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How Long is Ammo Good for? An Essential Guide

When you buy bullets or cartridges, it's natural to wonder how long they'll last. Whether you're a hunter, a sport shooter, or just a gun owner, understanding the shelf life of ammunition is essential to ensure its effectiveness. In this blog, we will explore this topic in detail, covering various aspects including storage, types of ammo, and warning signs of bad ammunition.

How Long Does Ammo Last For?

Ammo shelf life can vary widely depending on several factors. Let's explore the typical lifespan of different types of ammunition:

1) Centerfire Ammunition


pointy bullet lined up
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Centerfire cartridges, commonly used in concealed carry firearm weapons, rifles, and shotguns, generally have a longer shelf life compared to rimfire cartridges. When stored properly, centerfire ammunition can remain reliable for 10 to 20 years or more.

2) Rimfire Ammunition

Rimfire cartridges, often found in .22 LR caliber firearms, are more sensitive to environmental conditions due to their design. As a result, their shelf life is relatively shorter, ranging from 5 to 10 years under ideal storage conditions.

3) Shotgun Shells


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Shotgun shells or shotgun ammo, used for hunting and sport shooting, can last anywhere from 10 to 20 years or more with proper storage. However, keep in mind that different types of shotgun shells, such as birdshot and buckshot, may have varying shelf lives.

4) Handloaded Ammunition

Ammunition that has been hand-loaded or reloaded by individuals can be of excellent quality if done correctly. The shelf life of hand-loaded ammo depends on the components used and the care taken during the reloading process. If done properly and stored correctly, it can have a shelf life similar to centerfire and rimfire ammunition.

Ammunition Storage Tips

Proper storage of ammunition is crucial to ensure its effectiveness. By following these ammo storage tips, you can maintain the quality for an extended period:

2) Keep it Cool and Dry


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Storing your ammunition in a cool and dry environment is essential. Exposure to high temperatures can lead to chemical reactions within the cartridges, causing propellant breakdown and reducing their effectiveness. On the other hand, excessive moisture can lead to corrosion of the casing, primer, and bullet, rendering the ammunition unreliable or even dangerous.

To achieve optimal storage conditions, ammo companies push and encourage gun owners to use a climate-controlled space, such as a dry and temperature-stable room or a dedicated ammo cabinet. Additionally, it is also recommended to invest in ammo boxes or ammo cans to further protect your rounds from humidity and other environmental elements.

2) Avoid Sunlight and Extreme Temperatures

Direct sunlight can heat up ammunition rapidly, leading to potential issues with the propellant inside the cartridges. Extreme temperature fluctuations can also cause condensation, which is detrimental to ammo quality. If possible, choose a storage location away from windows and exterior walls that might experience significant temperature changes. A consistent temperature environment will help preserve your ammunition's stability.

3) Store Ammo Separate from Firearms


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While it may be convenient to store your ammunition alongside your firearms, it's best to keep them separate. Storing ammunition in the same container as your guns can expose it to the oils and solvents used for cleaning and maintenance, potentially leading to contamination. To ensure longevity, dedicate a specific storage space for your ammunition, and keep it away from cleaning supplies or gun lubricants.

4) Use Moisture-Absorbing Agents

To combat humidity and moisture, consider using moisture-absorbing agents, such as silica gel packets or other absorbents, in your storage containers. These agents can help absorb excess moisture in the air, creating a drier environment for your ammunition. Remember to replace these agents periodically, as they can become saturated over time.

5) Employ a "First In, First Out" Approach


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To prevent your ammunition from sitting too long in storage, practice the "first in, first out" principle. When purchasing new modern ammo, place it behind the old ammo, so you use the oldest rounds first. This rotation ensures that you consistently refresh your supply, reducing the risk of firing aged and old ammunition.

How to Identify Bad Ammo

Identifying bad or degraded ammunition is critical to maintaining shooting safety and ensuring reliable firearm performance. Here are some key indicators to help you identify and avoid using compromised rounds:

1) Inspect the Ammunition


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Check the physical condition of the rounds. Look for signs of damage, corrosion, or deformities on the cartridge cases, bullets, and primers. Any noticeable dents, scratches, or discoloration could indicate a problem.

2) Powder Consistency

Shake the cartridge gently and listen for any unusual rattling sounds. If you hear a rattling noise, it may indicate that the powder has broken down, and the ammunition is no longer safe to fire.

3) Foul Odor


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Credit: Envato Elements/ ninelutsk

If you detect any foul or unusual odors coming from the ammunition, it could be a sign of contamination or chemical breakdown. Discard such rounds immediately.

4) Check for Overpressure Signs

If you are a seasoned shooter and familiar with reading spent cartridge cases, look for signs of overpressure, such as flattened primers or case bulges. This may indicate high-pressure rounds that could be dangerous to shoot.


As a responsible gun owner, understanding your ammunition's shelf life is paramount to ensuring both safety and performance. By adhering to proper storage techniques, regularly inspecting your ammunition, and exercising caution, you can maintain a reliable stockpile of rounds for when you need them most.

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