Ensuring Defensive Magazine Reliability

When it comes to defensive guns, reliability is one of the most important traits.  When you NEED a gun for self-defense, you REALLY need it.  You need that gun right now, and you need it to work.

Reliability in firearms is a complex topic because there are many variables to consider.  The gun itself certainly needs to be reliable, but so does the defensive ammunition.  It needs to work well with the gun you are using it in.    The gun and the ammo are the two factors that most people consider when it comes to reliability, but there is a third, very important item to think about when it comes to the reliability of your defensive gun—magazine reliability.

Defensive magazine reliability is critical!

You see, magazines are the tool that delivers ammunition into the action of your defensive gun.  A good reliable magazine delivers your ammunition in a way that your gun can use it every time.  That is what we are looking for.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way.  To be confident in your defensive guns, you need to be confident in the magazines that feed them!

Let’s take a look at some tips that can help you evaluate and have confidence in the reliability of your magazines.

Mark Your Magazines

The first step in understanding how reliable your magazines are is getting to know your mags.  There is a problem though.  You probably have more than one mag.  In fact, you probably have a bunch of them and they all look alike.  Same size, same shape, same color.  It can be confusing as to which magazine is which. If everything is working perfectly, it doesn’t matter, but, when things start to go wrong, that is when you want to be able to tell stuff apart.

Safety Solutions Academy magazines marked with paint pen for identification purposes.
To be able to tell my magazines apart, I use a simple paint marker to number them.  I usually use two-digit designations like 01, 02, 03, – 10, 11, 12.

I like the mags to all look about the same.  I guess I’m picky!  I also put my last name and “SSA” for Safety Solutions Academy on the mags to make sure they get back to where they belong if they wander away.

The number markings really come in handy when I start to experience a malfunction.  You see, when the malfunction happens with several different magazines, I start my investigation with the gun and the ammo.  If however, the malfunction happens with a single magazine repeatedly, I know where the problem lies.  That mag is history and I simply head to GunMagWarehouse.com for a replacement (or three).

Marking your magazines is a simple and inexpensive way to help find the source of problems in your defensive system and it has the boys benefit of helping you keep track of your mags at the range.  

for better magazine reliability mark your magazines
Mark your mags.

Test Your Magazines

Before I will trust my life—and the lives of those that I love to a new magazine—that magazine has to be tested.  If I am going to depend on a magazine, that magazine must be dependable.  Once the mag is marked, it is time to run it.  There are a few tests I like to put my mags through to make sure they work with my gun and the ammunition.

First, I start out with one round in the mag.  I fire that round and make sure the gun locks open on empty.

Second, two rounds. Again to make sure the gun locks open when empty, but also to make sure that it doesn’t lock open early.

No surprise here, third I run the same test with three rounds.

If the mag experiences a failure in this starting portion of the test, I note what the failure was and the magazine that the failure occurred with (your mags are marked, right?)  I also consider that the failure wasn’t the fault of the gun, ammo, or mag.  Did I do something that kept the gun from locking open or made the gun lock open early? Or, was it a problem with the mag.  I re-test any mag that failed to make sure that any issue has been dealt with.

defensive magazines

Then I move on with my testing into the fun part.  I like to test each mag with 4 full loads of ammunition to know that it is going to work well.

During this phase, I’m looking for any malfunctions that occur.  Failures to feed, failures to eject, failures to lock open, or locking open, prematurely, etc.  Whenever any malfunction happens I make a note in my journal to remind myself of what the failure was and which magazine was involved in the failure.  Here, I am looking for patterns.  If there is a particular type of failure that happens repeatedly with one specific magazine, I can be pretty sure that there is some kind of an issue with the magazine and I can focus my energy on sorting out why that mag is having problems.

Most of the time, most quality magazines pass this test with flying colors. It almost makes the test seem silly. It isn’t. I am not testing because most magazines work. Instead, I’m testing because sometimes mags fail and when they do, I need to know it BEFORE my life depends on it.

Inspect and Clean Your Magazines

Once your mags are marked and tested and you are confident that they work, your job becomes to make sure you maintain those mags.  This really comes down to a simple inspection and cleaning after hard use.

When I complete a shooting session I make sure to wipe down the outside of the magazine and inspect the feed lips for any obvious bends, dents, and dings.  Depending on the ground surface where I have been training I might also choose to remove the baseplate, springs, and follower to remove any debris from inside the magazine.  You can use a simple rag to fish through the magazine body, or my favorite is a 12 gauge shotgun cleaning mop threaded onto a short cleaning rod.  With just a couple of ins and outs, the job is done. I can use cleaner and lubricant if needed.

cleaning and maintenance of defensive magazine helps ensure magazine reliability
Cleaning and maintenance help ensure magazine reliability.

 Simple reassembly then takes place and my mags are now ready for carry or for my next training or practice session.

Inspection and cleaning doesn’t take much time and it can go a long way toward keeping your magazines in good shape and behaving reliably as the first time you tested them.

Final Thoughts on Magazine Reliability

Your defensive system is only as strong as the weakest link.  When it comes to magazine-fed defensive guns, don’t let your magazines be the week link in the system.  Taking the time to mark your magazines, test them for reliability and keep them in good shape through regular inspection and cleaning will keep your magazines working well.  In addition, it will increase your confidence in your defensive tools and confidence can go a long way in helping you to avoid a violent confrontation or to prevail should you find yourself the victim of a violent attack.

Paul Carlson, owner of Safety Solutions Academy, is a Professional Defensive Shooting Instructor.  He has spent the past decade and a half studying how humans can perform more efficiently in violent confrontations and honing his skills as an instructor both in the classroom and on the range. Through Safety Solutions Academy, Paul teaches a variety of Critical Defensive Skills courses in more than a dozen states annually.  Courses range from Concealed Carry Classes to Advanced Critical Defensive Handgun Courses and include instruction for the defensive use of handguns, rifles and shotguns.  Safety Solutions Academy regularly hosts other industry leading experts as guest instructors to make sure that SSA's students have the opportunity for quality instruction across a broad range of Critical Defensive disciplines.

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