Shelf Life of .22 Rimfire Ammunition: Test of 65+ Year Old Ammo

Ammunition as stored at 5809 Taft Street in Middleton, Wisconsin

U.S.A.-(AmmoLand.com)- How long can ammunition be stored before it degrades? Much depends on the storage conditions. With reasonable care, ammunition has a shelf life of many decades, as verified by tests done with military centerfire cartridges.

But how long does .22 rimfire last before it starts to degrade? There has not been much systematic long-term storage testing of .22 rimfire. It tends to be used as an expendable item. Some people have found an old box or two of ammunition and checked it for viability.

This correspondent was able to obtain a large cache of 65+-year-old .22 rimfire ammunition with a good pedigree. The bulk of the ammunition was Remington Standard Velocity .22 Long Rifle ammunition made before 1956.

I met the owner at the University of Wisconsin in 1970. We started a friendship that lasted 48 years, to his death in 2018. The friend was Don Cowling from Middleton, Wisconsin. He is the world record rat hunter who this correspondent wrote about in 2016, when I became aware of the provenance and extent of the ammunition cache.

From that article:

The .22 ammunition has been in the jars for over 60 years.  He allowed me to crack the seal on a mason jar that had been filled before I entered first grade.  I anticipated an odor of acetone, as you often find in old smokeless powder.  I could not detect any, nor could my friend.  There was a faint hint of old wax, barely noticeable.

My friend gave me an even two dozen rounds to test to see if it had been degraded.  I shot the ammunition out of a Mossberg target rifle of similar age.  I fired the rounds at my brothers long established range behind the garage on family land in Northern Wisconsin.  Every round fired as though it were new.  I fired four five-shot groups at 50 feet from a rest.  The first was the largest at .56 inches, center to center.  The rest were .32, .31 and .31 inches. Not enough to win matches, perhaps, but perfectly good for hunting. My brother fired the last four shots offhand.

Don treasured his privacy, so his name was not mentioned in the 2016 article. The ammunition was mentioned, with a picture. Don knew I would reveal his name after he died, and did not object.

Don was a star handgun competitor at the University of Wisconsin. A top handgun competitor can easily run through 50,000 to 100,000 rounds a year. Don told me the ammunition was put in the quart jars before or during 1956.  Don was on the University of Wisconsin Varsity ROTC pistol team when they won the regional championships in 1955. Don always paid for things in cash, or in trade or barter. I suspect the ammo was obtained in a special deal.

Placing the ammunition in quart jars sealed it from the atmosphere. It likely helped keep the bullet lubrication from oxidizing.

Ammunition obtained later was so noted in his records. His records showed the pre-1956 ammunition to be Remington Standard Velocity. His records match the ammunition headstamps.


Article from Wisconsin State Journal, March 21, 1953.

Don kept meticulous records. After he died in 2018, this correspondent had access to his lifelong records and journals.

I was able to purchase his .22 ammunition cache of tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition from his estate. Over 20 thousand rounds of the cache was Remington standard velocity ammunition obtained in or prior to 1956, transferred to quart jars from boxes by 1956. It was stored for 15-17 years in an attic in Madison, Wisconsin, then underground from 1970-72 to 2018 in a basement in Middleton, Wisconsin. After the ammunition was purchased from the estate, it was moved across the country, then stored in a secure underground location.

The ammunition was purchased to conduct rigorous long-term storage testing of .22 rimfire ammunition. If there are other caches containing significant amounts of 65+-year-old .22 rimfire ammunition, they are unknown to this author.

The initial test procedure used a control of 500 rounds of CCI Standard Velocity 22LR Ammunition, lot H05S, manufactured on August, 5th 2012. The ammunition was tested in a Mossberg 702 semi-automatic Rifle with factory 10 round magazines. The rifle is expected to be used throughout the long-term test.  The rifle was purchased new in anticipation of the ammunition test.

A few hundred rounds were expended through the rifle before the test, from various manufacturers. The same rifle was used with the old Remington ammunition, to limit test variables. Accuracy testing was done at 25 yards. Velocity testing was done with a Caldwell Chronograph G2 eight feet from the muzzle.

10 fouling shots were fired, followed by 5 five-shot groups from a rest at 25 yards. The rifle was equipped with an inexpensive Simmons 4×32 .22 Mag scope.

After accuracy testing, 50 shots were fired to register on the chronograph to obtain average velocity, standard deviation, and extreme spread.

The rest of the 500 rounds was fired for reliability. The manufacturer recommends the rifle be cleaned after firing 200 rounds. The rifle was cleaned at the beginning of the test, and every 250 rounds after that, so test conditions would be the same for both sources of ammunition. Most shots were fired with a few seconds between shots. Nearly all shots were fired from magazines loaded with 10 rounds.

The test is for the ammunition, not the rifle. A semi-automatic rifle was used for uniformity of action.  A semi-automatic is considered a bit more ammunition sensitive than single-shot rifles or manual repeaters. If the ammunition will cycle a semi-automatic action, it should work in manually operated repeaters or single-shot firearms.

The same procedure was used to test 500 rounds of the 65+-year-old Remington Standard Velocity ammunition.

65 Year Old .22 Rimfire Ammunition Test Results:

Accuracy, an average of 5 five-shot groups at 25 yards, measured center to center:

  • CCI Standard Velocity:                    .502 inches
  • Old Remington Standard Velocity   .565 inches

Velocity measurements for 50 rounds, average velocity, Standard Deviation, extreme spread in feet per second (fps).

  • CCI Standard Velocity:   Average 1072.3 fps, SD 17.5, extreme spread 84 fps, 1035 to 1119.
  • Old Remington Standard Velocity: Average 1098.9 fps, SD 19.8, Extreme spread 101 fps, 1041 to 1142.

Reliability for 500 rounds fired:

  • CCI Standard Velocity: 1 failure to fire, round 102, strong firing pin strike, rotated the round, it fired on the second strike.
  • Old Remington Standard Velocity: 1 failure to fire, round 252, second round after cleaning. Very light primer strike (probably a mechanical rather than ammunition failure). The round was rotated. It fired normally with a second strike.
Light firing pin strike before rotation and firing with the second strike.

For practical uses of .22 rimfire ammunition, there is no significant difference between the nine-year-old CCI ammunition and the 65+-year-old Remington ammunition.

This correspondent intends to make this testing a regular event. Data will be collected about the storage life of .22 ammunition, to the point of finding significant degradation, or of running out of ammunition.

There is enough ammunition to extend the test to over 100 years of storage if 500 rounds are fired each year. Alternatively, 500 rounds could be tested every two years, or five years, extending the test even longer!?

Enormous quantities of .22 rimfire ammunition have been purchased in the last two years. Much of it has been stored. If stored at reasonable temperatures in airtight containers, it should be useful for at least 65+ years. As no degradation has been detected in the stored Remington ammunition, the upper limit of storage life is unknown.

The author expects the test project to extend beyond his lifetime. The intention is to find viable candidates to continue testing to at least 2056.


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 retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.

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Papa Chief
Papa Chief
2 days ago

Inherited a ten box carton of Winchester Super-X in the old yellow cardboard boxes that I was told was from the 60’s. Set aside a couple of boxes for posterity and the rest have fired flawlessly out of my Winchester 9422.

Also fired a fist full of WW2 era .45 ACP rounds with no problem. They looked a bit haggard but functioned as designed.

Chuck
Chuck
11 days ago

When my Grandfather passed away in 2015, his firearms and ammunition were bequeathed to me. The bulk of his older ammunition was .22LR purchased between 1955 to 1968 from a LGS that opened in 1946 and closed when the owner died in 1968. The container (box) artwork reflects that time frame, as well as the price on the boxes reflects ammo costs of that era’s well. Of the approximately 1200 rounds, I’ve fired all but 100 rounds. Those two 50 round boxes are 50s era and rather unique, so I chose to keep them whole. Out of the 1100 rounds… Read more »

Bill
Bill
12 days ago

When I was stationed in Panma in 1972, we could draw a box of .45ACP ammo each month to fire for familiarization. The ammo was normal 1943 or 1944 vintage. I have no idea as to the storage conditions; but I never experience a failure to fire. Interesting observation: If the humidity was just right, combined with the lighting conditions and one had good eyes, sometimes you could see the disturbed air caused by the .45 bullet as it flew toward the target.

Tionico
Tionico
12 days ago

I used to be able to get stray rounds at a gun shop I’d visit when I was a kid. Picked up some milsurp .20/06 ball. I learned how to unscramble the date codes on the headstamp. Some of that atuff was from back in the ’30’s and 40’s. Every round fired as it should. A few years back a friend ecided to dust off his old CMP M 1 Garand, He had bought a smapcan of Greek milsurp ball. He was sceptial, as the stuf was dated from some forty years back. We all took turns on his fine… Read more »

Happy Everafter
Happy Everafter
12 days ago

In 2018 when starting my kitchen renovation I found 2 50-count boxes of Remington 22 long, in the original cardboard boxes, tucked behind an old built-in spice rack. They had a good buildup of dust, grease, etc. IIRC the price label on each box said $0.59, purchased from a long closed, local variety store. We bought the house in 1980, and that old 5&10 closed in 1968, so these rounds were at least 50 years old. I was more interested in reliability results than accuracy results; so while I noted that accuracy was unremarkable, I had 6 that failed to… Read more »

Cam
Cam
12 days ago

I found a box of 100 round 22lr in my granddads stuff about 2 years ago. It had to be pre 1970. Had a price sticker of 49 cents from Howard’s discount center.
They had been sitting in the box in his closet with no special packing or anything for 50+ years. Just in the cardboard box. I shot them all with zero misfires about 2 years ago. Accuracy was comparable to all the new 22lr I have.

AJChwick
AJChwick
12 days ago

At the Freeport NY R&R Junior Club we used to get CMP .22LR ammo, known as CMP White Box, which was stored underground. Much of the ammo was from the late 1940s through to the late 1950s, and the ammo was Remington. We never had any problems with this ammo that was out of a small statistical amount of error, and the errors where always with the primer compound being off the inside of the rim.

Nightowl490
Nightowl490
12 days ago

That is one of the most interesting articles I have read in years. Thank you for this.

wireman611
wireman611
12 days ago

Nice to see that something else 65+ years old still has a bang in it.

xtphreak
xtphreak
12 days ago
Reply to  wireman611

gives me continued hope for my next (65th) birthday!

7shooter
7shooter
12 days ago

Very interesting article. Thanks!

Patriot Solutions
Patriot Solutions
12 days ago

Hey Dean, are you going to the next round of false flag psy-ops in the un-holy trinity of DC in a few days?

https://ascensionglossary.com/index.php/Washington_DC,_London_and_Vatican_City

Patriot Solutions
Patriot Solutions
12 days ago

Smart decision. 🙂

swmft
swmft
12 days ago

Im still using up 22 ammo I bought at F.W. Woolworth in 1968 when price was doubling bought 20 cases(10,000 rounds per case) still shooting from that.
in 1992 after andrew I opened and checked all four that were left and found 2 1000 round bricks of 22 short in one case.(quality control )repack was with a vacuum pack and 50 cal cans have about 5 years worth left

Last edited 12 days ago by swmft
Levelhead
Levelhead
12 days ago

I’ve always been told that storing ammunition and primers in glass jars was a bad idea. I assumed it was because if the glass is dropped primers, or rims, might either strike the ground or a piece of the glass. Admittedly, not likely, but still. I understand here that it was done to make the containers airtight. More data. I recently, during the current shortage, acquired 5k Winchester small pistol primers from a friend who had no use for them. This, by the way, is the true definition of the concept “friend.” I have loaded 1K, and fired about 500… Read more »

Doughboy1960
Doughboy1960
12 days ago

During the great ammo shortage of 2020/2021 I started digging into my stache of 22 ammo. I had a large quantity of Federal Classic that came in the red 50ct boxes. I was getting quite a few case splits. So for grins I contacted Federal thru their website. Their official response is that I should not be shooting ammo over 10!years old. I asked why, assuming primer degradation…the actual answer was the brass case failing due to the stretching process it receives during manufacture. Per him it slowly breaks down over time.
That’s what he said…

Boris Badenov
Boris Badenov
2 days ago
Reply to  Doughboy1960

Brass breaks down? It may corrode but beyond that….What about those old brass swords from thousands of years ago?

Bozz
Bozz
12 days ago

i have some CCI mini mags that have been vacuum sealed in plastic sealer bags since 2013. So in another 57 years, when I’m 130 years old, I will test them for reliability.

Wild Bill
Wild Bill
12 days ago
Reply to  Bozz

,
Looking forward to your report!!

Boris Badenov
Boris Badenov
2 days ago
Reply to  Bozz

I’ve got an old box of something, but I’m not sure I want to test them, more of a collectable, I’ll have to dig it up, I’d bet it’s over 70 years old.

Matt in Oklahoma
Matt in Oklahoma
12 days ago

I got some Thunderbolts from my passed Father in law and I was with him in 83 when he bought them. They sat on a shelf in the garage all those years. Every single one has fired so far.
I’m pretty sure the primer component is different from today because I get too many misfires from new ammo

Tionico
Tionico
12 days ago

Probably not an issue with the primer itself, but the sloppy distrubution down into the rim. Most FtF I get with rimfire, I can take out the round, reorient it and it will almost always fire on the second strike. That’s not an issue wiht the primer itself, but the lack of it being placed where the failure strike heppened to hit the rim.