If you’re reading Guns & Ammo, you have a couple—or a couple dozen—G.I. ammo cans floating around your house and garage. And more than a few of you have a can full of tools in your truck. They’re as common as crazy people on a Greyhound bus.
Our favorite shooting accessory is so ubiquitous that most ammunition manufacturers still package their products so as to fit either .30- or .50-caliber cans. Taxpayers have never had such an effective return on money spent on the Military Industrial Complex, as most military bases just pile them beside the road after a training exercise, and servicemen grab a couple on the way home.
When I was growing up, my father was on the 6th Army rifle team, and he never walked by an ammo can that didn’t go with him. Our garage was filled with hundreds of them. They held ammo, once-fired brass, nails, nuts and bolts, electrical fixtures, tools—just about anything.
When I was cleaning things out after Dad died, I found a dusty ammo can filled with WWII-era demolition fuses and booby traps. I turned it in to the sheriff’s station.
The current can design appeared in the wake of World War II. Previously, the hinge ran along the side and the carrying handle was set down into the lid. An example figures prominently in the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan.
During college I noticed that among my fellow students who were veterans, .50-cal. cans substituted for cinder blocks in the construction of dorm bookshelves. A couple cans stacked in the corner of a den say more about being a shooter than an NRA sticker on the door, and they definitely improve any room’s feng shui.
G.I. ammo cans are amazingly versatile. I’ve used them as jack-stands for working on the jeep and as a tire chock when the parking brake wouldn’t hold on a hill. The only thing they won’t carry is open food, unless you cleanse them thoroughly. There’s a preservative applied at the factory that can make you sick, and anyone who has opened a sealed can knows the stuff is as palatable as Formula 409.
My father used to drill the front of the can and locking plate and insert a quarter-inch eyebolt, turning the can into a small safe. It’s not as good as a Gunvault for the car, but if you weld the eyebolt and use a good lock, you can get close. Using a couple of washers to give the lid clearance, I bolted one under my jeep’s footwell for secure storage. I’ve since seen ammo cans bolted to more than a few jeeps, and they seem to go together like a Stetson and cowboy boots.
One of the odd things is the deep, post-war green of the cans. In recent years the military has broken the sacred rule of .30 and .50, introducing an array of sizes to accommodate all the new ammunition types, from 60mm mortar to belted 40mm grenades. They’re all still painted with that old “Fulda Gap” green.
The Army fought World War II in olive drab, a sort of flat green with more than a hint of brown. After the war it switched to a darker true green and used it until camouflage became all the rage. The only vehicles still painted solid green are the ones parked in front of the VFW. But the green of ammo cans lives on, and it doesn’t match anything else you own.
Fortunately, Krylon makes a whole series of drab camouflage spray paints so you can quickly grab the right can of ammo when the zombies come in the night. Oddly, in spite of the unusual color, most gun folks don’t paint their ammo cans. It’s almost as if painting them would remove their manly status.
It’s an annoyance that none of the injected plastic handloading boxes fit in G.I. ammo cans. The Germans made a tool holder for the MG 34 and 42 machine guns that fit in an ammo can. But alas, our manufacturers can’t seem to understand the relationship of we shooters to the cans that bind us together.