Whether you're shooting for sport, training for self-defense, or shooting for any other reason, you obviously need ammunition handy.
Purchasing ammunition isn't a problem for most people, and unfortunately, you can't always shoot ammo as soon as you get it. You might find a great deal on ammo and stock up for future use or be unable to get to the shooting range right away after an ammo purchase.
Plus, ammunition used for target shooting may not be the same ammunition used for everyday carry or self-defense. Because of this, most people who shoot end up with some ammunition that requires being set aside for a while. Sometimes, that little while turns into a long while, and the ammo sits unused for an extended period of time.
This brings up concerns, such as how do I know when ammo has expired? Exactly how long does ammo last?
What Is the Storage Life of Ammo?
At the risk of seeming vague: It depends.
How long your ammunition will last is dependent upon a few factors:
How well it was manufactured
How well the containers are sealed
How much exposure to the elements it receives
How you have it stored (How To Store Ammo)
Obviously, the more effort you put into buying quality ammunition and taking the steps necessary to properly store it, the longer it's likely to last. The good news is that if you buy decent ammo from a reputable manufacturer and store it in a dry spot that's not too hot or cold, you're more than likely not going to have any problems with longevity.
What Do Manufacturers Recommend?
While the question of life expectancy can vary by manufacturer, the reality is a near-universal understanding that the ammunition you purchase is expected to be usable for around 10 years. It's advisable to check on your brand's site or frequently asked questions page to verify expiration expectations.
For the average person, around 10 years of ammo shelf life is more than enough time. That's especially true if you're lucky enough to be able to go shooting on a regular basis. It's unlikely your ammo will last that long if you're shooting regularly, as you'll be constantly using and replenishing your supply. That's good news for anyone who shoots often: Barring an extreme scenario, such as flooding during a natural disaster that damages ammo, you won't have to worry about it being unsafe to shoot.
However, there are some instances when you may need to concern yourself with long-term storage of ammunition. Perhaps you're planning on buying a lot of ammunition to save for long-term preparedness purposes. Maybe you've found yourself in a situation where life circumstances dictate that you can't use, or even move, your ammunition for a long period of time. In circumstances such as these, you might have additional concerns about ammo shelf life.
Can Ammo Last Longer Than 10 Years?
Thankfully, there is more good news to be had here. It's not uncommon to find people shooting ammunition that well exceeds the 10-year mark. Just conducting a search online will net you results of people shooting ammunition that is anywhere from 25-100 years old. There are even videos of people shooting ammunition from World War I.
Before you get too excited: Don't go diving into that damp box of cartridges you found in your grandparents' basement just yet. Ammo of that age that can be safely fired has been extremely well preserved. Ammunition from WWI and WWII, for example, was often incredibly well packaged. Regardless of whether this was done intentionally or unintentionally, we're talking about ammo that has been stored in ideal conditions throughout its entire existence.
Always Take the Safe Approach With Ammo and Firearms
Ammunition is often designed to hold up to rough handling such as being dropped, jostled, and generally mistreated. It is not, however, immune to the effects of extreme heat, cold, moisture, and strong impacts. If a visual inspection leaves you with questions about whether ammo can be used, or if the container conditions indicate that it may have been exposed to the elements in a way that would impact its function, it's best to just leave it be. If you have any doubts about ammo whatsoever, just get rid of it. Don't take unnecessary chances. Dispose of it and move on, or you could run the risk of damaging your firearms or yourself by shooting questionable ammo.
When it comes to the age of ammunition, remember that if you buy quality ammunition and store it properly (How To Store Ammo), it can last a long time. If you shoot regularly, your ammo supply likely won't outlast its own expiration date. Remember, just because ammo can last a long time doesn't mean that it has, and safe is always better than sorry.