With all the Flooding: What about Submerged Ammunition?

Flooded Home as the Result of Recent Hurricanes

By Dean Weingarten

Dean Weingarten
Dean Weingarten

Arizona -(Ammoland.com)- With the recent impact of two hurricanes, Harvey and Irma, on the United States, there is going to be a lot of ammunition that was submerged for some time.

To prevent damage, many people keep ammunition in waterproof ammo cans. They tend to work very well, if the can is not submerged more than a few feet. Not everyone stores ammunition in ammo cans, and the cans can be damaged or leak.

The two storms flooded tens of thousands of houses. A recent survey showed that about half of the homes in the United States have a gun owner living in them.

From msn.com:

The organization that sets the standards for firearms and ammunition manufacture in the United States, SAAMI (Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturer’s Institute), recommends zero tolerance for ammunition that has been submerged for any period of time.

From saami.org:

Regarding ammunition that has been submerged in water for any period of time, there are too many variables that would need to be considered such as the cartridge type (e.g., rimfire, shotshell, centerfire rifle, centerfire handgun); depth of the water; length of time the cartridges were submerged; are the primers on the cartridges sealed providing some degree of water resistance? what contaminates may have been in the water that might affect the powder charge or priming compound? and many others. Some of the potential hazards of attempting to salvage or use the previously submerged ammunition include, but are not limited to: Potential safety hazard in attempting to “dry out” the cartridges. Possible further deterioration or damage of the loaded cartridge or its components due to drying methods. Failure of the cartridge to fire, which could have life-threatening ramifications.

Initiation of only the priming compound or ignition of only a proportion of the propellant powder charge. This may result in insufficient pressure to push the projectile clear of the barrel resulting in the projectile stopping part way down the barrel and creating a bore obstruction. Firing a subsequent round through an obstructed barrel could result in serious bodily injury, death and property damage.

It would be impossible to ascertain for certain the extent of the deteriorating effect, if any, the water may have had on each individual cartridge. Therefore, the safe answer is that no attempt be made to salvage or use previously submerged ammunition. The ammunition should be disposed of in a safe and responsible manner. Do not ship the ammunition back to the manufacturer. Contact your local law enforcement agency for disposal instructions in your area.

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Destruction of ammunition, on the chance that it might have a misfire or hangfire, or be a squib, may not be an acceptable choice. If it is the only ammunition available, careful firing may be the lesser of evils.

If the ammunition is of military specifications, and has not been submerged more than a few feet, it may be undamaged.

On the other side of the spectrum, I had ammunition that had been through a flood a few years ago. It was ammunition that would be particularly vulnerable: shotgun ammunition reloaded in paper shotgun shells. I had a couple of hundred rounds. It had been submerged for a few days. It was only a few inches under water. I decided to use the shells to hunt dove. I do not consider a missed dove a tragedy.

I let the ammunition dry in the Arizona summer, which is quite dry.

I carefully considered each shot separately.  If there was a problem, I waited and checked out the barrel for a possible obstruction before firing another round. One of the worst dangers of a flood damaged cartridge is the possibility that a projectile will lodge in the bore.  If another round is fired, the damage could be catastrophic.

I had a few misfires. The cartridges simply did not fire. I had a spectacular hangfire. Two doves were crossing my front, left to right, about 35 yards out. I picked one and swung on it. As I slapped the trigger of my 20 gauge double, there was a distinct click…followed by a boom! The dove fell out of the sky.  The hangfire was of short duration, about a quarter of a second, or less.

I checked the bore, even though the shot had killed the dove. It was clear.

If you find yourself where circumstance requires you to use ammunition that has been submerged, realize that misfires, hangfires, and squib rounds are serious possibilities. A squib is a round that does not fully ignite.  A squib can easily lodge a projectile in the bore.

Treat every shot as a potential hangfire, misfire or squib. Those possibilities should be something you are prepared for. If you experience a misfire, keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction for 30 seconds. Some misfires take a bit of time to become a hangfire.   If anything unusual happens, if the recoil or shot does not seem “right”, wait, then check the bore to make sure it is clear.

©2017 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.

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About Dean Weingarten:

Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of constitutional carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and recently retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.

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Greg Tag

I was a Range Instructor/RSO at DFW Gun Range in Dallas when the range caught fire and burned to the ground. The retail area, classrooms, offices and ammunition storage areas were untouched by fire, but in some places fire fighting water was left standing at a depth of 2 feet or more. Ammunition set up for retail sale on racks was fine; cases and cases of Winchester white box of various calibers , located in the warehouse and magazine areas were submerged for several days. On testing, not 1 in 100 rounds fired. The cardboard boxes disintegrated. We shoveled literally… Read more »

marc disabled vet

1 More option
If your a re-loader, disassemble (carefully) ,
each round. Dry the powder, dry & clean the casings.
put in new primers. Test the dried powder for fitness of use.
possibly mix 70/30 with new(70) and use as plinker ammo.

JorgeNorberto Pedace

Este problema si,representa un verdadero dolor de cabeza,y merece ser estudiado en forma total y compleja por las distintas firmas que fabrican municiones y armas,porque de su apropiado tratamiento y solución,depende además las vidas de los usuarios y terceras personas no involucradas,y también porque no decirlo,nuestro dinero que a veces es gastado generosamente en municiones.


Good article. Until the recent disasters most people probably never gave this a thought. Makes the case for purchasing quality ammo cans.