How to Properly Store Ammo

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How you store ammo is at least as important as how you store your firearms. After all, without ammunition, a firearm isn’t any more useful than a stick or a club. While many people like to stock up on ammo in case of societal breakdown, this isn’t my primary motivation. I am more concerned with storing an adequate supply of ammunition for training and recreation.

Unfortunately, I have had to curtail my personal training and firearms classes during shortages because I simply could not obtain enough ammunition. There has been considerable price-gouging at times, but the shortage, it appears, is over … for now. These things run in cycles, and we may see another shortage soon (particularly around election time). If you’re looking to stock up on ammo, there are a few things you should think about.

A "junk" drawer littered with batteries, a pocket knife, a class ring, a screwdriver, some pocket change and a handful of various handgun ammunition cartridges.

Haphazardly throwing ammunition in a drawer is a bad idea.

Determine Your Firearm Ammo Needs

I don’t like to hoard things simply for the sake of hoarding. I only keep a few months’ supply of the ammo I’ll actually use on hand. This can include a large variety. For instance, when I taught handgun marksmanship and tactical movement, students never seemed to bring enough ammunition. Others brought ammunition they had never tested with their particular firearms, occasionally resulting in malfunctions. So I kept a plethora of materials on hand for these classes.

Some people like to burn up their ammunition on the weekend and replace it on Monday. But don’t be afraid to buy in bulk and store ammo for future use. Buying bulk ammunition can help keep the cost down, especially if you’re a savvy shopper. Though I certainly hope we won’t face a societal upheaval that causes a need for a copious amount of ammunition, what you have expended in training is the single greatest predictor of survival. My goal when storing ammunition is to have a good supply for practice, hunting and personal defense use as well as for training family members.

Two stacked white boxes of Winchester .223 sporting ammunition.

Storing ammunition in the shipping carton, when possible, is an ideal option. Among the best choices for long-term storage is Winchester’s White Box loads.

Know What Type of Ammo You’re Storing

Ammunition is best stored in the original box. This can be as easy as putting it on the shelf in the shipping box it arrived in. Unless I am certain I am going to the range in the next day or so, I never open the boxes and pour the contents into a metal can. Sure, having those 500 9mms in an ammo can is cool enough. But they are far more subject to damage from handling and the elements. Also, in the event that you trade one firearm and caliber for another, it isn’t usually possible to trade ammunition unless it is in the original box.

If you do only use a partial box, make sure to mark it carefully. Note the brand, the caliber and the grain on whatever you choose to store it in. I do the same thing for my handloads and store them in gallon plastic bags. I also include anything noteworthy about those loads, such as if I used new powder.

A gallon Ziplok bag of handloaded 9mm ammunition which is labeled with weight and manufacturing data.

Be certain to mark partial boxes or handloads carefully.

Best Places to Store Ammo

I have fired 100-year-old ammunition with good results. I have also seen ammunition become corroded and useless in a few months because the quartermaster stored it in cruiser trunks or in the basement of a police department. Your storage method will determine the shelf life of your ammo. When choosing an ammo storage location, shoot for dark, dry and cool — not cold. A closet inside a home is ideal. I would, however, avoid extremes such as basement storage or storing ammo in the attic.

Normal fluctuations in household temperatures are OK. Heat itself isn’t that destructive, but fluctuations may cause humidity and condensation. Think about when glasses or cameras fog up going from an air-conditioned home to a hot backyard. You don’t want your ammunition supply to be subjected to these highs and lows. Moisture will attack gun powder. Also, don’t store ammo near solvents and cleaning compounds!

Store Ammo Somewhere Dry and Cool

In my experience, far more failures to fire result from powder contamination than primer failure. In some instances, changes in temperature or humidity can cause the cartridge case to corrode. This is dangerous, as corrosion can cause a loss of integrity. Some lead bullet loads (and some jacketed loads) feature a lubricant in grease grooves on the bullet. This grease will melt out of the grooves into the powder if the ammunition becomes too hot.

An open canister of bulk Fiocchi .223 Remington ammunition. Three stray rounds lie on the tabletop next to the canister, plastic lid and cardboard gasket.

Fiocchi offers Canned Heat in several calibers. These are sealed and contain a desiccant.

Quality Counts for Prolonged Ammo Storage

Additionally, purchasing good quality ammunition means it will last much longer. Ammunition manufactured after World War I or so is designed to last for centuries. Winchester’s original 1916 military contract was based on one bad primer in 100,000 — and the standard is higher today. Still, I would never purchase older ammunition except as a lark or to feed some non-critical-use antique. I don’t trust surplus ammunition; who knows how well the ammo was stored? Quality case-mouth seal and primer seal is important for both storage and critical use. My handloads do not have this seal, but I have not had misfires because I store my ammo properly.

A hot pink MTM Case-Gard ammunition box with a black handle

This MTM Case-Gard container is available in many colors and serves a real purpose.

Organize Your Stored Ammo

To keep your stored ammo organized, stack the original boxes on shelves, on the floor or in a large MTM plastic box. I fire mostly 9mm and .45 ACP handguns, but I also use .223 and .308 rifles. Meanwhile, the 12-gauge shotgun is my go-to gun, but I also have the .357 Magnum — and we all need a .22 plinker. You get the idea: Organization is important. I keep handgun ammunition separated by training and service loads. Shotgun shells are more difficult to store, but I don’t have nearly as many. They are in one corner of the designated closet.

Final Thoughts on Storing Ammo

I keep my firearms in a safe. While a couple may be loaded for various reasons, I do not normally store ammunition in the safe. Keeping an ammunition supply in loaded magazines is OK if the magazines are also stored properly. Just don’t forget to rotate the supply. These tips, points and cautions will work well to keep your ammunition supply fresh and uncontaminated.