Old Gunpowder still good?


June 17, 2009, 11:21 AM
How can a person tell if older gunpowder is still good. Say, a 5lbs jug, with 3lbs left, been sitting 5 yrs, but stored in good conditions.

Are there any telltale signs that the powder has gone south, before reloading it and trying it?

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June 17, 2009, 11:26 AM
just like fish- smell it. most likely its OK if it looks right and smells right. I loaded some 25 year old H335 last week and it popped just fine. most powder is pretty stable.

June 17, 2009, 12:26 PM
I thought you said old powder.
I got underware more then 5 years old!

I have powder I bought in the early 1960's.

Anyway, follow Kingcreeks advice.
Smell it.

If it has a solvent smell it is perfectly fine.

If it smells like acid, it isn't.


June 17, 2009, 01:01 PM
I have some one pound cardboard containers of Hodgdon powder marked with crayon price mark of $2.50. They have been kept in a military ammo can since the '60's. Still smell like solvent.

+1 rcmodel
I have read many of your posts and they have always been on the money. I'm no spring chicken but based on your good advice and information obviously based on vast experiece in many fields I would estimate your age to be around 98 to 105. :eek:
Am I close?? :D

The Bushmaster
June 17, 2009, 01:08 PM
There goes the hat market again...rc...If you cut off all your hair (if you still have some) you won't have to buy such a large hat...:D Oh the hell with it...:evil:

June 17, 2009, 01:50 PM
Sorry gentlemen. New to the reloading gig, and 5yrs old seems old to me. Glad to hear the good news. Heck, I wasn't even thought of in the 60s.... Barely before the 90s so I guess I'm still a little green.

Thanks for the info everyone. Helped me score 3lbs of powder for 20$!

Ben Shepherd
June 17, 2009, 01:54 PM

Keep powder in a cool, dry and dark place, tightly sealed and it may outlast you......

I've got some old 5066 pistol powder that was lot #12, and some 2400 that is in the square can labeled rifle powder. Both are at or over 50 years old, but are fine as they have been stored properly.

June 17, 2009, 02:03 PM
i just shot some 30+/- year old powder in a hand gun last week.

June 17, 2009, 02:13 PM
I shot up the last 8 ounces or so of an ancient square (not rectangular) can of Hercules Unique recently. It was dirty but worked fine.

I can't for the life of me find a picture of what the can looked like, but it was square, I *think* it was 12oz, and the color was mostly blue. Does this ring a bell with anybody who's been reloading longer than I have? Any idea just how old it would have to be at a minimum?
Edit, it was just like this, but Unique rather than Bullseye

June 17, 2009, 02:48 PM
how do I say "nice can" without it sounding wrong? :D

June 17, 2009, 03:01 PM
These are 1960-70'ish cans:



June 17, 2009, 03:03 PM
rc, somehow I knew it was going to be you who answered my question :)

June 18, 2009, 11:01 AM
So if the metal cans are 60-70's, how old is my Herc Red Dot that is cardboard sides with metal tops? Either way it worked great for my buckshot loads.

In hindsight it is probably as old as the Mec 700 pre82 I have.

June 18, 2009, 08:09 PM
Another thing to watch for in old powder is a red or rust color. I've seen it a few times. Course it has that acid smell.

I have recently learned that in the past couple of years I have thrown away some old powder cans that I emptied that were worth more than a new can of powder today! I didn't know those old cans were worth money! One Dupont 4350 can had a price tag of $.98. How do I have these old powders? In some cases, they are powders I quit using a long time ago and just never got back to them, some inadvertantly got set too far back in the cabinet and got forgotten about, and some I inherited when my dad went under. I've got a container of Bullseye that I know came out of the store in the 50's--I just don't use the stuff. I know it's still good, as I used a skosh last month just for the hell of it. If you have powder over 5 years old, I'll arrange for you to ship it to me and I'll check it out for you!

June 18, 2009, 09:39 PM
5 years old???? OMG! That has to be disposed of immediately! Ship it all to me so I can dispose of it properly at NO charge to you! :)

June 19, 2009, 11:37 AM
Trying to snake a new reloader out of his good findings? Thats just cold!:neener:

June 20, 2009, 10:08 PM
Recently at an auction I got 5 sets of dies and some OLD powder for $20. All good dies and the powder was some WIN ? with a type written label with the old Winchester logo from the 40's as well as some #2 rifle powder from Ben ? Hodgdon. If I can figure out how I will post pix. It may be worthwhile to start a thread with pictures for those that have never seen these old cans. I will have to look in my stash of old empties.:)

June 21, 2009, 01:34 AM
5 years? 40 years?

I still have some Sharpshooter and Lightning that my Father bought back at the before the War. That's WWII for those of us with longer memories. I use Phil Sharpe's loading data.

The advice in the earlier posts is good. I personally find smell to be as good an indicator as any. Any strong solvent smell is a warning. The keys remain true: a stable dry, little variance in temperature environment goes a long ways to keeping power and primers in good trim.


June 21, 2009, 05:35 PM
Every time I see a thread about "is my powder still ok?" It reminds me of a gun rag article I once read. The writer was testing old WWI vintage 1911's for accuracy. His control ammo was GI ball made in the 40's and had supposedly been stored on the island of Guam since WWII. Guam, hot and humid 24/7 365 I'd guess.

No doubt powder goes bad, but it stays good longer than you might think.

June 21, 2009, 05:47 PM
Any strong solvent smell is a warning.I have to disagree.

A solvent smell is an indication the powder is still quite good.

An Acid smell is a warning the powder has started to break down and nitric acid byproducts are forming from the nitrocellulose breaking down.


June 21, 2009, 06:26 PM
I have to make a mea culpa. The poster above is correct.

I was thinking of the acrid odor of powder breakdown. My poor choice of words rendered my post incorrect.

Sorry :banghead:


June 21, 2009, 07:56 PM
I've used Hercules/Alliant powders that were over 15 years old with no problems. I had a 20 year old can of IMR-4895 that was "rusty" -it didn't burn properly and gave low pressure- I dumped it.

June 22, 2009, 12:55 AM
WWII surplus H4831. Still works fine.

June 15, 2010, 10:08 AM
Thanks for this post existing! I'm a relatively new reloader, too. Grandpa was a major guy years ago (was in the Sierra ads in American Rifleman in the 1960s and 70s) but never bothered to teach.

At any rate, I've followed in his footsteps. I've recently come into the collection of another reloader from Dallas, a coworker's father, who had been loading since 1945 when he get home from the Pacific.

In his collection, there are two very large cans labeled "4831." Now, these each hold about two pounds and are his doing, labeled with masking tape. Is there any way to know if they are H4831 or IMR 4831? Additionally, they have what I think is an acrid smell, but maybe they just need to air out some? There is some clumping in one. Think these are bad? It will be a damn shame, but in his old age (he got a bit senile) he started keeping his can (old steel GI can) in the garage. I have no way of knowing how old they are.

Thanks for all your help and ideas!

June 15, 2010, 11:33 AM
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.

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. A piece of laundry fell over the bottle. Over night acid gas from the bottle ate holes in the laundry. My friend freaked :what: and poured the stuff out on the lawn.

Since then I have had other surplus 4895 powder go bad in the case. Green corrosion on the bottom of the bullets and cracked case necks. The powder did not have an acid smell in the bottle.

It shot well, even out to 600 yards (as long as the case necks did not crack), but I had "funny" retorts. Different sounding booms.

This year I was able to talk to a Navy Energics specialist. He explained that powder deteriorates from the day it leaves the factory. The Nitrocellulose and nitro glycerin want to combine to form a lower energy molecule. Nitric gas is released in the chemical reaction. The rate of combination is directly related to temperature. The higher the temperature the faster the reaction. Powder contains stabilizers. The Navy samples its powders and propellants. If the powder is outgassing nitric gas (as determined by a paper that changes color (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.

The Army does it different. The Army scraps small arms powders by time. Double based powders and ammunition are scrapped at 20 years, single based 45 years.

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.


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.

If the powder has turned red, or smells like acid, it is way beyond its safe limits.

The different sounding booms from the surplus IMR 4895 I shot was due to old powder changing its burn rate. As nitric acid gas bubbles out it changes the surface composition. This is in fact bad, very bad. Pressure spikes can develop.

I talked to Alliant powders. They told me that if the plating inside the old cans is has rust spots, the powder is doing that, and the powder should be dumped.

If you want to understand more about the chemistry of gunpowder try this link.


June 15, 2010, 12:01 PM
If taking a good whiff of it makes you sorry that you did? Then it's bad.

June 15, 2010, 01:15 PM
I have some WIN500HS that is from the 50s-60s. I was told to dump it by Hogdon...I got some reloading data from and old scanned Speer manual (thank you internet) and it had a similar burn rate to HS5. I load down and it shoots good! Looks good-Smells Good-Shoots good.

June 15, 2010, 01:53 PM
How can a person tell if older gunpowder is still good. Say, a 5lbs jug, with 3lbs left, been sitting 5 yrs, but stored in good conditions. It just dawned on me exactly what you said there. If that is an opened can of powder, hopefully it is coming from someone you know and trust so you don't end up with a can with the wrong powder in it?

June 15, 2010, 02:16 PM
It just dawned on me exactly what you said there. If that is an opened can of powder, hopefully it is coming from someone you know and trust so you don't end up with a can with the wrong powder in it?

You betcha. Especially since we're dealing with a guy who went a little senile and started forgetting what went where, unfortunately. But, as you describe, it made me wish I hadn't smelled it. My wife smelled it in the next room over (her sewing room) and said, "Sweet Jesus, what are you working with in there?" Guess it is time to fertilize the lawn.

September 21, 2010, 12:01 PM
I also have some powder I think from the 1920'-1940's It is in 11z can

Says Pistol Powder made by Dupont and I can not find any information about it:banghead:

justashooter in pa
September 21, 2010, 05:37 PM
powders will hold a long time, but may change in burning rates, usually becoming faster burning. undetectable degradation of the powder can cause seemingly reasonable loads to become bombs.

this is not so important with flake powders like red dot and green dot that are usually underloaded in strong cases, but can be an issue in rifle powders.

case in point, some IMR 4350 from a 20 year old can was recently used in a 270 with 130 grain speer spitzers. max load in a recent book is 57 grains. 51 grains was used as a starting point, with an expected velocity of 2800 FPS. stuck bolt, blown out primer, and permastretched brass was the result. reducing the load to 42 grs and working up to 46.5 resulted in 2900 FPS (2820 at 45 grs) and primers beginning to flatten, with thought given to selecting another powder for higher velocities if wyoming shots ever present. for east coast shots the existing load is just dandy.

the lesson is, start with a chronograph and loads reduced 25% if the powder is suspect. when you get to the point that small gains are made by large increases in charge, you have maxed out the powder in that case.

the aforementioned powder would have been closer to ideal in a 30-06 or 35 whelen, or perhaps 308 win or 8X57/7X57. it was not burning like IMR 4350 is supposed to.

September 22, 2010, 10:43 PM
I had a friend that was 70 when he passed he somehow got a drum of H 4831, He never measured his loads as he would fill the case after sizing it and seat the bullet on top, We never used a chronograph back then and had no clue what velocity he was getting out of his 06, After he passed i ended up with over 30 lbs of powder that was near 30 years old, I tested this powder against NEW H4831 in the same grain amounts. I used 58 grains in my 270 with a 130 grain bullet and got 2980 fbs new stuff the old stuff i got 3010. Bottom line some powders oxidize much faster but H 4831 has lasted for years and hope many to come, take a smell if the powder has a strong amonia smell bury it in the back yard and wet it down if not keep shooting it.

September 22, 2010, 10:50 PM
If taking a good whiff of it makes you sorry that you did? Then it's bad.
Some of the triple-base powders stink when they're still good. That .50 caliber spotting-scope powder for example (I'm not sure of the number but I think it was IMR 7383)

September 22, 2010, 10:52 PM
These are 1960-70'ish cans:


I just emptied a can of IMR-4964, just like your can on the right.

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