A few weeks ago, my wife and I saw a report on the recent hoarding in America. The focus was on food and other staples. The reporter had good information on shelf life and storage. After all, most folks have little idea of how to store foodstuffs for the long term or the true meaning of shelf life.
Some of the things that last longest are full of preservatives that we really don’t want in our bodies. I prefer my veins to remain flexible. My thoughts turned to the many other things people are hoarding such as ammunition, chemicals, and batteries. I knew some of the answers but not all when I began looking at the shelf life of common staples for shooters. Let’s look at shelf life and how it affects shooters.
Oils, Lubricants, Grease, and Solvent
When it comes to oils, lubricants, and solvents some of us like to stock up. We purchase gunsmith size containers. I have stored such material with mixed results. I use the lubricant very often. Stock refinishing chemicals and cold blue material stay on the shelf for longer periods.
Many chemicals have an expiration date stamped on the bottle. The expiration or use by date specifies the period of time the chemicals are at their best performance. That said, the expiration date is accelerated once the container is open.
There are a few tips that will help with economy and performance. Use the oldest solvents first. That makes sense, as does use partially used bottles before breaking open another.
Look at the expiration date and discard obviously useless chemicals. On occasion, I have found that material has evaporated or eaten its way out of a container. Remember, shelf life really begins when the chemicals are sealed in the container at the factory.
I have considered my own experience and taken into account manufacturers’ recommendations. Most products have a shelf life of three years. Plenty of problems have occurred with chemicals stored for significantly longer periods. Temperature also affects shelf life. The chemicals should be stored in a dry storage space. Extreme heat affects chemicals and cold may as well. It is common sense but read the directions and storage instructions.
Once the product is opened, shelf life is immediately affected. Be certain to reseal the can or bottle as soon as possible. Be certain the container is properly sealed. Don’t leave the lip cocked at an angle, seal it properly with each use.
Some material, once used, finds its way into the grooves on the container and the cap and may seal the two together. Don’t be afraid to use plyers and tap the lid on a hard surface before opening. When you reseal the lid, make it hand tight and possibly turn it again with pliers. This makes for a tight effective seal.
Sure, some materials will last much longer. It depends on the quality of the seal and the container. Plastic is the least desirable for long-term storage. Metal is the best choice for long-term storage. Glass bottles are at least as long-lived as metal with a good seal but are more subject to fracture.
Kydex holsters are impervious to oil, solvent, and moisture. They are more subject to breakage from wear than storage. Kydex has an indefinite shelf life — as far as I can determine. Leather is another matter. It depends a great deal on the original finish. Many of us like supple leather that, while tightly molded to the handgun, isn’t hard against the body.
Some leather is waxed much more heavily. Most of us have a box or drawer full of holsters. We may deploy a big gun, and a small gun, and we also carry a backup. We may carry the piece in a shoulder holster during the winter months. Quality leather isn’t inexpensive. A quality shoulder holster rig may run a few hundred dollars.
A strong-side belt scabbard will be $100 or just a little less. These holsters are animal material and may be subject to rot. They should be stored in a dry environment. In my experience wear takes effect before rot if you care for the leather with an occasional wipe down.
The problem is most often verdigris attacking brass fixtures and Chicago screws. Be certain to occasionally check holsters, and remove and clean the screws, thoroughly when this occurs. A quality holster may last five years, some last much longer.
Be certain to properly clean and oil these holsters occasionally. Heavily waxed holsters don’t need holster oil, but the natural finish and vegetable-tanned holsters may. The bottom line- if you keep a spare holster stored in the original packing and do not open it, it is good for a decade or more if stored in a dry place.
What hurts leather is extremes of temperature such as cold wet winters and hot dry summers. Storage in the attic is problematic, storage in a basement worse. Never store a firearm in a holster save for a short interval. Chemicals in leather may interact with chemicals used to finish the metal of a handgun.
Ammunition Shelf Life
I have heard more myths concerning ammunition shelf life than any other material. It is also unfortunate that many who hoarded a good supply of ammunition have chosen the worse possible type of ammunition to attempt to keep dry and viable. Modern ammunition was first manufactured about 1873 with the first central fire ammunition. Some were central fire but used an internal primer.
The advent of the smokeless powder era ushered in tremendous improvements. As an example, during World War I, Winchester was awarded a huge ammunition contract. The contract specified that the acceptable failure rate would be one in 100,000 cartridges. Winchester met the contract specifications, and today, quality control is much higher.
I have fired Winchester, Remington UMC, and Peters ammunition from the 1930s with generally good results. Function and powder burn was good. However, with old brass cartridges, occasionally the cartridge case lips crack or the case splits.
Corrosive primers are not ideal and should be avoided. I have seen these with verdigris leaking out of the primer. Of course, it is all about storage.
Store the ammunition in the original container in a clean, dry environment. Stored in this manner, there is no shelf life as far I can determine. I have fired handloads my son and I put up in the 1980s without any problem. I recently fired the last of a lot of .45 ACP 1967 Federal Match with excellent results.
However, some ammunition is more susceptible to moisture than others. I have found steel-cased ammunition more likely to have misfires and failures than brass-cased domestic ammunition after long storage. While I often see such ammunition at estate sales. I guess that prepper never used his ammunition cache, but I avoid it.
If you do not know how ammunition was stored, avoid the ammunition no matter how much of a bargain it seems. Unless, like the trend in the old USSR at one time, you grind it into fertilizer.
I should mention that perhaps 20 years ago, the Chief and I found 500 rounds or so of .38 Special ammunition in the basement of the PD. The cache was at least 20 years old. The boxes were wet and moldy. Some of the nickel-plated brass had turned that dull gray color that indicates age. Most were round nose lead Winchester but there was also some Remington hollow point ammunition.
Every round cracked off at the range. I used it as range ammunition for months. Always store ammunition in the original container or better yet, MTM Case-Gard plastic shells.
A combination of a sealed tin and modern brass-cased ammunition is a good choice. .22 Rimfire, due to its heel-based construction, is especially likely to be damaged in storage, so take particular care with this ammunition. I have seen .22s stored in old medicine bottles and paper bags. Avoid this.
Store the ammunition in a clean and dry environment, A moderate temperature with little deviation is the key. Break this rule and you have a problem. As an example, high temperature may cause bullet lubricant to run. Some hollow points have a lubricated core. Almost all lead bullets have some type of grease in the crimping groove. This will contaminate the powder charge.
The best ammunition to store is brass-cased loads with a good primer and case-mouth seal. To sum it up, shelf life is almost indefinite but environmental factors affect ammunition.
When it comes to handloads, I think we will use and rotate our components at a brisk pace. Handloaders are shooters, not hoarders. Primers must be stored in a dry environment in the original packing. It is dangerous to do otherwise.
Powder is a finite resource. Over time, powder will react to its packaging. If left in a plastic hopper, the powder will react with the plastic. This takes a few years. Never purchase older powder, even if sealed. You will have to chase download data for that generation of powder — if you are able to identify the year the powder was made.
A friend purchased a treasure trove of powder and loading gear a few years ago. The powder, in 1970s era cans, was inert and useless. The primers were dead. He wasted a lot of money. Even the loading dies — non-carbide to boot! — were rusted.
Be especially careful with loading components. As for myself, I never have enough to worry about storing. I load them and fire them. Once put into handloads, the components should last as long as any other ammunition — given careful storage.
Pistol and rifle magazines of sheet metal and plastic should not have a shelf life. Unpackage the magazines, load them, and fire. The rub is always storage. Cool and dry and in original packaging. I have quite a few AR-15 and 1911 magazines, and I use them often. For storage, I have MTM storage cases.
I don’t drop them on the feed lips. When the magazines become well-worn, they are discarded. Magazines are a renewable resource. I rotate my magazines.
I normally carry a 1911 and two spare magazines. I keep an AR-15 around with a couple of magazines at ready. Every month or so, I unload a magazine and replace it with one of the proven magazines in storage. The problem comes when you are storing loaded magazines. This is tough on magazine springs and sometimes feed lips as the pressure bears on feed lips.
It seems handy to store ammunition and magazines together, but this isn’t a good idea. A tip from a friend who is an engineer. When you load a 30-round AR-15 magazine with only 27 cartridges, you have not reduced spring pressure by 10 percent but much more like 15–20 percent from maximum compression. Keep magazines and ammunition separate.
Batteries are not created equal. I use a lot of camera batteries and keep a few on hand for the Chronograph. Combat lights and red dots also demand batteries. Purchasing the cheapest type on sale isn’t the best program. I also have a universal charger with several attachments that work well. Most of us would like to keep spares on hand.
Batteries are another product that is affected by temperature, the chemicals in the battery, and time. Batteries may discharge during storage. Higher temperatures make this more likely. Some of the chemicals have a concentration of ions that will seep through battery seals and dry the battery.
As a broad generalization, most camera and flashlight batteries have a shelf life of 1–2 years. Nickel-cadmium batteries will keep a charge for five years. Alkaline batteries may last 5–7 years, with the rechargeable alkaline types holding the charge just a little less. A top-quality Alkaline battery may have a shelf life of 10 years. Lithium batteries are the longest-lived with an expected shelf life of 7–15 years.
Firearms: Metal doesn’t have a shelf life, or does it? Firearms should be properly oiled with some type of protective coating for long-term storage, depending upon the climate and the mode of storage. Springs should be at rest. The action should not be cocked, and magazines should not be at rest.
As a shooter and researcher that may have lived a few years past my own use-by date, I found this research interesting. The bottom line is this, store items properly (in favorable conditions), and you will enjoy long shelf life.