Weird Magazine Designs — Breaking Down the Odd

This is GunMag Warehouse, and it’s always interesting to cover different things about magazines. Often, mags are an untouched topic in terms of historical analysis and coverage. So, combining my interest in magazines with my interest in weird stuff, I found a few weird magazine designs to cover here. I’m specifically going to talk about weird magazine designs that are removable because if we also cover fixed mags it might get a bit long.

Rotary — The Most Common Weird Magazine

The first rotary magazine was patented in 1856, and as far as weird magazine designs go, this is one of the most common. Well, one of the most commonly produced for a specific popular firearm. The famed Ruger 10/22 utilizes a rotary magazine. The Johnson rifle used a fixed rotary mag, and the Savage Model 1892 also used a rotary mag.

Ruger 10/22 rotary magazine
Ruger Magazines are the most common rotary magazines.

This weird magazine uses a cylindrical sprocket that’s moved by a torsion spring. Cartridges fit between the tooth bar of the sprocket, which sits on a spindle. Rounds are rotated into the feeding position automatically. These rotary magazines come in various capacities, and as the Ruger 10/22 has proven, they are quite reliable.


Helical magazines are real weird magazine designs that are also quite rare. The famed futuristic-looking Calico carbine system sported a 50 to 100 round magazine positioned above the gun. The Russian Bizon submachine gun also utilized an under-mounted helical magazine. The North Koreans apparently have a helical magazine for the AK 47 series, although no one knows if these things actually work.

Russian Bizon submachine gun with helical magazine.
The Bizon sports a Helical magazine.

Helical magazines are essentially drum magazines in which the round follows a spiral path around a specialized rotating follower. The drum tends to be more expansive horizontally than vertically and, as such, does not restrict shooters in the prone position. This weird magazine is complex and expensive and not always reliable. Outside of North Korea, no military force utilizes them.


Casket magazine sounds like something Hot Topic sells, but in reality, they are an expansive box magazine. Both modern box magazines are a double stack design. Casket magazines are a quad stack design. Thie weird magazine design has that unique casket shape, and that’s where it gains its name.

Surefire weird magazine design, AR-15 223 Remington 60-round aluminum casket mag
Surefire makes a modern Casket magazine.

Casket magazines can expand capacity without extending the length of the magazine excessively. A 60 round casket magazine will often only be the same length as a 40 round magazine. Casket magazines are not uncommon, and models from Surefire and ATI exist. The biggest downside is reliability. The streams can get crossed when the tip of one projectile covers the other. This often occurs when the magazine is dropped while partially loaded.


Pan magazine designs are rare and have fallen out of favor. We saw pan magazines most famously in the Degtyaryov light machine gun as well as the American-180 submachine gun. Pan magazines were essentially a top-loading drum that offered a low-profile source of firepower before belt-fed light machine guns became popular.

The Lewis Gun has a weird magazine design: the Pan mag.
These weird magazines are mounted to the top of the gun, and they wouldn’t interfere in the prone position, and they could make prone reloads easier. 

Pan magazines relied on gravity and either a ratchet and pawl mechanism or an unwinding circular spring. These magazines fell out of popularity because they are somewhat prone to failure and offer no advantages over a belt-fed design.


As far as I can tell, the only horizontal magazines out there are the P90 and HK G11 magazines. A number of firearms use the P90’s design making it the most popular horizontal magazine. This weird magazine design sits horizontally over the barrel, and the cartridges sit flat and horizontally. This requires the magazine to rotate each round into position before it can be fired.

FN P90 horizontal magazine
Each round rotates into position before it can be fired in this weird magazine design.

Horizontal magazines allow for a relatively high-capacity magazine that sits flush with the firearm. This reduces parts and pieces hanging off the gun and limits its ability to get caught on environmental crap. The P90 magazine is quite reliable, but due to the relatively complicated design, they tend to be fairly pricey. They also don’t seem conducive to regular rifle rounds due to their length.

Tubular Magazine

Tubular magazines tend to be fixed. Shotguns and lever-action rifles famously used fixed tubular magazines. However, they aren’t always fixed. The Spencer rifle, for example, used a detachable tubular magazine that was inserted at the stock of the rifle. It’s a fairly simple tube design that was relatively easy to use.

Spencer rifle with tubular magazine
The Spencer was such a cool rifle.

The Spencer holds seven rounds, and while the magazine was removable, it wasn’t intended for the user to carry multiple magazines. Why no one saw the potential in this is beyond me. A man with the unfortunate name of Erastus Blakeslee invented a cartridge box that held seven rounds that could rapidly charge the tubular magazine.

This weird magazine design didn’t go far but helped the repeating rifle enter the mainstream.


I’m not sure if most people count this as a magazine, but it fits the definition to me. A cylinder magazine is essentially a revolver’s cylinder. As you know, most are fixed and not made to be rapidly reloaded. However, the Remington model 1858 famously boasted a very easy means to remove the cylinder and allow for a reload with an additional cylinder.

Cylinder mag - weird magazine design
Does this count as a magazine?

In the age of percussion revolvers, this was an extremely fast means to reload and keep fighting. Big Army didn’t see the point and never issued extra cylinders. However, this weird magazine design fits within our rules or being both weird and removable.

Rotating Tubular Magazine

Another oddball and weird magazine design comes courtesy of SRM Arms. Their 1216 shotgun uses a rotary tubular magazine, and each tube holds round rounds. Each magazine has four tubes, and the guns have a 16 round capacity. These magazines are removable, and the user can easily reload on the fly.

SRM 1216 tubular magazine system with 16 rounds of 12-gauge - definitely a weird magazine design
16 rounds of 12 gauge is universal for “Wrong House”

The system is essentially four shotgun tube magazines welded together, and the shotgun allows you to rotate the tubes at will to top off or reload your source of ammunition. The SRM 1216 is the only weapon I know that uses a rotating tubular magazine.

Weird Magazine Designs

Weird magazine designs vary a fair bit. Most throw themselves into the zeitgeist of firearms technology. Eventually, they either get lost in the technology of firearms or get spit out on the other side as successful. Rarely does a weird magazine make it through, but that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate the general weirdness of magazine designs. At one point, the detachable box magazine was weird, and now it’s commonplace. I think I got all the weird magazine designs out there, but if I missed a notable example, let me know below.


Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine Gunner and a lifelong firearms enthusiast. Now that his days of working a 240B like Charlie Parker on the sax are over he's 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 probably most likely the world's Okayest firearm instructor. He is a simplicisist when it comes to talking about himself in the 3rd person and a self-professed tactical hipster. Hit him up on Instagram, @travis.l.pike, with story ideas.

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