Old Shells

Dear Technoid,

What is the shelf life of shotgun shells? I was handed (no chance to decline) a bag of shells that are about 25 years old. What can I do with these beauties? Are they still OK to shoot? They are Federal (well, Western Auto Revelation), Winchester, and Remington plastic shells that look in good shape.

Thanks, oh Technically Adroit One,

Dear Eric,

“Technically Adroit One”- Oh, I just LOVE it! I sure wish that it was true. Your comment about antique shells (in my state of Florida any motor vehicle 30 years old or older is entitled to an antique license) got me to thinking about the age of my guns. ALL my FNs, Belgian Brownings plus the odd Model 12/42 and SxS are over 25 years old. So are my High Power, 1911 and Model 70s. They work great and I far prefer them to the newer guns.

In 1972, when I started shooting, plastic hulls and wads were very similar to what we use today. The only real difference is that higher antimony shot is more commonly used today, but not by much. Those chain store “dove and quail” loads are still garbage- except for the Wal-Mart Federal “All Purpose” which were extremely good when I bought my last 10,000 some years ago.

Dewy-eyed reminiscences aside, any shell that is 25 years old is questionable because you may not know where it has been during those 25 years. The big problem with older wine is not just finding old stuff, but it is the “storage provenance”. I can’t tell you how many magnificent old wines I have had that have been ruined by inconsistent storage in someone’s cellar. Same with shells, though they are not as sensitive.

Personally, I have never had any trouble shooting old shells. Just because ammo is old, does not mean that it is bad. Rifle buffs use WW I ammo all the time with no problems. However, since I cannot see the shells that you have, I would be even more foolish than usual to give you advice as to their trustworthiness. If they were mine, I could cut a few open and examine the components. If they looked to be in poor condition, I would discard them.

How’s that for a long answer without an answer. Technically adroit enough?

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
Shotgun Report’s Technoid

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1 Response to Old Shells

  1. Bill E. says:

    I have seen this question much more of late now that many folks are digging up old stock piles of shells due to shortages. My experience duplicates Sir Technoid’s. However, I must add that it has amazed me how long shells can be stored and still perform properly. IMO, the main criteria has been whether they were of plastic hull construction, and if they had the heat seal in the center of the crimp they seemed to last far longer than it would seem advisable .

    The only real caveat to that is for steel shot loaded ammo. Those need to be looked at after opening up like the Technoid recommends to see if the steel shot has started to rust. If so, they definitely need to be discarded, because the shot may fuse together via the rust, and act like a solid mass. If so, they would generate increased pressures and possibly do damage in the choke area.

    I recently shot some CIL shells (Canadian made) with a plastic heat seal that had to be 65 years old and had no issues. They were even loaded with card and fiber but because of the plastic hull and heat sealed crimp, they functioned as expected. They had not been stored as recommended but upon examination the shot was not at all oxidized and seemed fine, so I shot them without any issues.


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