Ballistics by the inch

Reprise — Storing Ammo Long-term: Because without Rounds, Your Gun Is Just a Poorly Designed Club

Prompted by my friends over at the Liberal Gun Club, this is another in an occasional series of revisiting some of my old articles which had been published elsewhere over the years, perhaps lightly edited or updated with my current thoughts on the topic discussed. This is an article I wrote for Guns.com, and it originally ran 8/17/2011. Some additional observations at the end.

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It’s a classic scene: Mad Max rolling a shotgun shell between his fingers, trying to see whether it is still any good.

Will it crumble? If it doesn’t, will it still fire?

Only his script-writer knows for sure.

But how much does it have to do with reality? How long will ammunition stay good, and under what storage conditions? Talk about classics – that basic question has been a standard of firearm discussions online going back to before there even was an “online”.

Whether you’ve just found an old box of shotgun shells in the back of your closet or you’re planning ahead for the Zombie Apocalypse, it’d be good to know whether you could trust those rounds to go bang when needed.

So, what’s the answer?

Well, it depends.

Chances are, if the ammunition has been made in the last century, and has been stored reasonably well, then it’ll still be good.

OK, let’s qualify, qualify, qualify that statement. Chances are, if it was a quality factory ammunition, made in the last century, and has been stored reasonably well, then it’ll still be good.

Chances are, if it was a quality factory ammunition, made in the last century using modern smokeless powder, and has been stored reasonably well, then it’ll still be good.

Chances are, if it was a quality factory ammunition, made in the last century using modern smokeless powder and with a non-corrosive primer, and has been stored reasonably well, then it’ll still be good.

Chances are, if it was a quality factory ammunition, made in the last century using modern smokeless powder and with a non-corrosive primer, and hasn’t been immersed in water or subject to prolonged sub-freezing temperature, then it’ll still be good.

Hmm. That makes it sound like there’s not a good chance, doesn’t it?

But I don’t mean to say that. The truth is, if you come across a box (or can or pallet) of ammo made after WWII, and the exterior doesn’t show signs of obvious damage or corrosion, it should be fine. I’ve shot plenty of such ammo over the years – stuff that is older than I am. And it’s likely that if the ammunition was made after the shift to non-corrosive primers in the 1920s – which covers most non-military ammunition – it’ll also be fine. In the West, even military ammunition made since WWII has predominantly been made using non-corrosive primers, and is likely very stable. Eastern bloc countries used corrosive primers until much, much later, which meant not only could they present a problem with barrel damage if the firearm wasn’t cleaned properly, but that there was a chance that the primer would become weak with age and wouldn’t completely ignite the gunpowder in the cartridge.

How about storage? I mean of ammo made recently – how should you store it to increase the chances of it staying good?

The biggest thing is to keep it from resting in water. Sounds like a no-brainer but you’d be surprised.

Some ammunition is sealed (tracer rounds, for example) after manufacture. But most of it just relies on the mechanical qualities of manufacturing to keep moisture out. This is actually pretty good, and serves fairly well in the case of metallic cartridges. You don’t have to worry about a brief exposure to water, from rain or dropping a round into a puddle or something. You should avoid allowing non-sealed rounds from sitting in water for a prolonged period, since such exposure could allow water to seep into the cartridge and compromise the gunpowder. It could also lead to case or primer corrosion, which could weaken the structural integrity or loading problems. So, if you want to store ammo for a long time, keep it in some kind of waterproof container. Double-bagging, using a vacuum sealer, and related strategies should all work fine.

Oh – did you notice that I specified “metallic cartridges” above? Yeah. That’s because plastic shotgun shells are not as water-tight. They’re still pretty good, given modern manufacturing tolerances, but you probably want to be a little more careful with them for long-term storage. Just sayin’.

One other thing to be aware of: freezing can cause some gunpowders to “crack” – to make smaller particles. While it may not seem to be a big deal, it can greatly increase the surface area of each small particle of the propellent. Which can cause it to burn faster. Which can cause over-pressure. Which can cause case rupture or even potentially the dreaded “ka-boom.”

So, there you have it, whether you’re wanting to have a rainy-day stash, just stockpile ammo when you find a good sale, or are wanting to be accurate for your next screenplay – take these things into consideration and you should be fine. Modern ammunition is generally of very high quality, and very reliable. A little planning ahead on your part should maintain that reliability for as long as you want.

Because it’s better to have a gun than a club.

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There’s isn’t a lot that I would add to this piece regarding old ammo. But since I wrote this we’ve tested something like an additional 20,000 rounds of new commercial ammo from the biggest manufacturers to boutique ammo from small shops. And I continue to be impressed with just how uniform the quality has been — it’s easily in the 99%+ range. It’s to the point where if commercial ammo fails to fire reliably, I would always first inspect the gun to see what the problems was, because it’s much more likely that the gun has some kind of problem than the ammo.

Which isn’t to say that all ammo will work reliably in all guns. I still advocate that for self-defense firearms in particular, you should always run at least a couple of boxes of a given type/brand of ammo through the gun before considering it sufficiently reliable enough to depend on to save your life. YMMV, of course.

Jim Downey

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April 9, 2017 Posted by | Anecdotes, Data, Discussion., Shotgun ballistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Effective shotgun ranges.

One of the questions we get regularly is asking whether we’re going to do some velocity/chop tests on shotguns. For a variety of reasons (both logistical & legal) we’ve decided that such tests are beyond the scope of what we want to tackle.

But that doesn’t mean that it’s not something of interest to us, collectively and individually. I’ve previously posted about tests which John Ervin at Brassfetcher has conducted showing the effectiveness of buckshot at 50 yards. And from personal experience, I knew that slugs from a 12 gauge are effective for hunting (or self defense) out to 100 yards, depending on the skill of the shooter.

But how about slugs at 200 yards? And how about DIY ‘cut shells’, which mimic slugs? And, say, if you did happen to hit a target at 100 yards with buckshot, would it be lethal?

Via The Firearm Blog, this video explores all these questions, and provides some VERY interesting answers:

It’s well worth the time to watch the whole thing. But the bottom line is that 00 Buckshot pellets would still be lethal at 100 yards, if you could connect with your target. And slugs? Easily to 200 yards, with a fair amount of control on hitting your target. At 300 yards, they’re still effective, but the trajectory is such that it’s much more difficult to reliably hit the target. And at 400 yards … well, watch to video to see for yourself.

Kudos to Iraqveteran8888 for conducting some really solid and informative tests, and sharing that information with the public.

 

Jim Downey

July 16, 2016 Posted by | Anecdotes, Data, Discussion., Links, Shotgun ballistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stereotomy*

Cross posted  from my personal blog.

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For those who don’t know, one of my other interests is handgun ballistics research. Specifically, in regards to how barrel length effects bullet velocity for different cartridges and loadings. Even if you don’t like guns, the physics behind ballistic performance can be very interesting.

And here’s a wonderfully graphic image showing those physical forces:

Ruger Alaskan .44 Magnum

Text from the source to go with this image (site is Finnish, and English is not the author’s first language):

Let’s talk a bit about .44 Magnum cartridge. Despite of being very close to diameter of .45ACP the .44Mag is totally different beast. Average .45ACP round generates ~650J of hit energy while .44Mag makes easily 1600J and can be pushed much more beyond that. This specific gun however cannot utilize all potential of .44 Magnum cartridge because of very short barrel. It simply cannot burn all powder. As you can see there is huge cone shaped spray of unburnt stuff flying in the air. With longer barrel show would be different.

Ok, you may have noticed the flames. They are something we haven’t seen before. Especially when you look picture below and huge left side flame in it. Interesting thing is that major amount of the flame is escaping between cylinder and barrel. That short barrel seems to puff bullet our so fast that powder mass just flies out unignited.

The site is filled with a bunch of great high-speed camera images of guns being fired. And it also has something else which is new to me: ‘natural stereoscopic’ images of guns being fired. Like this one:

Now, what do I mean ‘natural stereoscopic’ images? Well, this is pretty cool itself. Here’s a reference link & explanation from the Kuulapaa site:

Help: How to Free-View the Stereo Pairs

Each stereo view consists of two images, one for each eye. Free viewing is the technique that will allow you to direct each of these images separately and simultaneously into each eye. Once that happens, you are said to have “fused” the pair of images into a stereo view.

At the bottom of this page a stereo pair of images is loading with which you can practice. All the stereo pairs shown on this site are in the “cross-eyed” format (my apologies to all the “wall-eyed” people). That means that the first (leftmost) image is for your right eye and the right image is for your left eye.

There are then a series of practice image to show what he means and give you a chance to develop this viewing skill. It works fairly well for me, but does tire my eye muscles fairly quickly. Give it a try and see how you do.

Jim Downey

*Couldn’t resist. Lyrics here.

 

February 1, 2014 Posted by | .44 Magnum, Discussion., Links | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment