Ammunition Caching: A 20 Year Real-World Experiment, by Cache and Carry

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Introduction:
Twenty years ago in 1993, I had already been collecting paramilitary style firearms for over 15 years. I remember purchasing my first HK91 rifle in the late 1970s and being so excited about the Galils, Uzis, Valmets, FN/FALs and the other varieties of collectable rifles that were available to a firearms enthusiast in that period of recent American history.

Being a collector of arms also made me interested in collecting the ammunition that was abundant in that era. Shortly after getting married in the 1980s, my lovely wife asked, “Why do you need to keep all this ammunition?” I responded that it was like a savings account and that I was gathering it because it was, “still cheap.” I guess I had a premonition of what might someday happen to ammunition availability. I remember buying .223 ammunition to fuel my AR-15 rifle, and paying around $110 per thousand for the stuff.

Like minds seek each other out and it was at a gun show that I met and became acquainted with an older and financially successful firearms collector. This man owned more than a few Class 3 registered firearms. He had the things that I had only dreamed of and I respected his wisdom in collecting and preparing.  After our friendship grew, he introduced me to the concept of ammunition caching.
This man had already placed multiple ammunition caches, when he allowed me to know that he was doing this. I was intrigued and asked him about his methods.

He was making each of his caches about the same. His caches consisted of 10 Krugerrand one-ounce gold coins (at this time gold was about $375 per ounce), a Ruger factory folding stainless Mini-14 rifle with five magazines and 1.000 rounds of ammunition. He also placed a cheap nylon backpack in the cache to aid in transporting the contents from the site. This gentleman claimed he preferred the stainless Mini 14 side folder, because with the pistol grip removed, he could make his cache to fit inside a 3 inch piece of PVC pipe. He then capped both ends and voila, you have a pretty handy cache for the future. I asked him how he remembered where these caches were located, and without going into too much detail, he told me he had a pattern, based on section lines. He stated that any friend of his only knew where two or less of the caches were. He buried his caches near steel cattle guards, culverts, or other large metal objects to discourage the use of metal detectors in compromising the cache locations. He explained to me how he preferred fresh plowed fields (not his own) and that he used a sheet of plywood with a hole in the middle, along with an auger to make the placements. He would search for location matching his “pattern” and the aforementioned criteria. He would place the plywood in the field and auger cache burial hole through the hole in the plywood. The plywood allowed him to control how the site looked after he finished, by containing the excess dirt, with the excess being distributed away from the site. When the cache was in place, he would remove the plywood and make the plowed field look as if he had never been there.

Needless to say, I was envious of his provisions, but sadly I was nowhere near as financially capable as this man, to make caches containing gold and rifles. What did happen; however, was that the seed was planted and I began thinking in earnest about the concept of caching.

The 1990s were an eye-opening time for me. I remember how horrified I was at the news of the federal siege at Ruby Ridge. The shooting of Randy Weaver’s son and wife caused me to wonder just how far the “powers that be” in this country could act against citizens and also to wonder what might be ahead as far as an out of control federal effort that seemed squarely against something as basic as the Second Amendment. Then in 1993 came the Waco siege. I remember watching on television as military tanks were used to smash holes in the church compound. This is the first time in my memory, on U.S. soil that I had seen military tanks used in an operation against U.S. citizens!  When the whole church compound went up in flames, the tanks and dozers kept pushing the rubble together to burn everything rather than extinguishing the flames to preserve evidence. I began in earnest to think how it could be that we had come to this in America and what the future of freedom would look like in the coming years.
By this time I had piled up a fair amount of ammunition.  As I hefted one of the wooden cases I struggled with the logistics of having to move ammunition in time of emergency. I remember thinking, if I had to leave my home under an emergency (I had not yet heard of the term “bugging out”) it would be next to impossible to include very much ammunition in my vehicle’s payload…  I made up my mind that I would locate at least some of my ammunition offsite to a remote location.

Method:
The following is what I did and how it turned out after I returned to open the cache this year, some 20 years later.
Once I decided that caching ammunition was a goal, I began keeping a lookout for various types of materials to construct containers to use for my caches. I did not have the extra money to make the acquisitions all at once, so I kept looking over different materials and possibilities.

I was also trying to think how a cache might be designed to allow retrieval quickly and without a large amount of effort as far as digging. The idea of a container that would hold another, removable container began to form as my design. This has been the pattern for the development of my caching system. I do not believe that I read about or heard others describe this type of cache. It is a design that was born of my desire to be able to quickly retrieve cached items. By its very design, the cached items have a double wall layer of protection from the elements. Time has proven that this is a viable method of creating a cache.

To get my project started, I discovered some heavy duty green sewer pipe at a second hand store. There were two pieces; one of eight inch inside diameter and one ten inch inside diameter. Each had some damage to the ends and so they were fairly inexpensive. I made an offer on the pipe and returned home to hack saw the cracked portions off of the pipes. Next I purchased caps to seal the ends. I did not find threaded caps, but only simple slip on caps. On one end of the pipe, I fiberglassed the cap in place to make a permanent seal to the pipe.  The other cap was left to simply slide onto the pipe to make the seal. The removable slip on cap fit so tight that it took more than a minute to remove the cap due to suction.  The next component came about because I often visit “Army Surplus” type stores. I remembered seeing plastic tubes that were U.S. Navy surplus sonobuoy shipping containers. A quick search of the Internet will show you what a gray plastic hexagonal sonobuoy shipping tube looks like.  As luck would have it, one of these sonobuoy tubes fits exactly inside an eight inch inside diameter pipe. The sonobuoy containers were selling for less than ten bucks apiece, so I could not pass up adding these to my project. The ten inch inside diameter pipe turned out to be the perfect size to hold the remainder of the eight inch pipe perfectly.

So, picture the design as being a permanently placed outer container (in this case pipe) as a “shell” to contain the smaller removable container, which I refer to as the “pod”. The outer shell will remain embedded in the ground (or concrete, or whatever you can imagine) and be placed so that the pod could be relatively easily removed.  One design possible with the materials I had gathered used the smaller sonobuoy as the pod inside the eight inch pipe (as the shell) to complete one cache.  The other used the larger ten inch pipe as a shell and an eight inch capped pipe inside as the pod. In either case the design uses a tube inside a tube. I termed this design an “encapsulated cache” which should allow the relative rapid withdrawal of the cached material. The encapsulated cache, uses the internal removable pod container, surrounded by the fixed protective walls of the outer shell container. The outer shell container in this concept is not excavated (other than to expose the cap) in the retrieval of the removable cached pod with its valuables.

The materials I had collected, had come together to give me what was needed to complete my idea for a cache concept that had formed in my mind. My plan was for a vertical cache, with the end (of the shell) that could be opened, hidden just under the surface for a quick retrieval of the contents. The cache would have to be located in such a way that I could quickly uncover it, remove the cap on the shell container and retrieve the inner pod containing the ammunition. The more likely the chance of people being in the area, the deeper or more creative you would have to be in the placement to conceal the removable outer cap of the shell. If need be the whole cache could be buried deep, but that begins to defeat the need for the “encapsulated cache” as time and effort to remove the pod would negate the “quick extraction” feature of this method. A variation in the encapsulated cache placement could involve the shell being placed horizontally. A horizontal placement of the shell could be included in the construction of a concrete basement wall for example and sheet rocked over. The retrieval would only require the breaking of the sheet rock veneer to expose the “shell” cap underneath. Rebar in the concrete might thwart the use of metal detectors to locate the cache set in such a wall.

Most of the remainder of this description will focus on my actual experience in placing and using the cache made from the eight inch outer pipe (for the shell) with the sonobuoy inner container (for the pod), but the concept would work the same whether you could obtain sonobuoy tubes, or made your inside pod tube from other material such as a smaller diameter pipe. I envisioned the cache design that I was going to place to be oriented vertically, and with the removable cap for the outside shell container only slightly underground or under a random large, discrete object.

As a side note, I have also made this type of cache by using a five gallon bucket as the permanent shell container with an ammo can as the interior pod container. I have had one such “bucket encapsulated cache” in place for over two decades. It is buried about six inches underground. I have returned to the bucket cache many times over the years to retrieve and add items from/to the “pod” (ammo can). At times I have found a very small amount of condensation in the “shell” (outer bucket), but never any inside the removable “pod” (Always protect the “pod” with desiccant where possible). This bucket encapsulated cache survived a logging operation that skidded trees directly over the placement. It survived one hundred percent undetected and unscathed.

In the placement of the encapsulated cache that I made with the sonobuoy pod, I used Mylar (metalized) bags to hold the various calibers of ammunition for the cache. I had one of the old “seal-a-meal” bag sealers and I began to collect the small bags of desiccant that came with various items I had had purchased. When the day came to load the interior container, I heated the many desiccant bags to recharge them, just prior to sealing the Mylar bags with varying calibers and quantities of ammunition.  I took a marker and labeled each bag to identify what it contained.

I found that my sonobuoy tube could hold all of the following:
Four bags containing 250 rounds each of 223 ammunition for a total of 1,000 rounds.
One bag containing 500 rounds of 9mm ammunition.
Six bags containing 100 rounds each of 308 ammunition for a total of 600 rounds.
One bag containing 120 rounds of 45 auto ammunition.

With the bags sealed, I arranged them in the sonobuoy tube, placing a large commercial bag of desiccant that I had scrounged from a snowmobile shipping crate and recharged in the oven, on the top of the pile of individually sealed bags. I screwed on the plastic cap of the sonobuoy pod and applied a silicone sealant gasket to provide an additional barrier against moisture.

When you put something like this together, you will notice is that the cache tube is very heavy.  To assist in the removal of the pod from the shell, I decided to construct a harness out of ¼ inch nylon rope for the pod, so that once uncovered, I could grab the rope harness and remove the inner cache from the vertical burial tube with more ease than if I had to try to pull the inner tube out by the cap alone.

With all this constructed, I now had to decide where I would place my cache. My concept was that this might have to be accessed by me in the event that I had to leave my home…what has become known today as bugging out. The different scenarios I envisioned all centered on the possibility of having to leave home and venture to a remote location. This is the most important consideration that anyone making this sort of preparation has to consider. You do not want to return to your cache after an extended absence and find that a new highway had compromised your efforts. How about a new housing development, and then there are logging operations and so on. In the end, I chose a remote location that I had spent some amount of time in my younger days camping and exploring. I choose public land far from civilization. I went camping and looked for “my spot”. The location I chose was in the high plains, above 6,000 feet elevation. I choose a location that gets about 20 inches of moisture a year; much of it in the form of snow.

Since I planned on leaving the upper cap on the vertical shell where I could access it quickly, I had decided that I would find a location with abundant rocks in the hope of locating the cache under a large boulder. My idea was that this would help water proof the cache, hide the cache and make the cache quickly accessible by simply moving the large rock “cap stone”.

After much searching, I found my location. I moved my materials along with two 4 foot by 4 foot pieces of plywood (to keep the surface of the ground pristine) to the location. With a digging bar, and a shovel it took most of the afternoon to place the vertical shell tube in position. It should also be noted that I picked a location that was well hidden from curious eyes by vegetation. With the shell tube in place I removed the dirt that had been dislocated in the process of digging the hole, away from the site to keep the site looking natural. I took the larger rocks that had been unearthed and used them to line the area directly around the removable shell cap. I did this so that upon retrieval of the ammunition, I would not have to dig, but could just pull these loose rocks from the area immediately surrounding the shell cap. With a great deal of effort I rolled the cover rock, which was a large mostly flat rock, into place over the cap of the cache shell.

One thing that I worried about when I initially placed the cache was the possibility of disturbance by bears, as bears often move rocks in search of moths, grubs, and ants to feed on. In this case I chose a cap rock that was very large. I also was careful not to use any container or material that had been used to hold food that might attract a curious scavenger.

Over the next twenty years, I made many efforts to revisit the area. I often went with friends, never mentioning the location of the cache, but lingering in the area to see if anyone might notice anything out of the ordinary. No one ever did. As time went on, a tree grew a branch directly over the cap stone adding to the security of the location. Sometimes I would leave a branch or twig lying on the cap stone to alert me if the stone had been tampered with. Over time, pine needles, leaves and debris continued to build up over the area and I became certain that the cache was safe for the foreseeable future. On some visits I observed four feet of snow covering the cache site. Other times the air temperature was nearly 100 degrees.

Results:
This year, being the twenty year anniversary of the placement of the cache, I decided I would test my design and see how the cache has fared. I approached the cache and observed that everything was as I had last left it.

I was careful not to break the tree branches that have grown over the stone as they add a level of natural camouflage to the shell cap stone that I cannot reproduce artificially. I slid the cap stone off of the cache cover (the stone weighs about fifty pounds). There, just as I had left it, was the plastic cap of the shell. I carefully, but easily removed the larger rocks around the perimeter of the plastic cap. I held my breath and began to work the cap up and off of the shell. When it came off, I was greeted with the view of the sonobuoy tube and its rope harness. Within three minutes of approaching the site and without any tools, I had extricated the pod containing the ammunition from the larger shell. I peered into the bottom of the larger, now empty shell and saw that the larger tube was indeed as “dry as a bone”. I was overjoyed as I often wondered if moisture had been seeping into the cache. In retrospect, I might have opened the cache a couple of years after the initial placement to assure that everything was staying dry, but in this case it all worked out just fine.

I put the plastic cap back on the now empty vertical shell and returned the cap stone to its place. Next, I anxiously opened the cap of the sonobuoy tube to reveal the contents after twenty years. I sampled the bags and found the ammunition dry and shinny. I took a 10 percent sample and test fired the ammunition. I had 100% reliability in firing the test ammunition. It should be noted that much of this ammo was surplus ammunition to start with and some is now more than forty years old.  I replaced the quantity of ammunition that I used in testing, recharged the desiccant by heating it and again sealed the bags and the sonobuoy tube. I did take advantage of a small unused space inside the tube to add an additional 750 rounds of .22 long rifle ammunition, to top off the space in the sonobuoy tube. I returned to the cache site and replaced everything as it was before the cache was opened.  The replacement of the cache took only minutes and no special tools.

Conclusion:

I can’t tell you how much peace of mind I have knowing that this cache is in place and functioning as I had hoped for two decades. I do not see any reason that it might not survive many more decades into the future.  When the time is right I hope I can show my children the cache and pass it on to them.
At the time I buried the cache, I would have been somewhat embarrassed to tell anyone that I would make such preparation. Now, twenty years later I believe there are many more people who would not think the placement of such provisions is at all eccentric.
I have written this description to encourage other kindred spirits to pay attention to the materials that you may come in contact with that could be used to construct a similar cache and to motivate you to make such a preparation for you and your associates for the day when such provisions may be needed.

My guess is that some will scoff at the idea of the cache being only slightly underground, or being covered by a removable rock. The weakness is that the cache may be found; however, the location that I placed this cache in is so remote that humans seldom even walk near the location. Also, large boulders are common in the location, giving the “cap stone” a very inconspicuous look (I would NOT recommend placing the cache under the only prominent rock in an area). These factors give this type of cache the security that has allowed it to be successfully placed these twenty years.
I know of another individual who has placed a cache of ammunition in a totally different way. His cache is buried more than ten feet underground! It certainly is secure, but how long would he have to work to remove the contents?  

In the end, your choice of materials and designs are endless. My “encapsulated cache” is really one that came together by imagination and luck in finding the materials I used to construct it. The secret is being ready and available to make use of what is around you and then being motivated to do something, rather than spending your precious time “getting ready to get ready” and in fact doing nothing.
Lastly, I want to state that I consider myself a patriotically motivated individual. My cache is in place as a last resort to preserve the ideals of the Constitution of the United States, and especially our God given rights. I consider it my responsibility to be prepared to personally keep the Minuteman mentality that I came to admire as I learned our nations history.  I pray that it does not come to the point where freedom is so curtailed that patriots are again force to fight tyranny on this North American continent  in order to preserve the concepts that made this country great, but the fact is, that it is looking more and more like that is our situation.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness." - United States Declaration of Independence

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This page contains a single entry by Jim Rawles published on June 26, 2013 2:59 AM.

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