Rifle Ammo Shelf Life: How Long Are Bullets Good For?

June 10, 2018

Contrary to popular belief Ammo does have a certain shelf life. It is usually long enough to outlive the owner, and most shooters will probably expend the ammo in target practice long before the ammo shelf life becomes a factor.

However, it is useful to remember that under certain conditions ammunition can deteriorate relatively quickly. In extreme conditions, even ammo that is stored normally can deteriorate in up to ten years.

Causes of deterioration

Moisture and exposure to oxygen deteriorate can deteriorate the lead in ammo and the explosive charge of cartridges.

Luckily, modern-day ammo is usually covered in metal that protects the lead and the explosive charge of the bullet from the air.

There are a couple of ways you can enhance this protection and help with long-term storage of rifle ammunition:

  • Use sawdust to protect ammo reduces humidity significantly.
  • Use containers with tight seals.

Conditions that can extend shelf life

Store your ammunition in a dark, dry room, and your ammo will last for a few decades.

If for whatever reason you want your ammunition to last longer, there are some other measures you can take:

  • Store ammunition in a dark cellar with the humidity-controller device may prolong ammo shelf life. Cool and dry locations are always a good idea for storing general ammunition and other types of ammo like shotgun shells
  • Keep ammo in vacuum-sealed containers. This will preserve ammunition almost indefinitely. Putting these containers in a gun safe will also ensure that they are protected from the elements and also adds an extra level of security.

Other Concerns


Most manufacturers normally that ammunition remains viable for a minimum of a decade, and if care is taken shelf life can expand to up to two decades or more.

In reality, the question is not about the maximum shelf life of any given ammo. The real question is about the conditions the shooter’s faces and if he or she allows that to affect their ammunition.

Under combat conditions, a soldier’s basic load of ammunition may be regularly exposed to rain, water, or extreme temperatures. However, given the robust nature of modern ammunition, the relatively short-term exposure to these sorts of conditions likely will not adversely affect the bullets.

Hunters, while they should take care to keep their ammunition dry, also need not worry about temporary exposure to the elements.

Remember, though, this exposure can shorten shelf life.

Practical tips

When hunting, consider carrying some sawdust and liberally using it in the containers you store your rifle rounds in. Airtight containers are ideal.

Keep ammunition out of the direct rays of the sun and store in your tent or in the shade to protect the rounds from extreme heat.

Keep your ammo away from heat sources too, like a generator or your vehicle’s engine. Military ammunition cans are readily available and are great containers to use to store your ammunition.
If you have a lot of ammunition in storage, rotate it and use your oldest ammunition first.

Final Word

Though most rifle ammo is practically indestructible and has an average shelf life of at least a couple of decades, it is wise to follow certain advice for their storage and preservation. This is particularly useful when we know access to ammo might be limited or when we foresee particularly extreme weather conditions.


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