The Importance of Proper Gun and Ammo Storage

Glock 17 pistol with digital camo grip frame in front a .50 caliber ammunition box

Are you a new gun owner who has just scored those first boxes of ammunition and a new gun? Perhaps, you are a long-time owner who has decided to squirrel away a few thousand rounds for a rainy day? Feeling generous? Not only are lead and copper the precious metals we all want to see under the tree this season, but they’re also the perfect gift for a freedom-loving friend. However, if you have ammunition that you are not planning to head to the shooting range and unload in the near future, you’ll need to store it. Long-term gun and ammo storage must be done properly to protect your assets.

Surely, you already know that secure storage of guns and ammo is important for the safety of your home and the people in it. Guns intended for home and personal security should be accessible by you but not to anyone you don’t want to handle them. There are good safes and locks available for every budget. But what about those guns and ammo that you don’t pay much attention to except for special occasions such as hunting season, competitions, or family range days?

three desiccant packets with a box of Remington ammunition
Desiccant packets aren’t perfect, but they can help reduce humidity in boxes and safes.

Gun and Ammo Storage

Stored guns and ammo should be less accessible to anyone whose hands you don’t want on it. Long-term storage in a locked closet or safe might be secure to keep the guns out of unauthorized hands. But neglecting those goods secured in safe spaces could result in their degradation or loss from the elements — if you don’t attend to the matter of prevention.

A basic rule of thumb is to store guns and ammo in a cool, dry place. Of the two, dry is far more important than cool. The steel components of a gun need not become soaked for rust to begin. Just a little moisture can initiate oxidation, which becomes visible rust in a couple days’ time.

Days on end of humidity can accelerate the process. That’s especially the case when humidity is combined with salt-laden air near seawater or certain industrial sites or products or sweat-soaked garments. The same goes for the steel cartridge cases.

Even more concerning to our beloved ammunition is the copper. Copper is a component of the brass used for many cartridge cases. Copper is also used as the jacket on most bullets. Exposure to any kind of moisture — including humidity and residual oils present on human hands — can initiate copper corrosion. Unlike rust, with its dry consistency that harms steel surfaces by causing progressively deeper pits, copper corrosion shows up as greenish, icky goo.

I digress here for a story about goo. My partner and I attended a concealed carry class a few years ago on an isolated, windy prairie in eastern New Mexico. It’s a place where you can find Model A Ford parts if you root around near the roadsides — a testament to the fact that not much gets thrown away in that part of the world. I think this fact is true because, well, where does one take the trash when you’re already at the end of the earth?

Anticorrosion bag holding ammunition in a .50 caliber ammunition can
The ammo can VPI bag is gusseted for a perfect fit inside the can.

During this particular range session, an overalls-wearing student produced from the backseat of his pickup a very handsome .38 Special revolver. It was pristine, with custom antler grips and a stainless finish. I held it and spun the empty cylinder around just for the pleasure of hearing and feeling that frictionless, new Smith & Wesson action. It was like silk.

Then, he pulled out the ammo. Looking at the faded box, the thought occurred to me that the box itself was probably worth more as an antique than the ammo inside. When he opened it, there was no doubt that was the case.

Anyone who’s been around guns and ammo for any length of time has seen a bit of that dark green stuff that begins to show up on ammo that’s been kept in a musty basement or other humid places. But this was a next-level, high school science fair-ready specimen. There was so much green goo (ok, chemists, I’m sure there’s a real name but be kind to the English major), on this ammo that two rounds came out when I tried to extract one from the cardboard holder.

API Anti-Corrosion VCI Gun Bag with shotgun buttstock
The API Anti-Corrosion VCI Gun Bag, shotgun version, unfurls from a slim package to a long envelope for even the longest of shotguns. My old 870 fits nicely with lots of length to spare.

It was thick enough to make Elmer’s glue look like a refreshing beverage by comparison. I turned to grab a paper towel from my car, so I could wipe a few rounds down for him. Before I could, the guy’s girlfriend put the tacky cartridges into the cylinder.  

The girlfriend fired one shot that landed in the nine ring — a first shot to be proud of. She started the double-action trigger press for the next shot. I waited. Looking at her finger on the trigger, I could see she was pressing hard, but the trigger wasn’t moving. The action was entirely incapacitated.

What had been green goo was now the green version of JB Weld. Rem Oil was applied in an attempt to remedy the situation. That stuff holds the same status in my range bag as WD-40 does in most people’s toolsheds. But my usual miracle spray was for naught.

10 ounce can of Rem Oil
The author is a firm believer that Rem Oil is something that belongs in every shooter’s range bag.

The action was STUCK, all because of failure to store ammo properly. That could have been prevented by something as simple as rotating that box in front of newer ones to be shot up before three or four decades passed. But alas, there we were.  

So, we were looking at a revolver with five live rounds in it. Although logic would indicate the cartridge under the hammer was already fired, such assumptions have been fatally inaccurate throughout history. The girlfriend finished her test with a loaner. Coveralls ended up (carefully) taking the gun to the nearest gunsmith, two hours away. In the end, the only damage was the waste of 49 rounds of once-good ammunition.

Protection from Corrosion

Don’t end up with gooey ammo or a rusted gun. Avoid storage in basements or other locations that are prone to accumulate moisture. Is flooding a possibility? It’s a good idea to mount a gun safe on boards bolted to the floor, rather than to the floor itself, to prevent exposure. In any case, secure some desiccant packets, which absorb moisture from the air, and distribute them liberally in your ammo and gun storage containers.

Military ammo cans, the metal kind, are best for protecting ammunition, but aren’t immune to moisture. Use desiccant packets inside ammo cans—they’re not a failsafe, but they can help fight humidity. Rotate boxes so that older ammo is shot up first. Annually, flip ammo boxes over to disperse slight caking that may have begun in the powder. Guns should be cleaned and oiled prior to storage. If any rust is found, it should be removed with solvent and a rag or, if more severe, 0000 grit sandpaper, then oiled to prevent further damage.

Modern technology has brought new solutions for corrosion prevention. There’s a new series of bags on the market that boast the ability to provide complete corrosion protection for a minimum of five years. Size and shape choices of the Anti-Corrosion VCI Gun Bags mean they can be deployed as ammo can liners, pistol, and magazine containers, or even long guns. This is accomplished through the release and containment within the bag of gases that prevent oxidation. Tough and sealed tight with Velcro, these bags provide serious protection.

loading a cartridge in plastic ammunition box.
Prior to long-term storage, wipe cartridges with a clean, dry rag, if you’ve handled them a lot.

While anti-corrosion bags seem like a no-brainer kind of solution, they are really for long-term storage on minimally-used guns and ammo. It’s recommended that they not be opened more than a few times for the best protection. For those who are storing a gun as a keepsake, or storing ammo as an investment for the future, whether for resale or for defending family and homeland, these are worth a serious look as a component of a longer-term storage plan.

“Keep your powder dry” is an old rifleman’s way of extending a caring salutation without sounding like a sissy. It’s also good advice.

What protection do you use for long-term storage of firearms and ammunition? Share your answers in the comment section.

  • three desiccant packets with a box of Remington ammunition
  • API Anti-Corrosion VCI Gun Bag with shotgun buttstock
  • Glock 17 pistol with digital camo grip frame in front a .50 caliber ammunition box
  • loading a cartridge in plastic ammunition box.
  • Anticorrosion bag holding ammunition in a .50 caliber ammunition can
  • 10 ounce can of Rem Oil
  • API Anti-Corrosion VPI Gun Bag for .50 Cal ammo can
  • A garage flooding due to storm surge
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 (11)

  1. Long term ammo storage is in acid free boxes from repackbox, then vacuum sealed in bricks that fit in 30 cal plastic ammo cans.
    Long term guns are stored in VCI bags or treated sil socks.
    Although… where is am, the average relative humidity is about 28%.

  2. What should the relative humidity be below to prevent corrosion and rust? My father thought me it should be below %40. I think the room of the safe or gun storage should also be controlled because when you open the safe door the safe interior inherherits the rooms RH.

  3. Sporting goods stores sell boot dryers, I placed a single small unit in the center of my colonial safe works great keeps RH at 35%.

  4. Invest in a basement dehumidifier. Or better invest in two. Remember, 2 is 1, 1 is none. Your whole outlay is maybe $400. Beats relying on desiccant. I run 2 dehumidifiers, lightly oil and even use desiccant cans in each safe.

  5. all my guns are stored in a gun safe, i use the Eva Dry dehumidifiers that are reusable by plugging into 110 outlet when they show they need to be recharged. Also and i think one very valuable asset is a hygrometer. It tells you the temperature and most important the humidity level in safe. Ammo is stored same way in metal cabinet with plastic ammo cans.

  6. I use vacuum bags to store my ammo. I line up 15 rounds of .223 nose to nose and then seal them up, they fit perfectly in the bottom of a .50 cal ammo box. I take other ammo out of the paper box and seal them up. Just to be safe I throw in a couple of Desiccant packets, to keep things dry outside the bags.

  7. My attempt at long term storage of ammo is to vacuum pack each box and store them in military metal ammo boxes. Please comment

  8. As an early warning system, you can put pennies on top of the ammo containers and hang a swatch of mild steel near the guns. (Clean them beforehand and don’t handle them with bare hands.) Any white or green on the pennies or rust on the swatch will alert you to a moisture problem before it causes real damage.

  9. My Father-in-law gave my wife and me several firearms that were each in a zippered insulated case.
    He lived in the NE and when removing one of the old revolvers from its case it has significant rust. I’m hoping it doesn’t go too deep and pit the areas so I can remove the rust, prep, and re-Blue it. He had them stored in the basement and no desiccant pouches. WRONG !!! Even in a Gun Safe you need to have a Dry-Rod or reasonable facsimile.

  10. One note about those desiccant packs – these things have limited water absorption capacity. Some have color indicators and some do not. A saturated pack is useless. They can be somewhat recharged by putting them in a oven set above 212F or 100C. Ideally they should be under vacuum while doing that but not many of us have vacuum ovens. All my guns are stored in those fabric sacks in a gun safe with a heating rod and desiccant modules. Since the modules still change color, it is indicating even with that the moisture is still getting in there but it keeps the humidity below 50%.

  11. Great article on storage. I live in Arkansas and the summers are brutally hot and humid. Sometimes you can cut the air with a knife it’s so humid. A neighbor of mine who was in the Vietnam War told me this is what Laos and Cambodia feels like all the time, lol. I keep my firearms clean and oiled and store all my ammo in containers with desiccants in them. You can find those desiccants in all kinds of packaging, like electronics etc. Some of my ammo is decades old and still looks new, so I guess it’s still good. I really don’t know what else to do.

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