How to Use Your Bad Magazines


By Lt. R. Michalik

Don’t underestimate the value of a bad ammunition magazine. If you’ve been around guns for any amount of time, you’ve run into them. Whether you purchased a questionable no-name mag at a gun show or one came with your or your buddy’s firearm, we have all had the experience of a bad magazine. But instead of throwing them away, running them over with the truck or even blasting the holy crap out of them at the range, let me suggest another course of action, one that might even have you turning good functional magazines into the bane of most magazine shoppers . . .

What’s the old adage? If you want to be good at something: practice, practice, practice! This is especially important if your job involves carrying a firearm or if you take your self-defense to heart. Besides improving your marksmanship, some of us take it a step further by practicing firearm manipulation with our off hand, one-hand drills and/or failure drills. We’ll even put dummy rounds in the mix and practice clearing the round.

But if we go to the range alone, we’ll know just how many rounds won’t fire. They can become somewhat predicable. But what about deploying that bad mag? You know the one. The one that jams every so often. The one that fails to pop up the next round leaving the chamber empty or the one that refuses the cleanly deliver a round leaving the pistol out of battery.

I started collecting these magazines. Some were purchased on the cheap because I don’t like dumping my good factory mags if I don’t have to, but most were gifted to me by some very disgruntled shooters. They’ve been invaluable as a training aid. Especially since you can let the trainee load the magazine and they are none the wiser to what lesson they will soon face.

In my law enforcement career, I was the lead instructor for over seven years. I had an AR magazine that would jam every single round that went through it. Every officer that crossed its path the first time ended up doing the same thing. They would fool with it until it was empty, wasting valuable time. The next officer in line who witnessed this event would then do exactly the same thing. Only one person ever threw it down after three attempts and inserted a new magazine into the rifle. Funny thing happened after that…the next officers up then started discarding the bad magazine after a few attempts and loading a functional one.

Equipment failures happen. They are a fact of life. They also seem to follow Murphy’s Law as they tend to happen at the most inopportune times. But the last thing you would want is to be taken completely by surprise and be woefully unprepared in a time of crisis. That bad magazine can be more valuable than a good one in training. Who knows, that time spent with a bad magazine might even save your life one day. Doesn’t it deserve some love?


  1. avatar Vhyrus says:

    Just make sure you mark them. Expected failures in a controlled environment is fine, but not when there is a knife in your face.

    1. avatar Roscoe says:

      Agreed; a DGU is no time to practice equipment failure techniques. Some kind of flag to keep such a mag from inadvertently being rotated into the go-to line up is in order.

      Otherwise, a mag that causes FTFeed’s, doesn’t seat properly, is slightly deformed, or doesn’t have enough mag spring tension is indeed a valuable training tool to learn effective clearing techniques. Been there done that but being inconvenienced has taught some lessons, including figuring out what the REAL issue may be (might not be the mag) when dropping the mag turns out to be no solution.

      1. avatar Jason Lynch says:


        I don’t know if the US military does it similarly, but in the British Army a while ago our 7.62mm blank rounds were distinctly underpowered and very sooty: we got a *lot* of stoppages with them. This was, we were told, deliberate, because it forced more opportunities to put “rifle firing, rifle stops…” into practice, while under at least some stress, on us; and as a result, most of us got pretty slick on the drills and could get the weapon back in action sharpish, learning lessons in training. (Free tip: don’t clear a stovepipe stoppage of the L1A1 rifle by just grabbing the case and pulling it out unless you’re wearing heat-resistant gloves, second-degree burns to thumb and forefinger hurt like a SOB)

        Worth doing: with live rounds, even our elderly rifles just didn’t stop firing and stoppages were rare as hen’s teeth; I put 1,500 rounds downrange in two days without a single failure on one range weekend. However, all the practice with the sooty, sticky blank rounds meant that if we ever did get a problem, our chances of fixing it quickly and safely and rapidly getting back into action were much greater.

        Probably even more important to get the drills quick and safe with a handgun you’re carrying as a defensive tool: a long rifle’s easier to keep pointed downrange while you cock-hook-look, a pistol’s dismayingly easy to sweep friendlies with when you check to see why “gun no worky” even when you *know* not to do it but you’re shooting against the clock and muzzle direction matters less than finishing that stage before the timer runs out. Nearly did it once on the range, twenty years later my ears are still ringing from the… correction that was applied by the watchful colour-sergeant to ensure my near-mistake wasn’t completed or repeated.

        1. avatar Dan A says:

          Our M16s choked on blanks often enough that we didn’t need special underpowered ones

        2. avatar Anon in CT says:

          Most important stoppage with blanks and an automatic weapon is “BFA Loose” – it took me a while to figure that one out. There’s nothing like a bolt-action, belt-fed SAW.

    2. avatar JR says:

      I number mags when I buy them by scratching the number in the floor plate.

      It makes it much easier to keep track if one malfunctions and how they are rotated, etc.

      Found one recently that was giving a few occasional malfunctions, and when I took it apart to clean it after a match, I discovered the follower was broken where the spring contacts.

      #3 was taken out of the SD rotation, but remains a range mag.

    3. avatar Ardent says:

      I use a silver sharpie to mark ‘training’ mags. Cheap, easily visible. Mark on the bottom only so that you’re never sure in training.

  2. avatar former water walker says:

    Sorry I don’t agree. Throw them out. +1 Vhyrus.

    1. avatar BR549 says:

      No, because that bad magazine won’t be the only bad magazine and rather than discover the hard way that a relatively new magazine is just a candidate for a failure, using that known bad one as a known part of an intentioned drill can be invaluable.

      I’ll agree that we should all try to make sure we have only fully operable magazines, but when something goes wrong in the field, the last thing you want to see is someone pissing in their pants because they lost their composure. Ejecting and reloading magazines, clearing a stovepipe or other out of battery situations, should become second nature and quick, not something that has to be fumbled through when time is of the essence. And lastly, there is always the decision to discard the weapon altogether and using another.

      Mark the demon mag, for sure, but it’s use in training can be long and many.

      1. avatar Michael B. says:


  3. avatar dh34 says:

    I roll them up and use them to swat misbehaving anti’s when they pee on the floor at the sight of a firearm.

    Sorry wrong type of magazine.

    1. avatar Vhyrus says:

      I let my subscription to Bad Magazine run out a long time ago… Bad TV was much funnier anyway.

      Oh, wait…..

  4. avatar RockOnHellChild says:

    You can always do like everyone does with guns and vehicles, pawn them off on some other poor SOB…

    No, but seriously, trash the mag and just throw a few dummy rounds in the mix. Probably better than risking a bad mag ending up in your carry stuff.

    1. avatar Hannibal says:

      Failure to fire is different- and less common using good ammo- than failure to feed problems.

      1. avatar RockOnHellChild says:

        Tap, rack, bang will fix all the most common issues, sans double feed and an emepty mag, of course, it doesn’t matter why the gun jammed. Only how quickly you fix it.

        Malfunction (gun doesn’t go bang): Slap the mag thing, rack the slide, and pull the trigger thing…

        Still get a click instead of a bang?

        Strip the mag thing, rack the slide thing, and reload the gun thing.

        Non-diagnosic malfunction handling.

  5. avatar PPGMD says:

    Bad magazines that are beyond repair go into the trash. Preferably crushed first, so no one digs them out of the trash and gets stuck with it.

    1. avatar WRH says:

      If someone digs a bad magazine out of the trash, they deserve it when it fails. This would be akin to picking ammo out of the dud bucket at the range. If someone threw it out, there was a reason.

  6. avatar uncommon_sense says:

    Great advice!

  7. avatar Tom says:

    I agree, they can be used as a great training tool for practicing clearing drills and stoppages. Don’t underestimate the power of a stoppage getting you killed while you fumble with it, because you failed to train yourself on them.

  8. avatar Rabbi says:

    I keep separate mags for practice and carry. Each are labeled with a letter and number. C1, C2, C3 for carry. P1, P2, P3 for practice. This method allows me to separate them based on use, and identify them.

    I NEVER drop or mistreat my carry mags. They are pristine at all times and shot only a couple times a year to be sure that they function.

    OP is correct, used, damaged and weak mags are great to interject into training. Also, every training mag should have at least 1 dummy round inserted if it does not malfunction on its own. Expect, and train for the unexpected!

  9. avatar IllinoisShooter says:

    Just keep them separate. I have a pouch in my range bag that I have a bad mag that I have collected over the years for each of my pistols (1911, Sig and one glock).

    They have a scratched X mark I put on the side of each one. And every now and then I will load them up with my other mags at the range and just mix them in. Its nice to get the failure and practice. Drop the mag, clear the failure, new mag, bang.

  10. avatar Gregolas says:

    Great example of making lemonade when life gives you lemons.
    Thank you, Lt. Michalik.

  11. avatar DisThunder says:

    I keep separate mags for carry and for the range- basically all the good stainless Chip McCormick mags stay in the car, and then all the other ones I’ve bought go to the range.
    My “main” rifle, the SLR, I bought all circle 10 mags for, and I’ve never had one fail. So, I’d be hard pressed to pick the “good” ones out of the group.

  12. avatar nick says:

    They become dry fire mags for dropping on the tile floor.

  13. avatar former water walker says:

    Sorry NOTHING to do with the thread. I keep getting a bad security certificate when I log in on mobile android. I’m ignoring it. Should I be concerned?

    1. avatar NDS says:

      Check your time/date, make sure you’re not set to the wrong year somehow.

  14. avatar Sean N. says:

    Nope. Bozo mags get hammered and tossed.

  15. avatar Retired LEO says:

    Just use a paint pen & mark w T for training. I was given a bunch of polymers that came from CDNN the followers had no anti tip feature. Mixed them in with the other training mags/ammo. When either myself or other PTR instructor teach. We personally go through the ammo & mags. You would be really surprized how much ammo has too little or much setback. Even with expensive ammo found primers halfway seated & bullets an 1/8″ out of seat.

  16. avatar rammerjammer says:

    Get a revolver. Problem solved.

    1. avatar hab says:

      Yup, just as soon as they pack 14 rounds of .45 into the size of an XD45

  17. avatar Larry says:

    And some magazines are all but Imposable to find I have a vintage colt ace conversion kit for the 1911 it is in its orignal wood printed cardboard box and it came with one .22 rim fire magazine which works just fine as long as the floating chamber is kept clean.
    I have bee looking for spare magazines for the ace conversion for years and I have had over the last 20 years 4 or 5 on approval one of them was genuine colt and it has bee just as good as the orignal the others were not marked in any way and all had failures to feed and were returned. One would not even hold in the grip of the gun as the notch was in the wrong place….
    I keep looking at gun shows and I have taken to having the good colt one with me for comparison but it has been about 5 years since I have seen even any of the low quality after market ones.
    Your point about using bad ones for change practice is a good one but given how expensive these Ace conversion mags are even the low quality ones were going for $30+ the last time I saw one… And the genuine colt ace magazine I got 15 years ago cost me $45.
    I still search but it sure would be nice if one of these magazine expert companies would make an engineered plastic version at a reasonable price

  18. avatar NDS says:

    All magazines get numbered.

    Dangerous combinations are color coded and segregated (300BLK mags are all tan, 556 are black, and labeled as such).

    Crap, malfunctioning mags get orange spraypaint (pistol) or orange electrical tape (rifle).

    For example, I have a Colt AR 9MM mag that takes twice the effort to lock into place as the rest of my Colts. It’s identical in every way, but take 4-5 shots and suddenly it’s on the ground. The end is wrapped in orange tape but it’s great for practice.

  19. avatar Sock Monkey says:

    I thought bad magazines were the kind that hold more than one round. Jie Biden already told us that 2 rounds are sufficient. Why would any responsible gun-owner need more than that?

  20. avatar PeterK says:

    I LOVE that story about the bad AR mag in training, haha. I will have to start collecting bad mags now. 😉

  21. avatar John Boch says:

    Number your mags with a silver sharpie.

    When you find one that doesn’t work as it should, say NC17, there are three things to do with it.

    1. Spray paint it orange and put it in your training bag for malfunction clearing exercises.

    2. Put it on a hard surface and stomp it, rendering it inert.

    3. Sell it to someone you don’t like.

    If you’re a trainer, you might paint the base and put it in with a loaner gun. If it grows legs and disappears, you’re not out anything.

    It’s not that complicated though.

    Magazines are a consumable commodity. Pat Rogers told me that the military considers milspec AR mags to be expended after 4,000 rounds. That’s about 130 reloads.

    I’ve not heard any similar numbers for handgun mags, but I’d consider a hundred reloads to be near the end of a mag’s useful life for self-defense use.

    Order extra magazines – like now – while you still can. Number them. Function test them for a few loads and then put them in with your self-defense gear.


  22. avatar Tommy Knocker says:

    Gun buybacks can be useful sometimes. Get some of your tax dollars back….of course you will have to live close to a slave state….

    “Participants dropped off weapons – no questions asked. They received $200 cash cards for assault weapons, $100 for pistols or revolvers, and $20 cards for high-capacity clips.”

  23. avatar last marine out says:

    take the bad mags apart for the parts follower,spring,and bottom/basepad, you can not repair the lips , same as for guns go to e-gunparts and be your own gun smith , you learn more and I always get a extra part of the part that wears out or breaks that way you learn more about your firearms and give a second life to a old gun..

  24. avatar Accur81 says:

    We don’t have inherently magazines, but there are time when instructors will load rimmed and rimless snap caps into our mags. Bad mags and snap caps can be excellent training tools.

    I had to laugh when you recalled cops keeping the bad mag. We aren’t always independent in our thinking. There are definitely times when chuck the mag is better than tap / rack / bang.

  25. avatar Victor Vector says:

    OK, so that’s ONE of my USA magazines. What do I do with the rest of them?

  26. avatar Jonathan - Houston says:

    This article rings true to me. I do the dummy round technique for myself and those I instruct, too, but I don’t have any actual bad magazines. So I’ll sometimes just pretend that when/if I reach the random loaded dummy round, that the problem is the magazine itself, and so I’ll swap it out quickly.

    The even greater take away from this article is the virtue of preparing for what could go wrong.

  27. avatar askeptic says:

    I guess I have some use for my “ProMags” now other than as paperweights.

  28. avatar ggrimes2 says:

    Don’t know about the ProMag comment I have a few and they appear high quality.
    I have some bad mags for both my Taurus and 1911, first off they get a big orange stripe around the top and bottom so I do not mistake them for anything but trash the same goes for my questionable AR mags. For the handguns I use these for practice when trying to do a quick mag change. Dropping a full mag sometimes means a good mag will become a bad one. The same goes for the AR, the mag well on the weapon is not that great and it can be difficult to engage a fresh mag, having a few junk mags around is a great way to develop a feel for quick changes and dropping a crap mag on the concrete is a lot cheaper than ruining a good one.
    Training for myself and other’s I agree with those that use the junk mags for throwing a wrench in the works. Failure to feed, a jam or stovepipe has become so rare with factory ammo that people no longer know what to do. Many good ideas here, thx

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