If you’re someone who stockpiles ammunition in case of unexpected national problems or simply keeps extra cartridges for hunting, it’s essential to take good care of your ammunition. If you don’t, you might run into issues later on.
In the best situations, mishandling your ammunition can lead to inaccurate shooting, poor performance, and missed opportunities. Even worse, being careless with ammunition can sometimes result in personal injuries or damage to your firearms.
We’ve come a long way from the old days when a small spark could cause a catastrophic explosion with black powder. Nowadays, modern ammunition usually only becomes explosive if the gases can’t escape when it ignites.
I wouldn’t recommend trying this, but if you lit a match near a small pile of modern ammunition, it would likely burn intensely and reach up high into the air. Normally, the powder would just burn out because of the surrounding air. Even though stray sparks aren’t as big of a concern these days, there are still other things to consider when storing your ammunition.
Wear and Tear on Your Ammo
Rough handling and mistreatment can have consequences for ammunition, especially when it comes to ammo storage. We’re not discussing accidental cartridge firing here, but rather the potential impact of this treatment on the powder within those cartridges.
The burn rate of smokeless powder greatly relies on the shape and consistency of its particles. Powder manufacturers put in considerable effort to maintain strict tolerances within these particles. However, over time, this consistency can erode due to attrition within the cartridges.
Rough handling, vigorous shaking, and other forms of mistreatment of the cartridges can eventually modify the shape of the powder particles. If you happen to be someone who casually stows an additional box of cartridges behind your car seat or in the glove box before heading off-road, this practice can lead to issues with your ammo storage down the line.
Ammunition and Temperature: A Closer Look
Beyond the physical transformations that can affect the shape of your ammunition’s powder particles, there’s another crucial factor to consider: temperature-induced chemical changes. These changes can significantly impact ammo storage. Modern smokeless powder is composed of two key components, nitroglycerin and a cellulose substance like cotton or wood fiber. The interaction and consistency of these elements directly influence how the powder burns.
Some time ago, a well-known U.S. powder manufacturer conducted tests to explore the potential effects of high temperatures on modern smokeless powder, especially in scenarios relevant to ammo storage in arid and hot combat zones.
The results of these extensive tests were truly eye-opening. When certain ammunition was exposed to temperatures exceeding 125 degrees Fahrenheit, peculiar things occurred. Under these conditions, the powder particles would sometimes “sweat” or “out-gas.” In simpler terms, the temperature increase caused the nitroglycerin within the powder to transform into a gaseous state, attempting to escape the cellulose material.
What’s intriguing is that the higher the temperature, the more out-gassing typically occurred. These chemical changes could lead to variations in chamber pressure when you fired the ammunition. However, that’s not the whole story, and it might not be the most concerning part, especially in the context of ammo storage.
Even after these cartridges returned to normal conditions following exposure to high temperatures, the powder didn’t always revert to its original state. Sometimes, the gasified nitroglycerin couldn’t completely and uniformly re-enter the powder particles, leading to inconsistent chamber pressures when firing the cartridges.
In some instances, certain cartridges produced dangerously high-pressure levels, while others behaved as expected. The exact reasons for these variations aren’t always clear, but they might result from differences in heat exposure or other anomalies, all affecting ammo storage.
What’s essential to grasp here is not just why these events occur but the unpredictability they introduce when you fire these cartridges. Depending on the type of powder used and its susceptibility to high temperatures, you may encounter differences in bullet impact. At worst, you could subject your firearm to extremely high chamber pressures, making ammo storage and usage a significant concern.
While you might believe your ammunition won’t be exposed to temperatures exceeding 125 degrees, such conditions are more common than you might think, particularly during ammo storage. Vehicle interiors, for example, can easily surpass this threshold when parked in the sun with the windows rolled up. If you leave a box of ammunition on your dashboard for extended periods, you might be creating the perfect conditions for this issue to emerge, further emphasizing the importance of responsible ammo storage.
Thankfully, some powder manufacturers have recognized this issue and developed new types of powders that are less vulnerable to temperature extremes. Hodgdon Powders, for instance, has introduced an extensive range of “Extreme Powders” ideal for ammo storage.
If you reload your own cartridges, you can swiftly benefit from these new powders, contributing to safer and more reliable ammo storage practices. However, if you purchase factory-loaded ammunition, it might take some time before these powders become widely available, ensuring that responsible ammo storage practices are accessible in various conditions.
Long-Term Ammo Storage
In recent times, we’ve observed a shortage of available ammunition on the open market. This scarcity, in my opinion, can largely be attributed to the increased ammunition purchases made by shooters. The uncertainty surrounding our country’s direction and concerns about potential restrictions on legal gun ownership have motivated many citizens to stockpile ammunition.
Regardless of the cause behind this shortage, if you’re contemplating storing ammunition for the short or long term, it’s crucial to take precautions to ensure consistent shooting performance when that firing pin strikes the cartridge primer. Two critical factors to consider in ammo storage are maintaining stable temperatures and preventing moisture. Thankfully, various methods can be employed to uphold these conditions.
Both of these factors depend on the storage environment, which you can often manage within the confines of your home. Additionally, there are innovative new products available on the market to facilitate these ammo storage efforts.
Federal Ammunition, for instance, anticipated the challenges associated with long-term ammo storage. They now offer .22 LR and 5.56x45mm cartridges packaged in metal cans known as “Fresh Fire Packs.” These containers bear a resemblance to the cans typically used for Vienna sausages and sardines, complete with convenient pull-top lids. Just as optic manufacturers replace air with nitrogen inside their products, Federal adopts a similar approach with their Fresh Fire Pack cartridges, aiming to thwart corrosion and lock out moisture.
The Federal Champion .22 LR Fresh Fire Pack boasts 325 cartridges loaded with 36-grain copper-plated hollow-point bullets. Furthermore, they offer 5.56x42mm NATO rounds available in packs of 30, with a choice between 62-grain FMJ or 55-grain FMJ rounds, providing shooters more options for responsible ammo storage.
Recognized for their cartridge boxes, MTM Case-Gard has recently introduced a range of products ideally suited for long-term ammo storage. They offer a variety of containers designed for larger ammunition quantities, many featuring rubber O-seals on the lids to prevent moisture intrusion. In my experience, their plastic military-style ammo boxes surpass actual military containers in terms of sealing, stacking, and resistance to rust and corrosion.
MTM has also expanded their product line to include the “Ammo Crate Utility Box,” which is well-suited for the long or short-term ammo storage of ammunition and other items. These boxes come equipped with tightly fitting rubber lid seals, are durable and lockable, and are available in different large capacity sizes. They offer versatile solutions for secure and responsible ammo storage, ensuring your ammunition remains in optimal condition.
Protecting Bullet Points from Damage
When it comes to cartridge deterioration, an immediate concern is the potential damage to the bullet points during ammo storage. Over time, lead points that lack protection can become bent or flattened, significantly impacting ammunition performance.
Such damage can result in reduced shooting accuracy and a decrease in the bullet’s ballistic coefficient value, affecting its performance during ammo storage. Consequently, the bullet becomes less effective at resisting horizontal drift caused by the wind, which should be considered when planning for ammo storage.
An effective way to address this issue is by using bullets equipped with plastic tips, ensuring their preservation during ammo storage. These bullets not only resist point deformation but often come with higher ballistic coefficient values, enhancing long-range shooting performance and making them suitable for ammo storage.
In situations involving rifles with heavy recoil and box-style magazines, a considerable amount of damage can occur to the bullet points during ammo storage. When these rifles are discharged, the cartridges held in the magazine can strike the front of the magazine enclosure, leading to the flattening and damage of the bullet tips during ammo storage.
In more extreme scenarios, the heavy recoil may even force the bullets deeper into the cartridge case, which, during ammo storage, can pose a risk of higher chamber pressures. In such cases, it’s in the shooter’s best interest to avoid firing those rounds during ammo storage due to the potential consequences related to chamber pressures.
A Simple Perspective
The essential lesson to take away from all of this is that if you look after your ammunition and consider the conditions it’s exposed to, your cartridges will, in turn, take care of you. By taking a few easy precautions to store your ammunition properly and shield it from harm, you’re likely to have more consistent shot placement, and in some cases, you’ll be much safer.
To put it in simpler terms, think of your ammunition like taking care of a small child. Just as bouncing a child around on your knee might lead to unpleasant consequences, excessive rough handling of cartridges can have similar results.
If you subject that child to extreme temperatures, they’ll probably get sick, and the same applies to your cartridges. High temperatures can lead to changes in performance or, even worse, damage to your firearm or injuries to you. And, I’m sure you can imagine the outcomes if a child were to sustain injuries to their head – not a good situation for a child or your ammunition.