10 Tips For Long Term Firearm Storage
By Richard Bogath
The great majority of firearms owners take the proper precautions when storing guns and ammunition. The reason and duration of your gun storage can be as varied as the firearms themselves. Wether you are storing away in a hidden location for if and when the SHTF, or simple putting that .22 repeater away for your newborn grandson, the key is to store safely to keep the integrity and operation of the firearm intact.
- Determine reasons for storage
Your reasons for storing your firearms are yours alone. In most cases, storage refers to “not going to shoot this gun for at least a few months at a time”. This is not referring to a home defense gun that is stored under your bed in a biometric safe. That gun is considered ready to be fired at any time and should be maintained and cleaned and fired regularly.
- Long term vs. Short Term
This matters a great deal due to the fact that preparing a firearm for storage is a completely different procedure for long vs. short down time. Short term storage (a few months and up to a year) can be as simple as performing a complete and thorough cleaning of the gun, heavy on the lubrication and with some form of chemical barrier product sprayed on the metal surfaces (Birchwood Casey makes a decent barrier spray). Wrap in non-acid paper or even just the gun case it came it with a few silica gel packs and you could be fine so long as it’s in a controlled and dry environment—like your gun safe should be. Long term storage—longer than a year—is a different story.
- Store accessibly
It’s an important yet often overlooked fact that even if your plan is to store the firearms for years, you will still need to have it accessible. Maybe not as accessible as the gun under your bed in my above home defense scenario, but accessible in the way that you should be able to gain access to it easily. The reason for this is simple—you are still responsible for the firearm. Should it get lost, stolen, or put in a place where it will be piled upon with other types of stored memorabilia, it is effectively out of your control and can present a danger to someone who might happen upon it. If you don’t have room in your safe for long term storage (especially for a long gun) then a locked cabinet, lockable suitcase, lock box, or anything that can be stored near the safe so that it never goes missing.
- Pretreat and treat
Now it’s down to the nitty gritty. So how do you prepare a firearm for the long haul of semi-permanent non-use? If it were 50-100 years ago, you would smear the guns in the petroleum based yellow slime called “cosmoline” in order to prevent any moisture or corrosive salts to come into contact with the firearm. Anyone who has purchased a Mosin Nagant rifle knows exactly what I am referring to. The cleaning job that never ever ends as you attempt to de-slime your new (old) rifle. For all the pain-in-the-ass that this process represents, the most important factor to remember is that these rifles shoot like they were made yesterday. Partly attributable to the manufacture of the rifle, but mostly to the preservation of the cosmoline.
Pretreat your firearm like for any storage—clean, clean, clean. Nothing with any corrosive properties should remain on the gun in any way—this includes fingerprints. Lubricate lightly as you would for any day at the range and then wipe down the entire firearm with a cloth impregnated with silicone (these are sold commonly). This will put a thin layer of silicone all over the firearm. This includes wood, plastic and metal. This was the first step.
For the true protection over the long term, this next step is crucial. The low-tech way to do it while keeping it simple would be to apply a thin layer of gun grease (Rig or Outers are fine) over all the external and internal parts. Yes, that means removing bolts, carriers, slides, grips and for some revolvers—the cylinder as well and give them all a thin but thorough coating.
With this procedure your firearm will stay protected for a very long time—years and years—so long as you remember to keep the temperature and humidity controlled (it will still work in more humid areas, but why take the chance?). And remember that wipedown with the silicone? That will ensure that even years later when all the grease has dried or thickened on the firearm, that layer of silicone will help you wipe it all off easily with a clean cotton rag.
For a more high-tech approach, there are things called “vapor paper” and vapor bags which literally allow you to thoroughly wrap a clean but otherwise untreated gun in a special paper that will prevent any corrosion from occurring on the firearm so long as you also store it in one of the special vapor bags which seal it all in. These do work great but can sometimes have a coloration effect on gun bluing, wood stocks, copper and brass fittings, etc… Test first.
- Moisture is the enemy
As I’m sure you have guessed by now, moisture is going to be the worst enemy to your stored firearm. It’s moisture that will allow salts and other contaminants to attach themselves to whatever it is that you are trying to protect and slowly cause pitting, and eventually rust. If you live in a high moisture, high salt areas like coastal locations versus a bone dry desert then you will have to adjust your storage plan accordingly.
- Burying can be scary
A lot of peppers seem to like the idea of burying firearms and ammo in long PVC tubes that are capped at either end so that they can be hidden until a “rainy day”. Personally I am not a fan of this technique. While it’s true that if you follow some of these techniques listed here and closed off the tube properly then nothing will go wrong. But there is also that factor of the firearm being out of your control. Heaven forbid a kid digs it up. Someone saw you bury it and digs it up. After a few years roots and ground moisture manage to work their way into the tube. Are these things unlikely? Maybe, but you just never know and I hate never knowing.
- Storing ammo
Your ammo storage is a little more simple. The rule of thumb is to never put any oils or chemicals of any kind—natural or artificial—on your ammunition. Ever. Keep it in original packaging or specially designed made-for-ammo packaging (like closable reloading trays) and then place into air and water tight containers. Rubber gasket sealed ammo cans are perfect. I like to add silica gel packs or similar to these containers as well. When you open up your ammo for use—if you see ANY corrosion on the cartridges—don’t use them. You can destroy your firearm or seriously hurt yourself,
Unpacking your firearms after long term storage is relatively easy. Depending on which technique you used to store it, simply open it all up, wipe it all down, give it a superficial cleaning and a thorough inspection before use. Any signs of corrosion or damage should be checked and worked on by a qualified gunsmith (I know you’re sick of hearing that, but it’s SO true).
What are you looking for when inspecting a gun pulled from storage? Very simple—rust (obvious), pitting (little holes that develop in metal with or without rust or discoloration around the same area, or anything that just looks out of the ordinary. Weird colors, obvious moisture, cracks and things that seem too loose or too tight in the action of the gun. Work it and dry fire a few times to see that it “feels right” (but don’t dry fire anything that shouldn’t be like rimfire guns).
Finally, go out and shoot the gun to test that all is well. I wouldn’t go full-auto on anything until you put a few careful rounds through the firearm first, just take it slow and make sure that things are as they should be before really putting it through its paces. When in doubt—gunsmith or an individual who really knows his firearms…like me.
So there you have it. Ten tips that can make putting that gun away for quite some time a little easier and with better end results. After all, we don’t want any surprises when we or our granddaughter take the gun out shooting. Right?