Ammo Longevity

Discussion in 'The Ammo & Reloading Forum' started by BCarp, Mar 5, 2012.

  1. BCarp

    BCarp New Member

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    This has probably been asked before, but what the heck....

    What is the shelf-life of modern rifle cartridges, assuming they're stored properly?

    Thanks!
  2. jim brady

    jim brady Well-Known Member

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    BCarp - my best guess would be well over 50 years. Short story as to why: In 1971 when I came back from Nam, a guy who I met at my new job had a 30-06 1903 rifle that he hadn't shot. He asked me to buy some ammo so we could try it out. I went to a surplus store and bought 200 rounds GI ball ammo (2-3 cents each). I bought it - we shot it all up - and there were no misfires or hang fires. When I picked up this brass I saw it was U.S. 1918 production. The surplus store had 'sold out' of this ammo by the time I got back to town.
  3. dcriner

    dcriner Member

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    There is a legend that old ammo becomes more powerful, due to age. I've heard this particularly for shotgun shells. I can't explain why that would be true.

    But back to rifle cartridges. The powder and primer are totally sealed, so there should be no deterioration. .22 ammo made in the early 1900s still shoots fine. I have shot boxes of very old .22 Winchester automatic ammo. I have also shot 30-06 ammo from the early 1940s.
  4. CJ_56

    CJ_56 New Member

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    The theory on ammo getting more powerful is that the gunpowder sweats and turns to nitroglycerin which of course explodes and produces more power than gunpowder. The thing is modern ammo doesn't use actual gunpowder.

    If ammo is stored in air tight containers it will probably last almost forever. The only thing that could make it go bad would be drawing moisture into the powder and possibly corrosion on the primers but I don't know what real problems that would cause. I guess if they corroded enough they wouldn't fire but I've never seen this happen although I know certain primers do corrode. The powder getting wet could reduce the firing power.
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2012
  5. BCarp

    BCarp New Member

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    Thanks! The reason I asked is that today I tried to shoot off some old .30-40 Krag ammo, and NONE of them went off! The rifle functions perfectly, and I've had no trouble with other rounds.

    This was Rem-UMC commercial ammo, designated ".30 Govt", and from the look of the box I'd say it was from the 1950s. It looked good, with no visible corrosion. The primers were definitely hit hard and deep enough to fire off a cartridge, but no luck.

    Maybe it was stored in a wet basement...! :mad:
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2012
  6. jim brady

    jim brady Well-Known Member

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    That being the case (none fired) I'd say that those cartridges were not stored properly and the primers are dead. You can pull the bullets, and save them and the brass for reloading.

    This brings up another oft asked question - 'depriming live primers'. If it were me, I'd pull apart that ammo, dump the powder, spray a shot of WD40 into the cases and let them sit up-right overnight - then punch out those primers. Maybe be a waste of time as the primers are already dead, but that is just something I'd do.

    Decriner and CJ 56 - very old powder did change in the cases. That was one of the reasons that the Government went with IMR ("Improved Military Rifle") powder. As I read from a manual published in the late 1930s, the powder in old .30 Government cases had a short shelf life. That was why IMR was invented. Aside from trying to fire it, the change could be detected in stored ammo from the strong acid odor of the powder as it deteriorated. (I no longter have that reference - I returned it to the library and someone later lost it).
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2012
  7. CJ_56

    CJ_56 New Member

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    I knew that it would do that Jim but I guess my post didn't reflect that. I've never seen it happen but certainly gunpowder was known to sweat if it sat in damp conditions long enough. And that sweat if of course nitro (and not the stuff they put in cars :) ).
  8. DixieLandMan

    DixieLandMan Member

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    Storing ammo correctly is the key. I've found live rounds that I dropped hunting after a few years in the ground and the powder was all wet inside. Also shot some .50 cal from WWII and it shot just like it was made yesterday.
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