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Old April 29, 2008, 10:13 AM   #1
Steady52
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How long will smokeless powder keep?

I am looking for information and advice on how long smokeless powder can be kept before its properties begin to change. Here's why I ask:

I first became involved in handloading in the 1970's, loading for various rifle and pistol cartridges, so ended up with about 10 different powders. After I finished up college in the 1980's, I was going to move away for an extended period and didn't want to store the powder in the house (in case of a fire), so moved it out to the hayloft of the barn.

Fast forward 20 years, the kids are mostly grown now and I'm getting back into shooting and reloading again. So my question concerns how much life my powder has remaining, and has it's properties changed any in the 30 years that I've had it? According to what I read on the Alliant website, powder undergoing deterioration will have an irritating acidic odor. My powder still smells like it did 30 years ago, as near as I remember it smelling. So if now stored back in my cool dry basement will it be good for another 10 or 20 years, or should it be used up as quickly as possible, or should it be disposed of properly and then start over with new? Being a true conservative, I don't want to waste anything that is still perfectly good. Most cans are half full or better, and a couple have never been opened.
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Old April 29, 2008, 11:37 AM   #2
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When powder goes bad it will have that smell. It can also look rusty. If it smells the same and you intend to keep it in a more stable environment it will be good to hand down to your grand kids. I would keep an eye on it for a while but I surmise your good to go.
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Old April 29, 2008, 01:54 PM   #3
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I’m in the process of burning up some 2400 that a friend gave me. It was unopened in those metal containers I haven’t seen since the sixties, and it still works as good as it always did. The cans don’t have any real rust or other signs of neglect other than faded paint, so I think it was stored pretty well. If you call parked on a shelf in an Arizona garage as being stored well. I think as long as powder doesn’t show any of the classic signs of deterioration it’s good to go.
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Old April 29, 2008, 02:08 PM   #4
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I still use WW II surplus!!!!! Closed tight, dark storage .. lasts for decdes, at least!
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Old April 29, 2008, 02:33 PM   #5
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Bullseye from 1947 still worked great in the '80's. I think the single base powders spoil fastest. Don't store in hot attic. Even loaded ammo will go bad there. Not unsafe, they just keyholed!
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Old April 29, 2008, 07:43 PM   #6
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Thanks guys. That is what I wanted to hear. I have to admit that it feels real good to be doing this again after so many years.
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Old April 29, 2008, 08:55 PM   #7
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I too had a metal can of Bullseye I got from a guy I worked with in the early 60's (61 or 62). I never used much of it and moved it from one damp basement to anothe to a garage in Tucson and back to NY. I finally burned it up in some shotshells, just to test it and get rid of it. The stuff smelled fine and the shells worked perfectly. So I know powder kept under terrible conditions can last at least 45 years.
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Old April 30, 2008, 03:37 PM   #8
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when i was really young, my dad got a bunch of shotgun shells and different types of ammo from a guy who died down the road (via his wife). The old man had it stashed away in his backyard shed for 40 years probably, his wife told us. it had just sat, not being rotated or anything. about a quarter of the shotgun shells worked, and 2/3 of the rest of the ammo fired. it was pretty funny, i remembered wondering if the next shell would go off. My dad had dug a hole in our sand box and was pitching the ones that didn't go off in there. a little excitement for a child.
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Old April 30, 2008, 08:15 PM   #9
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The Bullseye cans were REALLY old. They were square cornered had the tiny metal screw cap, and if I remember right, they were yellow and red with black lettering. My wifes uncle used to load .38's for the local police dept. on their Star machine. I even got a few bucks for the empty cans at a gun show!
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Old April 30, 2008, 09:21 PM   #10
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I have a couple of sealed cans of old Hercules powder. I opened an open can of Red Dot from that era, and it smelled just like the can of Unique from the 80s. I have no doubt that the Reloder 11 and Hi Vel #2 are just as good. Does anyone have data for the HiVel#2 and a .222?
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Old May 1, 2008, 05:02 PM   #11
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Okay, you forced me to dig out my old Lyman 43rd edition (bought new in '65).

Hi-Vel2, for .222:

bullet wt: Start: Max: Projected Max Vel:
50 gr. 20.0 23.0 3275
55 gr. 20.0 22.5 3160

HiVel2 was a good, versatile powder. I miss it.

'Luck!
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Old May 1, 2008, 05:51 PM   #12
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Unbelieveable. Thank you sooo much! Happy, happy.
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Old May 3, 2008, 01:28 PM   #13
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Most (all?) of the comments indicated that the old powder worked "just fine" or something along those lines. Granted, the tell tale signs of powder going "bad" were stated and these are dead give aways that the powder has gone bad....but is powder perfect one day and the next, it has gone bad....or does it degrade over time? If it does degrade, it would seem that judging it "bad" would be more of a challenge. How bad does it have to get before it is officially bad?

Using the same brand of powder, same charge, same bullet, same firearm, etc., has anyone actually checked velocities between cartridges loaded with new and 30 year old powder?
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Old May 6, 2008, 05:37 PM   #14
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Alliant/Hercules used to have a container of powder that was made in the 1800s or early 1900s and had to be stored under water because the stabilizers hadn't been invented then. They claim to take some out and dry it out and load it from time to time and the results are just like they were originally. You have to decide if the powder you have is usable. Only the nose knows, and if you store powder in a cool dark dry place it will keep almost forever. If the container is sealed and no air has gotten in, it may well still be good for decades after manufacture.
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Old May 7, 2008, 01:37 PM   #15
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I've loaded & shot 20 year old powder (and primers, for that matter). No discernible difference from new.
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Old May 8, 2008, 12:59 PM   #16
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Years as long as the canisters are kept sealed good, and they haven't been subjected to temperature and humidity extremes.
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Old May 10, 2008, 07:06 PM   #17
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I recently used some 30 year old Unique (a partial 1# container left over from my reloading days back in the 70s) in some .45ACP loads. At the same time, using a pound of Unique purchased just las month, I assembled the same 230 FMJ load and then took a trip to the range.

Using my chronograph, I shot both loads from a XD45 4".

The 30 year old Unique: 735 FPS, 26.2 standard deviation.

The 1 month old Unique: 830 FPS, 16.2 standard deviation.

The powder never saw much in the way of humidity as it spent the last 22 years sitting on a shelf in Arizona. The shelf was in my garage and so did see temp swings much wider than had it been sitting on a shelf in the hall closet.

I can only assume one of two things....either the recipe for Unique has changed in the past 30 years and so it is "hotter" than it use to be (not likely, in my opinion), or the performance of the powder did in fact degrade over the 30 years.

YMMV
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Old May 10, 2008, 07:49 PM   #18
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powder

the fomulars change over the yrs.thats why your told to start 10% low.even lot to lot.
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Old May 10, 2008, 08:04 PM   #19
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So you are saying the 100 fps increase I saw was the result of powder re-formulation?
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Old May 10, 2008, 11:44 PM   #20
Steady52
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Thank you, Arizona, for taking the time to compare 30 year old Unique to a new batch. 30-year-old Unique is what I have too, along with Bullseye, Green Dot, 2400 and a half dozen others, all 30+ years old.

Like you said, the velocity increase must be due to either a change in formulation over the years, or because the old powder has degraded slightly, or perhaps both to some extent. But even your 30 year old powder still gets the job done, so mine should still be usable for a while yet since it still smells ok, and it gives me an excuse to shoot it up and replace it with fresh.

Thanks.
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Old May 13, 2008, 03:14 PM   #21
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I very likely do not have to do this from what I'm reading here but I always drop a small pouch of dessicant in a can of powder after I have opened it the first time. But then I like "insurance", my pistol is never out of reach, that should tell you something.
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Old May 14, 2008, 07:04 AM   #22
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I have a couple of buddies who are big into black powder shooting, both cartridge and muzzle loader. They came across some cases of antique German black powder bullets from the late 1800s. They broke it down and used it. It was the best black powder they ever found. They treated it like gold because it butned cleaner than anything on the market.

I wasn't too fond of their method of breaking it down. They would take a live round and put it astraddle of a vise and hit it in the middle with a sharp chisel. The round would break in half and the powder would fall into a coffee can below. They would save and melt down the lead bullets. They never had an accident with this method but I woudn't hang around when they were doing it.
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Old June 14, 2014, 06:33 PM   #23
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Gun Powder Shelf Life

If properly stored smokeless powder and primers will last a lifetime and beyond. It is designed to be inherently stable and function predictably after many years of storage and harsh field conditions. This is not to say that you should treat your powder this way, however; the prominent manufacturers have very high standards to appeal to military and civilian usage.
In the year 1918 my grandfather purchased the 30-06 for hunting deer in the mountains of Utah, from him I inherited many rounds of 30-06, both reloads and factory-new in addition to his original Springfield rifle. To my amazement every round fired perfectly and accurately. These cartridges were 94 years old and not particularly well stored.
Some years ago I purchased Winchester 748 and Hodgdon BL-C(2) from a Gun show vendor who estimated that the containers were over 20 years old. Both containers had been opened but the powder smelled exactly the same as the brand new containers that I bought earlier this year. I have read many posts which claim that the test is in the smell. While fresh powder has a very distinct smell just as the well stored powder has, powder that has gone bad is very noticeable. It smells of decay and takes on a different, rust colored, appearance. I’m sure this is largely due to moisture. If up if
At the same Gun show I purchased a few bricks of RWS 4033 small rifle primers by Nobel GmbH (yeah the guy who invented TNT and for whom the Nobel prize is named after). The vendor purchased these from an estate sale and because the writing on the packaging was all in German he had no idea what they were. Based on the packaging I determined these were at least 40 years old. The pack referenced that they were “new and improved” because the primers did not contain mercury, an element which was not used beyond 1930. So these primers may have been 60 to 70 years old. Every primer fit and functioned flawlessly. In fact while this primer is no longer available for purchase in North America, it is referenced in the latest Hornady 9th Manual for cartridge reloading as a suitable small-rifle primer along with the other usual brands. So Hornady clearly has some knowledge of the long storage life of rifle primers and thought to include these in a 2013 reloading book.
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Old June 14, 2014, 06:47 PM   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sabjork View Post
If properly stored smokeless powder and primers will last a lifetime and beyond. It is designed to be inherently stable and function predictably after many years of storage and harsh field conditions. This is not to say that you should treat your powder this way, however; the prominent manufacturers have very high standards to appeal to military and civilian usage.

In the year 1918 my grandfather purchased the 30-06 for hunting deer in the mountains of Utah, from him I inherited many rounds of 30-06, both reloads and factory-new in addition to his original Springfield rifle. To my amazement every round fired perfectly and accurately. These cartridges were 94 years old and not particularly well stored.

Some years ago I purchased Winchester 748 and Hodgdon BL-C(2) from a Gun show vendor who estimated that the containers were over 20 years old. Both containers had been opened but the powder smelled exactly the same as the brand new containers that I bought earlier this year. I have read many posts which claim that the test is in the smell. While fresh powder has a very distinct smell just as the well stored powder has, powder that has gone bad is very noticeable. It smells of decay and takes on a different, rust colored, appearance. I’m sure this is largely due to moisture. If up if

At the same Gun show I purchased a few bricks of RWS 4033 small rifle primers by Nobel GmbH (yeah the guy who invented TNT and for whom the Nobel prize is named after). The vendor purchased these from an estate sale and because the writing on the packaging was all in German he had no idea what they were. Based on the packaging I determined these were at least 40 years old. The pack referenced that they were “new and improved” because the primers did not contain mercury, an element which was not used beyond 1930. So these primers may have been 60 to 70 years old. Every primer fit and functioned flawlessly. In fact while this primer is no longer available for purchase in North America, it is referenced in the latest Hornady 9th Manual for cartridge reloading as a suitable small-rifle primer along with the other usual brands. So Hornady clearly has some knowledge of the long storage life of rifle primers and thought to include these in a 2013 reloading book.

Very interesting post.
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Old June 15, 2014, 02:20 AM   #25
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I had two metal cans of IMR 4064 one had a price tag of $7 on it and the other $12. The cheaper one I can't even find record of the store it sold at besides that my dad would go there as a kid. He's now 60. Who knows when it closed but both powders worked just as the stuff I bought last month.

I also have some of those Nobel primers and they go off just fine even if I'm leary of using them.
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