Ammunition

Ammo Storage and Organization 101

MTM Case Gard Ammo Crate loaded with containers of .22 LR, 9mm, 5.56mm and 12 gauge ammunition

Whether you shoot one caliber exclusively or multiple calibers, keeping your ammunition organized and stored properly is important. Increased shelf life, reduced risk for corroded or malfunctioning ammunition, and time savings at the range are only some of the reasons why it pays to be organized.

Plus, you don’t want to be that shooter rifling through random unlabeled Ziploc bags when it comes time to load your magazines with the correct ammo. Trust me, I’ve seen it. It did not look like a good time. It can also be dangerous, even catastrophic, if something along the lines of a .357 Magnum round got mixed up and was loaded and fired in .38 Special.

Tan MTM plastic ammunition can with 22 LR sticker
Keep your ammo cans easily identifiable with labels or decals.

Ammo Cans

The most common method of storing and transporting ammunition is ammo cans. They come in various sizes and materials, with similar goals of protecting and transporting your precious ammo. To accomplish this, the ammo cans feature rubber gaskets (i.e., o-rings) to create a watertight seal, padlock tabs to deter prying hands, and carry handles that make trips to the range a bit easier.

People often debate which is better — metal or plastic ammunition cans. Both have their respective pros and cons. Neither is a clear winner in my opinion. As a result, I own and use both types, but for different purposes.

Plastic

Plastic ammo cans are lightweight, affordable, and tend to stack quite nicely. They can also be discreet, almost looking like tackle boxes to the untrained eye. On the other hand, the plastic ammunition can become brittle if left in the sun and tends to flex or bend with enough weight in them. I would like to add though, that if you keep your ammo stored in a temperature and humidity-controlled environment, it will help extend the useful life of the plastic drastically.

Despite the few negative aspects, plastic ammo cans are very popular and my “go-to” when it comes to range transport or keeping a quick-grab stash. Depending on which cans you choose, some have their own storage trays or crates that you can purchase to further enhance your organization!

When I first started shooting, I placed a bulk 9mm order that came with a plastic ammo can. I used it, along with several others, for years. Then, one day it fell off of the tailgate of my truck and essentially shattered, sending a few hundred loose rounds of 9mm into the dirt. Was it the end of the world? No. However, it piqued my interest in looking for a better storage solution. I researched alternatives such as plastic models with thicker walls, bags, and metal ammo cans — all of which I added to my collection. 

Military-style metal ammunition can
The classic metal ammo can is extremely durable.

Metal

Metal cans are extremely durable and usually watertight and airtight. After all, there is a reason that the military has used them for decades. If you are planning on storing ammo for extended periods of time or traveling with them through various climates, metal cans will likely be your best bet.

You’re probably thinking to yourself, why wouldn’t I just go with a metal can then? And, that’s a reasonable question. While metal ammo cans have multiple benefits, they are heavier, louder to move, and harder to stack. Overall, I would recommend having both types on hand, so you are prepared for any scenario that may come your way. 

Ammo Boxes

For those who reload their own ammo, want additional organization options, or don’t feel like carrying fully loaded ammo cans to the range, ammo boxes will be something you definitely want to consider. You can transfer your loose ammo into them for storage purposes or you can use them to easily keep track of how much you’re shooting at the range.

Plastic ammunition storage boxes loaded with sorted pistol rounds
Ammo boxes are a great way to organize your loose ammo or to keep calibers separated.

Plastic ammo boxes are simple, cheap and make for great add-ons to your cart if you need a little bit more to hit your free shipping threshold! Ammo boxes are also a must for anyone who reloads. Multiple loads can be separated to measure the performance between powder and bullet combinations.

Labels and Decals

For most, simply separating different calibers or loads into different containers may be enough. For the rest who want just a bit more order in their ammunition stores, you can easily label each container. Stick-on labels and decals make it easy to quickly grab the correct ammo on your way out the door. Once I upgraded to decals, as opposed to simply slapping some duct tape on them and using a permanent marker, I never looked back.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, how you choose to store and organize your ammo is up to you. However, the more thought and care you put into it, the longer your ammo will last, and the safer your range time will be. With ammo prices in a constant state of flux, why not spend a little time planning and organizing?

Two stacked MTM Case Gard Zombie ammunition cans
Whether you’re preparing for zombies or just a trip to the range, ammo cans come in handy.

With the addition of watertight containers, you’ll also keep you ammo safe from the unforeseen disasters caused my Mother Nature or a simple flooded basement after a burst pipe. Remember that food vacuum sealer you received last Christmas but never used? It’s a perfect waterproofing solution for long-term ammunition storage…

Do you have an ammo storage and organization system? If you had to choose between plastic or metal ammo cans, which type of ammunition can would you choose? Share your answers in the comment section.

Ryan is a firearms and tactical gear enthusiast that has maneuvered himself into the firearms industry over the past decade.  While his full-time career is outside of the industry, he has consulted for dozens of firearms and tactical gear related companies.  He enjoys conducting tests and evaluations, shooting product photography and developing marketing strategies for them.  

If he’s not spending time with his family, you’ll likely find him at the range or driving around looking for photo shoot locations. You can check out some of his photos and other content on Instagram (@theguygearreview).

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (15)

  1. I use 30 cal plastic cans. I put no more than 22 lbs of ammo in each. My ammo (all handloads) are packed in acid free cardstock boxes from repackbox. Then vacuum sealed in bricks. 4 50 rnd boxes of 9mm, 8 30 rnd boxes of 5.56, etc.
    Each box has the recipe, caliber, count, date, and MV on it.
    I use a label maker on each ammo can with caliber and month/year of production.

  2. I store my Ammo in both metal and plastic containers. But I use wisedry to absorb any moisture that might be in there.

  3. To the comment below, smokeless gunpowder will burn without oxygen. Gunpowder is mostly nitrocellulose which is carbon with a ton of oxygen atoms sprinkled in. It will burn underwater or in space, it does not require oxygen. Even if it required oxygen, vacuum sealers are not strong enough to break the seal of the cartridge neck crimp.

    I personally would only vacuum seal emergency ammunition. And this I would bury or otherwise store away. Obviously don’t bury all of your ammunition, just a few thousand for a rainy day. This is an interesting website.
    https://howtoburyyourvaluables.wordpress.com/

  4. I like the ruggedness of metal ammo cans. Before I closer the lid I drop in 2-3 silica Gen packs ( the kind designed to remove moisture from Medications For Storage I have a Knaack Gang (90 CF) tool box. I also loading components powder Primers etc. and dies NONE have a speck of rust

  5. I just wanted to correct “Crash and Burn’s” comment. You’re not going to vacuum the oxygen out of the gunpowder. It’s in the mix as a solid chemical oxidant, like potassium nitrate. SMH!

  6. I’ve found a label maker invaluable. Not only to label the calibers for quick identification, but I also use it to date the ammo. I leave the ammo in the boxes they came in when I store them in the ammo cans, and I date the boxes when I purchased them. When I go to the range, I generally take the oldest-purchased boxes to cycle out the oldest supply.

  7. Just a quick note, I store ammo for long periods of time and found that if you have a good saver you can store ammo for years and it is as good as the day you bought it. Just create a pouch and put the ammo in it and vacuum out most of the air. You don’t want to vacuum it till it vacuum seals like you do food,just about 95% and seal it. Vacuum it to much can cause real problems. Then store it in a ammo can and it will last for years. This way I can keep my ammo fresh and when I need it all I have to do is pull out a package of ammo and cut it open and I am ready to have fun.

  8. Do not use the vacuum sealer
    It sucks oxygen out of the plastic
    What do you need in-order to have a fire
    Oxygen – Heat – Fuel
    The gun powder will not work with the oxygen taken out just an FYI

  9. I shoot AR’s in several calibers. I start with the dirty brass. Once sorted, the calibers go in color coded stacked with the same die sets and bullets. Once loaded into color coded ammo boxes and color coded magazines. The weapons are also color coded with reflective tape. Ain’t pretty but it doesn’t hurt the finish and I have NO incidents

  10. I use both I stored my ammo in the closet dark and dry most of my ammo is transferred in Plano plastic boxes I mark all my ammo clearly the

  11. Funny nobody talks about ammo storage. I am old enough that I got a number of surplus military ammo cans (Yes – they were cheap back then), and have used them for about ~50 years. Ammo cans are ideal for transporting, but I don’t use them for long term storage. Plastic ammo cans are ideal for a number of uses, but also not for long term storage. Now as to the WHY??. When you have different reloads, or have a number of different calibers, try “Tupperware” for your storage site. Using a clear “Tupperware” type container for storage does have several advantages. Clear storage containers don’t have have to be food grade either. (I have been known to recycle a certain brand of lunchmeat packaging.) It also easy to place one of these clear plastic containers into your ammo can when going to the Range, etc. While I place a written note in the container with pertain info, it is also possible to use a marker on the container itself. Bonus, once dirty. damaged. etc. I just pitch the container in question.

  12. When using a ammo can, do you think is ok to put ammo loose in them and not in the box? Putting them loose in the can allows for storage of many more rounds per available ammo can.

  13. I started with the standard 30 and 50 cal metal boxes that were usually thrown in when you bought enough ammo. I supplemented that with 50 cal plastic boxes but have now gone to the bigger flat boxes for storage because it it easier to sort by caliber with one large box than a lot more 50 cal boxes. The drawback is these are heavy when full but it is for storage only. For going to the range I just take a 30 cal plastic box with what I need.

  14. I prefer metal ammo cans, much tougher and will last. I always inspect the gasket on the lid before buying them. If the gasket is cracked, aged or missing then they are useless. I also put desiccants in them too. I save desiccants from all types of product packaging and toss them in the cans.

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