Is it a good idea to store your rifle and pistol mags loaded? Ask this question at your local gun counter and you’ll likely get a good debate. While not quite as lively as the classic 9mm vs 45ACP or AK vs AR15 discussions, there are still some diverging opinions on the topic. One camp supports the idea of storing magazines so they are ready to go at a moment’s notice, or at the very least, easier when it is time to go to the range. While the other camp believes that this puts an undue burden on the springs of the magazines and therefore will only load their mags when they are ready to go shooting. It can be confusing sifting through all of the (mis)information out there, so our staff tracked down a definitive answer from the experts, and we are happy to pass that information along.
The simple answer is: storing your mags loaded should not present a problem. However, when you begin to dig into the weeds, things start to become a little murky. While people generally agree that storing mags loaded isn’t an immediate issue, the question then becomes: Okay but how long can I store my magazines loaded? Also, what about loading and unloading (shooting them) frequently - how does that affect my magazines?
There are a lot of variables at play here, including but not limited to, the quality of the magazine spring and feed lips, along with the temperatures the mags are subjected to. Let’s put that aside for a moment and address a necessary fact: all magazine springs will wear out with use - they are just spring steel after all and not imbued with magical-never-wearing-pixie-dust. The action of loading and unloading a magazine will create small amounts of heat that could wear out the magazine spring after thousands of repetitions. On the other hand, magazines kept in a fully loaded condition could be subject to spring creep, which will weaken and shorten the spring over time - but we’re talking many years here.
Knowing this, the goal becomes preserving your magazine springs for as long as practical while ensuring that your mags (and yourself!) are combat ready.
Rather than compile information from a myriad of different opinions from internet “scholars”, we decided to cut to the chase and called Magpul to get the rundown. Here’s the advice they had:
“There’s a lot of different opinions floating around out there. The best advice we offer is this: While some magazines can probably be stored loaded indefinitely without hindering their performance, why take the chance? Rotate your magazines out every 6 months or so. Better yet, take your loaded mags to the range and get some training in with them. You can save time at the range by bringing the loaded mags, and running them every 6 months or so (or downloading them) which will prolong their effective service length”.
So there you have it! Their answer sounds similar to what you should do with your carry ammunition as well: rotate it out every 6 months or so. It’s important to remember, whether you’re storing your magazines under tension or not, with regular use they will begin to lose their effectiveness. Magazines are relatively cheap (unless you own an MP5!) so the best course of action, and our advice is to keep your magazines loaded if you choose to, shoot them regularly, and swap them out if they ever experience issues.
Now, to help with this strategy, many people number their magazines. That way they know if have an issue with a particular mag, they can relegate it for range practice and malfunction clearance drills. Marking magazines is easy to do with a white paint pen or black sharpie, depending on the color of the mag.
Last bit of advice: it is also never a bad idea to keep some spare springs on hand to ensure that you can bring your mags back to peak effectiveness when needed. This strategy is especially worth looking at if you have rare or expensive magazines, like those darn HK MP5 mags! The springs should (in theory) be cheaper than buying a whole new mag, so it is worth taking a look and stocking up if the economics pencil out.
The takeaway here is to not worry about storing mags loaded or unloaded - do what you want and just shoot the heck out of them. Regardless of the cause, whether from rough use, spring wear, plastic fatigue, or gremlins, they should be always be replaced when they stop functioning properly. Case closed.