“Hand me that clip, wouldja?”, my Uncle Bob asked me. I was all of 8 years old and he was holding his old Marlin .22 bolt-action rifle. To my pre-gun-days eyes, it was like he had a bazooka in hand.
I was not familiar with guns, so when he asked me for the clip, I handed him the thing he’d pointed at, that had the “bullets” in it. We then proceeded to ventilate a few tin cans and I was none the wiser at that time. I later learned that it was a 7-round magazine and was not a clip.
So, what’s the difference? Guys I shoot with are always saying that they want to go out and “put a few clips through their new .45/9mm/.40” or words to that effect. Is it snooty of me to have a little shiver go down my spine when they say that? I hope not. I learned the difference early on in my “gun-ducation”. I think that if more shooters knew the difference, they’d use the correct term. OK, well, probably not but at least there is a difference that shooters should know. Here’s my own personal definition to explain the difference:
Clip: A device to organize and hold loose rounds together before or while being loaded into a gun’s
Magazine: A device that holds individual rounds in position to be loaded directly into a gun’s breech or
According to my definition, a clip doesn’t hold rounds ready to be loaded directly into a gun’s chamber, as opposed to a removable magazine, but gets them ready to be so loaded. Here’s a good example, one that I’m sure many of you are familiar with… the M1 Garand.
The en bloc clip that holds 8 rounds is capable of getting all of those rounds into the rifle’s fixed magazine by pressing them down with your thumb (I know, “M1 thumb” applies here). Once they are in the rifle, the clip is ejected with a distinctive “ping” as many of you know who have watched WWII movies can attest to. Or, even better if you own or have shot one and you’ve experienced that sound firsthand. This rifle is on my bucket list…
Anyway, clips are by and large ejected after loading their rounds into a gun. This could be manual ejection, such as the example below, the famous C96 Mauser (“Broomhandle” Mauser). Here is a good explanation of how to load and unload the C96. Or, the clip could be ejected when the bolt slams home, a la the M1 above.
I owned, once upon a time, an example of the Turkish version of the 8mm Mauser K98. I remember buying surplus 8mm ammo that was sold loaded into stripper clips. Is it slower to load a rifle’s magazine from stripper clips than from a removable magazine? For me, it is but those who have practiced with clips can give a very reasonable account of themselves. A gun can be reloaded toot suit from clips if you know what you’re doing.
Clips can take many forms. Don’t think that just because all the photos I show here are of old guns that clips are done and gone. There are modern versions, don’tcha know. Something that would perform the function of the clip in the photo above but made out of modern materials and geared towards handguns…
Here’s a modern take on a clip, of sorts… the HKS speedloader:
This fulfills my definition of a clip – a device that loads rounds into a gun’s magazine (or in this case, a revolver’s cylinder). It's also a lot faster than fishing loose rounds out of your pocket! Technically, it fulfills the definition of a magazine as well since it loads rounds directly into the gun’s chambers, but revolvers are a different breed of animal compared with what we’re discussing here.
Here’s another take on a clip…
These flexible strips, made by several manufacturers, help solve the problem that users of snub-nose revolvers have faced for years. The HKS speedloader with the knob shown above tends to work great on larger guns, but snubbies’ cylinders are smaller and ride closer to the frame when opened.
Speedloader or Speedstrip?
I’ve had the HKS-style loader hang up on the grip panel of my snubby .38s, an S&W 638, and a Taurus 85. No amount of relief seemed to solve the problem. Even those grip panels that come from the factory with a big divot taken out of the left-side panel don’t help, as a rule. The flexible strip shown above tends to be not quite as fast as the HKS, but at least you can keep all the rounds collected in one spot, all pointing in the same direction. You have the option of loading them two at a time, which speeds things up. You could carry several reloads for your 5- or 6-shooter in your pockets and hardly notice that they’re there.
So, we see that the “old-fashioned” clip is not as dead as some like to think. Whether you’re “pinging” with your M1, imitating Winston Churchill’s Boer War exploits with your Broomhandle Mauser, or just loading your revolver with a speed loader or strip, the clip is still very much with us. Now, let’s tackle magazines.
Magazines can take many forms. They can be “blind”, (non-removable) as in the examples of the rifles I pictured above. The clip merely serves to load rounds into a blind magazine.. Many early rifles used blind magazines – that’s why stripper clips were so popular. The mag bottom was fixed and could not open.
In terms of progress, after a while, manufacturers started making rifles with what was called a “droppable” floor plate. You moved a little lever and the mag floor plate swung down on a hinge and dumped whatever rounds were contained in the mag. This allowed a hunter to make his rifle safe before entering a car or a house, and what kept soldiers safe when they were done with whatever shooting task they had been performing. You could clear a gun quickly.
With the rise in popularity of semi-auto pistols, removable box magazines became a thing. The Borchardt pistol, introduced in 1893, was the first to use a removable magazine that was inserted in the pistol’s grip.
A bit ungainly, but it worked. As development continued, pistols became smaller and more robust to the point where we can have the oomph of the 9mm (or .380, .40, or .45, etc.) in a gun that pretty much fits totally in your hand.
Are those the only kind of magazines out there? Of course not. Here we have a slightly larger magazine… one that holds 16-inch shells for a battleship. This is just to show that there is more than one type of magazine.
Speaking of naval weapons… are these 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft shells held by a clip, or a magazine? That’s your quiz for today, boys and girls! Chime in below with your answer…
Let’s look at some magazines that we non-Navy-types may be more familiar with… those for pistols and rifles:
Here again, is the image I posted above. We see five mags for semi-auto rifles and two for pistols. Magazines are more complex than clips, as by definition they must position the cartridge and have it ready to be moved into the chamber or breech of the gun. Typically, mags are composed of three parts: the body, the follower, and the spring. The body is shaped to fit certain guns and its size is determined by how many rounds it will hold. Originally, magazines fed rounds from a single stack – all the rounds were stacked in-line.
Later, as capacities grew, double-stack mags came into being. These were wider and held the rounds in a staggered formation. Of late, the newest innovation is the so-called “stack-and-a-half” magazine that was introduced by Sig Sauer with their micro 9mm, the P365 a few years back. This mag was engineered to fit in a narrower gun and increase the tiny micro pistol’s capacity.
It was the first pistol to use a stack-and-a-half magazine, to the best of my knowledge and that ushered in the era of micro 9s. There was even a lawsuit by Sig Sauer alleging that Springfield Armory infringed on the Sig patent that covered the new-style magazine when Springfield introduced their Hellcat. It was, and is, a big deal as it drastically increases capacity in a small pistol.
I have a Ruger LCP Max that holds, stock, 10 rounds as opposed to its older brother the LCP that holds 6.
Here’s an illustration that should help if you’re not familiar with the three types of magazines. L-R, single, double, and stack-and-a-half. Notice the relative width of each one… the stack-and-a-half mag is not all that much wider than the single stack.
Low- or High-Capacity?
Mags that hold 6 rounds, say, for a micro 9mm pistol are by necessity going to be a lot smaller than those designed to carry 15 or 17 rounds. I’ve had experience with both extremes… I’ve owned 6-round pocket .380s, and also 9mm carbines that use 32-round pistol mags. One is longer than the other, for sure.
We could be here all day, discussing the pros and cons of low-capacity versus high-capacity magazines, so let’s cut to the chase. What are you trying to accomplish with your handgun? Are you going for deep concealment in the summer? How about visiting the gun range and not wanting to swap mags many times? The former statement would call for a lower-cap mag that would allow the gun to be hidden, as I said above, in a pocket most likely. The latter might indicate a larger capacity mag as concealment would not be an option here.
The point is, use the highest-capacity magazine that still matches what your purpose is. It may only be 6 rounds, but that sure beats a sharp stick.
Don’t forget to check the legalities in your area. You may live in a restricted state where 10 rounds is as good as it gets. I’m fortunate to live in Indiana where, except for hunting firearms, there are no restrictions. Most of us are just fine with whatever comes with the gun and if not, there are alternatives. Magazine capacity is a personal issue, so we’ll leave that topic for another discussion.
So What Am I Supposed To Call It?
As we wend our way to the end of this particular trail, I want to encourage you to use the right terminology. Just as you don’t hand someone a full box of ammo and ask them to “hand me a bullet, OK?” when you mean cartridge, don’t ask someone to hand you that “clip so I can load my Glock 19”... Remember that the bullet is what comes out of the barrel, and that clips and magazines are different and you’ll go a long way in helping those shooters around you understand what you’re asking for.
There is no snarkiness connected with using the right term (depending on if and how you correct them, Nimrod), but there can be a greater understanding of our wonderful shooting sport when the right words are used. And, let’s face it… if a mag is called a clip, does the world still spin? Yup. It’s just more accurate to call a spade a spade.
My old Uncle Bob is gone… may he rest in peace … but his memory lingers. My “gun-ducation” at his feet was the beginning of a lifetime interest in firearms. After learning the difference, I still put my pants on one leg at a time but at least my knowledge of guns in general grew. And, in the end, isn’t that what it’s all about?
[We would like to extend a huge thanks to Mike Hardesty for his hard work on this article. Check our selection of AR-15 magazines, AR-10 magazines, and AR-9 magazines and read more of Mike's articles here!]