A bin of bullets ready for loading

Ammo Handling

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By Glen Zediker:

Last time we talked about case lube, and also about getting it gone. This time, let’s talk about storing ammo. Concerns and cautions aren’t necessarily only applicable to those looking to store a lot of ammo for a very long time. Nope. Ammo can “go bad” pretty quickly.

RCBS ammunition storage container
I use these pretty much the same as everyone. However! This is handy convenience but it’s not really air-tight storage. Old-school mil-spec ammo boxes work best for rounds to be left up on a shelf. They are reasonably priced and reliably dry. It’s excess humidity, not so much temperature (too warm or too cool), that does the longer-term damage to ammo and components. (Outside) air-tight is the trick.

Tough to see good efforts go to waste. Remanufactured ammo has a shelf life, but I can’t say exactly what that will be for everyone. “Cool” and “dry” are our allies, but, here in Mississippi, and in many other similar climates, that’s tough to find without climate-controlled storage.

Moisture, mostly, is the enemy. Propellants can last for years and years and years, if they’re stored air-tight. When a propellant goes bad, it smells bad. Very acrid. Or it gets moist, and then its ruined too. Use it for garden fertilizer (honestly). Primers likewise need to be stored away from contact with outside air.

After time, it’s common for reloads to develop “stiction,” which is a freezing of the bullet in the case neck. Some call it a “cold-weld.” Despite reasons some have provided to describe a near-alchemy-like relationship between brass alloys and copper alloys, it’s more simple than that. All this is, is corrosion.

Mil-Spec ammunition box

The chemically-responsible source of the corrosion is from touching the bullets with the fingers. If you’re loading for extended storage it might be wise to avoid epidermal contact with the bullets by wearing latex-examination-type gloves when you’re seating. Get them at a drug store.

A work-around if you encounter a stiction condition is to seat the bullets just a tad deeper. This breaks loose the bond. It’s liable to take a good 0.005-inches additional dialed into the bullet seating die to hear the “pop.” And it will make a pop. This is the “trick” I use to pull down Lake City .308s to break the “seal.” Moving the bullet, therefore, may negate this sticking, and it’s then not likely to reoccur. It would be easy enough to leave bullets in loaded rounds standing tall and then finish the seating to desired length prior to firing them, but the only problem with this tactic (including “popping” the seal) is if there is stiction afoot the resultant increased force to seat may cause change to the case neck/shoulder area, possibly also damage to the bullet. It takes some force.

Stiction is rare in commercially-loaded ammo. Folks who have pulled down thousands of mil-spec bullets from ammo loaded for decades don’t encounter it. Again, it’s from touching the bullets. Factory ammunition, by the way, is frequently assembled with a sealant. Likewise, neither cases nor bullets are normally handled during the process of loading at an ammo factory. It’s automated.

A bin of bullets ready for loading
Coated bullets don’t seem to develop this condition of “stiction” in the case neck, although they still need to be stored in air-tight containers because the coating can attract moisture that’s been known to corrode the bullet underneath the coating. Moly coating (molybdenum-disulfide) contains sulfur and sulfur dioxide, and those react with moisture in the air to produce sulfuric acid, and that eats metal. I prefer boron-nitride as a bullet coating. Works the same, meaning just as well and in the same way, and fewer worries. And, no, lubes and waxes are not even a little bit wise.

I’ve had this happen, and the results (on this batch) were blown primers. There was that much more resistance to overcome at the moment of bullet release, and less than a millisecond is moment enough to spike pressures. This, indeed, is a problem, and it’s very important for those looking to rely on a stock on hand. Inspection of these pulled bullets and case necks showed a few fingerprint whorls on the bullets and the case neck insides showed bright patches where, evidently, the bullet had been frozen in place and abraded the surface upon removal. Stiction doesn’t happen overnight. The rounds I encountered this in had been loaded, though, for only about two years. Not really a long time. You might want to check a couple of rounds if you have any that have been sitting back a spell and see what you find, especially if you see any corrosion on the exposed bullet. As suggested, an easy check is seating a bullet a few thousandths deeper and seeing how much resistance there is compared to that on a fresh loading.

Don’t leave propellant sitting out in a meter! Empty it back into its canister at the end of each loading session. Keep it sealed. I’ve done enough weight-tests to tell you that it soaks up moisture in a hurry.

The preceding is a specially-adapted excerpt from the new book, “Top Grade Ammo,” by Glen Zediker. It’s soon to be available at BuyZedikerBooks.com or call 662-473-6107.  You can also find Glen’s other works at Midsouth Shooters Supply’s.

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12 thoughts on “Ammo Handling”

  1. I get it with the moisture but here in NM at 7000 feet and a RH that averages around 18%
    I do not worry to much about it

  2. Alternately, you can live in a state with zero humidity issues, store your ammo in a G.I. ammo can forever and live happily ever after.

  3. I use the MTM ammo boxes with the rubber sealing ring to start with. Then I add two of the dessicant packs which have 40 gm of silica gel dessicant inside the aluminum boxes. They generally last about 6 months before they need recharging – longer if I am not opening and closing the ammo box to take out or put in additional ammo. But, to be extra cautious, I have a 3 month “change-out” schedule, where I replace all the dessicant in my 10 ammo boxes with fresh packs. It only takes about 15 minutes and I consider it time well spent to keep about $4000 worth of my hand loads in top shape.

  4. Ammo handling & reloading
    I would have to call boo on the latex gloves. Your hands perspire in latex gloves, the outside gets sticky and they do not last long at all handling brass and bullets.
    I prefer white dermatological skintight cotton gloves. I wear these after the final tumbler polishing right through the bullet seating and boxing. Your hands won’t sweat. The cotton keeps your brass & bullets free from oily fingerprints, which will ultimately turn black. When the cotton gloves get dirty toss in the washer. These cotton gloves cost about $3 at the drug store.
    I buy ammo boxes from a company called “repackbox (dot) com”. He sells good quality caliber specific cardboard boxes and gives you a pair of skintight cotton gloves with each order.

    To store ammo “long term” use GI ammo cans, and make sure the seal is intact.
    Pack the can the way you want it. Get your better half’s blow dryer, warm the interior & contents of the packed can. Warm it to the point the exterior of the can is warm to the touch; drop in a desiccant pack, close and lock the lid down. Warming the interior can and contents will remove moisture and expand the air. Hot air expands taking up more space than cool air. After locking down the lid the can & contents will return to room temperature. You now have an inexpensive vacuum-sealed can that will keep the contents fresh for many years.
    Just my two cents worth.

  5. Why not vacuum seal your ammo and primers. I do 20 to 50 rounds depending on the caliber . I do 200 primers per pack or 1000 then when I break the 1000 down in I reseal the rest.

  6. Ammo handling & reloading
    I would have to call boo on the latex gloves. Your hands perspire in latex gloves, the outside gets sticky and they do not last long at all handling brass and bullets.
    I prefer white dermatological skintight cotton gloves. I wear these after the final tumbler polishing right through the bullet seating and boxing. Your hands won’t sweat. The cotton keeps your brass & bullets free from oily fingerprints, which will ultimately turn black. When the cotton gloves get dirty toss in the washer. These cotton gloves cost about $3 at the drug store.
    I buy ammo boxes from a company called “repackbox (dot) com”. They sell good quality caliber specific cardstock boxes and give you a pair of skintight cotton gloves with each order.

    To store ammo “long term” use GI ammo cans, make sure the seal is intact.
    Pack the can the way you want it. Get your better half’s blow dryer, warm the interior & contents of the packed can. Warm it to the point the exterior of the can is warm to the touch; drop in a desiccant pack, close and lock the lid down. Warming the interior can and contents will remove moisture and expand the air. Hot air expands taking up more space than cool air. After locking down the lid the can & contents will return to room temperature. You now have an inexpensive vacuum-sealed can that will keep the contents fresh for many years.
    Just my two cents worth.

  7. I know… I grew up in Western Colorado. I sincerely did not know what rust looked like until I moved to Mississippi. Never had issues with storing anything in the dry.

  8. Some have commented about Vacuum Sealing the Ammo. A better approach would be to take a tip from the food storage Preppers. Get some Mylar Pouches (or bags), fill with ammo, then throw in some Oxygen Absorbers, collapse the bag, getting as much air out as possible, then seal well.
    There are some sites that will recommend the correct size for the bag/pouch you have. But, remember, plastic bags have microscopic holes. One day, that Oxygen Absorber will be consumed. So add in extras. My Food pouches use ~250cc. I put in from 600-2000cc Oxygen Absorbers. Wasteful? Maybe. But why chance it when it costs at most $0.50/per.
    Doing this, with food, will extend the life of food drastically.

  9. I agree with all on the latex… I don’t like wearing them. They are a solution, and I also agree that the linen gloves like auto-body repairmen use are more comfortable. I use a “rub on” case lube, though, so latex is really the only option for that.

    Again: ANYTHING that keeps the air/moisture away will help.

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