Tactical Tailor

Gunfighter Moment – Ken Hackathorn

Magazine Madness

Of all the issues I see with users of the AR15/M4 weapons platform, two issues create the most problems. First is lack of lubrication. You must keep these firearms lubricated to work properly. Second is the problem of failing to seat the magazine into the weapon securely, when the bolt (moving parts) is forward.

Whether it is military, police, or private sector users, they try to top off their AR by putting a magazine that has 30 or often 31 rounds loaded into their carbine with the moving parts forward and in battery. With 31 rounds it will not lock into the weapon period, and with 30 rounds it will often be nearly impossible to get the magazine catch to engage in the magazine notch without beating the hell out of the magazine. This is especially the case with GI issue magazines. Some newer designs such as the Magpul polymer magazine has enough over travel in the spring that it can often be inserted and latched with 30 rounds in place. Yet, even with the Magpul I see many users fail to get it latched into the carbine properly with 30 rounds loaded.

The result of this failure to get the magazine secured into the weapon is that when the weapon is fired, the bolt carrier will fail to pick up the next round and you’ll get a click instead of a ‘bang’. In some cases the magazine will drop out of the weapon. Either way it is an ‘Operator Malfunction’ that can be easily corrected by first down loading any 30 round AR magazine to 28 rounds, and using a technique to insert the magazine with force, then give the magazine a tug to insure that it is securely latched into the weapon.

For half a century, the method of loading an AR magazine down to 18 rounds in a GI 20 rounder, or 28 rounds in a GI 30 round magazine was to insert the rounds into the magazine with the top round on the right looking at it from the rear. Press down on the top cartridge in the magazine with your thumb until the base of your thumb nail is even with the top of the magazine feed lip. Remember, top round is always on the RIGHT as you can load 31 rounds in the magazine; the 31st round will be on the left.

Now it gets interesting as the ‘Green Machine’ has converted to a magazine with a tan follower that will now have 30 rounds with the top round on the left; so much for 50 years of doing it one way, why not screw up the system? Again, remember it is the ‘Green Machine’; if you have been part of it you understand.

So, if you have the new tan follower GI magazines or Tango Down AR magazines, think top round on the left, thumb nail down to top round.

Now, which AR magazine is best?

Simple, whatever is free.

I like GI magazines with Magpul followers. I have Magul Gen 2 and Gen 3 mags, they are great. Nov 9th is coming, so make sure you have a good supply of quality serviceable 30 round magazines, and load them to 28 rounds.

– Ken Hackathorn

Old Guy With A Blaster

Ken Hackathorn has served as a US Army Special Forces Small Arms Instructor, Gunsite Instructor, and NRA Police Firearms Instructor. He is currently an FBI Certified Firearms Instructor, Certified Deputy Sheriff with Washington County SO, Ohio, and a SRT member and Special Response Team trainer. Ken has trained US Military Special Operations forces, Marine FAST and SOTG units and is a contract small arms trainer to FBI SWAT and HRT.

Ken has provided training to Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies and been active in small arms training for the past 25 years. He has written firearms related material for Guns & Ammo, Combat Handguns, Soldier Of Fortune, and currently American Handgunner and contributed to at least six other gun/shooting journals. Ken was also a founding member of IPSC and IDPA.

Gunfighter Moment is a weekly feature brought to you by Bravo Company USA. Bravo Company is home of the Gunfighters, and each week they bring us a different trainer to offer some words of wisdom.

Tags: ,

47 Responses to “Gunfighter Moment – Ken Hackathorn”

  1. Legriff says:

    What’s happening November 9th?

  2. Legriff says:

    What’s happening November 9 th?

  3. Marcus says:

    ” so much for 50 years of doing it one way, why not screw up the system? ”

    I am often amazed, but never surprised, at things we don’t think we know.

    Thanks for the wisdom.

  4. Easy E says:

    I disagree with:

    “Now, which AR magazine is best?

    Simple, whatever is free.”

    I will not keep a magazine which will not allow the rifle to function as designed. If a 30 round magazine can only function when not fully loaded, it’s not something I want just because it’s free. Now situation dictates, and if you do not have the option – for whatever reason – to obtain magazines which allow the weapon to correctly function when fully loaded, then you go to war with what you have and not what you want.

    Will 2 extra rounds be the difference? Maybe, maybe not. Yet I chamber a round, then reload the magazine while carrying my handgun. If the situation allowed, I’d do the same with my rifle.

    With that said, I do respect Mr. Hackathorn’s advice, opinions and experience. I simply disagree on a very small section of his post. I will be taking his advance on procuring more magazines — just they’ll be loaded with 30 rounds each.

    • Weaver says:

      Your solution of loading the initial round and then topping off is fine for the initial loading sequence, but does nothing to mitigate the problem when doing an IAD reload.

      The easy solution the the design deficiency, one that is universal across all manufacturers, is to stop thinking of a full-size mag as a 30-rounder, and consider it to be a 28 round mag. Load to “capacity” of 28 rounds and drive on with significantly reduced operator errors.

      • Jeremy says:

        So as a shooter with many tens of thousands of rounds through ARs, using magazines loaded to 30 rounds with zero closed bolt load failures, should I buy a lotto ticket?

      • JKifer says:

        the operator error is just that… it has nothing to do with the mags… all you have to do is fully seat the mag and then tug…it becomes ingrained into your IAD’s or reloads..or whatever with training…

    • Nick says:

      You are a Fool Easy E.

      I have taken training from Vickers & Hackthorn and they are 100% correct. The issue is doing mag changes and having difficulty getting the mag to not only lock into the lower, but allowing the bolt to strip a round and charge the weapon reliably. Just because you can stuff it in there, doesn’t mean it will work. Delta, SF, Rangers, DEVGRU, HRT and just about anyone with a lot of trigger time knows this. Your ignorance is just that. These men train almost 1,000 people per year and have been doing it for a decade. Ignoring there advice is about as retarded as one can get.

    • JKifer says:


    • art says:

      just and old guy with no real war experience. while i have seated 30 round in an ar with 30 rounds it is hard. this makes sense to me now. the tension from the spring gets stronger with each round and there is less room for the spring to collapse. i will take this to heart and start down loading my mags to 28. it does piss me off that someone tries or is so stupid to change the geometry of the follower for no good reason. now i will have to go look at all my followers.

      also i have old guns being old, hope most of you make it to old although it is not fun in a lot of ways, my glock 20 which i love glocks, one of the mags plastic cracked a couple of years ago and i sent it back and glock did replace it bless their hearts, but i do not trust plastic because it seems to me to get brittle with age and as i get older the years fly by. i do have some GI aluminum mags , a few, that do not look good but seem to function perfectly which of course is a requirement. most of my mags are steel and no one seems to mention them. in fact most of my steel mags are stainless and all that i have approved so far have functioned flawlessly. now i understand there is a weight difference, but i hopefully will not have to huff it with them or if i do not every far and the difference in weight to me is alright because i consider them even less prone to damage then even aluminum. am i off in left field just playing with myself?? i mean i am old and sex does not mean that much to me anymore, but it is not a dead weapon. why does not anyone mention steel especially stainless for mags??

      one other thing i have heard is to load even pistol mags down because you can destroy the spring keeping it compressed all the time. i have kept mags compressed to the max for 20 years and they still work fine. still i do have extra followers and springs for my ar and will probably unless the shtf before i can save my pennies do the same for my pistol mags.

      of course being a steel guy i have some 40 round steel mags also. is down loading those 2 rounds enough??? shit i can never seem to have enough mags or guns. WTF!!

  5. LBC23 says:


    I’m just going to leave this here and let the men smarter than I sort this out.

  6. Kango says:

    The issue I’ve seen with mags loaded to 30 is there was too much friction/pressure on the first round for the round to feed.

  7. Adun says:

    I never understood why the US military preaches to download to 28. The Israelis always download to 29 and I have seen no difference both doing it over there and doing it back home here. Sure, more spring give is better, but you generally only need a little bit of give and 29 rounds seems to give plenty.

    Also, for people who argue against this method, they probably haven’t had to insert banged up mags into a rifle out in the middle of the desert surrounded by sand dunes.

    • Mac says:

      Pretty sure the downloading to 28 came from Vietnam. I remember Pat Rogers explaining 28 giving a little bit more room for seating on a closed bolt, as well as being in line with the design of the follower (whether it places round #30 on the right or left-useful for loading during times of reduced visibility).
      Regardless of whether it’s 28 or 29, I think the key take away is to be consistent with the method used. Trying to point out the specifics of why 28 or 29 is better is like preheating a microwave oven.

      • Adun says:

        Yeah, I mean you do get a bit more room with 28, but I never found it to be necessary once you went down to 29. I know there are a lot of people who hate on downloading mags, but it really was a must in the conditions that we faced, especially if you ever had to seat a mag on a closed bolt for whatever reason.

  8. Plick says:

    Suddenly, the Daniel Defense mag makes a lot more sense than simply, “I could do it bigger.”

  9. Srecz says:

    If it’s designed to hold thirty rounds, load it up and do it. If you are sloppy, careless, and dumb, then police up your deficiencies and get it right instead of loading fewer rounds.

    • Joe G says:


    • JKifer says:

      Fucking A exactly.. I load all of my pmags to capacity and have never had a problem.. the older usgi metal mags sure…but why have those when pmags cost less/same..???

      • Nick says:

        PMAGS are not USGI, there is a reason they have a bigger footprint.

        You can design it do to anything you want, doesn’t mean it will function reliably.

        Here you have a plethora of real world gunfighters who are considered the best in the world by many, yet some asshole on the internet who shoots at piles of dirt knows more than Men who have been training to fight with these guns for 20-30-40years…………..LOL.

        Easy to see who has actually trained and who has never done a reload on a closed bolt.

        • JKifer says:

          wow, you assume a lot nick… im not even gonna try to correct all of your defencies. I will however assure you of one thing, since I was 17 I have been and still am training and acquiring plenty of real world experience with the M4/AR weapons platform…. If you actually had experience in these matters and knew what you were talking about then you wouldn’t have spewed your diarrhea allover this comments section..

          and after rereading your nonsensical post im still confused..are you saying pmags don’t function reliably with 30 rounds in them??? because if you are then you are portraying your ignorance on them

  10. Mr.E.G. says:

    I may be the luckiest guy ever, because I have never experienced a magazine that won’t properly work when loaded to 30 rounds, a mag that won’t drop free, etc. Never a single magazine issue at all.

    • Mr.E.G. says:

      I use Gen 2 P Mags.

      • Nick says:

        Your Experince and the experience of someone using a variety of mags over decades in dozens of different guns is not the same.

        IE, your experience means little to nothing because you have hardly any.

        • JKifer says:

          and you know what Mr E.G.’s experience is huh?

          Im gonna go ahead and guess that your experience consists entirely of being an online mind reading, forum warrior with nothing better to do…?

          SSD this dude needs one of your butthurt complaint forms

  11. Joe G says:

    “with 30 rounds it will often be nearly impossible to get the magazine catch to engage in the magazine notch without beating the hell out of the magazine. This is especially the case with GI issue magazines.”

    1. You could just go to the gym instead of bitçhing about “force.”

    2. You could just do a push-pull to make sure the magazine is secure.

    • JKifer says:


    • Nick says:

      Please tell me how you force a bolt forward on an overloaded mag?

      Other than pulling it back, slingshotting it and letting the buffer spring push a little at a time, there is no mechanism to push the bolt forward, other than the forward assist which only works the last inch or so of bolt travel.

      Think more, post less.

      • JKifer says:

        think more, post less….

        Ok lets see..

        – first off, there is no “slingshotting” a rifle, that’s for pistols, did you perhaps mean to say charging the weapon?….
        – joe didn’t mention “forcing a bolt forward on an overloaded mag”, he said its not hard to put a correctly loaded mag (cause that’s what 30 round in a 30 round mag is) into a weapons platform that has the bolt forward. two totally different things…

  12. Airborn_fister says:

    So after much thinking. I had to count how many rounds I put into my mags. So I went and downloaded one P-mag and a few metal mags. Don’t hate me. I have some with the green followers and tan ones. And I kept a black follower one just to show people that if they have them to throw them away or change the follower. Back on topic. I have 28 in every p mag. And 25 in us gi mags. But in my surefire is 60 and my Daniel defense I have 30. I couldn’t figure out why my us-gi mags had 25. So I downloaded them all. Acter counting my mags I realized that the reason is because I had an exact number that was easily divisible by 25. Then I thought out load. Oh Mr. Fister you knuckle head. That made sense. Now off to the tree stand. Have a great day.

  13. SGT Heintz says:

    I think that the Daniel Defense 32rd mag was probably aimed at this issue. Just load the DD mag to 30 and be done with it.

    I have not had any significant/recurring (very rarely with a brand new mag) issues with getting a fully loaded 30rd USGI mag in. I do not slap or shove them in. I press them in.

    Then, as I have been taught, I pull on them to make sure. It is slower, but more certain.

  14. BillC says:

    Hahahahaha….. the “NEW” Tan follower. That’s old news, guy.

    So, if you have the new tan follower GI magazines or Tango Down AR magazines, think top round on the left, thumb nail down to top round.”

  15. orly? says:

    Please don’t feed the panic.

    It’s not like there will be a Call To Arms after election day.

  16. Joe says:

    1) “I’m pretty sure stripper clips don’t come in sets of 10,10, and 8”
    2) Pretty sure the gov’t, for all its inefficiency, isn’t buying mags that are “30rds” wink wink*
    3) Gym. If you’re a pipehitter, snake eating, warlord you shouldn’t have a problem seating a mag.
    4) I don’t give a crap about the new followers. 30rds is 30rds.

  17. John Smith says:

    Dear Lord.