Hurricanes Harvey and Irma wrought damage throughout the south recently, causing hundreds of thousands of homes to suffer water incursion from rain and floodwaters. And in the case of Hurricane Harvey, the flooding arose so quickly that most people did not have the opportunity to pack up their household belongings, including all their guns, before being inundated with flood waters.
Firearms and ammunition are not intended to be subjected to total immersion in water.They are very susceptible to moisture damage, especially metal parts that will sustain rust when moisture is left untreated. When the weapon is exposed to flood waters, the silt, grit, and other debris carried by the water can infiltrate intricate workings and mechanisms and the barrel, severely compromising the action and safety of the firearm.
It is estimated that as many as 100,000 firearms were affected by the flooding as well as possibly a million rounds of ammunition. If your weapons or ammo experienced flooding, it is important that you know what you should and should not do to prevent further damage and to make them safe to use again.
MY GUNS WERE UNDERWATER, WHAT SHOULD I DO?
Traditionally firearms used wood stocks or grips, and these parts are susceptible to damage from even short-term exposure to moisture, let alone total submersion. Today, many guns use corrosion-resistant metals and polymer stocks or frames, and these are not as susceptible to damage from rain or floods. But does not mean they cannot suffer moisture damage if not properly addressed.
The first thing you want to do is dry out the firearm as completely as possible. To do so effectively, you will have to disassemble the firearm and soak the metal parts in penetrating oils and lubricants that will displace water. Remember, when you first pick up the gun, treat it as being loaded and empty all rounds before you begin tampering with disassembly.
There are several commercially available products you can buy designed specifically to displace water from firearms. These oils are what gunsmiths use after “bluing” a firearm. Check with your local gun store for availability of these oils. BE SURE you read the label before using.
Here are the steps you should take:
- Ensure the weapon is unloaded.
- Locate your owner’s manual or look up online for disassembly instructions.
- Put on your safety glasses and begin by removing the stock or grips. Allow wood stocks or grips to air dry only – DO NOT subject them to heat to speed up the drying process!
- Disassemble the firearm according to the manual.
- If the gun had been subjected to saltwater submersion, rinse the parts in fresh water and pat dry with a clean towel.
- Soak the metal pieces in a container filled with a water displacing oil. NOTE: Some plastic, synthetic, aluminum anodized parts, as well as wood or painted surfaces, may be damaged by water displacing oils, so read the label carefully. Also, never use these oils on optics! (Optics should be removed and sent back to the manufacturer for inspection to ensure the integrity of the seals and lens coating.)
- Remove the pieces from the oil and dry them off with a clean towel or rag.
- Soak them again in a fresh container of oil or spray them thoroughly with a water-displacing lubricant.
- Allow the parts to completely dry before reassembly.
- Be prepared to replace the wood stock or grips that may have become swollen or cracked due to the water.
- Consider taking the firearm to a gunsmith for inspection before attempting to fire a round through it because it is impossible to know with certainty the damage caused to any internal mechanisms or workings of the firearm due to its exposure to salt, industrial and naturally occurring substances may have been in the flood waters.
Even after following these steps, there is no assurance that the firearm will function flawlessly. Again, it is essential that the gun is inspected by an expert before you attempt to use it. The last thing you want to happen is for the gun to misfire in a self-defense situation.
CAN I JUST DRY OUT MY WET AMMUNITION?
When it comes to ammo that has been submerged in flood waters, the answer is more cautionary. The safe answer is “NO!”
There are differences in how moisture resistant certain types of ammo can be. Centerfire and shotshell ammunition may be able to tolerate limited exposure to light rain or being dropped in the snow or on damp ground, as long as the cartridge is immediately retrieved and wiped dry.
However, rimfire ammunition is a different story. Due to the construction of the cartridge, even limited exposure to the elements can result in moisture damage. If you drop your rimfire cartridge in the snow or it gets wet in the rain, it should not be used.
With regards to all types of ammunition when it comes to being submerged in flood waters, the variables to consider are numerous, and the integrity of the ammunition is nearly impossible to ascertain. How long was it submerged? Was it salt water or fresh water? What type was the cartridge—centerfire rifle, centerfire handgun, rimfire, shotshell? Are the primers sealed? What contaminants may have been in the flood water that could affect the powder charge or priming compound?
There are risks associated with attempting to use or salvage ammunition that has been submerged.
- Possible deterioration and damage to cartridges due to drying methods as well as a safety risk.
- The cartridge may fail to fire due to partial ignition of the primer or propellant or otherwise malfunction, resulting in a possible bore obstruction. Firing a subsequent round through an obstructed barrel can result in serious injury, death and property damage.
According to the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute, Inc., it recommends that “no attempt should be made to salvage or use previously submerged ammunition.” Special thanks to SAAMI for its contribution to this report.
Contact your local law enforcement agency for information on how to safely and responsibly dispose of ammunition.
We all are concerned about preserving our cherished firearms and not wasting money by throwing out ammunition. But whether you own firearms for personal protection, hunting, or sporting activities, you want the gun to function properly and safely when called upon.
That is why it is essential to dispose of ALL ammunition that has been submerged in flood water and to have your firearms inspected by professionals before attempting to fire them.
The risks are too great otherwise.