Does Ammo Expire?

Does ammo expire? That’s what I found myself asking when I inherited a boat-load of old, surplus ammo from a family member. 

That’s why we’re taking a deep dive to learn how long ammo lasts. So, whether you’re wondering how long your carry ammo is good, or if you can shoot that box of old ammo you found, keep reading.

Does Ammo Expire?

an old ammo can for keeping ammo safe from the elements
An ammo can will help your ammo last longer.

If stored correctly, ammo will last decades. In fact, there’s no real known expiration on ammo. Everyday, shooters shoot surplus ammo from World War II and earlier without a problem. This ammo has usually been kept sealed in air-tight containers, protecting it from the elements.

We’ve previously gone into detail about how to store ammo so that it lasts. Basically, you need to keep your ammo stored in a cool, dry place. 

Is Old Ammo Safe to Shoot?

an old rifle round showing corrosion on the bullet

If you’re unsure if your ammo is safe to shoot, you should inspect the entire round, looking for corrosion or discoloration. Mild discoloration is ok and even expected, but if the round is clearly corroded, you should avoid shooting it.

You should also look for damage or deformities to the round. If you find any dents or bulges around the case or case mouth, it’s best to dispose of the ammo instead of shooting it.

What Happens When a Round Has Gone Bad?

old dirty ammo on stripper clips

Most often, this issue with old ammo is that the primer has gone bad due to moisture. When this is the case, the ammo will simply not fire.

Another scenario is that the round’s gunpowder may lose its power overtime, leading to an undercharged round. This could result in a squib load. Squib loads are when a bullet gets lodged in the barrel of the gun because the cartridge does not have enough powder to properly propel it forward. A squib load becomes dangerous when the shooter does not notice the first round lodged in the barrel, and shoots a round behind it. This can result in serious injury and a destroyed gun.

Corrosive Ammo

surplus ammo kept in sealed containers

One thing to keep in mind with old ammo is that it may be corrosive. Some surplus military ammo have corrosive, berdan primers. These rounds contain chemicals that leave behind a corrosive salt when fired. When this residue is left behind and exposed to humidity especially, it can cause the steel in your gun to rust. 

To keep your gun in working order, it’s a good idea to give it a good clean and lube after shooting corrosive ammo. 

How Often Should You Change Your Self Defense Ammo?

You may also be wondering how long your self defense ammo is good for. Ammo manufacturers often recommend switching out your carry ammo every 6 months. However, this time frame really depends on a number of different factors.

If your gun only sits on your nightstand and you rarely or never unload/load the rounds in the magazine, you likely can extend the use of your ammo to over a year. On the other hand, if you carry your gun often, especially in hot and humid weather, you may need to replace ammo every 6 months, or even more frequently.

If you unload and reload your gun often with the same ammo, you also need to be on the lookout for bullet setback. Bullet setback is when the bullet faces pressure from repeated chambering and re-chambering, pushing the bullet deeper into the case. This leads to a dangerous scenario, as it can compress the powder in the case, creating unsafe pressure when fired. 

Shooting 50 Year Old Ammo

a box and two rounds of 50 year old super vel ammo

My grandfather had always been a shooter, between his service in the Marine Corps. during the Korean War, to bullseye competitions with his Aunschutz rifle. When he passed, I found a couple boxes of Super Vel .380 ACP JHP ammo in his belongings.

After checking with Super Vel, we determined that the ammo was manufactured prior to 1975, with the possibility that it could have been manufactured in the late 1960s. As of writing this, the ammo is at least 50 years old. 

I’m not exactly sure how the ammo has been stored the last 50 or so years. My grandfather lived in the desert of Nevada, so the ammo didn’t face much humidity. It was likely kept in a gun safe or the back of a closet until I got it.

So, once I got my hands on it, of course I wanted to see if it still shoots. I headed to the range with a box of the old .380 ACP ammo and a Smith & Wesson Shield EZ .380

The results? As expected, five rounds fired with no issues. 

Does Ammo Expire: Final Thoughts

the author shooting a pistol at the range to figure out does ammo expire

If you’ve found old ammo and you know it has not gotten wet and it looks to be in good shape, it is likely safe to shoot. However, I would not risk shooting it in a valuable or sentimental gun.

As always, if you are unsure about the safety of your ammo, trust that our team here at Target Barn will keep you loaded up with top-quality ammo that you don’t have to question.

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