Clip vs. Magazine: What’s The Difference?

The word misnomer comes from the French word mesnomer, which means “to name wrongly.” Does it drive you nuts when someone refers to a magazine as a clip? Such misnomers are rampant in conversations about firearms. I have a confession to make: I used to do it! All my childhood, my dad referred to magazines as “clips.” It was just a normal thing. In fact, many people from his generation did so. Later on, it took me years of monumental effort to correct myself from referring to magazines as clips – and to this day, I catch myself nearly uttering this blasphemy.

M1 clip and M1A Magazine.
On the left is a clip. Specifically, an 8-round en bloc clip for an M1 Garand. On the right is a box magazine for an M1A. Is the M1 clip the culprit for why so many people refer to magazines as “clips”? The world may never know. [Photo: Jim Davis]
I’m not sure that anyone knows where this trend originated, but I have my suspicions that people started the misnomer when referring to the en bloc clips that the M1 Garand uses. It’s possible that some WWII veterans referred to everything that fed rounds into a firearm as a “clip.” Eventually, those clips may have generically come to be referred to as magazines too. Of course, I’m just guessing, but maybe it could be the case.

Clip Vs. Magazine

Generally speaking, a clip is a piece of metal that holds ammunition together so it can be fed into a magazine.

A magazine is a device (usually spring-fed) that holds rounds to be loaded into the firearm.

Detachable Box Magazines

As their name implies, box magazines are usually rectangular boxes that can be readily detached from the firearm. Rounds can be fed into them singly or via stripper clips.

The number of rifles that use detachable box magazines is staggering, and to name all of them would consume the volume of a book. I will, however, name a few here just to whet the appetite of readers and get them excited: AR-15 and M-16 series, Browning Automatic Rifle, M1 Carbine, FN SCAR, AK-47, AR-10, M1A and its military parent, the M-14, Ruger Mini-14, Ruger 10/22, Ruger Mini-30, FN FAL, AK-74, and…well, you get the picture. There’s an endless list of rifles that are fed from detachable box magazines, as I could go on for pages.

M1A and magazines.
Modern military rifles use the detachable box magazine. Seen here is the M1A/M14, which was an improvement on the M1 Garand. Part of the update was moving from the 8-round clips to the magazine. Note the bandoleer of 7.62x51mm ammunition to the right – the bullets are held in place with 5-round stripper clips. [Photo: Jim Davis]
Box magazines are great because it’s probably the fastest way in existence to load a rifle. Additionally, a lot of spare ammunition can be carried by a shooter and it’s all ready to go into action at a moment’s notice.

Inherent Drawbacks

Box magazines have a few downsides, though. They cost money. Fortunately, these days, the main platforms that many shooters use have inexpensive magazines (specifically, the AR and AK series) that are very plentiful to pick up. Other magazines for less common firearms, though, can set you back significantly monetarily.

Box magazines have a finite life. Most don’t last forever (although the AK series and the M1A mags seem to defy this) and will need to be replaced. That’s fine, assuming they are still available and reasonably priced. However, as we’ve seen with gun bans in the past, if they are banned, they suddenly become worth more than their weight in gold. And at that point, many of us sort of hesitated to use them because we didn’t know if they’d ever be available again.

Also, box magazines can be lost. Especially if you’re engaging in action-oriented shooting (competition, combat). You may have more pressing needs on your mind than retrieving that dropped, empty magazine.

With all that said, we’re pretty much married to the concept of box magazines, given that all of our current combat rifles feed from them, and there doesn’t appear to be a viable alternative on the horizon currently.

Internal Magazines

Internal magazines are just that – they are internal to the firearm and usually not removable. They hold the ammunition inside the firearm and must be loaded via a loading port or the chamber. A couple of examples would be the Remington 700 ADL or BDL. Another is the SKS carbine.

Considering that the 700 and other similar rifles are bolt action rifles typically used for hunting, target shooting, and sniping, they’re not normally weapons that we demand a high rate of fire from. Because of that, the internal magazines are normally adequate for what is asked of the rifle. Plus, it has the added advantage that the magazines will never be mislaid or lost.

Tubular Magazines

A tubular magazine usually fits under the barrel of a firearm and is fed via a loading port. An example of this is the pump-action shotgun, which normally has a loading port underneath the weapon into which the shotgun shells are pushed. The Remington 870 12 gauge is a popular shotgun, as is the Mossberg 500 series.

Lever action rifle and shotguns, all with tubular magazines.
Shotguns and lever guns are famous for tubular magazines. Here is a Marlin lever action .30-30, a Remington 870, and a Mossberg Shockwave, all sporting tubular magazines under their barrel. [Photo: Jim Davis]
Other examples are lever-action rifles, most of which have a side loading port, such as the Marlin .30-30 and many others on the market. Many .22 lever actions and semi-autos also have a tubular magazine and quite a few feed from the end of the magazine closest to the muzzle.

They’re like, so tubular, dude!

Stripper Clips

Tons of firearms feed from stripper clips. Back in the day, it was the way to feed a firearm! The old Mausers, Springfields (.30-06), Enfields, and pretty much every bolt action rifle invented in the 1800s and early 1900s was fed by stripper clips or charger clips. So was the SKS carbine (7.62x39mm).

No. 4 MK I Lee-Enfield with charger clips.
Older military rifles (pre-WWI up through WWII) were mostly fed by clips or chargers. Seen here is the No. 4 MK I Lee-Enfield in .303 British. A charger full of ammunition is in place on the rifle’s charger guide. [Photo: Jim Davis]
The M1 Garand, which was the first general-issue semi-automatic rifle issued to any military, was fed via an 8-round en bloc clip. When the last round fired, it was ejected from the top of the rifle’s action with a resounding “PING!” That’s because, unlike other stripper clips that merely feed ammo into the magazine and then are discarded, the en bloc clip rides with the ammunition inside the rifle the entire time until it’s ejected.

M1 Garand with a clip ready for loading.
An 8-round en bloc clip is all set to load into an M1 Garand. The clip is held inside the rifle until the last round is expended, and then it is ejected with a satisfying PING! Photo: Jim Davis.

The Advent of the Stripper Clip

As a bit of trivia, Ferdinand Mannlicher designed the first en bloc clips for his 1885, 1886, and 1888 rifles. Initially, I thought the en bloc system was first invented for the M1 Garand, but I was mistaken; it was much older than John Garand’s rifle.

In even more modern firearms, stripper clips can feed magazines. 5.56mm rounds come on stripper clips that can be fed into M16 magazines via a loader that can be clipped onto the rear of the aluminum magazines, which makes filling the mags faster than doing so one round at a time.

The M1A has a stripper clip guide on the bridge of the action, so a magazine that’s in the magazine well can be recharged using 5-round clips of .308 rounds.

M1A rifle with stripper clip for charging the magazine.
Even in more modern designs, stripper clips can charge magazines. Seen here, a stripper clip is in the guide of an M1A from Springfield Armory. Photo: Jim Davis.

If we’re discussing loading a Lee-Enfield of WWI or WWII era, owners of such rifles will vociferously advise you that they are not stripper clips, they are chargers.

Stripper clips were simple and cheap to produce, and in a wartime setting, those were vital factors. Any area where production time and cost could be cut was capitalized on. More and faster was the name of the game, and stripper clips were the way to go.

Moon Clips

Moon clips are circular devices most often made of metal into which rounds are inserted and held fast. Think of it almost like a stripper clip but for revolvers. The clip and rounds are inserted into a revolver’s cylinder (there are notches where the cartridges are inserted into the clip), and when the rounds are fired, the rounds and clip are ejected from the opened cylinder.

Overall, moon clips are not very easy or practical to carry if the person is carrying the revolver in a concealed manner. Moon clips in pockets are not conducive to being convenient. They are also not the easiest thing to load cartridges into nor get spent cartridges out of. Because of this, many shooters opt to use speed loaders for revolvers.

Speed Loaders

While neither magazines nor clips, I thought it might be worthwhile to mention speed loaders because they sort of act like clips in that they hold ammunition together to load into a revolver’s cylinder. Because of that, they kinda sorta meet the description of a clip.

These days, there is a plethora of speed loaders on the market that make loading revolvers far faster than fumbling with loose rounds.

Who Cares?

In the end, when we discuss firearms and their associated terms, we want to be as accurate and intelligent as possible. Especially these days when politicians are attempting to fill the air with misinformation, we want to be able to debate with them intelligently using correct terms.

And honestly, tell me it doesn’t irritate you when we hear some person on television or the Senate floor babbling about “100-round AR-15 bullet clips.” It aggravates me to no end, I can tell you and generates some muttering under my breath.

As gun owners, we are often painted as drooling, knuckle-dragging, uneducated fools. I feel it’s in our place to break that common perception that members of the media put out there. Knowing and using the proper terminology in an intelligent manner is a great way to do that.

Plus, using the proper terms is just right.

Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities. He is a dedicated Christian and attributes any skills that he has to the glory of God.

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