Ammo Storage DOs and DON’Ts

Before a time of serious crisis, the survivalist should start collecting ammunition for every firearm that they own or intend to take with them.

Given the nature of social collapse, it is best to avoid drawing attention to yourself while building your ammunition supply. You will also need to exercise caution in practicing skills, and buying other defense items that may be needed later on.

Buying Ammunition, Equipment and Tools

Make a point  to buy your ammunition a little at a time each payday; and also buy your ammunition at many different stores instead of just one. If  you purchase the ammunition at a gun show, shop around for the best price. A lot of times people buy name brands out of habit instead of looking at all of the brands.

Research the ammunition manufacturers, and keep a running list of price comparisons. In many cases other brands are cheaper, but their standards of manufacture are at the same level as the brand names. Buy some to test in your weapons to see which works the best. You can also buy ammo by phone, order blank, or on the internet,  and then have it shipped to you by freight. Remember, though, there will always be an address trail through the shipper or the seller that reveals your purchase.

Even if the transaction goes through smoothly, a raid on the seller’s shipping books or detailed financial/banking transactions can reveal your information and trigger an investigation, especially if it is defined as illegal in your area.

No matter where you buy ammo from, here are some important things not to do:

  • Do not buy ammunition that has a box date over 10 years old,
  • Do not buy if the box or carton is ripped, broken, or the seal is not intact,
  • Do not buy loose ammunition that you personally have not checked over,
  • Do not buy any ammunition at a super low discount  price because you may be buying ammunition “seconds”, production rejects, or stolen inventory.

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How to Store Ammunition

The best way to store ammunition is in an air-tight and water-tight ammo can in a cool dry area. Regardless of the ammo can size, always include stay dry packets to manage any condensation that may form.

A 50 caliber ammo can  usually holds between 500 to 1000 rounds of Centerfire ammunition depending on the caliber being stored in it. The same size ammo can can also be used to hold approximately 2000 rounds of .22 LR ammo, or 200 12 Ga shotgun shells. I also like the handles on the 50 caliber ammo cans because you can carry 2 to 4 cans at one time (as long as that is within your carrying capacity).

Another good ammo can is the 20mm. It can hold the contents of about four 50 caliber ammo cans, but may be too big and heavy for one person to manage. These ammunition containers are better used for storage at the actual base camp.

Some bulk ammunition cans or tins are already sealed, preserved, and ready for storage. These ammunition cans or tins can be opened with a large can opener that is usually supplied, by using a bayonet, or other heavy knife. This ammunition is usually packaged or boxed in a set number of rounds for the specific weapon that it is to be used in.

Things Not to Do When Storing Your Ammunition

  • Do not store ammunition in a hot, cold, or wet conditions without proper containers,
  • Do not bury ammunition in the ground without proper containers,
  • Do not hide ammunition in easy to find places,
  • Do not over pack ammunition into very heavy containers.

What is the Shelf Life of Ammunition?

The shelve life of ammunition is how long it can be stored before it starts to break down. Some things to check for:

  • On full metal jacket bullets, is there rust or other corrosion?
  • Rust or discoloration on the shell casings
  • Corrosion in and around the primer pocket or on the primer itself.

When to Replenish Your Ammunition

Survivopedia Ammunition StockpileFor each of your firearms you should have a set number rounds for it.

As a rule the oldest ammunition should be used first if there are no signs of ammunition break down. Use this ammunition for practice and training.

Replace the used ammunition with new. Inspect the ammunition can seals, hinges, and lock down system. If all is good, then use this ammunition can.

Write on the ammunition can ammo type, caliber, and date bought so you know the age and quantity of your inventory.

Why Reload Your Ammunition?

Reloading is essentially an ammo recycling and alteration method that can be used only with certain types. When you reload ammunition you have better quality control over the selection of the components: the bullets, cases, powders, and primers. With reloading, you can also custom  tailor the ammunition to a particular firearm for the best accuracy and performance.

When you buy your components in bulk, it is also possible to lower the cost per round of ammunition. When your are first learning to reload, it is important to have a face-to-face mentor. This individual should teach you the safe way to reload ammunition.  (Note explicit directions are not given in this article. Consult an appropriate reloading manual and work with a mentor so that you remain safe and learn how to reload properly.  Often, what looks simple on paper can turn into a disaster if even one step is overlooked).

How to Reload Your Ammunition Safely

  • Always follow the manufacturers printed step by step instructions in the presence of your mentor.
  • Practice with dry runs until you become familiar with the reloading equipment, and you feel satisfied that you are ready to begin to reloading live ammunition.
  • For Centerfire ammunition reloading, choose the best smokeless powder and bullet design to use from the reloading handbook. This book reveals minimal to maximum bullet and smokeless powder weights.
  • For shot shell ammunition reloading, select smokeless powder and shot size to use from a shot shell reloading handbook. This handbook will list minimal to maximum shot charges and smokeless powder weights.

Tips and Equipment for Reloading

For Centerfire Pistol and Rifle

  • Reloading manual: This book gives the reloader all of the important data to safely reload all of the popular centerfire pistol and rifle ammunition. It covers bullet weight, powder charge, type of primer, average velocity, and type of shell case.
  • Reloading press: This is the most important tool in the reloading process. The press gives the reloader the the mechanical advantage and a platform to deprime the case, full case resizing, seating of primers in the case primer pocket, aiding with dispensing the powder charge when using a powder measuring device, and seating the bullet.
  • A good manual balance powder scale to measure the smokeless powder charge. This scale when balanced will give you a very accurate measurement of smokeless powder to be used safely in the bullet casing.
  • Bullet case lubricant kit: If the bullet cases do not have a thin coating of lubricant there is a chance that it will get stuck in one of the reloading dies.
  • Bullet case trimmer: When a bullet fires, the case expands just a little. After a couple shots the bullet case becomes too long to be safely reloaded and must be shortened back to a safe length.
  • Case measuring ruler: The ruler tells the reloader the exact length of the case. Next check the measurement against the go, no go table in the reloading manual. If the case is to long to use, cut the case back to specs with the case trimmer.
  • Reloading bullet trays : These trays are designed to hold the bullet case in the up right position so they do not fall over in the reloading procedure. They come in sizes for either centerfire pistol or rifle cases.
  • A good set of reloading dies and a shell holder: For each caliber of ammunition that you reload there must be a set of reloading dies with the corresponding shell holder.

My personal pick for a reloading system is the RCBS Rock Chucker Supreme Master Reloading Kit. Priced at $349.99 is an excellent value for a complete starter system. The only thing required with this kit is a set of dies and shell holder for each caliber that you are going to reload.

Rifle 2 die sets run between $77.95 to $92.95 each depending on caliber. Shell holder are priced at $14.95 each. Pistol 3 die carbide sets are are $65.95 each in all the popular calibers. Shell holders are priced at $14.95 each. This whole reloading system can be stored in a footlocker for a fast bug out.

To Reload Shot shells:

  • A good shot shell reloading manual: This manual gives the reloader all the necessary information to safely reload all of the popular shot shells. This manual covers powder charge, shot charge, type of primer, and type of shot shell casing.
  • A good reloading press: This is the most important tool in the shot shell reloading process. This press gives the reloader the mechanical advantage and a platform to deprime the shot shell, prime the shot shell, dispensing a powder charge when using a powder measuring device, lines up and inserts the wad, measures and inserts the shot, and crimps down the the top of the shot shell.
  • A powder and shot bar: This bar holds the bushings that measure fixed powder and shot weights to be loaded in to the shot shell.
  • A good manual balance powder scale: This measuring device gives a very accurate measurement of the smokeless powder charge to be used safely in the shot shell.
  • Reloading shot shell trays: Used to hold and organize the shot shells when finished reloading.

My pick for a shot shell reloader is the Lee Load-All Reloader. They are made in 12Ga., 16 Ga., and 20 Ga. Each of these reloaders are priced at $57.99 each. The only thing you might want to add is an optional primer feed.The 12 Ga. and the 20 Ga. will reload 2 3/4 and 3“ shot shells. The 16 Ga. reloader only reloads 2 3/4 shot shells.

Things Not to do When Reloading Ammunition:

  • Do not drink alcoholic beverages,
  • Do not smoke or have open flames burning,
  • Do not eat while reloading,
  • Do not use cell phones or text while reloading,
  • Do not watch TV,
  • Do not use a digital scale, no power no work,
  • Do not try to reload 22 rimfire ammunition – it is beyond the scope of this article, and also beyond most people that do reloading.

Final Words

In conclusion, the prepper must know how to collect, store, replenish, and reload ammunition. These simple techniques will help you survive and maintain the vital ammunition supplies that you own. Try to make your storage containers small, light, and easy to carry.

Be a knowledgeable buyer when it comes to buying ammunition, storage containers, reloading equipment, and reloading components. Learn how to reload all the types of ammunition for all of the weapons that you own. Be safe and keep your powder dry.


Written by

Fred Tyrrell is an Eagle Scout and retired police officer that loves to hunt, fish, hike, and camp with good friends and family. He is also a champion marksman (rifle, pistol, shotgun) and has direct experience with all of the major gun brands and their clones. Fred refers to himself as a "Southern gentleman" - the last of a dying way. He believes a man's word is his bond, and looks forward to teaching others what he has learned over the years. You can send Fred a message at editor [at]

Latest comments
  • A cheap insurance policy is to add some clay desiccant packs to your ammo can too.

    • And use a food- saver vacuum packer

    • Old ammo is not necessarily bad ammo. I have bought 40 year old Greek HXP and Yugoslavian Military Surplus ammo that is as good as current factory ammo. Unfortunately, since 2008, decent looking surplus Military ammo seems to have dried up.

      I also have some factory ammo that I have stored for over 30 years that is still as good as new. Back about 30 years ago I remember reading in the American Rifleman Magazine that Canadian Gun Clubs were having rifle matches using old Martini-Henry rifles using 100 year old .577 -450 Snyder ammo.

      If it is stored well, it will last.

  • What if you have an assortment of full metal jacket and normal brass casing bullets.

    • Your bullets should be sorted by caliber first, then by type (FMJ, semi-jacketed, hollow point, lead, etc.) next, and then by weight. It is very hard to tell the weight difference between 150 grain, 165 grain, and 180 grain bullets of the same type with the naked eye. You can find digital scales that weigh in grains for less than $25.00. A good digital caliper can be had for under $20 so you can tell if you have some .270 bullets mixed in with your .308 or .311

      • I Truly agree, Good quility tools give you better chance of good quility results.

    • Keep all sizes and types of shells seperate, best to use same type of shells for all your reloading, this keeps things constant and once you set up your reloading system you have less changes, that could possibly cause errors or problems, best to use brass shells not steel or fmj, they seem to last the longest and give the most reloads per shell, I’ve been reloading for 37 years and have gotten the best results from brass, standrad not Military.

  • Another thing to consider is casting your own bullets. You can cast lead bullets from used wheel weights but keep the velocity subsonic.
    You can push the velocity to normal rifle velocities if you add some Tin and Antimony to the alloy then put a copper gas check on the base. This will prevent leading.
    It is pretty cheap to stock up on gas checks and wheel weights.

    • Beware of making bullets out of wheel weights! Yeah, you’ll hear people say over and over that it works, but, if you know the metalurgy behind it, you know its bad for your guns. Wheel weights are made, primarily, of lead but have some tin and too much antimony. This excessive amount of antimony causes problems with the toughness and ductility of the bullets and it is also abrasive if the percentage is too high.

      I’ve been moulding my own bullets out of scrap, crap and purchased ingots for going on 45 years. My advice is that you should not use more that 50% wheel weight metal or you’ll have problems. My specific process is this: I load my 20lb pot with 7lbs wheel weights. I then add about 7lbs of pure lead or tin/lead allow. I cast a few small ingots to see the luster and check the basic hardness. If its harder than I like, I add pure lead to soften it up. If its too soft, I add tin to harden it up. I prefer around 1:20 (tin:lead) or BHN of 10. With lighter loads I use some 1:25 stuff.

      I never heat treat. Always just let them cool normally.

      I’ve also found that cast bullets often are more accurate in pistol loads if you DO NOT SIZE THEM. Instead, use liquid Allox for lube and skip the sizer. NOTE: if you intend to keep the ammo for long, be sure and wipe off the base of the bullets. The liquid allox can kill some of the powder making old loads a bit “variable”.

      Good luck!

    • Have you tried to get any used wheel weights lately? Lead is almost nonexistent. They are using aluminium now. Aluminum!!!???
      EPA has been shutting down lead smelters. I think there’s only one left in CONUS. Pretty soon you’ll have to use imported lead. Hang on to those toys imported from China.

      • The problem is that the grabbers have given up on guns per se. They now go for the ammuniton. Self casting “wheel weights” are now Zinc. They melt at a higher temperature vs. lead and contain a lot of slag for the pour. Don’t give up.

  • Could you comment on gun powders and primers for reloading, ie expiration, storage. Should you use reloading specs contemporaneous to the purchase date of the powder?

  • Having been a reloader for over 30 years I would like to add one small point:

    To make your rounds water proof, like military ammo, you must seat the bullet with some type of sealant such as bees wax. Also, seal around the groove between the primer and case with something akin to clear finger nail polish. Colors can be used to differentiate between say, practice ammo (light loads) and full power loads for combat use.

    Your color coding can make it easier to collect only the brass you personally fired. Keeping good records for the number of times you reload is essential to making reliable, safe ammunition.

    Test your combinations by immersing the finished ammo in water for at least a week, then try it. Better to find out now than later if you didn’t do it right.

  • There is a vast difference between military and civilian ammunition. Military ammunition is sealed around the bullet and the primer. In most cases hand loaders do not seal ammunition. Commercial shotgun ammunition of a premium grade, intended for waterfowl hunting, is waterproofed to some extent. I used military ammunition loaded in the twenties during the 1950’s for competition with a .30-06. Fine, very accurate ammunition it was. A box of .38 Special reloads kept in the glove box of a car probably would not survive the first hot day without starting to bleed bullet lubricant, if loaded with lead bullets. With ammunition, all things are relative and I fully realize a short article like this cannot cover all the information acquired over a life time.

    • I’ve got 148 grn. wadcutter 38 spcl ammo loaded in the 70’s. I’ve had no problem with this, shoots as well today as it did then. Marty

  • You may scare some people of with your reloading die and shell holder prices. I routinely by my dies for about half of the stated prices, especially the rifle dies. Reloading is extremely important, not only to have a better product compared to most factory ammo, but also because it can be cheaper. I’ve been reloading for more then 40 years, and although the savings may not be as much as it use to be, there are still savings to be had. Once you have gained the necessary experience, try to buy your powder in bulk, say 8 lbs. vs. 1 pound. Buy your primers by the 1000’s instead of the 100’s. This is where you should really save the bucks. Marty.

  • 3 foot lengths of 3 inch pvc pipe with proper end caps work well for long term storage in a hide. Vacuum pack the ammo with desiccant pack in bags just big enough to fit the pipe. Fill the pipe and seal the screw cap with a good silicone caulking and burry. 6 inch pipe is also good for storing firearms in a hide. Be sure to clean, oil and use several desiccant packs before sealing and burying.
    Just be sure not to forget where you put it and be sure someone else you trust also knows.

  • Thank you, Fred, for all of your useful knowledge. I enjoy your information the most. Keep up the good writing and the good information.

  • This simple method will keep ammo fresh for many years:

  • There is a reason like the Front Sight training facility don’t allow Russian and Chinese ammo. It is not safe. Yes, you may not have had problems with it, but many have. Would you want you trust your life on it during a survival incident. Not to mention the fact it is steel cased, steel bullet. How long will your barrel last compared to copper bullets? Use quality rounds that you can trust your life on. In a survival scenario, that’s what you will be doing. In this case, you really do get what you pay for.

  • “Do not try to reload 22 rimfire ammunition – it is beyond the scope of this article, and also beyond most people that do reloading.”

    “Most People” in this case means 99.99999%

    (…also, most people reload for one main reason: cost. I can load a box of 30-06 for less than 10% of standard factory ammo without even trying to get discounts or buying them in bulk. Mine are better quality and print better groups than MATCH AMMO!!! If you compare my cost match ammo, its more like 5% the cost.)

    Since I’m one in a million, I can tell you that you really need to know what you are doing and its still difficult. After you’ve jumped all the hurdles, jumped all the ditches, climbed all the mountains, crossed all the lines, broken all the laws, escaped from hell and then snuck *BACK*IN* and you think you know all there is to know about reloading, its time to try to reload 22 RF ammo.

    If you intend to reload mass quantities (I didn’t) you will need several different, specialized tools:

    Rim Restorer – I tried making one. It sort of worked but it was more work than just making sure the first dent wasn’t where the firing pin was going to hit the second, third or fourth time.

    Special Bullet Molds or Forming Dies – 22rf rounds use a “heeled” bullet. very different from the seated bullet of other RF and CF carts. I modified bullets on a lathe. It worked but was very labor intensive.

    Non-Corrosive Priming Compound – Its a plus. Its more expensive and harder to make, but, I’m telling you right now, if you use the corrosive stuff it will corrode up your bore so fast if you don’t clean it IMMEDIATELY, that you’ll wish you had never experimented with it.

    I did it on a dare. I won. But, you’re wasting your time unless its your only avenue. But a 17 Hornet or a 22 Hornet if you need that small of a case and go from there.


  • I only did a speed read on the article so i don’t know if it lwas mentioned in the part about buying ammo, but if you’re worried about the G ‘tracking ammo purchases, which you should be, then use CASH only for your ammo purchases.

    Especially from big box stores like Cabellas or Walmart which sell a lot of ammo. They keep all their inventory records for years. So it’s literally child’s play to find out who bought what and how much over the years if you’re using checks or credit cards, and now has a stockpile hoard subject to direct confiscation during a Martial Law scenario…

    And because WE, the Stupid Sheeple let them pass a National I.D. card Act in 2005, which is now reaching full agenda based implementation nation wide…They WILL KNOW where you live!

  • What about safe storage of ammo in your home – in case of a fire. What would be some good practices to prevent the ammo from exploding?
    Put ammo in chemical or flammables safety cabinet?
    Should it all be in one location, or scattered about in smaller piles for the event of a fire?


    • Believe it or not, the rim fire is the only worry you have. Center fire is not a problem. AS the fire intensifies, center fires get hot and the primer backs out of the case. Rim fires don’t have that option. When the primer backs out, the cartridge just burns, does not explode . I’ve seen center fire cartridges go off in a house fire, but it’s not at all like a rim fire. A rim fire can shoot you, a center fire cannot, although I’ve seen shrapnel from center fire cartridges going off in a fire. But the case shrapnel is nothing like a bullet from a case,and a fire fighters turnouts will easily repel he shrapnel. As the pressure builds in a center fire, the primer backs out of the case, therefore the powder just fizzles for the most part. If the cartridge does go off, the primer is the first thing to back out, so the bullet is very low key. This info comes from experience as a firefighter.

  • What about storing it near your bed?
    Is the lead a concern for health?

  • Best practices for ammo storage amp; where to avoid storing ammunition to keep in prime condition for use.

  • Ammo should be treated just as carefully as the weapon it goes in. I also like the tip about finding the best deals and buying a little with each paycheck – that ensures you’re getting the most product for the least amount of money. Thanks for sharing!

  • If you don’t maintain your ammo, if you neglect it, your ammo’s useful shelf life is significantly reduced. Which is a travesty, because ammo will be the lifeblood when SHTF. Remember, in a prolonged survival scenario, he who has the most firepower; often wins.

  • I live in an area with high fire danger. I have read accounts of firefighters backing off and letting a structure burn to the ground if they determine there’s ammo stored inside. Please comment on the use of a fire safe or other means to be able to safely store ammo under these circumstances.. Thank you.

    • This is only a real problem for rim fire cartridges. Pressure builds up from the heat and the since it doesn’t have a way for the pressure to release, the round goes off. When center fire rounds heat up from the fire, the pressure causes the primer to get pushed out of the round before detonation. I have recovered center firecasings from structure fires which were split and lost some of the metal, like shrapnel, but with full turnouts, it’s not likely to do any damage. This info is not only my own experience, but is also taught in fire investigations classes from a large fire dept. in So Cal.

      • Excellent. Thanks very much.

  • It really helped when you said to not pack ammo in heavy containers and to seal them off while storing them. I’m looking to get a lot more ammo since my brother wants to go out shooting this weekend in the desert. I’ll remember these tips so I can store the extra ammo in a safe place in my house.