How to get rid of old gun bullets?
October 23, 2005 10:45 AM   Subscribe

AmmoFilter: My wife found a box of old remington .38 ammunition while going through some boxes. They are at least 25 years old, given to her by a boyfriend when she moved out west a quarter of a century ago. She and I do not have any guns. How should we properly dispose of this ammunition?
posted by barrista to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total)
You can take them to your nearest police department. I suggest you call first.
posted by furtive at 10:53 AM on October 23, 2005

We found a large sack of old ammunition in our shed when we moved into our house. We phoned the local police and they said we could drop it by for safe disposal, which is what we wound up doing.
posted by sagwalla at 10:54 AM on October 23, 2005

It's too old to fire safely. I second the idea of taking it to your local PD or gunsmith; let whomever you drop it off with know that it's 25 years old and you don't think it is safe to fire.

It's not hazardous if it's not loaded into a firearm, by the way. The worst thing that could happen if you accidentally struck a primer is that the gunpowder would ignite briefly, rupturing the brass cartridge casing.

Modern (smokeless) gunpowder burns; it doesn't explode. Usually the walls of the brass cartridge casing are reinforced by the action of the firearm, into which the casing is fitted tightly. In that case, the products of combustion make pressures go up a lot, propelling the bullet down the barrel. But if the casing is not tightly fitted into a firearm's action, it just ruptures immediately.

Old ammunition, though, is notorious for "hang-fire." That's when you pull the trigger and nothing happens, so you start fooling around with the gun trying to figure out what's going on, and a minute later it goes off. This is caused by degradation or moistening of the powder, I think.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:39 AM on October 23, 2005

Thanks for the suggestion. We'll give the PD a call.
posted by barrista at 11:41 AM on October 23, 2005

Oh...and thanks for the info on ammunition. Very educational! :)
posted by barrista at 11:42 AM on October 23, 2005

First, the ammunition is not too old to fire. People regularly shoot military surplus ammo this old. Civilian ammo isn't much different than milsup ammo. If you know people who shoot, I'm sure they'd gladly take a box of .38 off your hands... assuming they like revolvers.

Ammunition should always be treated as hazardous regardless. While it's basically true that the cartridge will not launch the bullet (projectile) in the same way that a firearm-contained burn would, it is not true that the bursting of the uncontained case is not cause for alarm. When that case goes, it's probably going to have a fair bit of force and something is going to get flung somewhere.

But, keep in mind, you don't need to treat them with kid gloves. The basic design requires a good, sharp, piercing hit to the primer to detonate. Just don't throw them in a fire.

Hangfires are a problem, perhaps, but any shooter worth his salt knows how to handle a failure to fire both at the range and when in the thick of things. I don't shoot much milsup. Maybe a couple thousand rounds, tops... but, no hangfires amongst those.

Finally, if you don't shoot, I'd like to increment the "police department" option. They'll likely take care of it for you.

Or, you could do as is suggested by oldsters: Soak the cartridges in WD40 for a couple of days, and then throw them in the trash. (You're destroying the powder/primers with the oil... cartridges aren't mechanically sealed.)
posted by Netzapper at 6:24 PM on October 23, 2005

If you happen to live in the Denver area I'll take it and shoot it.

As Netzapper said, it's not too old to shoot. My dad and I recently loaded some 30-06 with a powder that hadn't been manufactured since 1962 and it shot fine. By and large, cartridges don't go bad as the powder is very stable.
posted by 6550 at 10:56 PM on October 23, 2005

Some people actually seek old ammunition. Various cartridge collectors associations might love to have it, as would any crime laboratory. Crime labs usually keep lab reference and exemplar ammunition and use it in casework to best duplicate evidence ammunition when test firing for comparative purposes.
posted by whatisish at 6:45 AM on October 24, 2005

I agree that if you know how to handle a hangfire and a misfire, that the ammo's not too old to shoot. Not everyone does. Misfires are particularly bad: the bullet can travel halfway down the barrel and then stop. When you fire the next round, the obstructed barrel can rupture, damaging your hand and face.

You can count on most military surplus ammo having been stored properly for most of its life, btw. This stuff, maybe not so much.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:20 AM on October 24, 2005

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