Stored correctly, and in a dry place, ammunition can generally outlast any other firearms equipment like scopes etc… It has a very good shelf life. For example, rifle cartridges have still proved to be lethal even when the product was originally released at about the time of WWI and stored until the present day.
I have an airtight tin of Russian 7.69X54 R that was produced at the end of that war, and it is as accurate and deadly as it was on Day One of its life.
So that ammunition can last forever, sealed canisters are the answer. The Russians, for example, stored those 7.69 Rs in a vacuum (canned) state that almost mummified the ammunition.
When I was working as a police officer, our unit was told to bring in all the previous year’s duty ammunition for a special two-day shoot. We were to use up any one-year-old ammunition we still had.
I always felt, as a training officer, that this was a bit over the top, because that ammo was as good as it had been on Day One of its manufacturing date.
However, the powers that be (the brass) wanted fresh rounds in every magazine and weapon at the start of the new training year.
If there is an issue with bad ammunition, it is because moisture has bled into the case. This is, in most cases, because of a primer that is not sealed well.
I have had this issue with a 380 auto-round. I was shooting a rattlesnake, and when I dropped the hammer the round made a popping sound and emitted a lot of white smoke. The bullet exited the barrel so slow that I could see it bounce off the snake’s skull.
After clearing the case, which would not eject on its own, the second round did the deed just fine. The problem in this case was oil on the bolt face. It had leaked into the cartridge by eating away at the red seal material used when the round had been manufactured.
When you’re storing ammunition, try and use sealed containers that are designed for the purpose. The company I often buy from is CaseGard. These folks make storage boxes out of a poly material that seal well and will not break down on their own if left in long-term storage.
I also use military surplus transport ammo cans for everything from mortar rounds to 5.56mm NATO rounds.
Due to the fact that I have been shooting stored ammo for about 60 years to date (man, how time flies), I can say without question that there have only been a few times that I got into ammo that had been wet, such as in shot-shells that were on the bottom of a wet duck-boat floor.
Other than that, I have had very little trouble with any type of ammunition that has gone bad. In my case I can store ammunition for the better part of two or three decades.
I was once hunting with one of the heads of Winchester Ammunition and indicated that I had been carrying the same box of 30-06 Silver Tip for seven years. I had shot one round for zero effect and seven others on a harvested deer.
That still gave me a full half box to use over the next 12 years that I used in a rifle for whitetail and mule deer. The Winchester guy looked at me and stated : “You’re not our customer.” I told a good friend this story five years ago and he has shot six rounds on deer to date and is still using the same box of 243 Winchester.
The good news is, in the hunting world it travels fast. It ain’t how much you shoot it is how well.
As a final note, the bottom line here is simple. Ammo lasts, and in most cases will outlast you. Some day, a thousand years from now, some guy is going to be digging in a cave and find a live round of 30-06 in a rifle and shoot himself in the foot.
Author’s 454 case on the bench. Old ammo will still hit hard. Take my word for it
L.P.Brezny has been writing and reviewing products as well as how to projects for the past 50 years. He has authored four books on shooting with three on long range, and one covering shotgunning.(Amazon) With 26 years in a metro police department as a street officer and the rank of SGT / training L.P. has covered all the bases regarding weapons and street survival.