Saturday, July 14, 2012

Trust in God But Keep Your Powder Dry

Ammo and reloading stores.  Many of you have them. I was given a couple extra dies for 8 mm Mauser from a retiring friend recently. I already had some, so I called Tam to see if she wanted them.

The conversation went something like this (after the obligatory girl talk which involved Barkley, Mongolian hordes and why does the highlighting shampoo say "avoids brassy tones" like brassy is a bad thing?")

Me: "Before I forget, do you need a couple 8 mm Mauser dies?"

Tam - "I may have some, already, let me check. ." 

There's a pause and I hear her rustling around.  She then  starts listing off about two dozen different dies and I suddenly realized that comparing my reloading gear to hers was like comparing the closets of a nudist and Kim Kardashian.  But you have to start somewhere, and knowing how to store your product is as important as having the right tools and equipment to make it.

Modern ammunition is some pretty hardy stuff and it's going to take an extended period of humidity, or extreme heat and cold, before you would notice any noticeable performance change. I'm sure many of us have encountered folks at the ranges, shooting surplus ammo that's easily 50 years old and this is stuff that's been sitting in shipping containers in less than ideal climates for years .

And it shoots.

For the most part, people I knew who shoot a lot for practice and recreation, tend to use up their ammo before degradation is even a thought. But more and more, people are stocking up on ammo. The economy is a factor there, the cost of all metals continues to go up.. Politics plays into it. Remember after the last election, you couldn't even FIND primers. So for a multiple of reasons, more people are stocking up and more people are reloading their own, storing it for a rainy day or the zombie uprising. :-)

Ammo, stored reasonably well, will last a long time though.  I've posted some basic storage tips before but I've learned a few new things on my own and from others and hope it will help the beginner.  Powders and primers are, however, another story (and another post). The old corrosive primers were immune to about anything.

Not so much the new ones.

What should be of concern for you in regards to long term storage, outside of "how much is legal to store" and "where do I store", is the corrosion of the shell casings. years ago, I picked up a jet that had been in storage in the desert and brought it back to the powers that be one time to put it back into service. It met the inspection for the ferry but let's just say some problems developed on the flight home (I love my peanut gyro). Corrosion. You think in the desert it would have been fine. But what about all the hot days, followed by cold nights, hot days, cold nights. Corrosion folks.

In ammunition, corrosion is caused by too much moisture reacting with the primer or the brass casing. Either can make the round dangerous to fire. Your enemy here? Humidity. On the plus side, there are many, easy ways to store your ammo without excess effort or cost.

Proper storage will make up for a lot of variances in the elements. I think my ammo cans make a nice decorate statement What Og referred to after a dinner for friends in the midst of closing the sale of my house and moving - "Martha Stewart meets the insurrection". But many people prefer storage in paper (i.e. the boxes it came in). In your house, and mine which should have a reasonably controlled humidity level, storage in cardboard boxes should work fine for a year or two. Any more than that and you should invest in some good storage containers and some desiccant (in a pinch, some silica gel cat litter in a knitted up ladies nylon stocking  will work. 

Why the danger from humidity? Humidity equals condensation which can cause surface damage to the metals due to condensation. Let's say you store your ammo in a shop that's climate controlled (i.e. coolish) or it's been an unusually cool night. You open the door to haul some things in and out and in comes all that hot and humid air. You could get some condensation on cold surfaces. If your stuff is stored in cardboard. that should inhibit the humid air and that may be good enough. But if you suspect abrupt changes in humidity in your storage area, take a look at the bullet tops or other spots touching the cardboard, for paper does tend to pick up moisture.

With the right ammo can and proper packing, your ammo (and many supplies) will survive VERY long term storage.  During Desert storm, the soldiers were issued 5.56 ammunition that was manufactured at Lake City (LC 67) (manufactured when I was in grade school) that performed well in the field and showed no signs of degradation.

The life expectancy of reloads can be extended significantly with a light coating of nail polish around the primer and the case crimp.  I rarely wear nail polish, the last time I did, I came out, showed it off and was greeted with the words "mmmm you smell like a model kit!".  But it it is quite handy for  ammo that's going to be used in a wet environment to protect against inclement weather. (and a "seal a meal" defense pouch of ammo for a quick hunting or fishing trip where it's wet is nice to throw in a backpack).As for the polish?  Most folks use clear, but red for the zombie rounds is a nice touch..

Sealed storage is your best bet against "wet". GI ammo cans are great for this so long as you check the rubber seals. Even some old ones like this one that came part of a purchase of some old British .308 ammo were found to be still good for storage.

But how can you tell if type seal is still good? Heat something like a large stone in hot water (in this case a rock about the size of a man's fist that I found in a field excavation). Wrap it in paper towels, place in a Ziploc bag and seal in your ammo can. Let it cool. As the stone cools a good vacuum should be formed. If, when you open the can there isn't a noticeable vacuum (should take a really healthy tug and a "pop!") that's not the can to store your ammo.

If you're not comfortable storing ammo in metal cans  you can seal up your ammo in zip lock bags with desiccant and place them in some plastic storage containers from big box mart.  Why the comfort level comment? There's quite a bit of debate on the net as to whether an ammo can makes a nifty bomb in a house fire. I don't think most storage cans are going to get the kind of seal it would take to make a  "bomb".

"BOOM!" - likely no

"POP, POP, POP, (#)@ !" - yes.

Smokeless powder doesn't really "blow up" like one would think, it just burns really fast.  It's not like dynamite. C-4 also just burns unless you get some shock force as well, or so I'm told.  Those bunkers you see in documentaries are made for storing anything from 9 x 19 mm up to 2000 lb JDAM bombs, so all those blast deflectors and giant steel doors are NOT something you need if you're going to have a few ammo cans in your shop. Frankly,  if your house catches fire you're going to be more worried about replacing your ammo then it leaving a crater where your shop used to be.

Unless you have 10's of thousands of rounds (and here is where I put my LEO hat on and tell you to check on what's legal to store in your state) the extra fire risk from a few cans isn't all that high.  Most cans will contain a cookoff, or even several.  Don't store them in a room that looks like a  TV episode from "Hoarders" and have fire extinguishers in your kitchen and shop, but don't lose sleep over it.

But like computers and firearms, everyone will have their own  opinion.

Once you have some good cans with a tight seal, you want to pack the items therein with the lowest humidity possible. If the ammo is stored in the can loose, there's not much to trap humidity, just air. If you are storing in cardboard inside of the can, there are ways to "dehumidify" the materials before placing in the can. (Cardboard will hold in a surprising amount of moisture without actually looking "wet").

One trick is stack your ammo in the can leaving a golf ball size space in a corner. place a piece of cardboard there, and lay a golf ball size chunk of Dry Ice on the cardboard. Push the cover on but don't lock it, set the can aside, out of any breeze or air current, and where no one will jostle it. come back two hours later and seal the can. The CO2 being heavier than air, will displace it.

But for those of you fortunate enough to have a nice gun safe with a built in dehumidifier, place everything, packing materials, boxes, ammo all open, in the sealed safe with the dehumidifier. Let it sit there several days. Go shoot some old Clinton era small pistol primed .40 that you just now polished off.

Remove the supplies, those few days in there should have removed much of the humidity inside the packing materials, ensuring you are starting the storage process from a low humidity base.Place your ammo in the can with a few desiccant packets (I use the 1 ounce ones) and seal it up. If you have some humidity sensor cards to throw in there as well, even better.

Set it and Forget it? Not exactly. You want to check on your ammo. Ignore your girlfriend and she will eventually find someone else of better caliber. Let your ammo sit unchecked as to conditions and you may find yourself standing cold and lonely on the range with a misfire.

You want to check on it every 1 to 2 years (the ammo, not your girlfriend) and preferably when the humidity is at its lowest of the year. (i.e. winter). this will reduce the amount of humidity introduced to your can. Checking any sensor takes just seconds (look for less than 30% humidity). Replace the sensor and the desiccant. It's probably just a couple of dollars per can for those items, well worth it when you think what the ammo would cost if we got another 10 years of Democrats.

Finally - rotate your ammo.

It is important to note: do not store you ammunition longer than necessary. Mark your storage containers with the date you acquired it (not stored it) and type type of ammo. Using the old ammo first keeps your stock fresh Also mark it with something more than caliber. There IS a lot of difference in performance between different ammo's of the same caliber and most of us have ammo we use for "plinking" as opposed to self defense or a match.

Simple, inexpensive steps that will help keep your ammo in good shape come hell or high water.