“Carry ammo.” It’s the term used to describe the usually pricey, hollow-point ammunition most folks use for concealed carry but not usually for practice. And for all the above reasons, it often hangs around in our guns, safes, nightstands, and vehicles longer than the full metal jacket (FMJ) ammo that’s more likely to be burned in practice. A question that often comes up is “how long is too long to keep carry ammo?” Let’s discuss.
First, I’d like to address ammo that’s not “stored” in the same gun that rides around on your person daily. So long as there is minimal humidity and no exposure to solvents in its storage place, that ammo should last for something resembling forever. If you want to really ensure that’s the case, store it in humidity-proof bags made for the task, such as those made by Arms Preservation, Inc. Or at least toss several desiccant packets in the safe and/or ammo-can where they’re stored. For extra peace of mind, flip the boxes or container over annually to discourage and break up any caking that might occur with the gunpowder inside.
Of greater concern is the ammo in magazines that are part of your everyday carry setup. Do what you can to minimize exposure of them to sweat, salt water, and oils, whether those things come from you in the form of normal bodily functions, activities like sea fishing, or products like lotion or sunscreen. Other external conditions can affect the feeding of ammunition to the same effect that these things do. Clothing that sheds lots of lint or living in very dusty conditions are common examples.
The Bravo Concealment Torsion gun holster is constructed such that it does a great job of protecting ammunition from these hazards most of the time. But when worn against the skin, pretty much any holster will fail to provide 100% moisture protection in hot weather. Cloth or leather holsters, worn against the body, can retain moisture for hours after taking the holster off.
It's obvious that a daily or weekly wipe-down of gun and magazines goes a long way to protect ammo when carried in conditions like the ones named above. To be entirely safe, remove ammo from the chamber and magazines at least weekly and inspect it. Discoloration will appear after brass cases are exposed to moisture or oils, so it’s a good idea to wear exam or food service gloves when handling ammo. Tarnish doesn’t hurt, but can advance into a sticky, dark green goo if allowed to go on too long. Steel cases, on the other hand, might begin to show rust spots.
If any of the above ammunition conditions appear, it’s time to shoot up that ammo in practice. Do NOT load gooey, sticky brass cases! Cartridge cases that have been allowed to deteriorate to the point of having goo on them should be disposed of by sealing them in a Ziploc bag with a penetrating oil such as WD-40 generously applied for a few weeks before tossing them into the trash.
The best way to ensure ammo doesn’t deteriorate to a useless degree is to shoot and replace old stock on a schedule. Some agencies use 90-day intervals on which HP ammo is released for training purposes and replaced with new rounds for duty use. An easy way to track this is to schedule range time with your HP ammo on the first day of spring, summer, fall, and winter.
While 90-day rotation might be ideal, it is neither necessary nor affordable for many gun owners. If you’re wearing your gun daily and inspecting ammo and the condition of your gun on the regular, annual replacement is more than sufficient for peace of mind. If your ammo is exposed to virtually no substances/conditions that might cause deterioration, and if you keep your gun well-maintained, you can go even longer.
Have you run into ammo deterioration issues I’ve not mentioned here? I’d be interested to hear details in the comments.