Thursday, June 22, 2017

Buy Once, Cry Once: Magazines

No-name Glock style mag
A quality magazine is vital to the reliable function of a firearm. While we’re discussing mainly poorly made cheap aftermarket magazines, the problem extends to an engineering level as well. Take the M1 Garand box magazine conversions. Army officials naturally wanted to use the existing 20 round BAR magazine, but it would not function in the Garand. The magazine spring was unable to push the cartridges up fast enough to picked up by the bolt. Two solutions were offered; a new magazine design or lengthening the receiver slightly to allow more time for the stack of cartridges to rise before the bolt began coming forward again.

Some magazines turn out to be total disasters that most in the gun culture know about. The Chauchat machine gun, widely believed to be the worst gun ever, suffered from a magazine that was open to the ingress of mud and debris. The British SA80 program suffered from Radway Green manufactured STANAG 5.56mm magazines that were so flimsy that they, if squeezed hard enough, pinched the cartridges and kept them from rising to the top. The British settled on the EMAG from Magpul, an excellent choice, as it is smooth sided and drops free from certain platforms where other designs will not.

The standard of polymer magazines in the AR platform is Magpul. The current production models are strong, reliable, and overall as bombproof as such a product can be. Various manufacturers with strong quality control make good steel and even aluminum USGI magazines. The key is good engineering and quality control; something that is lost when a product is designed primarily to be cheap. As we now know, a plastic magazine isn’t bad because it’s made of plastic.

Damage sustained after beating
Heck, even discount magazine manufacturer ProMag makes some good magazines, but not the 40 round sand colored AR magazines I bought. Ultimately, the responsibility for owning a crappy magazine lies with me. I bought two of these during a panic because the lighter colored PMAGs were sold out. I could have waited or shopped elsewhere, but I was looking to save a dime and get my high(er) capacity mags NOW.

What I found out was they wouldn’t accept standard M196 tracer cartridges. The bullet protruded from the case ever so slightly more than the M193 and M855. So I relegated them to “fun only.” They worked fine with commercial .223 plinking ammo and M193, but they hated Tula steel cases. Having realized I still haven’t shot all of that junk, I hate it too. Of course, Tula steel has its own problems, but it should be with the rifle, not somehow sticking together in a clean magazine and jamming up the cartridges before even reaching the top of the stack. The steel ran fine in the USGI style and all my polymer mags.

Eventually, I gave up, safed the rifle, sat it down, and smacked the magazine on a rock to produce the dramatic above results. I will compliment ProMag on how easy it was to take off the floorplate, in both busted and functional modes. I also liked their RM-30 Rollermag which uses a polymer roller to help advance the anti-tilt follower. Rumor has it the design was to improve feeding in full-auto guns by aiding with a quick and smooth follower rise. It has a Gen 4 Glock-like stippling to it which feels nice in the hand. The roller itself is unnecessary and doesn’t provide any real advantage, but it’s a cool product and why not shoot it? Still, my defensive magazines for ARs will only be combat tested designs.

I happen to have tried and enjoy the HERA Arms H3 windowed mag (looks futuristic too) and the Hexmag. I got some free Tapco magazines with my DMPS AR purchase a few years ago and they work as well as the PMAGs, just not as comfortable or pretty (or lighter or less bulky). I will also recommend the Magpul Glock magazines, but on the 9mm 21 round version the last round is a stiff fit and a loading tool is recommended. Those crap no-name Glock magazines? They went in the trash after they wouldn't lock into a Glock-compatible 9mm carbine (Gen 3 style for both gun and mags).

So if the bad mags and the nice Rollermag were made by the same company, what went wrong? If you’re buying a cheap magazine, remember that will be reflected in the quality. My recommendation is to buy quality magazines. Look for something that has been well reviewed or from a maker known for quality selling a proven design. Researching good aftermarket magazines is an essential part of homework when buying gun parts.

Nothing is wrong with buying a new magazine to try it out, just don’t rush out and buy cheap or untested magazines in bulk and expect them to run flawlessly. Buying a cheap magazine saves you no money when you end up throwing it away. There is a reason why Ruger made Mini-14 magazines are $34.99 or so and most owners are happy paying factory price. Reliability is better and more important than a deal. If cost is what you are looking for, wait for a sale or buy in bulk.  Buy once, cry once. Don’t waste your money.

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