Ever since my time as a white water raft guide,
military ammo cans have been my go-to method for dry storage. I saw plenty of other dryboxes
during my stint, but never came across anything that offered the security, durability, and
simplicity of ammo cans for anywhere near the same price.
I recently picked up a new container for my 9mm ammo. While I was getting it set up for
use, I figured I’d put together a video going over how I store my ammo, and the methods
and products I use. My philosophy for ammo storage is to protect
it from the standard threats – moisture, extreme temperatures, hoplophobic politicians, etc.
– but also to keep it organized, portable, and ready to use whenever I might need it.
Whether the Machines are rebelling, someone got stupid enough to try to invade northern
Idaho, or I just want to go shooting for an afternoon; my ammo will not be very useful
to me if it’s buried in the backyard or sitting loose in a 200-pound box in my closet.
The three common, easy-to-find ammo can sizes that had a decent amount of internal space,
but weren’t too awkward to carry around were the .30-cal, the 50-cal, and the SAW
cans. Over the years, I’d acquired at least one of
each size. Loaded weight was my primary consideration
when deciding which of these would best suit my needs. I wanted to fill my ammo cans, but
still be able to carry them over a moderate distance if needed.
For an uninterrupted quarter-mile lap around my block, I found about 40 pounds to be my
practical one-handed weight limit. I could manage more if I had to, but not without significant
metabolic muscle fatigue in my hand. Carrying additional ammo is pointless if it means my
hand and arm will be too worn out to operate a gun effectively when I get to where the
ammo is needed. If I need to store and move more than 40 pounds of ammo, I’ll just buy
another can. As I just demonstrated, a loaded-up SAW can
will easily hit the 40-pound mark even with relatively lightweight ammo like shotgun shells.
And while the little .30-cal cans offer a decent amount of internal volume for dense
things like loose cartridges, their narrow interior limits things with more useful boxes
or cases. For me and my needs, the midsized .50-cal
cans seem to be just about ideal. Filled with loaded magazines, boxed shotshells, or pistol
cartridges in these 100-round cases I’ll get to in a sec; these always seem to end
up between 25 and 40 pounds with minimal wasted space.
So the .50-cals are my standard cans for all ammo storage. Sticking to one size keeps the
cans easily stackable, and allows them to share lids.
When buying, I look for cans without any major damage. A little scratched paint or surface
rust isn’t a big deal if there’s nothing better in the pile, but I don’t want something
too beat-up to work properly. Most important is the top rim of the can and
the rubber gasket in the lid. This is what makes the cans watertight, so I want a gasket
that’s still flexible and intact. If it’s brittle or cracked, or the metal around it
is dented, this won’t make a proper seal. This one looked pretty good, but before I
put a new ammo can into service, I always test it.
I’m not living in my van next to a river anymore, but a bathtub makes for a decent
place to weigh a can down and submerge it for several days.
If the can’s in proper shape, it should stay completely dry inside.
The next step is to mark the can with what it’ll be holding – 9×19 mm in this case.
I don’t get very fancy with this, I just stick on some cheap stencil cards, mask around
them with a little tape and newspaper so it won’t look completely slapdash, and shoot
it with whatever spray paint I happen to have lying around. I don’t really care what color
it is, so long as it’ll stand out. While the paint’s drying, I’ll show how
I organize things inside the can. In theory, a .50-cal ammo can could fit over
2200 loose 9mm cartridges, but that would easily weigh 60 or 70 pounds, and in terms
of organization and use-ability, it’d be pretty much the opposite of what I’m trying
to do. Factory boxes aren’t going to cut it for
me either. Their dimensions and construction vary wildly between manufacturers, making
it impossible to come up with a standardized can load. I also have no idea how many cartridges
are in any given box without opening it. And while some ammo is packed in trays like these
and easy to count; the more economical value packs tend to be completely useless. And with
real bulk or reloaded ammo, there’s often no box of any kind.
So instead of that mess, all my handgun ammo gets placed into standard cases like these
MTM Case-Gard 100-round ammo boxes. Unlike factory boxes, these are quick and
easy to operate even one-handed, but stay securely closed, and are surprisingly water-resistant
for what they are. They’re not completely waterproof – and don’t need to be – but
they’ll withstand light rain or collateral spray well enough. The lids also make very
convenient trays for holding loose cartridges or cases, and they can be easily detached
if desired. Whether they’re open or closed, the translucent
plastic makes it easy to see exactly what’s in there, and count them at a glance using
basic multiplication. In the same way, I can organize and keep track of different types
of ammo in one case by arranging them into blocks.
Each case comes with some handy labels, but for now, I just use different-colored cases
to organize my ammo. I put 115-gr FMJs in the blue ones, and hollowpoints and specialty
stuff in the red. There are other colors available, and the swappable lids make for a lot of possible
combinations. Overall, these are a darn sight more useful
than factory packaging for my purposes – well worth the 2 or 3 dollar price tag.
Now, I’m sure someone’s going to get on me for touching the ammo with my bare hands.
First off, I’m not stockpiling this for the zombie apocalypse 40 years from now. This
is ammo that I’ll be shooting at my next practice session, or loading into my carry
gun the next time I leave the house. Second, ammo won’t melt if it gets a fingerprint
on it. It might get tarnished and not be as shiny, but it’ll still shoot just fine.
Moisture and temperature extremes are the big dangers to ammo, not fingerprints.
So, with the cartridges organized, and the paint dry, it’s time to fill up the can.
There’s enough space inside a .50-cal can for two side-by-side stacks of up four of
these, with room for one more on an end or in the middle. That’s up to 900 rounds in
a simple, accessible arrangement that utilizes the can well, while staying below my weight
limit. Other things I’ll include are flattened
or cut-up ammo packaging with information I may want to refer to, a magazine loader,
and a homemade desiccant pack to absorb any moisture.
But that’s not all. On top of the cases, there’s enough room left over for up to
8 full-size Glock magazines, a standard-frame Glock and 5 magazines, or two Glocks with
a magazine in each. Also, the odd case on the end can be replaced
with up to 6 additional magazines, or a short-barreled backup 9mm gun, and I’ll still have the same space on top. With the 115-grain ammo I prefer, any of these
arrangements stay comfortably below my 40-pound limit. Even with subsonic ammo – which I rarely
use – they’re not over by much. Well, that’s how I roll with my ammo. Simple,
easy, and practical storage that’ll keep for years, but be ready to use at a moment’s
notice. As always, I hope you found something useful
here, and I’d be happy to answer questions and hear feedback. Until next time, enjoy
the shooting sports responsibly, and keep your powder dry.