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Old December 20, 2011, 07:46 PM   #1
Big T
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4895 gone bad?

I just opened a one pound can of IMR 4895, stamped E91 on the bottom (1991?) L7867. The can was sealed and stored in a cool, dry basement room. I immediately noticed a significant amount of fine brown dust throughout the power. It left a notable brown dust type substance on my power funnel, and I decided not to use it. I asked a friend and he has had the same thing (not sure if its actually the same stuff) in some 4831. I could just toss it out to play safe, but this stuff isn't that cheap anymore.

Anyone had this experince? Any propellant engineers in the house who understand this potential chemistry and its implications? Thanks much!
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Old December 20, 2011, 07:50 PM   #2
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Quote:
but this stuff isn't that cheap anymore.
Just think of what you're risking. A quick trip to the ER will cost you much more than a pound of powder. Call the mfg, you'll find the # on the container. If they say pitch it just dump it in the garden and call it flower food.
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Old December 20, 2011, 08:17 PM   #3
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Your powder has gone bad. Using it will be more expensive because you will need a new gun and maybe some body parts.
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Old December 20, 2011, 08:36 PM   #4
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Last month I got my hands on some IMR4198, IMR3031 and IMR4895 from the late eighties for free. When I got it home it also had the reddish brown dust and the interiors of the cans were rusty even though the exteriors looked good as new. I am not a chemist but I am told that those signs indicate that the powder has gone bad. It's breaking down and reacting with the metal of the can.
At the closest gun shop to me, that's about eighty dollars worth of powder, but I dumped it anyway. It is not worth the risk in my opinion.
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Old December 20, 2011, 09:20 PM   #5
Big T
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4895 makes sense

Yea, you guys are telling me what my gut has. Hate to dump the powder but using it doesn't make sense. I'll check with Dupont if possible to see what they say for future reference.
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Old December 21, 2011, 12:40 AM   #6
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Here's what SAAMI has to say about powder:

HOW TO CHECK SMOKELESS POWDER FOR DETERIORATION

Although modern smokeless powders contain stabilizers and are
basically free from deterioration under proper storage conditions,
safe practices require a recognition of the signs of deterioration and
its possible effects.

Deteriorating smokeless powders produce an acidic odor and may
produce a reddish brown fume. (Don’t confuse this with common
solvent odors such as alcohol, ether and acetone.) Dispose of deteriorating
smokeless powders immediately.

Check to make certain that smokeless powder is not exposed to
extreme heat as this may cause deterioration. Such exposure produces
an acidity which accelerates further reaction and has been
known, because of heat generated by the reaction, to cause spontaneous
combustion.


This is a quote from their book on smokeless powder storage. Take it from the experts.
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Old December 21, 2011, 11:35 AM   #7
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IMR 4895 Deterioration

I feel there is a difference between a reddish brown fume or vapor that smells strongly, a sign of deterioration. Compared to rust from the metal can. The powder in this can looked/smelled ok, but i tossed it anyway, as i am no expert on the subject. Click photo for larger view. [IMG][/IMG] [IMG][/IMG] [IMG][/IMG]
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Old December 21, 2011, 11:44 AM   #8
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Don’t throw it away!
Use it!
It makes a great fertilizer. Last year I pulled 1000 surplus 30-06 manufactured in 52. You should have seen my wife’s garden this year.
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Old December 21, 2011, 12:29 PM   #9
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Ugh! Why do people keep claiming that modern gun powder makes a good fertilizer? What makes you think that the wood fiber and nitrogen are going to separate and add nitrogen to the soil?

I have dumped various powders on my lawn over the years - no effect. So I say BUNK on this old-wives tale.
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Old December 21, 2011, 02:39 PM   #10
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I keep wondering if they changed something in the late Eighties. My OLD powder is still good, and shows no sign of deterioration.
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Old December 21, 2011, 05:30 PM   #11
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If the red dust is just from the rust on the can and the powder still has the solvent smell I feel it is Ok to use.

I have some IMR 4895 from the mid 60's that is just fine. I also have a can of IMR 4350 from the early 90's like yours. The interior of the can has rusted some (not at all unusual for metal can storage) and as a result there is a light reddish dust on the powder. The powder still has the normal solvent smell. It is fine to use.

Keep in mind that as powder deteriorates is loses strength, not gains strength. So the largest downside is reduced performance. But do whatever you feel most comfortable with.
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Old December 21, 2011, 06:15 PM   #12
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I think your account is the earliest I have ever heard of IMR powders going bad.

Based on the amount of red dust in your description, I would dump the powder.

Whether powder is good is not easily answered unless the powder has gross indications of going bad.

The gross indications are the bitter smell due to NOx, red powder granules, fuming gas emissions, others have said “red gas”. By the time you see this the powder went bad a long time before.

Half of all the surplus IMR 4895 I purchased went bad.

The first 16 lbs, I used up eight pounds quickly. For whatever reason, I pulled the bullets on some of that stuff and found green corrosion on the bases of the bullets.

Similar to these pull down bullets from old US ammunition. Not the horrible one, but the small green spots.





I don't remember what US ammunition these came off, I pulled them decades ago, might have been WWII ammunition that came back from China.

The last eight pounds, it sat around. When I opened the bottle top, it smelled bitter. Red dust flew around.

I gave it to a machine gunner guy. He put it in the laundry room. Passing by the laundry room he tossed soiled shorts at the hamper, but missed. The short ended up on top of the powder bottle. Overnight, acid gas from the bottle ate holes in the shorts!! :what: This freaked my friend and he poured the stuff out over his lawn.

Since then I have had more surplus 4895 powder from a different vendor go bad in the case. Green corrosion on the bottom of the bullets and cracked case necks.

This powder never smelt bitter at all. I shot this powder in highpower matches and it shot exceptionally well, but case necks cracked after firing. I also received “funny” retorts and the occasional sticky extraction. The longer the ammunition sat around the more cases necks would split when fired. In time virtually all of the remaining 700 loaded cases experienced cracked case necks without the stresses of firing.

From what I had read on the internet, which is a repeat of what is said in gun magazines, powder has an “indefinite” shelf life. Gunwriters made statements to the effect that powder lost energy as it got old, making it essentially benign.

Then I ran into an Insensitive Munitions expert. This IM expert explained that powder deteriorates from the day it leaves the factory.

Nitrocellulose decomposes through the reduction-oxidation process. Called Redox. The expert said “The molecular stability of the functional groups on the organic chain determine the life time of the nitrocellulose molecule.” All ionic compounds, water is the main offender because it is always in air, react with those bonds and accelerates the deterioration of the powder.

The bottom line is that nitrocellulose is a high energy molecule that wants to become a low energy molecule.

Heat accelerates the deterioration/decomposition of powder and the rate is directly proportional to the Arrhenius equation. If you read in the Insensitive munitions literature, you will see that they use high temperature to accelerate aging of smokeless propellants.

Double based powders have a reduced lifetime compared with single base. Double based powders have nitroglycerin (NG) in the grain. Nitroglycerine remains a liquid and it migrates within the grain to react with the NO bonds on the nitrocellulose, increasing the rate of reduction-oxidation reaction. All ionic compounds react with those bonds and accelerate the deterioration of the powder. Rust is bad as ferric oxide is ionic. Water is ionic and it is ever present in the air.

Because water reacts in a negative way with smokeless propellants, quality ammunition is manufactured in humidity controlled environments. Between 40% and 20% humidity. They don't go lower due to electro static discharge concerns.

The best storage condition for powders is arctic. Cold and dry.

Due to the migration of NG within double based powders, the surface of the grain will become rich in NG even though the total energy content of the propellant has decreased. This will cause changes in the burn rate, and can cause pressures to spike. The surface of nitrocellulose powders also change as the powder deteriorates, and it changes unevenly. This creates conditions for erratic burn rates. Burn rate instability is undesirable and can cause explosive conditions in firearms. In retrospect, this explains the “funny” retorts I experienced and the sticking cases. It is an extremely rare occurrence, but old ammunition has caused rifle Kabooms. When I discussed this with a machine gunner buddy, he said that explained the two top cover explosions he had with old Yugoslavian 8 MM ammo. I think it explains the Garand kaboom in the link below.


NOx gas is a mix of compounds all of which are reactive. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NOx http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nitrogen_oxide When smokeless propellants break down NOx gas is released. Nitric acid gas is only produced in the presence of water, because it requires a hydronimun ion, but there is plenty of water in air.


Section from the Propellant Management Guide:

Stabilizers are chemical ingredients added to propellant at time of manufacture to
decrease the rate of propellant degradation and reduce the probability of auto ignition during its expected useful life.

As nitrocellulose-based propellants decompose, they release nitrogen oxides. If the nitrogen oxides are left free to react in the propellant, they can react with the nitrate ester, causing further decomposition and additional release of nitrogen oxides. The reaction between the nitrate ester and the nitrogen oxides is exothermic (i.e., the reaction produces heat). Heat increases the rate of propellant decomposition. More importantly, the exothermic nature of the reaction creates a problem if sufficient heat is generated to initiate combustion. Chemical additives, referred to as stabilizers, are added to propellant formulations to react with free nitrogen oxides to prevent their attack on the nitrate esters in the propellant. The stabilizers are scavengers that act rather like sponges, and once they become “saturated” they are no longer able to remove nitrogen oxides from the propellant. Self-heating of the propellant can occur unabated at the “saturation” point without the ameliorating effect of the stabilizer. Once begun, the self-heating may become sufficient to cause auto ignition.



The Armed Forces have stockpile surveillance programs but each Service does theirs a little differently. If you want to see all the different tests the military uses to determine propellant characteristics, look at Mils Std 286 Propellants, Solid: Sampling, Examination and Testing to be found at https://assist.daps.dla.mil/quicksearch/.

If you look, you will find aging tests. One common test is for powder to be kept at 65 C until it fumes. It if fumes within 30 days it is checked for stabilizer or scrapped.

The Navy expert told me a few ways the Navy samples its powders and propellants. If the powder is outgassing nitric gas (as determined by change of color of methly violet paper in contact with the powder (Methly Violet test, or Talliani test)), the stuff is tested to see how much stabilizer is left. If the amount is less than or equal to 20%, the lot is scrapped.

Scrapping powders and propellants with this percentage of stabilizer appears to be consistent across all services.

Pages 5-11 of the 2003 Army Logistics Propellant Management Guide provide the protocols for testing and subsequent actions for their Stockpile Propellant Program. Basically, all propellant lots are tracked. The trigger for investigation is: "When Master Sample Stability Failure Occurs"

The Navy expert provided 'rules of thumb' concerning when to expect problems with double based and single based propellants. The rules of thumb are: Double based powders and ammunition are scrapped at 20 years, single based 45 years. In his words “These 'rules of thumb' are particularly useful when the protocol fails. The protocol can easily fail when workmanship or good housekeeping measures are not followed during manufacture of propellant and/or rocket motor or during storage of the weapon system components, respectively.”


The expert suggested that it is likely that surplus military powders are not on the market anymore due to liability issues. The stuff was scrapped because the military decided it was not safe to keep around anymore.

For the home reloader, if the powder has turned red, or smells like acid, it is way beyond its safe limits.

I am of the opinion that the reason this is not discussed in the popular gun press is because if the shooting community knew that powders had a shelf life, it might effect sales. As we all know, gunwriters are shills for the industry and for decades the shills have been reassuring us that as powder gets old, it becomes benign. I cannot see a reason why industry wants you, the shooter, to be picky about old powders and old ammunition. You might not buy, you might have reservations about buying. It is all about profits you know.

The military does not talk about this, but bunkers and ammunition storage areas have gone Kaboom due to old powder. That nitric acid builds up, creates heat, and the stuff blows up. It blows up inside the case or the shell.

http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=13c_1205681217

This powder is from a FA 11-1898 30-40 Krag cartridge. Obviously it is bad.





I sent the IM expert the link with this Garand blowup, http://www.socnet.com/showthread.php?p=1344088
and the pictures of my corroded bullets and pulled Krag red powder, and this is what he wrote back:

Wow

The red color indicates that the stabilizer is depleted and the redox reaction is degrading the nitrate ester. (I assume this is a single base gun propellant, and the nitrate ester is NC.) Please dispose of this powder and ammo supply before it starts to get warm or self-heat (via autocatalytic exothermic reaction). This stuff can be a runaway reaction and spotaneously explode in storage.

The cracked case necks are proof that the outgassing of NOx is occurring. The pressure build-up is evidently enough to fatigue the metal at a high stress location in the cartridge case (@ the neck bend). You should also see a bulge in the cartridge base (where the firing pin would strike b/c there is a circular joint crimp there between the two metals). This ammo would explosively vent at the crack if you tried to fire it in a gun. Just like the Garand example you sent. Please discard this ammo.

The corroded ammo is the same as above (redox reaction gassing NOx) except this stuff actually got wet too. Water provides a medium for corrosive acid reactions to result. Please discard this ammo.

Lessons learned -
(1) Ammo has a finite shelf life
(2) Ammo can be dangerous


More to read if you wish:

www.dtic.mil/dticasd/sbir/sbir031/n154.doc

This paper discusses most of what I have written, but it has a confusing section where it states that “Suddenly, propellant that has spent its entire life in a configuration that was considered inherently safe from the risk of auto ignition is now bulk packaged and stored in a concentrated mass that may be sufficient to allow auto ignition to occur.” After discussions with the Navy expert I found that the insensitive munitions community has its own myths and legends. There are groups within the IM community who promote the “5 inch” rule. The theory is that for munitions 5 inch and smaller, the thermal mass of the case is sufficient to wick away heat and prevent auto ignition. The Navy expert considers this theory to be bogus and created by self serving individuals who get cash awards when they “extend the shelf life” of propellants. Never doubt the power of greed.

http://www.almc.army.mil/alog/issues...t_stab_eq.html
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Old December 22, 2011, 08:57 AM   #13
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Chill out totaldla, I was just trying to make a point that its better to throw it into a garden (where it wont do any harm) than to throw it away into the garbage where it could be set off and hurt some one.
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Old December 22, 2011, 11:55 AM   #14
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I have a 10 year old can of IMR4895 that I didn't get around to opening until this year. It's the same way, brown red dust. I haven't tossed it yet but I plan to.

Back around 2000, I was working too much and making good money but had little time off. So I was buying supplies for a time when I would have time to use them. I was seriously bummed out this can went bad.

On the other hand I bought several cans of old powder from an estate and in the lot was a 40 year old can of 4895. It's still good but I've loaded and shot most of it this year...

I think something has changed with the way they make 4895 these days.

Tony
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Old December 22, 2011, 01:35 PM   #15
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Quote:
Why do people keep claiming that modern gun powder makes a good fertilizer? What makes you think that the wood fiber and nitrogen are going to separate and add nitrogen to the soil?
Maybe because nitrocellulose is not long term stable in the environment?

What do you think it will break down into?
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Old December 22, 2011, 01:44 PM   #16
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Keep in mind that as powder deteriorates is loses strength, not gains strength. So the largest downside is reduced performance. But do whatever you feel most comfortable with.
Well said!

All the "so-called-experts" have proclaimed that the deteriorated powder will blow yer gunup. Have they tested this theory? I doubt it.

The insides of the metal IMR can will rust by the trapping of humid air inside the can. The OP said this can was unopened. It it was as new condition, then the red dust must have come from powder that has degraded.

Yes it seems that all the reports I've seen are saying IMR 4895 is going bad quickly. Something in the formula has rendered it all to degrade sooner, or a mistake in how it was packaged. Since Hodgdon has taken over the distribution of the IMR line, it has come to us in plastic bottles.

That SHOULD eliminate the possibility of the red rust coming from the inside of the can.
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Old December 22, 2011, 04:01 PM   #17
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Snuffy: Upset? Did you buy mass quantities of ammunition and gun powder thinking you had a lifetime supply and now you are finding out it may not last forever. In fact, it might get dangerous as it gets older?

Not only will old powder "blowup yer gun", it has blown up turrets in US battleships.

That is why surplus ammunition is so cheap. The military has scrapped it because 1) It is about to self ignite and 2) it might hurt the troops.

How do you explain this blowup?


http://www.socnet.com/showthread.php?p=1344088

Quote:
There was a thread on another forum titeled “What’s in your ammo can” and many guys had old surpluss ammo so I told this story. Ty (arizonaguide) asked that I come put it here also so here it is boys, draw your own conclutions.

Back in the mid 80s my Dad and a bunch of us went shooting in Arizona. Dad had a couple thousand rounds of WWII surplus .30M1 (30-06) ammo that looked great on the outside cut his M1 in half in his hands. He was kneeling with elbow on knee when the first round of this ammo went BOOM! We were all pelted with sand and M1 shrapnel.

When the dust cleared Dad was rolling around on his back with buttstock in one hand, for stock in the other, barrel and receiver hanging by the sling around his arm trying to yell “mortar” thinking he was back on Okinawa in battle. The blast had removed his ear muffs, hat, glasses, and broke the headlight in my truck 15 feet away but Dad was only shook up and scratched a bit once he got his wits back. It sheared off the bolt lugs, blew open the receiver front ring, pushed all the guts out the bottom of the magazine, and turned the middle of the stock to splinters.

After a couple hours of picking up M1 shrapnel we headed to the loading bench and started pulling bullets. Some of the powder was fine, some was stuck together in clumps, and some had to be dug out with a stick. It didn’t smell and was not dusty like powder usuley is when it’s gone bad. Put it in a pie tin and light it and it seemed a tad fast but not so you would think it could do that, wasent like lighting a pistol powder even. He had 2000 rounds of this stuff and nun of us were in any mood to play with it much after what we watched so it all went onto a very entertaining desert bon fire. I got the M1 splinters when Dad died last year and will post pix here below for your parousal and entertainment.

Anyway, I no longer play with any ammo I am not 100% sure has always been stored properly . . . cheap shooting ain’t worth the risk to me anymore! I still buy surpluss if the price in right but I unload and reload it with powder I am sure of or just use the brass.

She was a good shooting servasable Winchester M1 before this.










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Old December 23, 2011, 10:52 AM   #18
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For those who might be interested , the Dec 1971 American Rifleman has a reader comment. The author was given boxes of WWII steel case 45 ACP ammunition and it gave high pressure problems. A friend on a Navy reserve team told him of similar experience with WW2 steel case ammunition and that several pistols had been damaged.

Ammunition and powders produced in wars are made under conditions where production considerations over ride quality control. When the Germans are sinking your ships faster than you can make them, who cares about shelf life? I have no doubt that the powders in these cases were at the end of the shelf life, and that shelf life was probably short because incentives were to get the stuff out the door, and not worry about the conditions of the ammunition in the 1970’s.
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Last edited by Slamfire; December 23, 2011 at 11:07 AM.
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Old December 23, 2011, 07:52 PM   #19
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Slamfire All I can say is WOW
Several years ago I purchased a couple of thousand surplus 30-06 in the cloth bandoliers with the end block. Dated 1942 and 1954.
Never shot any and just pulled all the bullets and dumped the powder. The cases were brand new looking. None of the powder in any of the cases looked bad or smelled.
I always wanted to fire some from the war period but was fearful of the corrosive primers.
I kept several as show pieces on my computer desk,,,, maybe I should pull and dump the powder.
Thanks for the good info, info like this keeps reminding us that guns are not toys and we need to keep our heads out.
The attached photo is one from 1943 and shows its pristine condition.
Attached Images
File Type: jpg 1943 30-06.JPG (49.0 KB, 12 views)
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Old December 25, 2011, 08:08 PM   #20
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Quote:
Slamfire All I can say is WOW
Several years ago I purchased a couple of thousand surplus 30-06 in the cloth bandoliers with the end block. Dated 1942 and 1954.
Never shot any and just pulled all the bullets and dumped the powder. The cases were brand new looking. None of the powder in any of the cases looked bad or smelled.
I always wanted to fire some from the war period but was fearful of the corrosive primers.
I kept several as show pieces on my computer desk,,,, maybe I should pull and dump the powder.
Thanks for the good info, info like this keeps reminding us that guns are not toys and we need to keep our heads out.
The attached photo is one from 1943 and shows its pristine condition
I just want people to know that gunpowder has a shelf life and goes bad with age.

I think it is prudent to use up old gunpowder first. Since I found out about the problems with old gunpowder, I am not buying any more old estate sale stuff. I have loaded and shot Bullseye that based on the can, could have been from the 60's. Same for a can of IMR 4350, and cans of IMR 4895. They all worked great. But you know, I have decided I am not interested in spending good money on old powders. I think I will pass on 80’s and earlier powders. I am not buying anymore "surplus" powders as I cannot verify the age of the powder. Based on my experience of having to toss out half of the surplus IMR 4895 I bought, surplus powders are not a good deal. I am shooting up what I have of surplus IMR 4895 as quickly as match schedules allow.

As for old ammunition, just look for the corrosion. There is risk in old ammunition and the older the ammunition, the more risk. Just be wise with your money. There are reasons old surplus ammunition has been cheap. The originating nation does not want it anymore, and there must be a good reasons.

And store ammunition and powder in cool conditions. I have a copy of a Ken Warner article in American Rifleman where he tested .22LR ammunition that had been stored in a shed, and the stuff lost its velocity over time. Shed temperatures got over ninety according to the article. If the powder is losing its velocity it is aging. And when the stuff ages, it does not burn as consistently as it did when new. Single based powders will have burn rate instability and double based powders also have the issue of nitroglycerine migrating to the surface changing the initial burn rate. These conditions can cause pressure spikes.
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Old December 26, 2011, 08:59 AM   #21
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Red Dust

I just used some IMR 4895 acquired from an estate. The powder looked and smelled fine except for that red dust observed while pouring it. I used it to load up some .223s for my AR 15. Went to the range and fired more than 50 rounds without incident. All fired, groups were fine, ejection was positive and strong and there were no signs of pressure.
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