In our world, it is tempting to buy and store ammunition in bulk, especially if you find a good price. But will remain in good shape after a couple of years? Before you stock up, you need to know: how long does ammo last?
Not knowing the “shelf life” of ammo can cost gun owners a fortune. This article aims to educate readers on longevity and the best practices for storing ammunition to ensure it remains safe to use for as long as possible.
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How Long Will Your Ammo Last?
In general, most ammo can have a minimum 10 year shelf life and may last decades, but several factors affect its overall shelf life, including the ammunition storage conditions and the quality of the ammunition being stored.
Quality ammunition that is stored correctly may work even after a hundred years. You may have heard gun lore about how flawless it is to fire World War-era ammo despite its age.
I’ve heard it compared to wine. A bad wine will always be bad, but good wine, when stored properly, will still taste delectable no matter how long it’s stored. The same applies to your ammunition. Lower quality ammunition may not have as long a shelf life.
Storing ammo to ensure you survive a “worst-case” scenario? Read this next.
Does Various Ammo Have Different Shelf Lives?
Modern ammunition is designed to have a considerably longer shelf life. This can be attributed to the propellant used in modern ammunition, a smokeless powder that can last for an indefinite length of time, as opposed to black powder in old bullets.
Proper sealing of bullets against moisture and corrosion observed in modern ammunition also plays a significant role in their better storage potential.
Read: FMJ vs Hollow Point
Contrary to popular belief, non-corrosive ammunition has a shorter shelf life than its corrosive counterparts. Speculations are suggesting that newer ammunition with lead-free primer type has an expiration date of 25 years. However, no studies have proven such claims to be valid.
Full Metal Jacket
Full metal jacket and brass-lined ammunition are both highly resistant to lead degradation. The copper or brass metal cartridges enclosing the soft lead core offer an added layer of protection against humidity.
However, the same cannot be said of their self-defense counterpart, jacketed hollow points. The concave lead core is exposed and can be susceptible to high humidity and drastic temperature changes.
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Steel Case Ammo
On the other hand, steel case ammunition is more prone to corrosion than its contemporaries like brass, for instance. The former, although cheaper, is less malleable, thereby creating a more flawed seal against atmospheric fumes, which may pose problems for the entry of moisture and corrosion.
On top of this, firing with steel case rounds may affect your machine guns in the long run as residues can remain along the barrel.
Concealed Carry Ammo
Storing ammunition in a designated area will protect your ammo better from degradation than keeping them loaded in your concealed carry firearm. Regular exposure to the elements, excess lubrication, and the indentations of the feed ramp will undoubtedly affect their integrity.
The best practice is to rotate the round in your firearm every once in a while. This is the only way to prevent stagnancy and counteract degradation.
What Makes It Go Bad?
Improperly stored ammunition can corrode, become contaminated, or lose potency, causing misfires or other malfunctions.
If moisture is present, corrosion will begin almost immediately. Temperature plays a large part also. Degradation is amplified when ammo is exposed to extreme heat and/or extreme changes in temperature over time.
If you have ammo that has gone bad, or you suspect it has gone bad, it’s best to contact hazardous waste managers in your town or city and they will help you properly dispose of it.
Tips On How To Extend Shelf Life
The basic rule to make your ammunition last is to store them in a cool, dark, and dry place, but there is more to this than meets the eye.
Here are other practices to keep your ammunition in peak conditions:
- Always store ammo properly
- Do not expose ammunition to the elements.
- Refrain from placing oils or solvents near your rounds to prevent cartridge penetration.
- Vacuum seal your ammunition.
- Avoid jostling your storage box often.
- Use a silica gel to absorb excess moisture.
- Rotate magazines and rounds by using the oldest ammunition first.
Read our full guide on storing ammo here.
Yes. 25-year old ammo may still be useful if kept properly. However, the propellant and the primer will eventually degrade, but you can sustain their shelf lives through proper storage.
Ammunition does not necessarily expire with age, but the potency of the propellant may diminish over time. This can cause your ammo jam causing misfires or other safety concerns. Keeping ammo free from moisture and stored properly will help maintain its safety for shooting.
The shelf life of your ammunition is mainly dependent on its state of safekeeping. Ammunition can last for decades, provided that it is stored under proper conditions.
If you want to recycle ammo, contact the hazardous waste managers in your town or city. They can tell you how best to dispose of any old or unwanted ammunition. 
Reloading empty shells is a great way to “recycle” ammo.
Some old bullets can be worth money. Contact a reputable antique firearms dealer to have them assess the value of antique ammunition.
So, How Long Does Ammo Last?
Properly stored ammunition can be safe to shoot for decades. The length of time that your ammunition remains viable is directly affected by your storage practice. Improperly stored ammo will result in degradation and shorter shelf life. When ammunition is handled correctly, vacuum sealed, and kept in a cool and dry place, your ammo’s shelf life can be prolonged.