As I get older, my hands and wrists aren't what they used to be. Loading lots of rounds into multiple magazines gets old quickly, even using stripper clips, because of the repetitive motions necessary and the force needing to be exerted. Literally, it's a pain.
Last year I started looking for some sort of automated solution. I haven't found one that'll work for all magazines across the range of what I need, but I did find one very ingenious product from Butler Creek: their ASAP Electronic Magazine Loader for the AR-15 rifle. It's available exclusively from Midway USA.
When I bought it, late last year, the cost was $119.99. However, when I checked yesterday evening, the price had jumped to $249.99 - more than double what I paid! That probably makes it too expensive for individuals, although shooting ranges and firearms instruction schools may still be able to cost-justify it. Since I sometimes go shooting with friends, and we may go through a lot of magazines in a day (think Blogorado), it's a useful tool for me. Its ability to operate with batteries, as well as an AC adapter, makes it more versatile for field use.
Price aside, it works pretty well. I had several false starts when I began to use it, as the internal belt system simply didn't want to behave itself. I began to wonder if I'd need to send it back to Butler Creek for repair. However, after about fifteen minutes' fiddling with it, clearing jams and resetting the machine, it began to work as promised. It still hangs up from time to time - I'd say every third magazine or so I have to wait for it to clear itself, or do that manually if it's a bad jam - but in general it's a great time-saver. For training, I load 25 rounds in a 30-round magazine, and it'll do that in about a minute.
Here's a Butler Creek advertising video showing it in operation.
That's pretty much all there is to it. One adds more cartridges to the hopper, inserts fresh magazines in the well, and pushes a button. The machine does the rest. I reckon one person could load 100 magazines in less than 2 hours, with no real strain on fingers, hands or wrists.
I also found the machine a valuable magazine tester. I have a large supply of old military steel and aluminum magazines, the so-called STANAG mags. I've rebuilt them by throwing away all the internals and substituting a Magpul anti-tilt follower and a new spring and floor plate. If the mag feed lips and body are in good condition, that makes it almost as good as new, apart from external scratches and discolorations. However, a few still give trouble. I'd marked a few like that to be thrown away, and decided on a whim to see how the ASAP handled them. Sure enough, it jammed whenever it tried to load one of them. Somehow, errors in feeding from those mags also caused errors in machine-loading them. That's a worthwhile additional check on magazine health, IMHO, and one that I'll use in future.
I'm not sure whether the ASAP is still available. Midway USA advises that it's on back order, but they'll accept your order for when it becomes available. However, Butler Creek's Web site shows it as discontinued. I hope that's not the case, because it's a truly useful product if you load a lot of AR-15 magazines. Sadly, if the demand wasn't sufficiently high, I suppose Butler Creek can't be expected to keep on making it for the few who want it.
Meanwhile, if you can find one (particularly at the old price), it's worth considering. I won't use mine all that often, but when I need it, it'll save me a lot of time, trouble and pain.