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Shooting Old Ammo: Is It Safe?

shooting old ammo

It’s a question that has been debated for years – is it safe to shoot old ammo? The answer is generally yes, but there are a few things you need to keep in mind. First of all, factory centerfire cartridges have an amazingly long shelf life if they are stored properly. Secondly, many ballistics experts who have shot tens of thousands of rounds over the years report no problems with shooting 20- to 50-year-old ammo. Just make sure you store your ammo in a dry, cool place with low humidity and it should be good to go! However, there are some things you should keep in mind before taking aim at that tin can or paper target. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at shooting old ammo and discuss the potential risks and benefits of doing so.

One thing to keep in mind is that ammo is like any other type of consumable – it will eventually expire. The shelf life of ammo is directly related to the quality of the components used in its manufacture, as well as how it is stored. Ammo that has been exposed to high temperatures, humidity, or direct sunlight is likely to have a shorter shelf life than ammo that has been kept in a cool, dry place.

Another thing to consider is where the ammo came from. Certain ammo has reputations for being bad so you might want to do some research before taking it to the range.

What to look for when examining old ammo?

If it is exceptionally old or poorly stored, you should be more cautious. You should inspect each round before loading or firing. There are some classic signs to look for when examining old ammo:

  • Rusted or corroded cases or primers
  • Splitting on the case neck before or after firing
  • Damaged or missing primers
  • Bullets that have come loose from the case
  • Dented or creased cases
  • Powder that has turned to a solid clump
  • Difficult to load in your firearm

If you see any of these signs, it is best to discard the round. Ammo in this condition is not only unsafe, but it can also damage your firearm.

What are some of the risks of shooting bad or old ammo?

There is always a risk when shooting any ammo, and especially with surplus or reloaded ammo. The main risk is that the cartridge might not fire correctly, which could cause a dangerous situation. Hangfires – delayed ignition of the cartridge – are a common problem with old ammo. If you try shooting an old round and it goes “click” instead of “bang”, you may have had a hangfire. In that case, you will want to keep the firearm aimed downrange for several seconds. Some ranges ask that you wait 30-60 seconds before manipulating the rifle.

Another possibility when you hear a click instead of a bang is that you had a squib. A squib is a round that fires with very low pressure, which can cause the bullet to become lodged in the barrel. This can be very dangerous, as it can easily lead to a barrel obstruction. This is why it’s important to always inspect your ammo before loading it into your gun.

Bad ammunition can have catastrophic consequences. It could destroy your firearm and even maim or kill under worst case scenarios.

If you are unsure about whether or not a particular round is safe to shoot, it is always best to err on the side of caution and not fire it.

It is also important to note that much of the older surplus ammo out there is corrosive. This means you should clean your rifle right away after shooting it, otherwise the corrosive salts can cause serious damage to the bore and other parts of the gun.

DISCLAIMER: If you’re not sure about a round or bullet’s appearance or condition, don’t fire it. Discard of it properly. 

Conclusion – Shooting old ammo

With all that being said, most ammo will be fine if it was stored well. I’ve been shooting some 1930/40’s headstamped Turkish 8mm for many years. I still have some and shoot it on occasion. Getting close to 80-90 years old now and still works great – though it is corrosive.

If the ammo is in good condition and you’re just looking to have some fun at the range, go for it! Just make sure you keep an eye on your targets and always follow the basic safety rules. Have fun and be safe!

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