Exclusive: Some Questions on Magazine Capacity

Magazine capacity — rifle or handgun — is a concept loaded (ha!) with interesting nuances for shooters. Ever load a magazine to its stated capacity but wonder if you ought to take a round or two out to relieve some of the pressure? Do some of your magazines seem to load and seat easier than others? There’s a lot of engineering going on in these very important gun parts and, despite decades of advancements in firearms design, some of us always load up some gun magazines to below their stated capacity. Some gun magazines easily hold every round. Some not so much. Here are some of my notes on a few handgun and rifle magazines:

Wilson Combat 1911 Magazine. Argued by some as the gold standard of 1911 magazine design, the Wilson Combat magazines in my range bag easily accept and hold their stated capacity of ammo. The Wilson magazine you see here is a standard 8-round .45 ACP 1911 magazine. All the rounds go in smooth, with relatively minimal effort. And the magazine consistently feeds the rounds into whatever 1911 I’m shooting. In fact, I’ve found virtually every 1911 magazine easily accepts and holds its stated capacity of ammo. Is this the result of multiple decades of design tweaks?


Wilson Combat 8-round .45 ACP 1911 magazine

Ruger American Magazine. A relatively new pistol, the Ruger American’s magazines call for 17 rounds of 9mm (for the 9mm pistol, of course). And the magazines seem to gladly hold all 17 rounds. Granted, the final two or three 9mm cartridges require some additional effort to insert, but they go in. A full magazine seats confidently in the gun, and then reliably feeds them up and into battery. So what’s the question here? Not all double-stack magazines (see below) do this. Why?


Ruger American 17-round 9mm magazine

Glock 19 Magazine. This magazine has been around for years, carried and fed thousands of rounds of ammo, and works every time. Despite the constant workout, the magazine’s follower spring gets very difficult to depress when the magazine is close to capacity — this not only makes the 15th round difficult to load but also makes the full magazine difficult to insert in the gun. So I only feed 14 rounds of 9mm into this 15 round magazine. For the record, I’ve loaded the Glock magazines with 15 rounds and test fired this gun again and again — without fail. Still, my preference is to go with 14 in the 15. Lots of people carry this gun on a regular basis. What do you do when you load up your magazines?


Glock 19 15-round 9mm magazine

On to rifle magazines…

Magpul P-Mag, HexMag, and Daniel Defense AR-15 Magazines. Here are three mainline AR-15 magazine manufacturers, each with their take on an AR-15 magazine design. P-Mags and HexMags each carry 30 rounds, the amount we’re all used to for an AR-15. But, the excellent instructors at my Gunsite Carbine class told me and the other students to load up “30 less 2” rounds, no matter what brand of 30-round magazines we were using. So we loaded to a capacity of 28. This, we learned, was to relieve a bit of the upward pressure the rounds may put on the bolt, thereby increasing reliability. Despite the ubiquitous AR-15 platform and its long history, it still seems to be a good idea to reasonably reduce the amount of upward pressure from the rounds in the magazine. Agree?


Magpul P-Mag 30-round .223 magazine


HexMag 30-round .223 magazine

Finally, I like Daniel Defense’s 32-round magazine. Same size as the standard capacity magazines but with with space for two more rounds. But, keeping with the instruction received at Gunsite, I load these to “32 less 2” or 30 rounds.


Daniel Defense 32-round .223 magazine

How do you load your handgun and rifle magazines? What are your questions — and answers?

— Mark Kakkuri

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8 thoughts on “Exclusive: Some Questions on Magazine Capacity

  1. Joe

    Personally my daily carry is a Glock 19 or a Glock 17, I have both in both Gen3 and Gen4 none of which I have ever had difficulty loading to full capacity, moreover, with the 17’s I also carry a spare magaizine with a Dawson Precision “Basepad HiCap for Glock Extended Tool-less Design by Dawson Precision” which they say gives 22-23 rounds of 9mm, this mag I only load to 22 rounds, Since like your Glock 19 mags I find that 23rd round difficult to load and takes a decent amount of force to seat.

  2. Scott Baker

    I’m a Deputy Sheriff and I carry a Wilson Combat CQB Elite 1911 as my duty gun. I shoot Tripp magazines with it and load them to their full capacity of 8 rounds. However, I have extensively tested all magazines with feeding, functioning and seating being fully loaded and having one round in the chamber of the pistol. For a rifle, I carry and shoot a Noveske N4 and I shoot PMags with it. Again, I load the PMags fully and have tested all magazines being fully loaded and the rifle in battery while I seat and shoot.

  3. Larry Campbell

    I only load fifteen rounds in my Glock 17 magazines. And I only load 11 rounds in my Browning Hi Power magazines. Beretta mags are made so that you cannot over-compress the springs…I think that other companies (Glock) should do the same. Just my opinion.

  4. BBBob

    As a competition shooter (many, MANY years ago), when shooting the standard “bullseye” course, I learned to load 5 rounds per magazine, keeping a few magazines nearby to speed reloads, It’s funny how this becomes a routine, and when shooting informally a few times, I loaded 7 rounds in my .45 ACP magazines, I not only had trouble keeping track of how many I had fired – and were left in gun – risking accidental discharge or worse, I quickly realized the sense of sticking to the “5 round per magazine” rule.

    Even today, nearly 50 years after my first foray into competitive shooting, I still use the 5 round routine, which is one less thing to have to think about. When I check my box of loaded rounds, I don’t even have to count the number remaining in the box – a quick glance tells me how many loaded rounds remain, and the just ejected empty magazine also tells me that there are none left in the chamber, which is confirmed by the slide in the locked back condition.

    Good shooting routines aid safety.

    1. Mark Kakkuri Post author

      Thanks, Bob, for this very interesting perspective. If anything, you bring up the very important point of practice and consistency in practice.

  5. Sivispace

    I load all of mine up to the maximum capacity. According to my research, spring set is not an issue with modern steel. Most wear occurs during compression and release. If I have any doubts, I load half of my magazines to capacity and leave them loaded for a month. Then I rotate them with the empty half of the magazines.

  6. Dennis Wheeler

    Having trouble with S&W Shield 40. Load 7 rounds 3rd will dive and not feed. Load 6 and no problem. any one else with that problem or just me??


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