By Virgil Caldwell
How you store your ammunition is at least as important as properly storing your firearms. After all, the firearm is just a stick or club without functional ammunition. While many of us like to have an adequate supply for a SHTF situation — like now — at isn’t my primary motivation for keeping plenty around. I am more concerned with having an adequate supply of ammunition training and recreation than for possible use in a societal breakdown.
That said, I’ve had to curtail my personal training and firearms classes during times of shortage because I simply could not obtain enough ammunition. Now we find ourselves in another time of ammo scarcity.
I’ve been through these cycles more than once. Finding twenty-nine boxes of ammunition when you really need fifty is discouraging. (Fifty students, fifty rounds each, every class for months.)
What are your needs?
I don’t hoard things for their own sake. I like to always have a few months supply of the ammunition I really need and use on hand. When I taught handgun marksmanship and tactical movement, students seemed never to bring enough ammunition. Some brought gun and ammunition combinations that weren’t proofed and they malfunctioned.
As a result I needed to keep a great deal of 9mm ammunition on hand. I fire my .45 ACP defense guns on a weekly basis, the .357 Magnum and .45 Colt trail guns less often. The .22 gets a lot of use. The .38 Special pocket revolver, not so much. I shoot the .303 British every year or so, the 8mm Mauser about the same.
You get the picture. Over time, figure out the calibers, types and loads you use most often and keep several months worth on hand.
As a result of living through both fat and lean times ammunition-wise, I have learned a bit about the best ways to store it. As an example, I have handloaded my handgun ammunition for more than forty years and can’t recall a misfire due to storage issues.
Ammunition isn’t like quite silver and gold, but is more precious and useful when you really need it. It’s also expensive enough that you should respect the investment and take steps to store it properly.
This becomes more important the greater the amount of ammunition you keep on hand. Some like to burn through their ammunition on the weekend and place an online order on Monday to replace it.
That kind of minimal, just-in-time inventory can work for some of us, but I am not comfortable with that. If that’s how you’d been operating leading up to the current emergency and the run on guns and ammo, you have probably found yourself out of luck. That’s why buying in bulk when you can and keeping an adequate on supply is so important.
If you are in a bad situation, particularly a societal upheaval, the ammunition you have expended in training and what you’ve stored away is one of the best predictors of survival. My goal for ammunition storage is to have a good supply for practice, hunting, and personal defense for myself as well as training family members.
That’s not an insignificant amount and it requires that the ammunition be stored properly.
I store most of my ammunition in its original boxes. Sometimes I simply put it on the shelf in the shipping box in which it arrived (online is so easy!), Unless I’m certain that I am going to the range in the next day or so, I never open the boxes and dump the contents into a metal ammo can.
Sure, having those 500 rounds of 9mm in an ammo can is cool, but they are far more subject to damage from handling and the elements that way. Purchasing large quantities of ammunition – in cases of five hundred to one thousand cartridges – and storing it properly is important.
I have fired ammunition that’s more than fifty years old with good results. On the other hand, during my law enforcement career, I saw ammunition improperly stored in cruiser trunks and in the basement of the PD that became corroded and useless in just a few months.
Proper storage is everything for shelf life. Ammunition manufactured since World War One or so was designed to last for centuries. Winchester was given a military contract in 1916 based on one bad primer in 100,000 and the standard is higher today.
I would never purchase older ammunition save as a lark or to feed some non-critical antique firearm. I don’t trust surplus ammunition. There are too many storage and quality issues, in my experience. Corrosive primers are a bad choice all of the way around for most of us.
Purchasing good quality ammunition — for range use or personal defense — means it will last much longer. Quality case mouth seal and primer seal is important for both long term storage and critical use. My handloads do not have this seal but as I mentioned I have not had misfires, because I store my ammo properly.
The keys are keeping it cool, dry and dark. Stack the original boxes on shelves, on the floor, or in a large MTM plastic box.
Heat itself isn’t that destructive in normal temperature ranges, but it may result in humidity and condensation. We have all had our glasses or cameras fog up when moving from an air conditioned home or car to a hot yard. You don’t want your ammunition supply to be subjected to these highs and lows.
Moisture will attack gun powder. In my experience, far more failures to fire are related to powder contamination than primer failure. (Don’t store solvents and cleaning compounds with ammunition!)
In some instances the cartridge case may become corroded. This is dangerous as they may lose some of their structural integrity. Just remember that moisture and humidity are ammunition’s biggest enemy.
Normal fluctuations in household temperatures are OK, but I would avoid extremes such as in some basements storage or attics. This is especially important with lead bullet loads. Many of them feature a lubricant on the bullet, in grease grooves. This grease will melt out of the grooves into the powder if the ammunition becomes too hot and contaminate the powder.
Get It All In Order
Getting and storing your frequently used ammunition in the proper order is important. It makes things easy to store, rotate and find when you need it.
Keep .22, .38, 9mm, and .45 in order together. Then .223/5.56 and .308 is next. It’s the simplest program I have found. Ammunition that isn’t needed often may be in a corner of the storage safe, box, or closet.
Organization is important. I keep handgun ammunition separated by training and service loads. Lead bullet handloads take up a lot of space as I keep a lot of it on hand. The modern Winchester PDX defense loads are on another shelf.
Shotgun shells are more difficult to store and I don’t have nearly as many. They are in one corner of the designated closet. Fiocchi 12 gauge offering delivered in a Plano box are awfully handy.
Some have large stand-alone safes for storing ammunition. That isn’t a bad choice. I do not store guns and ammunition in the same safe. For the sake of preserving magazine springs I do not store magazines in a loaded condition. Normally the only loaded magazines are the ones in my personal and home defense firearms. Your mileage may vary.
It isn’t that difficult to keep up with and store your ammunition. It just takes a little thought and planning. Damp basements, hot attics, and difficult-to-access under-the-bed storage aren’t ideal. Take some time to figure out what’s best for you, make a plan and then stick to it. That will serve you well in the long run…especially in an emergency.
How do you store your stash of ammunition for times like these?