I'm beginning my annual checkup of all my pistol and rifle magazines, making sure they're in good working order and organized according to firearm, cartridge, etc. As usual, I'm finding problems here and there, and I thought a few notes might help others in the same situation.
1. Glock generations. I have exclusively 3rd-generation Glock pistols. That's by choice; I've never forgotten the early recoil spring problems with 4th-generation Glocks, which made me decide not to buy them. I know they're supposed to have fixed that by now, but still . . . The problem arises in that 4th-generation Glocks (and all Glock magazines manufactured since then) have magazine catch indentations on both sides of the front of the magazine. 1st-, 2nd- and 3rd-generation Glock magazines had the indentation on only one side of the magazine. This means that earlier-generation magazines may not work properly in a 4th-generation pistol, whereas 4th-generation magazines will work correctly in all generations of Glock pistols.
If you have a mix of 3rd- and 4th-generation Glock pistols, as many do, it might be worth visually distinguishing their magazines in some way (a different color floorplate, or marking them with different colors in some way). That way, you're less likely to absent-mindedly reach for a 3rd-generation magazine and insert it into a 4th-generation pistol. If you should really need that pistol, the last thing you want are feeding malfunctions when you're trying to save your life! A better alternative (if you can afford it - I can't) is to sell your older magazines, or trade them in, to buy more 4th-generation models, so that all your magazines will function in all your pistols.
2. Magazine wear. This can show up in unexpected places. A few minutes ago I was checking a Glock 17 magazine when I noticed the back plate was bulged outward for the bottom third of its length, almost as if it had a crease running down its center. Puzzled, I unloaded it, removed the baseplate and spring, and visually inspected the inside. Sure enough, the metal plate at the rear had bulged outward. When I tried to insert it into a pistol to test it for function, it didn't want to go all the way in, because the bulge pressed against the rear of the magazine well; and once in, it was difficult to extract. Needless to say, that magazine went straight into the trash can!
I've never seen that particular weakness before, but there's always a first time. There are others. Plastic followers can wear until they protrude through the magazine's lips; the lips themselves can pull apart under the pressure of a full load of ammunition with a strong spring behind the rounds; plastic baseplates can weaken so that the grooves holding them onto the magazine body stretch, allowing them to come apart under tension. (I've had that happen to me more than once during a shooting course, when magazines are repeatedly loaded and emptied, and often dropped onto hard ground.)
It's not worth trying to repair something like that. If a weak point shows itself, it'll almost certainly reoccur, no matter what you do. Get rid of that magazine, and replace it with a new one.
3. Product improvements. Frequently, during the life of a firearm, the manufacturer will introduce improved parts or components. Magazines are no exception. For example, Glock has three generations of magazines, plus several generations of followers. The latter can cause confusion - see, for example, this forum thread discussing them. It's probably a good idea to check the current version of follower in your magazines (i.e. the one sold in new magazines for your pistol in the appropriate cartridge/caliber). If your followers are an older generation, there's usually a reason why they were changed to the new one - possibly feeding malfunctions, wear patterns, etc. I make it a habit, every five years or so, to check on the current versions. Last year I upgraded a large number of older Glock magazines to the latest follower versions, and installed new springs. YMMV, of course.
4. Visual differentiation. If you have different pistols from the same manufacturer, their magazines may look very similar, varying only in their length. For example, the Glock 17's magazine holds 17 rounds, while the Glock 19's holds 15 rounds; but the G17 magazine will fit and function in the G19, whereas the G19 magazine will not fit and function in the G17. If you own examples of both models, and pick up (say) a G17 pistol plus (by accident) a G19 spare magazine, that spare won't work in your carry gun. That might be disastrous under the wrong circumstances. Also, 9mm. Glock magazines look very similar to that company's .40 S&W magazines. Without careful inspection, it's easy to confuse them. The same applies to the Ruger SR, Smith & Wesson M&P and Springfield XD pistol families, among others. Magazines for one cartridge may not feed another cartridge reliably. You don't want to find that out the hard way at the wrong time.
I recommend visually distinguishing between such similar magazines by color-coding them. This can be as simple as using a marker that will write on hard plastic or metal (I use this one to label mine). A more visually obvious solution, IMHO, is to use different-colored baseplates. They're available from various sources (for example, the Vickers Tactical baseplates from Tango Down - there are other vendors also). If you really want to go to town, you can paint them, or buy a light-colored plastic baseplate and color it using something like Rit Dyemore. How about Peacock Green or Racing Red or Royal Purple? Unleash the artist in you!
5. Don't try to save money by buying second-rate magazines. A couple of years ago, I wrote:
Sometimes aftermarket products offer significant improvements over original equipment. Unfortunately, their quality varies from excellent to execrable. I suggest you read the firearms forums to see who's buying (or not buying, or complaining about) which manufacturer or brand. In my own collection, for example, I have nothing at all from ProMag or Triple K, but lots of magazines, accessories and related parts from (among others) Magpul, Mec-Gar, TangoDown, Troy Industries and Wolff Gunsprings. (No, the companies I've named aren't paying or sponsoring me to mention their names.)Since then, I've added a few magazines from Elite Tactical Systems (for the AR-15 and Glock) and Lancer (for the AR-15) to my collection. They've worked well for me so far. However, I'm wary of magazines from any other manufacturer unless and until I've thoroughly tested them, and until I've seen the results of other people testing them just as thoroughly. Magazines are critical components of your firearm. Cheap is no substitute for reliable!
6. Have enough magazines. Primary firearms should have enough magazines that if one breaks, you won't feel the lack during everyday use until you can replace it. Secondary firearms, less critical and/or less frequently used, may be able to get by with less; but many well-known instructors recommend at least 5 magazines per pistol, and I agree. If you have multiple copies of the same pistol, you might prefer to reduce that; but I'm not sure that it isn't a good idea to stick to the 5-per-gun rule. If magazine capacities are again legally restricted, you may not be able to get any more standard-capacity examples for your pistols. Better to have enough in your stash now to see you through. As Tamara has pithily observed:
Q: "How many magazines should you have?"Word.