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Gunfighter Moment – Mike Pannone

Feeding Eugene Stoners Brainchild

This is just a quick one over based on my experience using for both training and operationally just about every magazine that will fit in the M16/M4/AR15.

First let’s look at the 3 critical components of a magazine: spring, follower and body.

Follower– A great deal of the early M16 magazine issues was due to bad follower geometry and design. Legs that were too short allowed them to tilt and bind causing failure. This portion of the magazine has seen the most changes and advances over time and has a great deal to do with reliability. The anti-tilt followers are pretty much the gold standard. It is so much so that nearly every aftermarket magazine I can think of and the new USGI magazines have anti-tilt followers in them and from field reports the new USGI magazines perform extremely well. All my mags in IZ were USGI with MAGPUL no tilt followers and they performed flawlessly.

Spring– Modern springs will easily outlast the body of the magazine. Early magazines suffered as well from older and less refined spring technology. Modern springs take an initial set when loaded but are not dramatically degraded by being left loaded for a very extended period of time (think years). Springs will fatigue when they are compressed and released in the firing cycle. Think of a piece of flat metal stock. Bending it doesn’t make it crack or fail. Bending it back and forth repeatedly causes metal fatigue which eventually will cause it to break. Over time and repeated use (and I mean a long time and lots of use) magazine springs will eventually fatigue enough to fail but not from being left loaded.

Body– Singularly the biggest cause of malfunctions in the modern incarnation of the USGI M16 and really any others for that matter is the body. If the feed lips begin to separate they change the original design geometry and will cause double feeds. This is not fixable in any consistent and reliable manner and so they should be replaced.

Common mistakes people make:

1.) Loading 31 rounds into a 30 round magazine. If you can’t press the top round down about 1/8” then you have overloaded the magazine. If you try and seat the magazine with the bolt forward on a live round it will be extremely difficult because the bullets cannot do down the required 1/8” or so. What happens if you hammer it in is they go out and at the weakest and most crucial point of the magazine, the feed lips. This causes accelerated wear and can permanently damage metal or polymer magazine which I have witnessed personally on more than a few occasions.

2.) Putting 550 cord loops under the base-plate on a GI magazine. It was not designed to be held by the 4 metal tabs at the base. Those tabs are only there to keep the base plate on. If you feel the need to do it, tape the 550 cord to the outside of the magazine with riggers tape.

3.) Not maintaining magazines properly. They should be cleaned when they have been used in field environments and left dry. DO NOT LUBRICATE MAGAZINES IT WILL HOLD DIRT AND DEBRIS AND CAUSE FAILURE TO FEED MALFUNCTIONS. Side note- do not over lubricate you rifle because it drains into the magazines causing said problem.

4.) Kicking, throwing, or generally abusing/misusing them. For instance, they can open bottles but they are not bottle openers. You fill in the rest from your experience. The only use for a magazine is to hold bullets and reliably feed your rifle.

5.) Not marking magazines. If not then people never really know which one failed and just keep recycling. Once a magazine malfunctions and it cannot be traced to debris, it will only get worse. Get rid of it. A little paint marker goes a long way.

6.) Believing magazines that don’t drop free are still serviceable. If you bought “non-drop free magazines” for your M4 please let me know where. One of the requirements for the US Military was that the empty magazine had to fall free from the rifle when the magazine release is pressed. If it doesn’t it means that on a GI magazine the feed lips are beginning to separate or on a polymer magazine the body is beginning to swell. Both are by that very fact unserviceable.

7.) GI magazines are crap. In the picture below you will see 3 magazines. The one with yellow marking is what I call the “magic magazine”. The only magic is if you don’t abuse your kit it will treat you well. It is marked 1-92 and I got it from a bucket of s#*t magazines in OTC. To this day it still runs fine and I have used it for 18 years. The other two “new magazines” are both 12 years old (5/03 & 6/03) with the only additions being one has a MAGPUL and the other a CMMG no tilt follower and I can’t even begin to estimate the round counts on any of them.


USGI magazines were only designed to hold 28 rounds. FALSE

Does anyone really believe that the US military would buy 5.56 magazines by the millions over the last 45 years (official fielding of the 30 round magazine in RVN was approximately 1970) that are spec’d for a 30 round capacity but (wink, wink, smirk) only really hold 28? That is absolutely absurd. The biggest current problems are stated above, overloading of the magazine, poor reloading technique (if you can’t get a 30 round magazine to seat with 30 rounds in it…news flash…it’s not the magazines fault) and third in the ultra-rare instance where the specs of the lower receiver, upper receiver and magazine don’t line up correctly. This can happen if the upper and lower are fit very tightly from the factory but is exceedingly rare. The looseness of the upper and lower by design actually allow damn near any magazine to fall within the collective specifications necessary to allow positive lock-up of a magazine…but back to short loading magazines. I once carried 28 rounds in all my magazines…that is until I went to the Operator Training Course at JSOC. There a gruff guy named Sam E. wasn’t buying it and told us we could do whatever we wanted IF we made it across the hall but here “you will have 30 rounds in every magazine you carry and 30+1 when you enter the breach point on every hit.” I never had a problem and never witnessed problems other than genuinely unserviceable magazines and that is with the incredible amount of shooting we did in that course. He was correct…it was a useless action based on out of date information.

So what do I use? I use primarily USGI magazines because they work great, they’re cheap, I already have a ton of them, they will fit in anything that has the appropriate lock-up geometry at the mag release for an M16/AR15 and they drop free very consistently. I designed the MagCap for USGI magazines (with the Marines in mind because of the IAR mag well not accepting many aftermarket magazines) so that the base was protected from dirt and damage and for an additional gripping surface without giving up any capacity. As I say “it’s the best thing to happen to the GI magazine since the no tilt follower.”

On the polymer side I used just about everything available but prefer Tango Down ARC Mk2 magazines. The 3 pictured were given to me to T&E in the summer of 2009. They were immediately loaded and were kept loaded or were fired and immediately reloaded nearly non-stop since then. Having been loaded and fired over 300 times each none of the 3 have malfunctioned or failed to drop free. Some people say the sealed bottom will hold water but most people carry magazines bullets down so dust doesn’t settle in them and if you put an ARC magazine in water, pull it out and fire it through your M4 there will be about 2.5 oz. of water in the bottom. The space is displaced by the bullets. It’s a non-issue as far as I am concerned.

There are lots of great magazines out there so whatever you choose to feed your rifle with then have at it. My biggest problem is that the entire magazine topic is littered with misconceptions based on conjecture, urban legends, improper use or abuse or driven by bad technique. Know why you do what you do and vet your own kit. Go out and test what I have put forth on your own and see what you come up with. Mine is based on lots of shooting and lots of record keeping.
– Mike Pannone


Mike Pannone retired from the Army’s premier assault force (1st SFOD-D) after an explosive breaching injury. A year after his retirement America was attacked on 9/11 and he returned to help serve his country as the head marksmanship instructor at the Federal Air Marshals training course and then moved to help stand up the FAMS Seattle field office. In 2003 he left the FAMS to serve as a PSD detail member and then a detail leader for the State Department during 2003 and 2004 in Baghdad and Tikrit.

In 2005 he served as a ground combat advisor of the Joint Counter IED Task Force and participated on combat operations with various units in Al Anbar province. Upon returning he gave IED awareness briefings to departing units and helped stand up a pre-Iraq surge rifle course with the Asymmetric Warfare Group as a lead instructor. With that experience as well as a career of special operations service in Marine Reconnaissance, Army Special Forces and JSOC to draw from he moved to the private sector teaching planning, leadership, marksmanship and tactics as well as authoring and co-authoring several books such as The M4 Handbook, AK Handbook and Tactical Pistol shooting. Mike also consults for several major rifle and accessory manufacturers to help them field the best possible equipment to the warfighter, law enforcement officer and upstanding civilian end user. He is considered a subject matter expert on the AR based Stoner platform in all its derivatives.

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Gunfighter Moment is a weekly feature brought to you by Alias Training & Security Services. Each week Alias brings us a different Trainer and in turn they offer some words of wisdom.

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28 Responses to “Gunfighter Moment – Mike Pannone

  1. Ed Hickey says:

    Great idea with putting the date on them!

  2. Disco says:

    I’ve been a magazine fashion victim here and there but, yeah USGI mags tend not to have their own peculiar issues unlike some of the newer wonder mags.
    I thought Pmags were just the thing until I had some lips crack and warp.
    Naive as it sounds, some of these companies just want your money.
    So GI mags. Don’t look sexy but it just feels right

    • I’ve gone back to GI mags all around. On the same spreadsheet were I keep my weapon logs I have a tab for magazines and when to change out the guts.

      You want fashion? Krylon. 🙂

      • Jian Hong says:

        I’ve had great luck with PMags. No durability or reliability issues while I had plenty with USGI. I keep my USGI as backups but retrofitted with Magpul followers as all 3 USGI followers are terrible from personal experience.

        • Doc Steel says:

          I had a PMag break on me while I was downrange. It happen when I slammed it down while it was sitting in the magazine well of my M4. I’m pretty sure it was a fluke but since then I have half PMag and half USGI in my combat load out.

  3. Chris K. says:

    Excellent article, this what Gunfighter Moment should be each week. Slaughter those sacred cows.

  4. Jian Hong says:

    Excellent article.

    I agree that the loading only 28 rds in a magazine designed to hold 30 is stupid. From personal experience, I did not have much issue with issued USGI mags fully loaded, some of them were harder to seat on a closed bolt but otherwise worked fine. Still had plenty of junk mags causing failures though, the milspec green and worse black followers really suck. (The new USGI anti tilt ones suck too, I DESPISE them) Magpul followers are the first thing I retrofit into a USGI mag. And I noticed they will seat reliably on a closed bolt everytime with 30rds loaded.

    I disagree with Disco and think PMags are superior to USGI. Haven’t had any issues with them, plus they’re much more durable and easier to disassemble. I think the extra $1 or $2 is worth it. They are my primary mags while I keep USGIs as backups.

  5. The USGI magazine was only properly designed to take 28 rds – thus it is a 28 rd mag. It was not designed from Colt to PROPERLY take 30 rds – it was only properly designed to take 28. It’s that simple

    All magazines need clearance to seat correctly in the gun when fully loaded – loaded to 30 rds this mag does not have the correct clearance – loaded to 28 rds it does

    End of story

    • Jon, OPT says:

      IN SFARTAETC we were taught 28 was so tactical reloads would seat properly, I’ve used that logic since because it works; 19 for SR25 type mags.

      Jon, OPT

    • Noner says:

      The ZERO change in performance I have experienced switching from loading 28-30 rounds in a USGI magazine over the past nearly 20 years and hundreds of thousands of rounds speaks for me. We disagree on this.

      • Jon, OPT says:

        Mike have you had seating issues with reloading a 30 into a weapon with a chambered round? What’s your solution to this? I know with some force it can go in, but even then I have had some drop out on me. Not cornering you, just curious how you address this one.

    • seans says:

      Is your statement based off of actual documentation or just experience?

      • Noner says:

        No. If the gun is tight (the 3 tolerances I mentioned) turn it 45 degrees and slap the bottom of the magazine. I don’t push a magazine in to get it to seat when full and bolt forward. I push it until it stops with the rifle about 45 degrees which is my normal reload orientation and hit the bottom aka Tap-Rack-Bang minus the last 2 steps. I don’t push pull because I always hit the bottom unless I am prone and resting the mag on the ground. Then I seat it as best I can and if it wasn’t 100 %, on the first shot it will seat properly every time.

        BTW my best friend from Group retired out of 37 in 2012 and this was his text when I asked him about it this AM-
        “No, there were some thick headed instructors that thought it was a good idea but school house answer was 30.” Kyle R.

        • Jon, OPT says:

          I know Kyle, served with him. My opinion is based on the current and past market and the vast amount of mags with multiple varience a user may run into,, test your gear, mark as necessary; don’t deploy with untested gear. There is no debate, just find out what works, expect gray areas. I appreciate your time Mike.

          Jon, OPT

          • Terry B. says:

            +1 Excellent points Jon and Mike.

            I’m not trying to pick any fights with anyone either but I have to admit that I am squarely in the 30rd camp in this discussion.

            While I was in I used USGI magazines exclusively (albeit upgraded with Magpul followers as soon as they hit the market).

            I always applied your methodology and did test runs on all my kit, including every magazine, before ever “going to work” with it. If I had any issues with loading, seating, feeding or dropping free then that magazine was left behind.

            But I appreciate and respect that YMMV.


      • Noner says:

        Actual historical documentation. I have been a consultant for several magazine manufacturers over the last 7 years and have kept records for comparative analysis.

  6. Matt says:

    There are few absolutes. For every 28-round adherent, there is a 30-round adherent. And each is based on their total experience. I don’t discount Mike Pannone’s opinion, nor the experience he bases it on. But I also don’t discount the opinions and experiences of others, either.

    I have found that loading 30 works, but loading 28 works better with the tradeoff of two fewer rounds to put downrange. It works better because seating magazines solidly in a consistent manner is simply easier if not working in tolerances of 1/8″. It helps when hands are sweaty and wet. It helps when your position is less than ideal, it helps when in tight quarters, it helps in prone. What works is push-click-pull, regardless of rounds loaded or mag type.

    • Noner says:

      If you have a concern seating your magazines under varying conditions then by all means download them. I don’t have that issue and never have. The point of the piece was reliability of the magazine under full 30 round load and it is not positively effected by downloading 1 or 2 rounds or negatively effected by loading 30. The only effect-2 has is that it is easier with certain techniques to seat it. Again, I don’t have a problem seating a fully loaded (20/30/40/48) round magazine from any manufacturer and have taught many others in my classes to get beyond the 28 is better mantra.

      Do what keeps you in the fight, I’m just putting out truth: you can load 30 on a closed bolt and it works reliably. If it doesn’t then the magazine is not reliable with 28 either. Do with that knowledge what you will.

  7. Jeb says:

    Danke, Mike. I agree whole heartedly with what you stated. While enlisted we were advised 30 rnds and many years later I still run 30…unless the mag has stressed feed lip geometry or the whole mag has some serious physical abuse. I still reserve shoddy mags for range and failure drills but do not have them with my kit as mags cost money and Colorado went anal on standard capacity mags. Pmags have a place but I keep them from my kit as well and reserved for range use. As someone who keeps an AR due to familiarity and faith in the system, I also own a couple of FN Scars and with the 16s model – USGI STANAG mags with correct anti tilt follower is important. Sorry, Dawg, but I have never been issued, or bought, a 28 rnd mag from ANY source. 10, 15 and 30 rounders – yes.

  8. Chris K. says:

    Quick question – if some think 30 is best and others say 28, why not split the difference to 29? Anyone tried doing this in a field environment? Issues?

  9. airborne_fister says:

    So does this mean that people are also buying surefire mags. And since they have 2 chambers side by side they are putting 56 in it. Two missing from bothe channels?!? Or the 100 they are only loading 96. What if it’s a beta mag or any other drum mag. Why buy the higher round count and put less in it?!? But on a serious note. Carried Pmags over seas. Gen 1 and gen 2. I have to say they worked great. But if I threw on to my saw gunner, or tried to fire blanks (during training) they would fail. Or when I try to use my pop can launcher:-). So switched over to 1 surefire 60 round mag and multiple GI mags. Labeled them in the color of the followers. Never seen a black follower. But the green ones have green labels and tan ones are in yellow. Never had a huge problem with the followers tilting when shooting but if I use my speed loader then I will.

    But here’s a question. Do you only put the number or letter or what ever you use to label them, And the year? Or do you include the month? Like does it look like this 1-2001 or do you put 1-03-2001? And does this apply to pistol mags too?
    Final question I promise! Does anyone label them with their initials too?

    • Noner says:

      I don’t buy or retain any magazines that do not perform as advertised. Must lock back, drop free and 20’s get 20, 30’s get 30, 40’s get 40 etc.

      The dates on USGI mags are usually stamped by the factory (post 93 AWB it was required but I don’t think so anymore). I don’t date them if the date isn’t already stamped on them. I do number and color code mine in series from 1-9. Many will use initials or a battle number or a unique marking.

  10. bulldog76 says:

    never heard of tango down arc mags hmmm i wonder why

    • BrettW says:

      I’m glad you took the time to contribute to the conversation, lol.

      There are a lot of professionals that use them; I’ve shot about 50k rounds through the SCAR while working on that program, they worked better than many of the other poly mags on the market. TangoDown has a solid product, just not the same fanboy following of others have. Try some out, and form an opinion for yourself.

      • bulldog76 says:

        no seriously i had never heard of em til i read this article …. but i will have to get some to try

  11. Joe says:

    In the Marine Corps Infantry, and Security Forces it was gospel SOP to load 28 rounds in all 30 round magazines, this was not because the Corps thought they were only designed to hold or function with 28 rounds but because the Marine Corps weapons were generally used, and used often. Mag wells would get dirty, uppers and lowers got swapped, multiple manufacturers of magazone’s and weapons, and no one was taught to throw away mags. I personally used standard USGI mags with Black, Green, and Tan followers, Gen 1 & 2 Pmags, and found that I could consistently get mags to insert and seat better (easier/faster)with 28 rounds than 30 rounds. I tried 30, 29, and 28. 28 loaded seemed to work for me. YMMV.

  12. John says:

    Best Gunfighter Moment post, ever. Most are demeaning, redundant, and sales pitches. Thank you.