Pretty Much Forever

I’m going to add my two cents to this opinion (found via Insty, thankee) about keeping your magazines loaded:

Even when kept fully compressed, a magazine spring will retain its energy long past the operational life of the ammunition.

Here’s my take.  I own dozens of magazines, of all types and calibers, fitting all sorts of guns, and I’ve owned most of my Chip McCormick (CMC) 1911 PowerMags for close to twenty years.  I keep all of them loaded, all the time.  When I was cleaning out my house, I found a box of what I first thought was junk (but wasn’t).  At the very bottom, underneath all sorts of stuff like photos and old papers were two 10-round CMC Powermags, loaded.  Judging from the other stuff in the box, I packed it when we lived in suburban Chicago back in the late 1990s, and had never fired the two mags — for twenty years.

With some trepidation, I unloaded them, expecting to find that the last couple of rounds were loose in the magazines — i.e. that the springs had “taken a set” when loaded to capacity and lost their tension.  In both mags, the bottom cartridges were held as tightly against the mag lips as the first round.  So I reloaded them.

The next time I went to the range, I fired off both mags through the Springfield 1911.  Both mags and ammo functioned flawlessly.   I put another ten loads of “new” .45 ACP through each (200 rounds in total) and the mags again worked as though I’d just unwrapped them.

The same has been true of every single magazine I’ve ever owned.  The only time I’ve ever had an issue with a magazine was a cheap one that came with a Taurus .380 pistol — the “second” mag, not the one actually in the gun — and I think it was broken from the start.  Magazine, say hello to Mr. Hammer.

As I said earlier:  all my magazines are loaded, all the time.  An unloaded magazine is just a box with a spring inside, just as an unloaded gun is just a heavy (and expensive) cosh.  Whether they’re .22 LR mags for my Marlin 880SQ rifle, the Mec-Gars for the Browning Hi-Power or the many CMC PowerMags, if I pick one up or take it out of the bag, it’s ready to go.  Even the several AK-47 mags that were tragically lost along with the gun in that canoeing accident were kept loaded.  (As an aside, the mags that absolutely MUST be kept loaded are those that would be needed for your carry- or SHTF guns.)

That has been my experience, and that is my advice.  YMMV.


  1. Reminds me of something I heard of back in my Canadian reserve days. We had just upgraded from the FN series to the C7 (m-16 variant) and were using the new kit. All are magazines were plastic with metal springs. Some regular force puke told us that there were boxes of preloaded magazines that would be issued when the time came if the balloon went up. Just grab and go, no need to worry about filling our mags with ammo strips.
    Of course there was the discussion back then about spring tensions and them losing their strength. Never did see the mythical beasts. We did have issues with the magazine lips breaking constantly though. Canada, winter, and plastics don’t go well apparently.

  2. You are exactly right, and thus will begin a rehash of the inane “springs taking a set” arguments from people with no knowledge of metallurgy.

    1. Truth!
      From what I learned by talking to actual metallurgists, there is a heat-treating that has to be done to give a spring its spring. If this is not done properly, the spring will not spring back as expected when the compression or tension is removed. Unfortunately, the only way to tell if the spring has had the proper treatment is to put it under compression or tension for a sufficiently long time, and then see if it “takes a set”, or whatever technicall term is proper for “it fails to function properly due to bad heat treating.”

  3. Recently my primary shooting associate and I were talking about mags. He carries Glocks exclusively, every day, I don’t carry anything unless I go to an area that may be of concern. My Beretta 92FS sits here in my desk drawer all the time, loaded with 18 rds in an Uncle Mikes holster with an extra 18 rd mag in it. On Christmas day I unload both mags, disassemble, blow the dust out, very lightly lube the interior and spring then let sit for 24 hours, then reassemble. It’s sort of a religious experience if you will. He recently did the same and said disassembly and cleaning is going to be a “couple times a year” habit from now on. To be clear, he is a fan of getting involved with every kind of shooting class and event in a 200 mile radius so his guns get good work outs and I’m not surprised some grunge will collect.

    I have probably over 100 mags for various guns and do nothing to any of them unless they get “dirty” some how in use. In the 4+ decades I have owned guns I don’t recall ever having an issue with any of the mags.

    If you question any of these “take a set” people you don’t have to go very deep to find they are simply repeating rumors and if you go a little deeper you’ll find they don’t even shoot much.

  4. I’d guess that thirty or forty years ago the gun writer’s union (an earlier version of the gun blogger’s union) had requirements that were engraved on tablets of stone and carried down from a mountain in Utah by John Browning himself. Those union requirements demanded that the writer state that magazine springs wore out. They also required that the writer urge his readers to never ever trust a safety (back when most pistols had such things) because safety devices were known to “crystallize” and break.

    The only time I experienced a bad magazine spring was when a friend and I were doing some practice with his ancient Model 59 Smith and Wesson. The pistol had numerous failures to feed and we noticed that the rounds just weren’t coming out of the magazine smoothly. The mag was a no name gun show variety and we found it to be full of rust and gunk. The magazine spring came out in two rust eaten pieces when we tried to disassemble it for cleaning. With an ancient factory magazine – the same vintage as the pistol – the gun worked fine.

    1. I still believe in “never trust a safety “, though. I have seen safeties that failed to work. The rule we teach is “A safety is a mechanical device, and any mechanical device can fail. Always use it – but never trust it.”

  5. I can think of only two ways for a magazine spring to “take a set”.
    It was made out of the wrong steel/alloy, which I suppose could happen with some uber-cheap Chinese crap.
    Some yo-yo has heated the spring enough to destroy the temper. Not sure why someone would do that.

    I’m of the opinion that if you have loose ammo and unloaded magazines you should be combining the two until you run out of one or the other.
    Save space now, save time later.

    1. Another way for a spring to take a “set” is for it’s elastic limit to be exceeded. Impossible to do with compression springs as found in magazines. The coils or folds will start touching long before coming close to the elastic limit much less exceeding it. Not to mention every magazine I’ve ever seen had a little extra room so the spring didn’t stack up and bind so all the rounds fed properly.

  6. I’ll fire the mag off just to prevent weapon oil from eventually fouling primers.

    As for ammo lifetime, so far the lifetime of .303 berdan primered ammo is unknown. .303 stored in a cool dry place fires at 100% more than a century later.

    1. I’ve got a few pieces left from a 250 round lot of Canadian .303 that was made in 1952- the same year as I was born. After 67 years it still works better than I do! I inherited some early 50’s vintage Peters .22s that went bang every time although they were very dirty and smoky. I’ve been reloading 5.56 of late with sealer around the primers and storing it in air tight ammo cans with a dessicant. I’m sure that it will outlive me.

      1. I’ve fired some WW2 vintage .30-06. When I pulled the trigger, it reliably went “bang” every time. Don’t know that they were all that accurate, but the rifle itself was old, worn, etc. Also fired some match .45 from the early ’60s that a client gave to me (it belonged to his father), and it not only went “bang,” but it was extremely accurate.

  7. When I bought my first 1911 (around 2008), my grandfather found 3 loaded 1911 mags in his basement that he gave me. They had been tossed in a box shortly after he got home from WWII, and had to have been loaded since 1947 at a minimum. I’ve shot hundreds of rounds using those mags, and have not had a failure on that 1911 yet.

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