Camping & Survival

What to Do with Firearms and Ammunition Affected by Flood Waters

New Orelans underwater after Hurricane Katrina

You do not have to be a victim of a hurricane to experience the destructive effects of flooding. A broken pipe, ruptured water heater, or a sump pump that goes out during a storm is enough to do it in some areas. In any case, flooding and firearms are not only a bad mix, it can be a financial disaster. This leaves firearms owners who have seen their guns and stored ammunition submerged by flood waters wondering whether their firearms and ammunition can be salvaged and used safely. Fortunately, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) and Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute (SAAMI) have the answer. Here is the full release.

Picture shows a town with flood waters.
According to ready.gov, flash floods are the number one weather-related killer in the U.S.—for people and firearms!
The Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute (SAAMI) and National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) point to two helpful documents containing guidelines to assist gun owners in making sound decisions related to safely handling and treating or disposing of these items, emphasizing to always err on the side of caution and safety.

SAAMI, founded in 1926, is an organization that creates and publishes industry standards on firearms and ammunition. NSSF is the trade association for the firearms and ammunition industry.

The SAAMI document “Guidance on Firearms That Have Been Submerged or Exposed to Extensive Amounts of Water” points out two major concerns about firearms that have been exposed to water: parts susceptible to moisture and rust damage such as metal parts, wood stocks and grips, and optics. Likewise, there is water damage caused by infiltration of the action, barrel and safety systems by grit, silt, and other foreign debris.

Always unload firearms before beginning any treatment process.

It’s important to limit moisture and corrosion damage to the component parts of the firearm. This can be accomplished by disassembling the component parts and using up to two coats of a moisture-displacing lubricant such as Hoppe’s #9, MDL, or WD-40 to clean and stabilize the parts while, importantly, following the product’s directions so as not to damage parts constructed from plastic or synthetic materials. Another tip is to allow wood stocks and grips to air-dry and not be force dried by exposure to heat.

The document emphasizes that once the firearm has been thoroughly dried, consideration must be given to having the firearm inspected and serviced by the manufacturer, an authorized service center, or a qualified gunsmith before putting the firearm back in service.

Dealing With Submerged Ammunition

Vacuum sealer
Here is a creative solution for protecting your ammunition from the elements.
To help firearms owners determine what to do with ammunition that has been affected by water and moisture, SAAMI offers another helpful document, “Guidance on Ammunition That Has Been Submerged in Water.” Discussed are differences in moisture resistance between centerfire, rimfire and shotshell ammunition, and potential hazards associated with “drying out” cartridges, including possible deterioration and damage to cartridges due to drying methods.

Another serious hazard that could result from using compromised ammunition is the potential for a bore obstruction due to partial ignition of either the priming compound or the propellant powder charge, or both. Firing a subsequent round through an obstructed barrel can result in bodily injury, death and property damage.

SAAMI provides the following cautionary conclusion: “It would be impossible to ascertain for certain the extent of the deteriorating affect, if any, the water may have had on each individual cartridge. Therefore, the safe answer is that no attempt be made to salvage or use submerged ammunition. The ammunition should be disposed of in a safe and responsible manner. Contact your local law enforcement agency for disposal instructions in your area.

Resources

Did you lose any firearms or ammunition in the recent storms? Have you ever lost a firearm to any flooding or disaster? Share your stories in the comment section.

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 (41)

  1. Large bags of pet food can be gotten with resealable lips like sandwich bags and would be great for bulky items. I have seen them in 25 and 50 pound sizes. Just wipe then down to remove oil residue from the food, or they might work inside out.

  2. 5 gallon buckets work for ammo, handguns, and optics. Not so well for long guns. If you are looking to protect from flooding only, and for a short duration, a couple days, you really don’t even need a lid. If you can secure the contents in the bottom of the bucket so that you can invert it and the contents will stay put you can simply place the buckets upside down and secure them so they won’t float away or tip the water will not enter the bucket. It takes approximately 44 lbs (including the bucket and contents) to keep it from floating. A big rock would work.

    If you need to protect them longer, and perhaps from forces other than simply water, you probably want lids. The lids they sell with the buckets are usually water tight. Look for a rubber seal in the lid. And always test them before you depend on them.

    If long term storage is your goal, consider packing with an inert gas. I used to use Nitrogen because I had a readily supply of it. Now I use CO2. It is fairly easy to displace the air in the bucket with the gas because it weighs more. Just slowly let the gas filter down in the bucket and it will push the air out the top. Just do it slowly and MAKE SURE YOU ARE IN A WELL VENTILATED AREA. Preferably outside.

    It never hurts to include some desicant and moisture absorbers. If you need to protect longguns, you can always make containers out of PVC drain pipe. It works good for ammo and such also.

    1. As an emergency “fix” the inverted bucket sounds good– if you happen to have the buckets and a means of affixing the protected items to stay against the bottom while inverted– and time to do it.

      I prefer to plan ahead, to make sure things work right, and the five gallon plastic buckets with water tight lids sound like an interesting option.

    2. I agree with you about planning ahead, and I personally over engineer everything. Actually, the inverted bucket doesn’t have to stay on the floor, it just can’t tip. A shelf placed so the top (actually bottom) of the is against the ceiling or another non moveable shelf would work. But as I said I overdo everything. I use the airtight CO2 filled containers (not necessarily buckets) and they are hidden not inside my home.

    3. Long or short term PIC pipe, which one can actually find free or chdap at cleanup time of multi or large edifice construction sites, is the best and and least expensive means out there.
      AS a least expensive yet but better than commercial I use cheese cloth and quality cat litter
      Cat litter is also great for garage or gun bench.
      For easy access to bulk pistol ammo, glue cap on one end and apply screw on, 2 piece, on other. No need worry as screw tops will be water proof.
      Cut PIC to hold whatever amount you can afford to fill.
      I place my kitty liter in center of screw cap with just a touch of fabric glue, less expensive than super or gorilla.

    4. PS. PIC PIPE also makes powder storage container and as a greAt moisture barrier if one’s reloading bench is in unheated garage or basement.
      FIND PIPE just barely larger so as not to use up bench or shelf space and buy slip over covers.
      Label contents and while I never tested water proof the caps fit so tight I had to GLUE short small pipes for leverage.
      Then of course am an old fart with arthritic hands and disappearing muscle mass, you young ones would have no problem with covers.
      Resistant in tubes good for storing large amounts of old brass that even after two years is still quite bright with no corrosion.

    5. Mimi Liter (brand name) kitty liter, I believe I bought it at Wall Mart, is porous silica sand, just like in the dessicant packs you find in everything these days. I bought a 4 lb. bag for, I think about $8 a couple yrs ago. It’s reusable. I haven’t even used half the bag yet.

  3. Storing ammo and small arms in GI ammo boxes is a long tested solution by the military. Commercial made and surplus. Check the rubber seal when buying.

  4. Having bought until amounts of surplus military ammo through the years I have seen it in deplorable to excellent condition and have yet to find any that was not useable, EXCEPT THAT OF PRE KOREAN WAR period.
    Some crates would come where obvious water damage had occurred and yet with slight light clean up was very usable.
    Some of early Chinese and Yugo manufacturing had loose rounds in wooden box but ammo wrapped in plastic bags that obviously had been stored outside in very inclement weather, so much so water had seeped even inside of box and yet it was more than satisfactory.
    Sealed primers and bullets of steel jacketed brass or steel even though green and pitted worked just fine even at full auto shoots.
    I agree that instead of tossing reload or fire in bolt action with care.
    If one worries about drenched ammo then never hunt in Willapa Hills of SW Washington.
    As HUNTING GRADE ammo does not come sealed and yet last season’s rain and snow drenched ammo if wiped dry and dry lubes stays on the mark for a few more days of HUNTING with moss growing on one’s back.

  5. Better to test “any” container first. Fill up the bathtub or swimming pool and submerge them for an extended period of time and see if they leak. You don’t want to find out that they leak when you are retrieving your ammo and weapons.

    1. And I’ve sealed boxes of ammo in Food Saver bags and gone back later to find the corners of the boxes have worn holes in the bags.

  6. I survived the recent record breaking floods in Houston that weee the direct result of hurricane Harvey. ALL of my guns and munitions survived as well.

    I would suggest that anyone who has questionable ammunition consider learning to reload ammunition themselves or contact someone who does reloading for assistance.

    There is absolutely no logical reason the brass and lead be donated to local law enforcement or other disposal site. It is very easy to remove the bullet from questionable rounds and almost just as easy to reload those rounds although you will need some basic equipment. You don’t need anything more than a single tool to remove the bullet from questionable rounds. A powder burn test it pretty much just as easy.

    Testing a random sampling of primers from you most questionable ammo is what I would suggest. If there is water damage you will find it safely and know the lot needs to be stripped and reloaded.

    My neighborhood in west Houston was affected by the floods like many others. The water levels came just inches away from entering my home, I was very lucky in comparison to many of my neighbors.

    The biggest take from this article should be a no brained for most, USE COMMON SENSE! Sadly I understand there are many gun owners that lack even the slightest inclination of “common sense”.

  7. Good article that covers an area a lot of shooters really never consider. Watertight storage just makes sense, and could be the survival difference in the wrong situation.

  8. After hurricane Matthew last year, I had a large amount of ammo get submerged in fresh water 5 feet deep for 2-3 days. Then the job site workbox that the we’re stores in held the water for 3 more days
    The ammo in the military cams was fine.
    Most of the .22 works. But 1-2 out of 12 rounds does fire at all. I have not experienced any squibs. Its a go-no go situation
    Most 9mm is fine 1 out of 25 or so is bad
    .45 I had to pull them all. Most of them were bad, wet powder. The 5.56 seems to be fine.
    I am trying to rid myself of the bad ammo. It makes good practice ammunition as it anyone is flinching it shows very fast

  9. Unless it’s a paper shot shell which is not used now days I wouldn’t worry about it you think the military throws there ammo away after the soldiers are cought in a storm or a hunter should throw their ammo away if cought in the rain now if it was in the ocean (salt water) for a year I might be worried I’ll be dam if I’m throwing away ammo just because it got wet or was submerged but I’m sure the gov would love you to do so

  10. If storing ammo cans for a prolonged time in the soil or at the floor level in a flood prone area, a good idea would to spray around the lid with FLEX STEEL.it would seal well enough to keep water out.

  11. saving the brass and bullets! for those of you who run to the store after a natural disaster and find all the WD-40 gone , here’s an old soldiers trick, NO.2 diesel fuel, which is a light oil, toss the metal parts in a tub big enough for the gun, it will get into every little crevice if you just move it around and will buy you some time to properly tear the gun down…before we had 8 zillion fancy cleaners and oils for our guns that is what soldiers used in the field to clean theirs because there was always a diesel duece and a half near by…

  12. Keep procuring Mil-surp ammo cans. They have o-ring seals and keep ammo and hand guns nice and dry. Long guns kept in a water tight safe are a good bet. Also don’t buy or build in a flood plain unless you tend towards a stilt house!

  13. Most of the comments here are ammo related. I think a more thorough dialogue on the affects and options to do….with guns themselves… may be good to see too.

    1. @ Wil Ferch.

      LET’S!/? Most of those Contemplating the Use of “Mild Steel Ammo Can”, are Looking for the possible Protection from an EMP Pulse. Or even “Mylar”!/? Mylar WON’T even stop a 2.4GHz WiFi (~11-watt) Signal. If you’re thinking of Ammo Can’s Line it with “Muntz-Metal” (Brass w/a 60% Copper and 40% Zinc) Composition. And WATER is a Far Better Insulator of an EMP Pulse than most anything else. Or you can just by a Military Grade (Ka-Band) Insultaion Cabinette, IF your Budget allows for it! Their EXPENSIVE…

    2. What questions about flooding and water brought you to the conclusion we are looking at EMP isolation?

      A waterproof 20mm can is the right size to store pistols and scopes, and the last time I checked hurricanes usually did not hit us with an EMP.

  14. Waterproof ammo cans will promote rust from the highly humid air when a can is closed/sealed. Throw in a couple of desiccant pouches to absorb this moisture.

  15. To preclude damage or loss next storm, store all non-carried handguns. mags and ammo in Grade 1 or new and/or unused 7.62/30cal metal ammo cans. I started several years ago buying a few at a time, l now have over 40 used for storage and a number of 50cal cans used for small electric tool storage

  16. My reloading powders are in 1 pound cans then sealed in foodsaver vacuum bags, primers also.
    Ammo and reloading materials are not stored on the floor, all stored over 3 feet off the floor just so I don’t have to reach down for any of it.
    Also When I buy homes I don’t buy one in a hole that will flood.

    1. @ Shadow99688.

      I use CORDITE as a Propellant, which can be Safely Stored around Saltwater Enviroments, Hot/Cold Temperatures and have a Long Shelf/Storage Life EXCEEDING 50-years…

  17. Even the better quality plastic ammo cans such as the ones made by Plano are pretty waterproof if the o-ring seal is intact. The days of the surplus GI ammo cans for three or four bucks each by the pallet load are gone.

    1. @ john.

      My Grandfather on my Mothers side was a Forced Conscript that fought when the Germans at the Battle of Stalingrad. The German’s used BALLISTOL as a Small Arms Lubrication. Which is a Water-Based Mineral Oil that FREEZES SOLID at -32F. The Germans SOON started using a Soviet DRY Lubrication called Russian Standard Ty38.1011315–90, which was STILL Pliable at -70F. Closest Westen Lubrication that Matches the Russian Standard is made by Shell and called AeroShell No. 18 Mineral Oil.

      Just a suggestion…

  18. In 1942 the US military created and adopted the metal ammo can– intended for severe conditions, it has undergone several changes, evolved in materials, sizes, and applications, but the good old “Army ammo can” works very, very well as a safe storage for ammunition.

    When you go to the larger sizes pistols and accessory items store in a can that stays waterproof for prolonged periods of time.

    1. @ HW Stone.

      Keep in mind the pH level in the Soil, if you’re Burying the Ammo Cans. Steel “Degrades” at ~0.2-micron per year on average, unless Treated. Liquid Glass makes a Great Sealant and WON’T start to degrade until after the First ~1-Million Years…

    2. The question at hand was not burying a can, it was storage with possible flooding.

      As for liquid glass epoxy, it degrades more quickly than your assumption. Look up the paper

      “Polymer Degradation and Stability
      Volume 118, August 2015, Pages 96-103”

    3. @ HW Stone.

      Modern Metal Ammo Cans are made of “Mild Steel”, that SAME as you’re Schwinn Bicycle had when you were a Child!/? MILD STEEL will “Decompose” after ONLY ~30-years when Exposed to the Elements in a “Urban Enviroment”. ~35-earsyears in a “Rural Enviroment”, ~13-years in an “Industrial Enviroment” and ~12-years in a “Marine Enviroment” Plastic FAIRS better at ~350 to ~500-years, depending on Enviromental Exposure

    4. You said “WON’T start to degrade until after the First ~1-Million Years” and I tried to carefully point out we were talking standard protected storage that was flooded. That is a matter of hours to a week or two, not thirty years. We are not talking about throwing something in an ammo can and leaving it in the woods for thirty years, we are talking short term protection of contents. I have had several “long term storage” plastics fail in periods of less than five years in protected storage while other plastics have shown little or no degradation during the same period.

      I need to know and trust the materials with which I work, and I only recommended the ammo can because I’ve had some over sixty years that are still waterproof and in good condition as I use them– inside, protected storage, not tossed into the back yard and ignored.

  19. I would think using ammo in single shot weapons and ammo being shot in a bolt action would be acceptable, as long as the bullet exits the barrel with verification.
    I understand that it would be the safest to just dispose of it but if you reload, a bullet puller would at least salvage the projectile. Then fire the cartridge and then decap it for reuse would make sense. A quarter saved is a quarter earned????

  20. If you STORE you’re Ammo in a Secured Floor Mounted Unit?/! Also PACK it with “Liqsorb”, an ALL Liquid Absorbing Powder. Unlike FIRE, WATER can Reach Into the Most Tightly Seal SAFE Commercially Available to the General Public…

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