year is probably more than enough, even in Texas. Here in Wyoming, once a year would be more than enough. Rotating your ammo every month is way more than anyone who isn’t in absurdly hot climates (think the Gulf of Saudi Arabia) ever need to do, IMO.

      • Doubtful, since these rounds were crimped into a cannelure on the pill – and they were kept in a plastic round retainer. They were Federal premium hunting ammo. Except for a film of dust and gunk on the brass, they were pristine on outwards appearance.

        • Ah. “Banging around in the truck” lead me to believe they were loose rounds amid the hammers, wrenches, loose change, and seat rails of a pickup. Carry on.

    • I have also heard that the powder can actually be “messed with” by doing that or tumbling. Apparently the powder banging against itself can cause it to break and smash itself into smaller pieces. That would mean it has more surface area, and changes the burn rate. I don’t know for sure if it is true, but it makes sense. I would think the longer it is jostled around, the more the powder would grind itself up by just rubbing together(though it may take a LONG time). The finer it gets, the faster I would expect it to burn. It could all be a bunch of crap, but I think it would be interesting to test out. If I had a tumbler and a safe place to try it, I would give it a shot. Anyone interested in SAFELY testing it out?

      I would think the easiest way to test it would be to load up 20 rounds all with the same amount of powder(weighed individually to be sure), the same grain bullet, and then toss ten in a tumbler in a safe location(in case a round would happen to go off) and run it for a couple hours. At that point, go shoot them with a chrono to catch the speed. If the chronograph shows a clear increase in velocity with the tumbled rounds, I would say there is some merit to it. If there is no noticeable difference, I would say it is all a crock of crap.

  16. I recycle the ammo for 1 year or less since it gets hot here and I get sweaty. I clean the mags once a month or so and only re-chamber a single round 3 times. I started logging my carry ammo dates on a whiteboard in my man cave cause I would never remember otherwise and Ive begun to put a little red sharpie mark on a the brass after I pull it out of the chamber to track how much it gets removed.

    I always like talking about this topic with other PoTG I meet in life so Im glad it made its way up to TTAG.

    • Your attention to detail is awesome, but for me, that’d be a little over the top. Of course, I don’t rechamber very often. My gun is loaded and stays that way. How often do you find yourself unloading and rechambering your carry ammo?

      • ^This^

        Gun is loaded and stays that way in the holster, holster comes off with the gun and goes into the safe and back out again. I only unload and load it at the range when I shoot it. Seems to be the easiest thing to avoid chambering the same rounds over and over again.

      • I recently bought a Laserlyte trainer and have been messing around with it a little bit so I had to come up with some kind of system ha. Im a broke grad student and dont get to go shoot much lately so it definitely helps on muscle memory when it comes to trigger control, plus its sure as hell fun on a boring afternoon.

        I dont really ever unchamber my carry gun otherwise, unless Im at the range and putting target ammo in. Carry guns are supposed to be loaded 🙂

  17. I don’t know the manufacture date of all the ammunition I have, but all the ammunition I have has been in my possession for just under a year.
    Included in that stash are 2 bricks of Western SuperX .22LR from the 70’s that still shoots well.

  18. I’m not sure. It’s about time for new stuff anyways. Most of my guns/ammo aren’t stored anywhere other than my room in the a/c so I guess it can be stretched.

    The car gun (don’t have my chl yet, sorry) has some golden sabers I bought during the panic. Probably gonna shoot them off later this year and cycle in new stuff.

  19. I typically shoot the 9 in the gun and the 16 in the b/u mags every week and then swap mags with three others that have been left unloaded. I recently found a Chip McCormick Shooting Star mag that was at the bottom of an old range bag that my son used when we were shooting IPSC weekly. The last time he used it was over 12 years ago and was filled with old 175+ PF reloads (5.7 grns 231 + 200 grn H&G 68 SWC). They all ran just fine and chrono’d within 10 fps of the original load data.

    20 plus years ago I was able to buy 10K rounds of WWI era 30.06 ball and 20K Viet Nam era 7.62 ball for a song that were all in USGI ammo cans. The 06 stuff functions flawlessly in my Garand and is what I use in NRA High Power. The 7.62 stuff is all Lake City, but it isn’t nearly as consistent. They all go bang, but you can definitely feel and hear the difference in some of the rounds.

  20. Some of mine is two years old, some is even older.

    I have found some old brass tarnishes over years (decades) and sometimes won’t extract properly. I clean it up with steel wool. Anybody else have that problem?

  21. My own confession: I’m not exactly sure. I know I bought several boxes of Hornady Critical Defense 9mm in the spring of 2010, and my SIG magazines are still filled with it. When the copper jacketing starts to develop an antique patina, I figure it’s time to shoot it off and replace it.

  22. Who in his right mind carries for self-defense and goes more than a couple of months without shooting?

    I shoot out my magazines every couple of months, then a hundred or so rounds of FMJ. Then clean the guns and reload with fresh self-defense rounds.

    • JMHO – But you may want to re-think the shoot your old ammo, clean it and then re-stoke it with fresh.

      Many, many years ago I was of the same thought, UNTIL, i returned from an out of town USPSA match, cleaned my pistols and put them in the safe. Two weeks later, went to another match, first stage, loaded and made ready, at the buzzer, drew and CLICK. Rack and Clear, CLICK. Rack and Clear, CLICK.

      Somehow after cleaning the piece, and being tired, I had forgotten to put the firing pin and spring back into the gun. I had put the firing pin stop in, which was held by the snug fit of the extractor.

      Needless to say, from that time forward, ANY TIME I clean a competition or carry weapon, it goes to the range and gets at least 1 mag run through it before I rely on it to go boom.

    • I shoot off my carry ammo every few months. But I can’t do that every trip because it’s so much more expensive than 115gr FMJ. That means though that I need to empty and reload my carry ammo regularly, so I cycle cartridges around to prevent setback.

      • GR1958–Well, like most people I do a functionality check before I reload and re-holster my weapon. Does that mean it’ll fire the next time? Maybe not, but it always has. I’ve only had one dirty gun fail to fire, though, so maybe you’re right not to clean yours every time you put some ammo through it.

        Dave–I’ll admit that during the ammo shortage, I fired only one magazine empty and saved the ammo in the spare.

    • Home defense gun is loaded with Black Talons from ’94. They stay in the mags. I have 4 8 round mags for my old IPSC competition 1911. When I want to shoot that gun I use the other two mags, leaving the BT’s in the two. Just reload the BT’s after cleaning.

  23. Every 3 or 4 years.

    I’ve fired ammo from the 20s and 30s before. Ammo takes forever to go bad if it’s been properly stored.

  24. There is a video on Youtube of a guy finding a 7.62×39 round he lost in the woods a year prior. The thing is absolutely covered in rust and he scrapes a good bit of it off with his knife, chambers it in his AK, and fires it.

    Cycled the bolt and everything.

  25. Probably too long (about 14 months), though it still looks fine. Hot .38 spl FBI load. Not exactly fun to shoot out of a j frame.

  26. I only use quality brand name factory rounds; Federal, Hornady, Remington, Fiocchi, Corbon, Speer, Double Tap, and similar. In my experience if you keep your ammo in cool, dry, dark storage you should never have a problem with its reliability or performance.

    Once it is broken out and put into magazines, I typically will expend that ammo within a year, just because. I’ve never had a problem – even with several boxes of three decades old .357 and .380 Federal ammo.

    I am of course making an assumption that newer manufacture ammo production is just as reliable as that produced 30 – 40 years ago. I wouldn’t expect otherwise, but only time will tell.

  27. The ammo will outlive me and several generations of my descendants, so I don’t pay much attention to its age. I do manage my ammo inventory on a FIFO basis — first into inventory is first out of inventory — without regard to the date of manufacture.

    The only round that I might ever “rotate” is one that’s chambered for a long time. Bullet setback is real. Fortunately, that poor round doesn’t seem to stay chambered for very long.

  28. I dunno about defensive ammo, since all I have is Assault ammo, For my Assault pistols, Assault rifles and Assault Shotguns of course.

    For my EDC G29 I try to cyce that every 6 months, as well as disassemble and clean my 2 EDC mags. All my other ammo would more than likely fall under the properly stored clause. Although I do try to follow a stock rotation for that stuff. Shoot the oldest first and all.

  29. I do not cycle defensive ammo often at all in terms of replacement, although I will cycle rounds in a mag to avoid bullet set back. My favorite defensive rounds for my .45 have “cannelures” as DG calls them, and these eliminate set back. I never worry about them going bang, and fire them only enough to assure proper feeding.
    I just bought a new 9mm, and the only HPs I had on hand date back to the purchase of my first handgun–I’m not sure when that was, but it’s at least a decade. Nice patina. I don’t even know who made them. But since the XD9 I bought them for eats anything, always, I never worried about them. I used them up as part of my break-in for the new pistol, and they all went bang quite nicely.

    I can find reasonably priced FMJ 9s pretty easily–but when I went looking for new SD rounds, the pickings were slim. Wal Mart had nothing. One LGS had Federal hydroshocks–at $1.50 each ($30 for 20 rounds). There is no way I am going to but something that expensive and cycle through it every six months. I found some Hornady Critical Duties at sabout .88 a piece, and once I’ve fired a mag or two, the rest will be kept for SD uses only. A mag or two to assure feeding and ejection–20 rounds at most–and the rest won’t be fired at all until I want to get something new, or change my carry gun.

  30. My defensive ammo is 8 years old and and still going. I had purchased 200 rds 8 years ago when I had some spare change from a good OT week. I have used 3 rds of that ammo since I bought it. It worked fine including saving my a@@ from a rabid dog attack well out and about.

    I may replace it but only if something so revolutionary comes along to render all older defensive ammo obsolete.

  31. I can tell you exactly when the last time my defensive ammo was fired…
    01/2013 for the one P30
    10/2013 for both P2000SK’s

    I have twins for a reason, and one of each pair is always loaded with defensive ammo. Come to notice, one of the P30’s has never seen defensive ammo (it’s not the one currently loaded that way though.) I might have to correct that.

  32. I think I can pass on the story of the oldest carry ammo ever:
    Back in the early 1960s my folks took a 2 week holiday on Nantucket island, my Dad had a hunting fishing friend who was the island fix it guy who did most gun repair on the island. The police chief took his belt gun in its holster to be removed and cleaned. It had basically rusted into the holster rusted up solid he told the fixer that he had not had it out of the holster since it was passed on to him when he had been hired before WW2. He also gave the fixer a wooden keg of about 1 to 2 gal size that was filled with ammo packed in sawdust. For his trouble. It was full of black powder .38 colt new police ammo. ( interchangeable with .38 S&W ) the fixer knew my dad also owned a .38 Colt Police Positive revolver like the chief and after he had used about a galon of liquid wrench to return the chief’s Police Positve to function we all went to a deserted beach to use up the ammo which memory saws was UCC ( ammo collectors have permission to cry at the thought of a sealed keg of 19th cent ammo used up this way. The ammo that had been in the gun 2 of the 6 went bang…. What had been in the keg about 90% functioned
    I wonder how common the bulk packing of pistol ammo into what looked like nail kegs like this was? I have never seen one at at a show. I bet that the chief’s gun had never been out of its holster from the time it was first acquired in the 1890s time frame it had a 4 digit serial number while my dad gun was a lot newer.

  33. My EDC defensive stuff I cycle after six months of carrying. I have new ammo that’s been on the shelf in dry temp controlled conditions, but none of the defensive stuff is more than two years old.

  34. I keep ammo in a locked closet in the temperature controlled house. I’ve fired a couple hundred rounds that were 22 years old and they worked fine. I also investigated a suicide by GI 45 1911 in 1988. He used military ammo headstamped ’42, and you couldn’t tell that he had used 40+ year old ammo without looking at the headstamp. I don’t worry much about rotating duty ammo.

    Extreme temperature ranges are a different story. It’s not a bad idea to shoot up what you’ve been carrying in the gun for a year the next time you visit the range, but as long as ammo is stored in a climate controlled enviornment, it might just outlast you.

  35. Not only can modern ammunition (properly stored of course) out live you, and probably your great-grandchildren to boot, today’s double-base and triple-base nitrocellulose “smokeless” powders contain their own oxidizers which means you can shoot your guns in space.

    How’s them apples?

    Also of note: there are peeps that have ammunition that is over 100 years old — and it still fires.

  36. Personally…
    I don’t let ammo “sit” in my carry gun for more than two months… I shoot at least the onbord mag every month, and rotate with the spare mag…
    I keep a pretty good supply of my preferred carry ammo on hand, but don’t let it sit at home for more than six months… That’s just about how long it takes to shoot up what I buy twice a year…

  37. I’ll usually buy several hundred rounds or a case and run a couple of hundred rounds of PD ammo annually. 124gr. 9mm+P JHP, currently Remington Golden Saber that I got decent supply of on sale, but I’m not picky and will use similarly spec’ed ammo without a lot of drama. Usually I run the cheapest I can find brass cased, non-corrosive, boxer primed 115gr. FMJ for practice. My PD ammo gets used and rotated on a FIFO basis, the oldest is probably not more than two years old. So, to the question, it’s not really an issue for me. Almost all of my ammo is stored in GI ammo cans, original packaging, with desiccant, in a “cool/dry” place. Whenever I buy a new lot of PD ammo, almost always of the same manufacturers lot, I’ll run a couple of boxes for initial validation. After I’ve proofed the ammo, I don’t lose a lot of sleep over it mincing and kvetching.

  38. Depends on the gun.
    The .38 in my airweight(and both of my brothers, and one of their wives guns) is decade or so old. I bought all they had of that Cor-Bon 158 gr +p+. Several boxes.
    The .45 in my guns is 2-3 yr old Hornady Tap 200 gr +p.
    If carrying a 9mm, it is Ranger 124 gr+p+ I bought several boxes of 5-6 yrs ago, bought cheap from a dealer that was going out of business.
    Shotgun and rifle ammo is newer.

  39. I guess I don’t understand the process of manufacturing the springs in magazines. Are these tempered metals that won’t lose their form under normal usage? I unload my weapons daily. Am I unintentionally wearing out my magazines more quickly? I thought leaving the magazines loaded for long periods of time would compress the springs.

    • Modern metallurgy (in the last two or three decades) has solved the problem of springs “taking a set” from continuous compression. And great strides have also been made in the area of metal fatigue (from repeated flexing), though that issue hasn’t been completely eliminated. So short answer, yes, you’re wearing out your magazines more quickly by unloading them every day. However, you’d probably have to do it for several years (not a scientific number) before it would make any perceptible difference.

      I don’t know that anyone’s had the patience to do a really long term test (because it would take a lot of patience, madness-inducing levels), but anecdotal evidence suggests that a magazine unloaded and reloaded daily for a half dozen years or more would probably fare worse than a magazine loaded and thrown in a drawer for that same half dozen years. I think with several years of daily activity you’d also have to start considering more than just spring fatigue, but also things like wear to the follower and magazine itself, including wear and deformation of the feed lips.

  40. The army has an obscure regulation which which says basically that ammo used in guards/MP’s weapons or carried by them must be replaced every 6 months. The rounds must be fired at a range or demilled. The reason is the oils from your skin begin to corrode the shell casing from the first touch and will begin to comprimise the seal of the bullet and primer.

    Years ago an MP fiend of mine had to shoot a deer that ran into his work vehicle one night and broke its back. He watched the first 4 rounds he shot from his 1911 bounce off the deer and only the 5th fired and penetrated as it was supposed too. Do you really want to go against a bad guy with ammo like that just because you don’t want to shoot up those expensive rounds?

    After saying all of that the ammo made for the military is made to a higher standard than for the civilian world to seal out moister. If you can’t shoot up your ammo every 6 months then at least put on nitrile or latex gloves before touching the ammo and buy extra mag springs.

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