Buying a shotgun goes hand in hand with buying ammunition. People would either buy as much as they needed or buy a few more cases and take them to the shooting range to practice.
This all sounds reasonable, right?! The problem arises when these gun owners start buying ammunition in bulk so they can be prepared for anything and everything. Modern ammunition is not prone to damage and has a long life expectancy, but people still need to know how to keep the ammunition from going bad.
So, do shotgun shells go bad? Today’s guide will focus on shotgun shells and their expected life span. For those buying in bulk, we will also go over the best storage tips and tricks. We’ll even touch on the problems that may arise from shooting bad ammunition. If you want to learn more on the topic, stick around for the rest of the guide!
Do Shotgun Shells Go Bad?
You can easily find experienced gun owners who pride themselves on having 30-year-old ammo. Some aficionados even keep some collector items from when manufacturers first started making shotgun shells. Other owners who do not pay much attention to their shells would tell you that their shells last for five years or even less.
We wonder if they ever thought of the age-old question: “Do shotgun shells go bad?”. Some gun owners might have shotgun shells from years ago and still plan to use them without checking them for safety first!
Whatever the case might be, the shelf life of any shells or bullets, including shells for shotguns, would depend on the ammunition manufacturer. It would be written on the storage container or ammo box that comes with the ammo.
However, boxes can rip, or the writing on them can fade. Once this happens, you might not be able to distinguish the exact production and expiry dates.
At that point, you should know that the shelf life of ammo is usually around ten years. Depending on how you store and care for the ammo, you can make it last longer or shorten its life span by half.
But before we talk about proper storage, you should know that you can come across two kinds of shotgun shells. Back in the day, shells used to have paper hulls, but nowadays, ammo manufacturers use plastic hulls to prolong the shell’s life expectancy.
Paper hulls did not last as long because they were easily damaged by exposure to humidity or chemicals. Plastic hulls, on the other hand, are not as prone to damage.
You must be much more careful with paper ammunition and inspect it thoroughly before using it. The same can be said about plastic ammunition. If you see visible signs of damage, rust, or corrosion on the brass head, you should not use it.
Use only the unblemished ammunition kept in ideal conditions since production. That is a sure way to know you and your surroundings will be safe and secure when shooting that ammunition.
How to Keep Shotgun Shells From Going Bad?
One of the best things about modern ammo is that it can’t go bad quickly. Even so, a safe bet would be keeping your shells in ideal conditions. After all, the whole discussion surrounding guns is quite delicate and needs to be taken seriously. One wrong move, and you could be dealing with big problems.
Once you decide to get a shotgun and purchase some shells with it, you should start preparing its storage space. Here are some of the most important factors you need to consider before storing ammunition:
Keep at an ideal temperature
The powder used in a bullet or shell can deteriorate if it’s left in a place where the temperature is prone to fluctuation. Instead of exposing the shells to drastic temperature changes, you need to store them in a cool place where the temperature is constantly around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Anything above or beyond that would shorten the life span instead of prolonging it. The ideal temperature will make sure the shells stay in top shape. In that case, you will be able to use them long after that 10-year expiry frame passes.
Keep away from light
Another thing we recommend being mindful of is keeping shells away from direct sunlight. This means not leaving them out of the sun outside, but in a spot inside your garage or shed where sun rays cannot get to them.
The best thing would be to keep the shells away from windows and similar openings. This is because direct sunlight means more warmth and more warmth means quicker deterioration. So, putting the ammunition away from any natural light is a safe bet.
Keep in a dry environment
One of the main reasons shells might deteriorate is because of humidity. If left in a humid environment, the outer shell could easily be damaged, especially when it comes to cardboard hulls.
Moisture was one of the main reasons ammo manufacturers changed paper hulls with plastic ones, remember? But the hull is not the only part that can suffer damage from moisture. The same goes for gunpowder and primer. So, it truly doesn’t matter what kind of shells you have at home. It will always be safer to keep them somewhere where it is always dry.
It’s advisable to put the shells in a vacuum-sealed bag or a storage container where you also put silica gel packs. These two options are great for making sure water will not get to the shells, even in the case of an accident.
Use an airtight container
There are special ammunition storage containers that you can use to store the shells whenever you do not need them or if you buy them in bulk. Rarely do shells come with such containers from the get-go, so you will probably need to purchase a container on your own time. But at least you will use it often, making the investment worth it.
When selecting a container, we recommend going for one that is airtight and watertight so that the shells will always stay in top condition. Get a container that can seal shut easily but is large enough to fit as many shells as needed. This way, you won’t have to compromise convenience for safety.
These containers are great for garages and sheds as they fit perfectly with the surroundings. They will also make it impossible for intruders to find the shells easily, so you will not have to worry about anyone using them against you.
Keep steady at all times
If you have ever considered keeping a shotgun in your vehicle and storing the shells along with it, we advise you not to do that. This is because a moving vehicle will cause the shells to move around, making them hit each other constantly and roll around abrasively. They would also be susceptible to more warmth in a car, as temperatures can reach up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit on a warm day.
All this will only cause your ammunition to deteriorate, which is the least of your problems. Sometimes, more significant movements can cause the shells to go off, which could cause injuries or damage to the car. Think of the shock you could be in and how troubling it would be for you to get over doing unintentional harm to anyone or anything around you. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Keep away from chemicals
Similar to humidity, keeping the shells close to chemicals will cause deterioration of the gunpowder, making the entire shell unreliable. One of the things that could happen is for gunpowder to lose its features, making the bullet unusable.
In the other case, even a slight touch with some dangerous chemicals would cause the shell to explode, causing severe damage to its surroundings.
Whatever the case, we recommend keeping your shells in a separate container where chemicals cannot get to them. That way, you will always be in the clear and know that nothing could cause a potential explosion in your garage or shed.
What If I Fire a Bad Shotgun Shell?
We have mentioned how the best practice is to inspect each shell before putting it in your shotgun. That is what we sincerely recommend, as we do not want anyone to end up in a problematic situation because they did not see the obvious signs of deterioration on their shotgun shells.
Signs of deterioration are a sure way to tell that ammunition has gone bad, even if it still has a few years of shelf life, according to the manufacturer. If there is rust, corrosion, visible bumps, or any other kind of damage to any part of the shell, it’s better not to use it. Using a bad shotgun shell will only cause trouble and a reaction such as one of the following:
Misfire happens when you put the shell into your shotgun and try to shoot, but nothing happens. This usually happens due to problems with the propellant, as the gun cannot ignite it and cause it to go off. If you find that this happens to you, the best thing to do is take apart the shotgun and remove the shell by hand to avoid getting it stuck or forgetting that it was ever in there.
Magnification is the complete opposite of misfire. In this case, you put the plastic shotgun shell into your gun and try to shoot, but you get a louder and more powerful blast than expected.
This usually happens due to a chemical reaction within the bullet that causes a change in the way it ignites and blasts. You must be careful with magnification, as there is a chance for you and the people surrounding you to be caught off-guard and frightened.
You must be aware of hangfires because they can cause significant problems. In this case, you shoot the shot only to find that it does not go off immediately, as expected. Instead, it takes at least a minute for the gun to go off, meaning there is a slight delay.
When shooting old ammo, this is very likely. So, you should be aware of it and try to keep the gun in place so that if a hangfire shot happens, you will not have the gun pointing towards yourself or anyone else.
Acidic reactions can happen to bullets or shots stored in less-than-desirable conditions for prolonged periods. There is no telling what goes on in the shell before shooting it, so you should be extra careful when using shells you have no information on.
Your best bet would be to go to the shooting range and try shooting the shells in a safe environment rather than doing it around your home.
Jellification happens when you put a shell in your gun and try shooting, but the shell remains in the barrel and does not want to come out. It usually gets stuck due to damage to the exterior. Sometimes it can even be due to the propellant, causing it not to go off.
In this case, similarly to what we mentioned with misfires, the safest thing to do is take apart the shotgun and remove the shell by hand as soon as possible so that you do not risk further damage to the gun or cause a possible hangfire.
Finally, squibs are one of the most serious things that can go wrong with your shotgun shells. Like jellification, this process includes a shell that gets stuck in the barrel and does not want to go off.
You can always remove it by hand, and we recommend doing that as soon as possible. Some people tend to forget about it and put a new shell into the barrel, only to cause tremendous pressure between the two and a possible explosion of the gun.
This will not only make your gun unusable but will likely cause severe injuries to the person shooting the gun and those around them.
What to do with Bad Shotgun Shells?
As you can see, some serious things could happen if you try using bad ammo. This is why we recommend paying as much attention as possible to your shotgun shells.
Always keep them in the best condition. It makes the most sense to keep them in a safe box, never leaving them inside your gun or someplace where they could suffer damage. This helps prevent the use of potentially dangerous ammo by you or any unsuspecting friends of yours.
Furthermore, if you find some old ammunition but have no way of knowing where or when it comes from, it’s safer to turn it over to professionals than use it yourself. Some reloaders would be happy to take the ammunition off your hands. You can also look into recycling centers that specialize in ammunition disposal.
If nothing else works, you can always call your local law enforcement office on the non-emergency line to ask them for advice on what you can do with the ammunition.
They will either offer to take it off your hands or point you in the direction of someone who can. In any case, you will be safe and happy that you no longer have somewhat of a ticking time bomb on you.
Thank you for reading this detailed guide on ammunition shelf life. Hopefully, you’ve indulged in everything you need to know to tell whether your ammunition is safe to use or whether you should dispose of it as soon as possible.
Now you should know what to do! Shotgun shells definitely can go bad. Remember that the safest thing is to keep your ammunition stored safely and use it timely. There is no need to buy in bulk if you are confident you will not be able to use the shells.
That said, if you have some leftover shells, contact a gun specialist or reloader and ask whether they believe it’s safe for you to use the shells. Then, you can take it from there. Whatever happens, at least you will know that you have taken all the precautions to make the situation as safe as possible.