Magazine Location and the Pistol Caliber Carbine
The SMG and PCC world has grown quite a bit in the last couple of years. Something triggered the collective gun consciousness to want and purchase pistol caliber carbines en masse. Companies like CZ, SIG, Ruger, and numerous MP5 clones are out satisfying the market. We can’t forget the Kel-Tec SUB 2k, the numerous ARs in pistol calibers, as well as the beautiful guns of B&T.
One interesting and unique factor with PCCs is magazine location.
With a PCC the magazines can be located forward of the grip and trigger, or inside the actual grip. The small size of PCC magazines often allows them to fit in the grip comfortably. We see both designs popping up and the competition has been around long enough to compare the venerable Uzi and the MP5. That’s left me wondering which magazine location is better?
I have both a CZ Scorpion and a Kel-Tec Sub 2k and decided to take a look at how much magazine location makes a difference. The US Army has had a complicated and often ridiculous procedure for acquiring weapons and one their current projects is adopting an SMG for VIP security. One of their requirements is for the magazine to be forward of the pistol grip. This requirement is what spurred me to begin examining the differences between magazine location options.
The first and most obvious difference will be relative weapon size. Guns that have their magazine located in the pistol grip will be shorter than guns with the magazine forward of the trigger. Of course, this is only when you compare guns with relative barrel lengths. For example, my Kel-Tec SUB 2k has a 16.25-inch barrel and the Scorpion has a 16.2-inch barrel. The Kel-Tec, even with a longer muzzle device, is a weapon that is considerably shorter.
The SMG is made for close combat so shaving off inches makes it easier to maneuver indoors and in vehicles. A smaller gun is also easier to hide under a coat or in a messenger bag, etc.
Additionally, a gun with the magazine in the pistol grip is considerably less bulky. When it comes to magazine location a gun with the mag forward of the pistol grip has two larger extensions, the grip, and the magazine. A gun with a magazine location in the pistol grip only has the grip and a flush fitting magazine can reduce bulk even further.
If size is an issue choose a weapon with the magazine location in the pistol grip. A smaller weapon is generally more handy for close quarters use and even a few inches can make a difference. (Aka that’s what she said.)
This was tricky and because I love you folks I went out, with 500 rounds of 9mm and hit the range ready to reload, and reload, and reload. I went for straight reloads. 1 round per magazine and just reload after reload. I didn’t get through all 500 rounds/ I did do enough repetitions that I can reload both guns like a beast these days. I tried three positions, the standing, kneeling and prone to see if there was a difference in how the gun handled.
I’ll save the dramatics, but in the standing and kneeling there was no difference due to the position. When we got to the prone is where I noticed the biggest difference. To complete this test I aimed at the exact same point at close range and tried to conduct a reload without moving the gun. The aiming point was parallel to me.
The gun with the magazine location in the pistol grip has the longer magazine well and has to overall drop further to clear the magazine well. This meant I had to raise the gun to both remove the empty magazine and to insert the fresh magazine. This took me off target and made me get into a higher prone position. After being a machine gunner, I seemed to really prefer the lowest prone position I can get into.
With the CZ Scorpion, I could reload without moving the gun in any way. The magazine’s shorter mag well made it easier to clear the magazine and insert the fresh one. From the prone position, the only time I had to move the gun is when I was aiming lower below the plane of the wrist of my firing hand.
The Design Difference
Outside of the prone, there are pros and cons to both designs. With the magazine located forward of the pistol grip, I had a much easier time dropping the magazine without breaking sight picture or shifting my body in anyway. With the Scorpion, I could do a reload with retention with ease. With the Sub 2K it required some fancy hand configuration and losing my good firing grip.
I also have big hands so this may be exclusive to gorilla’s like me, but my pinky, or occasionally my palm would pin the magazine in the Sub 2k and keep it from dropping free. That issue didn’t exist with the Scorpion and it’s magazine forward location. For reference, my Kel Tec is the longer grip Glock 17 model and I still have this issue. It may not be present on something like an Uzi, MP7, B&T TMP, etc.
With the Kel Tec the magazine in the grip made it like reloading a pistol with another point of contact. It was easy to direct my fresh magazine into the magazine well especially since my body instinctively knew where my firing hand was.
Releasing the magazine was easier with the Scorpion because I could do so with my non-firing hand and my firing hand’s trigger finger. The magazine release can be easier to use and more intuitive than a standard push-button magazine release. With the Sub 2K I was forced to use my firing hand to hit the mag release.
In my limited experimentation, I found no real noticeable difference when it came to clear malfunctions. The closest difference was the same when it came to reloading. I had to alter my grip, stance, and the way I held the weapon differently with each weapon. The easier option was the CZ Scorpion when it came to complicated malfunctions that required me to remove the magazine. Just less overall movement and more intuitive controls.
The last difference is the magazines. When it comes to guns with the magazine location in the pistol grip you only have the option of straight magazines. Guns with a magazine location forward of the grip can be straight or curved. Does this make a difference? Plenty of proven guns use straight magazines, like the Colt SMG, UZI, Sten, the AUG Para, and many more without issue. The only real benefit I can see is that the curved magazine can get you lower to the ground by being a bit shorter.
When Does Magazine Location Matter?
There are differences and advantages to both platforms, and its hard to say if one better than the other. A magazine in the pistol grip will make the gun more compact. Ultra small guns like the Micro Uzi are quite compact compared to guns like the MP5K. If size matters most the pistol grip located magazine is the go to.
If I was going to fight, right now, I would take a gun with the magazine forward of the pistol grip. This is matter of personal opinion but I feel it’s more goof proof and easier to reload and fix malfunctions. In the few firefights I’ve been in I did discover that simplicity is the key to winning. The less stuff that goes wrong due to user error the better.
What about you folks in the comments? Let me know if you have a preference and why. Also if I missed anything let me know and I can reevaluate.
Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine Gunner, a lifelong firearms enthusiast, and now a regular guy who likes to shoot, write, and find ways to combine the two. He holds an NRA certification as a Basic Pistol Instructor and is the world’s Okayest firearm’s instructor.