Carry a Spare Magazine: Guns for Beginners

A lot of gun owners worry about their gun going “click” instead of “bang.” Yes, well, with basic maintenance and self-defense (i.e. hollow-point) ammo, the vast majority of modern handguns are incredibly reliable. As long as you test fire your gun and ammo on a regular basis, you have little cause for concern. That said, the desire to reduce the odds of a life-ending mechanical malfunction is perfectly understandable. The single most likely cause of failure . . .

The ammunition magazine. The usual justification for carrying a spare ammunition magazine: more bullets! Fair enough. But given that the average gunfight is three rounds in three seconds at three yards, there’s an even more important reason: a Plan B if Mag A fails.

That’s why so many manufacturers spend so much money creating reliable magazines, and the aftermarket for high-quality magazines is so robust: gun and mag makers know gun owners don’t want to have to use a Plan B. It’s also why many gun buyers examine the sturdiness of a gun’s magazines before making their firearms selection.

Yeah it’s that important. Even so, sh*t happens. Mag lips (the top of the magazine) get bent. Dirt and other foreign substances find their way into magazines. Magazine springs lose their shove. In short, your ammunition magazine is much more likely to fail than the gun.

To hedge against a mag failure, examine your magazines on a regular basis. Look for foreign substances; make sure your mags are both clean and functional. Check for bent lips or any other damage. If a mag loads and unloads well, if it shoots reliably, you should be good to go.

It’s worth repeating: the gun range is best place to check your magazine/ammunition combo.

If you experience a magazine-related failure, try other similar magazines. If it’s a problem with one mag — where your other, similarly loaded magazines don’t fail — don’t carry the non-operational mag. (Mark an X on the bottom with a white Sharpie and set it aside for failure drills.) If all your mags fail, change ammo. If that doesn’t solve your problem, consult a gunsmith.

More than that, carry a spare magazine and practice on-the-fly magazine changes; including changing mags while moving. (You can do this at home with empty magazines and safety checked, unloaded firearm, not pulling the trigger.) There are magazine holders of various sorts, both for your pocket and your belt. Use one. Carry a spare ammunition magazine. Your life may depend on it.


  1. avatar Binder says:

    If you are going to practice magazine reloads at home get snap caps. Empty magazines go in a lot easier than full ones. Also practice reloads with the slide locked back, and slide forward both with a “empty” chamber and with a snap cap inside. Practice charging the pistol during the reloads, Even if your pistol “always” locks back at the range, during a defensive gun use your grip may push on the slide release and the gun will not lock back

  2. avatar mark s. says:

    I very seldom do carry an extra magazine and it isn’t because I don’t believe it’s a practical choice , as I carried a spare for years when I carried a 9 mm , even when I changed over to my Ruger with 17 + 1 , but as I got older and less dressy I gradually went lighter and much leaner , I lost my flashlight , my holstered knife , my watch , my spare mags. , and even my belt . I’m now down to simple Kydex ‘ Dead Eye Luke ‘ , IWB holster that I appendix carry with no belt , a full frame PMR 30 loaded with 28 in the magazine and one chambered , a thin wallet with a couple credit cards and my identity cards and a assisted open pocket knife in my rear pocket . I wear only blue jeans and 2 XL Carhartt tea shirts now and I don’t feel in the least bit vulnerable or under protected .
    I am a lot better shot now because of 45 plus years of shooting and have encountered every form of malfunction there is , that I calmly evaluate and correct without hesitation and I honestly have no issues with any of my three PMR’s . These firearms have functioned flawlessly when fired from a firm hand .
    I wouldn’t assume to tell anyone else how to , what to , or how much to carry for defense , but my evolution has been to more ammo and less weight . I need a full frame pistol because I have grotesquely large hands .

    1. avatar Binder says:

      Not to give you a hard time, but why does everyone assume that they are going to get a firm grip on their firearms when they use them defensively? I hope you at lease practice tap rack fire drills with you PMR.
      I did a lot of shooting with my Kahr in IDPA and almost always reloaded from slide lock. Thought I was good to go, Then I started doing drills with slide forward reloads and found out that I don’t seat them all the time. So now I have to retrain on my reloads

      1. avatar BIG Lars says:

        Good point on IDPA. Most stages encourage shooting to slide lock. Though an SO told me that the rules allow a tac reload as long as you retain the mag.
        If I’m doing a tac reload in a real scenario with adrenaline flowing I have a feeling that the mag would be seated. Thoroughly. That or the fight is likely over if I’m not empty. To eliminate the threat and all that.

        1. avatar Binder says:

          Never assume anything. Your motor skills go into the toilet, and anything you have to think about will likely get you killed. Try to induce failures and see if you can overcome them. and NEVER assume you are going to get that magazine seated

          I will do anything I can to prevent doing a tac reload with a carry gun in a IDPA match to not get into the habit. I will take the penalty first. (If I was really shooting for time, out comes the CZ)

        2. avatar BIG Lars says:

          Fortunately, these days my 75 P-01 is my carry gun. So I still get to compete with what I most often carry.
          And I agree with going to slide lock unless the stage calls for a tac.

    2. avatar mark s. says:

      Good points , all , and not taken lightly , but anyone here who has read my comments on other stories should understand by now that I have practiced all these malfunction drills for years and did again when transitioning to the Kel-Tec since it had a reputation for FTF’s .
      I have owned my own outdoor range since 1991 and have even developed my own PD drills , including practicing while on my ass , as in falling down , since this is a real possibility under duress . I have always used and improvised stress training and have written many papers on it , believing it to be far more important in SD training than simple target acquisition , and have always proposed competitive training because it provides the stress factor needed in learning calm under stress real fire situations .
      My comment about a firm hold on the firearm is not to be taken lightly and I should point out that in my point of view it is the single biggest reason people lose consistency . Pushing into the pistol should be a very conscience part of a persons training until it is natural . This is especially true in smaller caliber firearms because of the basic function of the tool and physics , and it is particularly true of the PMR and physics of the 22 WMR in a semi auto format . Limp wristing a PMR will lead to FTF and FTE malfunctions .
      I was only trying to make a point that , at least for myself , wearing a police belt isn’t my cup of tea anymore and I have opted for comfort over versatility . I admit , I may be a little more vulnerable now , but choices have been made and I’m ‘ comfortable ‘ with mine .
      I would never compel anyone to follow anybody else’s choices and I have always emphasized training all possible situations and stress training is imperative .
      God bless .

    3. avatar Dave says:

      Three PMR 30s? No wonder the damn things are never in a store…

      1. avatar mark s. says:

        ……………and about 20,000 rounds of 22 WMR , I guess I’m responsible for this shortage too .
        I buy what I like , I like 22 magnum , a lot .
        I own 2 Volquartsen LTH SA’s , 2 CMR 30’s , a Magnum Research SA , a Henry , a Winchester 61 , 2 Marlins , and a H & K 300 as well as a couple Single Sixes , 2 Heritage Arms , a LCR , a couple NAA pockets along with my 3 PMR’s , in this caliber and shoot them all fairly often . I think I have a legit reason to inventory the amount of ammo I have in 22 WMR . I also keep about the same inventory in 22LR , 9mm , 5.56 and 30.06 and there isn’t any shortages there .
        Well , the 22 LR may be on the list sometimes .
        Not my fault .

  3. avatar Cloud says:

    My nose dive issues went away when I swapped out the factory mags for Wilson Combat mags.

  4. avatar Katy says:

    I’m curious – if the average fight is three rounds, three seconds, it’s going to take me more than that to hear the click, drop and swap the mag, and get back into battery. If I’m anticipating the failure, I might be able to pull it off. But with the distraction of someone shooting at me from three yards?

    The mantra of three seems to more justify quality mags and ammo than the need to carry a spare.

    1. avatar Wilson says:

      Were you to find yourself in one of the worst situations imaginable, a gunfight in which you’re responding to a threat (otherwise you ARE the threat) do you plan on standing still?

      Also, keep in mind that these averages come ONLY from LEOs killed or assaulted in the line of duty. Statistics on civilian gunfights don’t really exist and the ones for LEOs are shaky.

      Pretty decent article on this from PDN:

      1. avatar JS Leonard says:

        Actually the 3 in 3 at 3 is from FBI statistics from all reported shootings. A a former LEO I can say that all the shootings we dealt with were within these parameters. In a modern firearm it is pointless to carry a spare mag. Do you tow a spare vehicle with you Incase your primary fails? Or a spare holster in case your primary fails? No one needs as much ammo as a LEO in day to day carry. You aren’t going to get in a LA shoot out were you have to defend the public as a LEO would. No, you’re going to defend yourself and get off the X so that you live to fight another day. This whole paranoia of mag failure is comical. In 30+ years of shooting, 20 years military (retired), 7 years LE and millions of rounds I have never witnessed this mythical mag failure even in the austere conditions of combat. Carry what you want, but just be honest about it. Just say “I’m paranoid and think everything in my life will work perfectly except my pistol mags. This is why I a spare mag or 3”.

  5. avatar Jonathan - Houston says:

    A spare mag on you is in the nice to have columm, but you don’t need it. You have a round in the chamber? You’re fine.

    We’re talking about shaving an infinitesimal amount of risk off an already extremely remote scenario where you’re attacked and must go all the way through to firing a second round, let alone a second magazine full of rounds. Rare to the rare. If you’re that concerned, then carry a back-up gun and cover even more risks.

    Really, though, your time and effort are much better spent preserving your health with easy everyday lifestyle changes instead of running around kitted up with a Batman utility belt full of toys.

    1. avatar pod says:

      As has been said, “sometimes trouble finds you”.

      You can avoid bad neighborhoods, practice the first rule of a gun fight (don’t get into one) but sometimes it just isn’t your day.

      A good friend of mine is the most unassuming person you would ever meet. Wouldn’t hurt a fly, and is definitely the sort to de-escalate conflict. He was having lunch in a fast-food joint in a good neighborhood, and that day, trouble found him. The place got held up, and he was the only person on scene equipped to deal with the issue. He did, successfully. Two BGs down. One of them was a career criminal who hadn’t hesitated to use his weapon in the past.

      That being said, a spare mag isn’t a huge burden if you are already carrying a pistol on your person. With the amount of crap we all carry on a daily basis, something the size of two cigarette lighters isn’t a huge burden.

      Now, going full Batman can be overkill…

    2. avatar uncommon_sense says:

      Jonathan – Houston,

      I agree that a single magazine is absolutely fine for the overwhelming majority of self-defense events. I also agree that most people need a lot more physical fitness activities in their lives.

      The main reason that I carry a spare magazine: in case I end up facing a seriously drugged-up attacker, spree killer, multiple attackers, or terrorists. Having a spare magazine gives me a lot more options in those scenarios.

      Then we have the “ridiculously unlikely” category of event: wide scale electromagnetic disruption (solar flare or pulse from nuclear bomb) that wipes out all electrical and electronic devices, strands you downtown, and you have to walk several miles home through anarchy. Several spare magazines could be a necesity in that scenario.

    3. avatar JS Leonard says:

      Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!! You are spot on in reference to the spare mag and the fact it is so remote to actually need your firearm much less a spare mag. Spot on.

  6. avatar SteveInCO says:

    And if you do get a spare mag…DON’T just carry it in your back pocket!

    I took a class where all the students were expected to run El Presidente (which, for anyone who doesn’t know, includes a mag change). I watched every other student lose 2-3 seconds fishing a mag out of their back pocket. I was the only one (other than the instructor) to get under ten seconds with a time of 7-something, but I had a mag carrier to work with.

    1. avatar pod says:

      My first “shooting on the move” experience was on-the-fly. I was filming a class for an instructor friend and he told me to run the course. I was still a neophyte at all this (well, more than I am now…) and only came with my EDC pistol and some spare mags in my backpack. I did have to ghetto-rig in my pocket. Definitely a hassle. Mag carrier was ordered the next day.

  7. avatar YZAS says:

    Hmmm… I’ve probably shot maybe 25-35 K rounds or so out of all kinds of firearms and have never once had a ‘nose dive’ FTF. Maybe i’m doing something wrong.

    1. avatar Binder says:

      Get you thumb resting on the slide or don’t use enough force to rack the slide. Try shooting the gun with a bad grip on it. Never assume that you will shoot the gun defensively like you do at the range.

      1. avatar JS Leonard says:

        Why wouldn’t I??? Training kicks in and nothing changes. Multiple combat departments w/5th SFG (CA asset). All with more engagements/fire fights than I can remember. I was involved in an officer shooting during a traffic stop as a LEO and had to shoot and kill the driver (driver excited the vehicle and charged me with weapon in hand). During all these I never had issues of any kind with motor skills or anything. In fact several of our missions were GoPro’d and I got to see myself during actual combat and my LE shooting was caught on the dash cam. I looked, acted, fired, reloaded and manipulated my weapon exactly like I do at the range (We video our range time for AAR). Training will curb what you’re talking about to the point it’s non-existent. Train, train and train some more. You train until you can’t get it right and then you train some more.

  8. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

    ‘The single most likely cause of failure… The ammunition magazine… To hedge against a mag failure…’

    …carry a revolver.

    1. avatar Binder says:

      When a pistol jams it usually fires at least once. When a revolver locks up, time to trow it

      1. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

        Statistically speaking, if you’re worried about your revolver jamming in a life or death moment you are suffering from some form of neurosis and should probably seek professional psychiatric help.

        1. avatar SteveInCO says:

          And yet…I just saw a revolver lockup this last Monday.

          Yeah, that doesn’t change statistics.

          His point is that you need to assess BOTH how likely the incident is AND how bad it is when it does happen. I’d rather have a fairly minor failure every 1000 rounds than a catastrophic one but only every 100,000 rounds.

        2. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

          I had a revolver lock up when it was brand new. I think the firing pin might have been a little rough and stuck in the primer. I opened the cylinder and shut it and it was fine. Generally revolvers jam because they’re out of time, which a) never happens to Rugers and b) will give you plenty of warning signs that it’s getting off before it locks up. For instance, if your EDC revolver is shaving lead you might want to get it fixed before it jams on you in a moment of need.

          Of course you can still have an ammo problem in a revolver, but if it doesn’t go bang you pull the trigger again and you get a whole new round.

          To my greater point though, most people who carry worry far too much about reliability – even the ones who carry autos. I carried a Beretta 92fs for quite a while and put probably 4000-5000 rounds through it without a hiccup. If you keep it clean and your EDC isn’t a jam-o-matic at the range, chill out. Most of us live in the safest neighborhoods and avoid stupid people, stupid places and doing stupid things. Odds of ever even needing to fire a single shot in anger is probably about on par with getting struck by lightning. Your time and mental energy would be better put to use checking your fire extinguisher and maybe getting the brakes on your car checked. Have you even had a colonoscopy? (Me neither.) I’ve got way more pressing issues to worry about than my revolver jamming when I need it.

  9. avatar tdiinva (Now in Wisconsin) says:

    The “3,3,3” rule is not supported by the evidence. The FBI data never said that. (See link below) in fact it shows that 2/3 of the officers killed inside 10′ never opened or returned fire. They were taken by surprise. Engagements may end inside 10′ but that doesn’t mean that is where they started. Where an engagement is likely to start is an important factor in deciding what to carry and how many extra mags you need. If the threat presents itself at 10 yards that micro pistol or snubbie may not be the best choice since you will want to keep your distance. If you don’t see the threat coming until 3 yards then in all likelihood you will end up dead.

    1. avatar Mike says:

      This ^ I believe most of the statistics people get from the internet are all hyperbole / assumptions. You cannot trust anything on the internet – least of all from our government. I believe in my gut and 50yrs of experience. You *rarely* hear of all out ‘gunfights’ with common people involved in defensive situations. The only all out gunfights you commonly hear of – that are real IMHO – are military, LEO and gang related situations. For the the rest of us – the 99% left protecting ourselves – do what was said – get to the range regularly & keep your equipment clean and functional. I highly recommend joining IDPA (or any other shooting club) to get experience in real-life scenarios. Most ranges will not let you holster, do mag changes or rapid fire. You can do all this (and its encouraged/scored) at an IDPA range/competition. You’ll learn all three mag change options – drop/RR/Tac – and the more you compete the better you get. In time, you don’t even think of the mag changes as you are running through the course. When it comes down to a real-life situation – having the best / biggest gun is only going to be 10% of it. The other 90% will be having the confidence to get through your anxiety of the situation. Its not that you will be involved in any scenario that IDPA puts you through – its the fact that you have built up the confidence to quickly and accurately shoot multiple targets with multiple mag changes. So when the real situation appears – and the reality is that it will probably be only one shot – you heart wont be pumping past 90bpm. This confidence is built through repetitive practice / competition. My two cents.

  10. avatar Ralph says:

    I don’t usually carry an extra mag. But I sometimes carry an extra gun.

  11. avatar J says:

    I have been doing security for about a year and started carry full size guns concealed and open. an extra mag isnt always an option for me. when i can though you bet i do have them for these reasons. Shit happens be prepared that is why we carry we may never need but we could, you dont want to wish you had something we you need it

  12. avatar Tym O'Byrne says:

    I carry a spare mag for my LCP, in my other LCP, NY reload they call it, works for me. One is none.

    1. avatar ActionPhysicalMan says:

      Statistically, and in the spirit of this argument, I’d posit that one is less than one, not zero.

  13. avatar J says:

    Funny, I’ve mentioned this before for beginners, but I had a few responses saying that it was a bad comment and idea, people should be just worrying abou carrying in the first place. Now it’s being realized, or because RF says it it must be true and should be done?

    1. avatar Robert Farago says:

      I wouldn’t give me that much credit. I don’t.

  14. avatar AnarchoCatholic says:

    I carried spare mags in case of needed reload and if they failed I’d go to my last resort, grenade. I turned it in to the armory before I left country though.

  15. avatar Owen says:

    I carry two spare mags. So with one in the pipe, that’s 46 rounds. Nobody ever complained that they had too many bullets…

    The liberty all copper projectiles are light. Makes a 50/50 mag of then and another brand not too bad to tote around.

    1. avatar ActionPhysicalMan says:

      Maybe someone who got shot with their own gun complained, briefly.

  16. avatar Hill Country Dog says:

    Or just carry a revolver! I love my Detective Special.

  17. avatar Priest of the center mass says:

    In a gun fight….i don’t want to ride the odds of 3s.
    I intend it to be quite unfair
    …..for the bad guy that decided to be an idiot that day.
    If i use the rule of 3s…..It’s carrying 3 mags that’s my rule of 3s.
    Mags can drop out at the worst times, i wouldnt want to be searching the ground for a dropped mag while dodging bullets.
    Whatever works for you is what works for you people.
    The world is only getting tougher.

Leave a Reply to Binder Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

button to share on facebook
button to tweet
button to share via email