You May Want To Periodically Change Your Gun Magazines
If you ask serious revolver people about why they don’t carry or prefer semi-autos given the greater carrying capacity, lower expense and greater concealability, one of the answers you’ll get a lot is that gun magazines have a tendency to fail. Metal cylinders, unless subjected to a steady diet of +P ammunition that they aren’t rated for, do not.
Should magazines be periodically replaced? It might be a good idea to consider doing so, if you aren’t already.
Pistol Magazines: The Achilles Heel Of The Semi-Auto Pistol
It isn’t much of a stretch to say that pistol magazines are the Achilles heel of semi-automatic handguns, or at least are one of them next to recoil springs. They are one of the most common components to fail or cause a failure, and that has been the case basically since ever.
Faulty magazines are one of the most common causes of a failure to feed or failure to return to battery, as rounds are not being fed to the chamber correctly. There are other causes – such as excess carbon buildup, feed ramp in need of a polish and so on – but one of the most common is a bad magazine. The revolver crowd will be more than happy to point this out, if you ask them.
There are three common issues with pistol magazines that have to be watched for:
- Cracked/bent feed lips: this is where the lips on the top of the magazine have cracked or have been bent to the point where they no longer function correctly.
- Damaged follower: the follower is the metal tab that sits atop the spring, and feeds the bullet out of the magazine. It can feed incorrectly if it’s been damaged.
- Worn out magazine springs: a pistol magazine is essentially a metal box with a spring that feeds stuff out of the top. If the spring stops working…you get the idea.
There is one other common magazine issue that shooters can experience, but this has nothing to do with the magazine itself, but rather the person operating the firearm. Namely, it’s not inserting the magazine fully. If you don’t seat it correctly, it won’t feed correctly.
What Can Wear Out Gun Magazines
You might be tempted to believe that gun magazines, or more specifically the springs and followers, will wear out if left fully loaded in a safe or mag carrier that goes on a gun belt as part of everyday carry.
It’s not true.
In point of fact, magazine springs don’t wear out from being under load; they wear out from being constantly loaded and unloaded. The more times the spring is compressed, released, then recompressed brings it closer to the point where the spring will weaken. Merely being under load doesn’t do it alone.
Another factor to consider is, and not to be indelicate, but how cheap your magazines are. If you buy cheap magazines you’ll likely get what you pay for. That cheap no-name magazine at the gun store might work as a range magazine for a bit, or could be made into an acceptable magazine with a quality spring and follower.
If you asked 10 serious 1911 guys what they run, there’s a good chance that 4 or 5 of them will say “Wilson Combat” or “Chip McCormick” because Wilson Combat and Chip McCormick make some of the best 1911 magazines on the market.
Magazines with springs, followers and feed lips of cheap metal or poor quality polymers will degrade more quickly than quality magazines. In fact, quality magazines may not degrade at all, depending on how they’re used.
How Often Should I Replace My Magazines?
How often should one change their magazines? It’s difficult to say, as wear occurs on an economy of scale. Just like how some gun belts wear out if subjected to daily use and some can last decades, magazine life comes down to the quality of the magazine but also how it’s used. Person A could go several years (maybe a decade) before they should think about it and person B should do so every few months.
If you shoot maybe two to three times per year, don’t carry a gun everyday but keep one loaded for home protection, keep one loaded magazine in the pistol and maybe one loaded as a backup. Leave all other magazines unloaded, except for range use. Don’t cycle ammunition; load it into the magazine and leave it alone, or else burn it at the range. If you follow these guidelines, you might need a new magazine once or twice a decade. If that, depending on how good the magazines your gun came with are.
If you’re a regular shooter and carrier, meaning you shoot once or twice per month and carry daily, then regular magazine replacement is more in order. Consider replacing magazines annually, or – if feed lips and the magazine case and basepad are in good shape – replacing the follower and magazine spring. Don’t repeatedly cycle ammunition, even if a beloved perfect JHP load. Leave it alone or burn it at the range.
So ultimately, consider how much activity your magazines are subjected to. The more activity, the more often the magazine needs replacing, or at least the spring and follower.
About The Author
Born in southeastern Washington State, Sam Hoober graduated in 2011 from Eastern Washington University. He resides in the great Inland Northwest, with his wife and child. His varied interests and hobbies include camping, fishing, hunting, and spending time at the gun range as often as possible.