Keep It Secure: Safeguarding Your Ammunition with Proper Storage Techniques

04/2024
🕒 11 mins

Many firearm owners often overlook one aspect of responsible gun ownership: ammunition storage. Your ammunition is an investment, and like any valuable tool, proper care extends its lifespan and effectiveness.

Understanding the Risks: Why Safe Ammunition Storage Matters

Storing ammunition safely is a mark of responsible ammunition ownership. Firearm owners need to understand the perils of neglect in storage practices and how smart storage solutions can mitigate these risks.

The Hazards of Improper Ammunition Storage

Poorly stored ammunition poses various risks, including accidents and degradation that make it unsafe or ineffective when you need to use it. The following are some of the consequences of failing to store ammunition properly.  

Accidental Discharge

When ammunition is not securely stored, it can be mishandled or tampered with by untrained individuals, leading to unintended discharges. Such incidents pose a grave safety risk, potentially resulting in injury or even fatalities.

Corrosion 

Ammunition is susceptible to corrosion when exposed to moisture and certain environmental conditions. Corrosion compromises the shell casing and can affect the primer and powder inside, leading to failures when firing or malfunctions. This renders the ammunition ineffective and can also cause damage to the firearm, posing a risk to the user.

Deterioration of Gunpowder

The chemical stability of gunpowder within ammunition is crucial for its performance. Improper storage conditions, such as high humidity and fluctuating temperatures, can lead to the deterioration of gunpowder. This degradation can alter the ballistic properties of the ammunition, causing unreliable performance and hazardous situations during use.

Faded Labels

Over time, the names and markings on ammunition packaging are susceptible to fading. When labels become illegible, it becomes challenging to identify critical details about the ammunition, such as caliber, type, and batch number. 

This loss of information complicates the process of organizing and safely using the ammunition, as mixing different types or using the wrong ammunition in a firearm can lead to malfunctions or damage. Proper storage solutions that protect against light exposure, humidity, and other environmental factors can help preserve label legibility and ensure that vital information remains accessible over time.

The Benefits of Appropriate Storage Solutions

Using appropriate storage solutions safeguards against these hazards, ensuring that ammunition maintains its integrity and performance over time.

Preservation of Integrity

By controlling the storage environment—specifically, maintaining low humidity levels and stable temperatures—ammunition owners can prolong the life and efficacy of their rounds. Proper storage solutions, such as climate-controlled safes or cabinets with desiccant materials, help maintain the optimal condition of ammunition.

Enhanced Safety

Secure, locked storage prevents unauthorized access, particularly by children or individuals unfamiliar with firearm safety. This reduces the risk of accidental discharges and ensures that ammunition is handled only by those trained to do so.

Optimal Condition When Needed

For enthusiasts, hunters, and defense purposes, having ammunition in optimal condition at the time of use is paramount. Proper storage guarantees that rounds are ready for use, providing reliable performance where dependable ammunition is crucial.

Choosing the Right Ammunition Storage Containers

Selecting the ideal storage container for ammunition is a critical decision that determines the longevity of the ammunition and its safety and accessibility. Furthermore, understanding the environmental considerations for ammo storage is essential in making an informed choice.

Ammo Cans: Metal vs. Plastic Options

Ammo cans, designed specifically for storage, come primarily in two materials: metal and plastic. Each option offers advantages and drawbacks, influenced by factors such as durability, weight, environmental resistance, and the needs of the ammunition owner.

Metal Ammo Cans 

Metal ammo cans have a long-standing reputation for durability and robust protection. Made from steel or aluminum, these containers are highly resistant to physical damage, providing a sturdy shield against bumps, drops, and crushes. 

Many metal cans also feature rubber gaskets that create airtight and watertight seals, offering superior protection against moisture and dust. However, these cans are heavier and more prone to rust in humid environments, which can be mitigated by proper maintenance and placement in controlled environments.

Plastic Ammo Cans

Plastic ammo cans stand out for their lightweight features. They’re easy to haul around, making them ideal if you move your ammo often. Top-notch plastic cans also boast impressive weatherproofing thanks to tight seals, with some even featuring O-rings to keep moisture out completely.

While plastic won’t rust, it’s not quite as tough as metal. Extreme heat and sunshine can break down plastic over time. So, if you’re planning on storing your ammo for years to come, consider a cooler location.

Environmental Considerations for Ammo Storage

When choosing between metal and plastic ammo cans, considering the environment in which the ammunition will be stored is crucial. Here are some factors to keep in mind:

  • Humidity: In humid climates, the risk of corrosion for metal containers and the ammunition itself increases. Plastic cans might be preferable in these conditions, although using desiccants in metal cans can reduce moisture-related risks.
  • Temperature Fluctuations: Extreme temperature fluctuations can affect ammunition’s performance. While both metal and plastic cans can insulate against temperature changes to some extent, it’s vital to avoid placing ammo in locations where temperatures can reach extremes, such as attics or garages.
  • Exposure to Elements: If storage in outdoor or semi-outdoor environments is necessary, consider the durability of the container against elements like sunlight and rain. Metal cans, though more susceptible to rust, often offer better overall protection against harsh conditions, provided they are maintained and placed away from direct exposure. 

Regardless of the choice, ensuring that the cans are of high quality and that additional protective measures (like desiccants for moisture control) are in place can further safeguard the ammunition, preserving its integrity and readiness for use.

Conditions for Optimal Ammunition Preservation

For ammunition to remain in optimum condition, it must be stored under conditions that prevent degradation and damage. Three critical factors in preserving ammunition over time are controlling humidity and temperature and shielding the ammo from physical damage. Proper attention to these aspects can extend the usable life of ammunition, ensuring it performs reliably when needed.

Controlling Humidity and Temperature

Humidity Control

Ammunition is sensitive to moisture. Excessive humidity can lead to corrosion of the metal parts of cartridges and deterioration of the propellant, compromising the ammo’s reliability and safety. To control humidity, use desiccants (moisture-absorbing materials) within storage containers or maintain a dehumidifier in the storage area. Ideal relative humidity levels for ammo storage are typically between 30% and 50%.

Temperature Control

High temperatures aren’t your ammo’s best friend. The propellant inside the cartridges gets cranky in the heat. Over time, this heat can “cook” the propellant, messing with its chemical makeup. When you fire it, the rounds might not perform as intended. They could fly off course, lose power, or not work at all.

In more severe cases, the structural integrity of the cartridge itself might be compromised, leading to dangerous malfunctions such as squib loads (where the bullet doesn’t exit the barrel) or catastrophic weapon failures.

Conversely, cold temperatures present a different set of challenges. In cold conditions, the chemical reactions within the primer and propellant can be slowed or inhibited, leading to misfires or delayed ignitions.

Plus, the lubricants on or within the cartridge and firearm might thicken at low temperatures, affecting firing. While these issues are less common with contemporary ammunition and firearms designed for use in varying climates, they remind us of the need for proper storage and handling, especially for those relying on older ammunition stocks.

Given these sensitivities, the key to preserving ammunition lies in avoiding extremes. A stable, moderate-temperature environment—away from fluctuating conditions and extreme heat or cold—is ideal for long-term storage. By maintaining this balance, shooters can ensure that their ammunition remains safe to use and consistent in performance, regardless of when it was manufactured.

Shielding Ammo from Physical Damage

Physical damage to ammunition can compromise its structural integrity, affect its performance, and, in severe cases, pose significant safety hazards. Ammunition owners need to be aware of the following best practices to keep their stored ammo intact.

Proper Containerization

The choice of storage container is crucial in protecting ammunition from physical damage. Ammo cans must be sturdy, with secure closures to prevent accidental openings. Containers should protect ammo from being crushed, dropped, or knocked around, which could deform the cartridges.

Organized Storage

Ammunition should be organized in a way that prevents excessive movement within containers. Use dividers or padding for sensitive items. This prevents physical damage to the rounds themselves and makes inventory management easier, reducing the need to move or sift through ammunition unnecessarily.

Strategic Placement

Store ammunition containers where they are less likely to be disturbed or dropped. Ensure they are not placed under heavy objects or in areas prone to flooding or other environmental hazards to reduce the risk of accidental damage.

This careful approach to storage preserves the functionality and safety of your ammunition and supports overall firearm maintenance and readiness.

Ammunition Organization Strategies

Effective organization of your ammunition ensures your space is tidy and the longevity of your ammo. Two key practices—labeling and inventorying, along with rotation practices—can enhance the way you manage and use your ammunition.

Labeling and Inventorying Your Stockpile

Every container of ammunition should be clearly labeled with its contents. This includes the caliber, bullet type, and, if applicable, specific use (e.g., hunting, practice, defense). If you reload your ammunition, include the date of reloading and the load specifications. Labels should be durable and resistant to the environmental conditions of your storage area to prevent fading or smudging over time.

A detailed inventory helps you keep track of what ammunition you have on hand, its quantity, and when it was acquired or reloaded. This can be as simple as a notebook or as sophisticated as a spreadsheet on your computer or mobile device. Update regularly to reflect additions, subtractions, and usage. An up-to-date inventory also assists in planning purchases and rotations.

Rotation Practices to Maintain Fresh Ammo

To avoid a situation where stored ammunition goes bad before it can be utilized, here are some considerations worth making.

First-In, First-Out (FIFO)

Adopting a FIFO approach ensures that older ammunition is used before newer stock. This is important for ammunition with a limited shelf life, such as certain types of shotgun shells or rounds with biodegradable components.

Regular Inspection and Testing

Regularly inspecting older ammunition for signs of corrosion, damage, or other issues is necessary. This approach allows you to identify and address potential problems before they become safety concerns. Testing a small sample from older batches can assure their reliability.

Strategic Use

Different types of shooting activities can accommodate different ages and types of ammunition. For instance, older but still reliable ammunition can be used for practice sessions while keeping fresher, high-quality rounds reserved for competitions, hunting, or defense.

While these strategies safeguard the investment in your ammunition, they are worth implementing as they contribute to overall shooting safety and performance.

Legal and Safety Norms for Storing Ammunition

Storing ammunition properly is a legal requirement in many jurisdictions. Compliance with local and state regulations, along with measures to prevent unauthorized access, are fundamental to ensuring the safety and legality of your ammunition storage.

Complying with Local and State Regulations

Laws governing ammunition storage vary significantly from one location to another. You will need to familiarize yourself with the regulations specific to your local area and state. This might involve consulting legal resources, local law enforcement, or firearms organizations.

Storage Requirements

Many jurisdictions outline specific requirements for ammunition storage, such as the type of storage container, the necessity for locks, and the permissible locations within a home or property. Adhering to these requirements is essential not only for legal compliance but also for ensuring the safety of those living in or visiting the home.

Transport Laws

In addition to storage, laws may also govern how ammunition can be transported within and across state lines. Understanding these regulations is vital for those who travel for hunting, shooting competitions, or other firearm-related activities.

Preventing Unauthorized Access to Ammunition

A responsible firearm can ensure an unauthorized individual is unable to access stored ammunition by taking the following measures:

Locks and Safes

The first line of defense involves using high-quality locks and safes specifically designed for storing ammunition and firearms. These containers should meet or exceed any applicable legal requirements for security devices. Features to look for include tamper-proof designs, durable construction materials, and locks that resist picking or drilling. 

Education and Awareness

Part of preventing unauthorized access is educating those in your household about the dangers of ammunition and the importance of safety protocols. For individuals authorized to handle ammunition, proper training on handling, storage, and emergency procedures is indispensable.

Secured Storage Areas

The physical location of ammunition storage also plays a key role in security. Ideally, ammunition should be stored in a low-traffic area of the home that is not readily visible or accessible to visitors. This could be a dedicated room, closet, or cabinet that can be locked independently from the main storage container.

Inventory Checks

Regular inventory checks are a vital component of procedural security. These checks ensure that all items are accounted for and identify any discrepancies that might indicate a breach of security or improper handling. Inventory practices also include maintaining detailed records of acquisitions and usage, which can aid in the recovery of stolen property and compliance with legal reporting requirements.

Access Control

Managing who has access to ammunition involves not only controlling physical access through keys or combinations but also establishing clear guidelines for who in the household or organization is authorized to handle ammunition.

Long-Term Storage Tips

Proper preparation and maintenance are crucial for ensuring the safety and longevity of ammunition stored for extended periods. By adhering to long-term storage tips, you can preserve the quality of your ammunition, ensuring it remains effective for future use.

Preparing Ammo for Extended Storage Periods

If you don’t plan to use your ammunition in the near future, consider the following measures to help maintain long-term integrity and safety.

Environment Control

Preparing ammunition for long-term storage involves creating an optimal storage environment. This means selecting a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight and fluctuating temperatures.

Airtight Containers

Consider using airtight and moisture-resistant storage containers, such as military-grade ammo cans with rubber seals. These containers offer protection against environmental factors. Including desiccants, like silica gel packs, inside the containers can help absorb any residual moisture, further safeguarding the ammunition.

Consider Vacuum Sealing

For extremely long-term storage, consider vacuum sealing ammunition in plastic bags before placing it in airtight containers. This method adds an extra layer of moisture protection, especially in very humid environments.

Incorporate Desiccants

Place desiccant packs inside the storage containers to absorb any moisture that may be present. Silica gel packs are a popular option. Ensure that these are replaced or recharged according to the manufacturer’s instructions to maintain effectiveness.

Regular Checks and Upkeep for Stored Ammunition

Safeguarding the investment in your stockpile and ensuring its readiness for use involves regular checks and upkeep. Here are some things to include in your checklist:

  • Container Condition: Regularly check the condition of your storage containers. Look for any signs of wear, damage, or failure in the sealing mechanism. A compromised container can let in moisture or pests, both of which can damage your ammunition.
  • Seal Integrity: For containers with seals, such as military-style ammo cans, inspect the rubber gaskets or O-rings for cracks or brittleness. Replace seals as necessary to ensure the container remains airtight and moisture-resistant.
  • Handling Precautions: When inspecting or handling ammunition, ensure your hands are clean and dry to prevent transferring oils or moisture onto the ammunition. Consider wearing gloves for additional protection.
  • Disposal of Unusable Ammo: Should you find ammunition that is damaged, corroded, or otherwise deemed unsafe, follow proper disposal protocols. Consult local regulations or contact a professional disposal service to handle the ammunition safely.
  • Usage Log: Alongside your inventory, maintain a log of ammunition usage. This practice assists in implementing a first-in, first-out rotation policy, ensuring older ammunition is used before newer stock, thereby minimizing the chances of deterioration due to prolonged storage.
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