Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Importance of Magazine Rotation -- Or At Least, Not Buying Aftermarket Magazines (UPDATE)

No, no, I don't mean rotating between Popular Science and Scientific American.  I pulled out my operational (as opposed to emergency stockpile backup) Browning Hi-Power this evening, because I will be taking a firearms training class on Sunday.  I have both genuine Browning magazines for it (13 rounds) and some aftermarket magazines.

When I first bought these, more than twenty years ago, Ram-Line made a Browning Hi-Power magazine that was only a fraction of an inch longer than the factory magazines, but they held 15 rounds.  At the time, I was regularly going into a very, very rough part of San Francisco (25% of the city's robberies in about ten square blocks) to use the law library.  (They could not take cash for photocopies on the second floor, because they had been robbed too many times -- and yet to get to the second floor, I had to show ID to a California State Police officer on the first.)  An extra two rounds before having to do a reload might have been conceivably useful.  If that sounds paranoid -- San Francisco was a very rough place, with serious gang problems in the early 1990s.  Today, as bad as it is, seems like a giant step forward.

Unfortunately, the next time I ordered some of these Ram-Line wonder magazines for the Browning -- they would not feed reliably.  They would not lock open the slide.  They did not even very reliably lock in place.  I was disappointed, and ended up ordering a dozen spare factory magazines.  I would rather have 13 completely reliable rounds than 15 that might work, and might not. 

Anyway, I have had these magazines loaded all this time (a mistake on a gun that you are not regularly carrying).  While all the factory Browning magazines still seemed to be fully springy, and lock the slide open solidly, one of the Ram-Line magazines was reluctant to give up the last several rounds.  More definitively, that same magazine would not lock the slide open when empty.  It is abundantly clear that the magazine spring has taken a set, as they say.  The other Ram-Line magazine seems to work perfectly, but I am going to test it tomorrow at Impact Guns in Boise.  Any questions about it, I won't use it for class.

It is a good argument for:

1. Do not leave magazines loaded for long periods of time unless you are regularly carrying the magazine, or you rely on it the magazine as a defensive gun for your home or business.  (And where I live?  Don't make me laugh.)

2. If your factory magazines are solid, top-notch, and completely reliable, think long and hard about whether the minor advantages of an aftermarket magazine are worth it.

3. Have plenty of spare magazines that are never loaded.  I used to think that it was silly that I have a dozen spare Browning magazines, and a dozen Ram-Line 25/22 magazines for the Ruger 10/22, and a dozen magazines for the light and heavy battle rifles -- but while magazine springs do not frequently wear out, it does happen.  Fatigue happens; keep spares.

I suspect that there is a replacement spring available for this magazine.  I suspect that it isn't very expensive, either.  I just need to find it!

UPDATE: I went to Brownell's website, chatted with a customer service rep in Windham, Maine, and he figured out which Wolff springs to send me to fix this. Outstanding!

UPDATE 2: Well, maybe not so outstanding.  It turns out that this Ram-Line magazine does not use a conventional coil spring.  It seems to be a weird kind that is permanently attached to the follower, and unrolls as the follower goes down the magazine.  This means that these Wolff springs are not useful to me.  These are 20 year old magazines, and I guess that Ram-Line was still experimenting at the time, so I can't get too upset with Brownell's for not knowing that.  I am seeing about returning the springs.  On the off chance that anyone needs part number 78673 Wolff springs (the 3-pack), I could sell them to you for what they cost me, $17.29.

Disassembling the Ram-Line magazine (which I should have done before placing the order) was mildly entertaining.  When I tried to put one of the Wolff springs in and replace the base plate, all I did was launch the base plate and parts to the far side of the room.  Some of the parts have still not reappeared.

In retrospect, I should have just thrown away this Ram-Line magazine, and ordered one of the Mec-Gar 15 round magazines for the Browning.  It would have only been a few dollars more.


  1. I have two Ram-Line mags for my S&W 6906 and so far they have been reliable. They hold two more rounds than the standard S&W mags. On the other hand, I don't use those mags often and I don't keep them loaded. I have heard that Ram-Line products are not really up to snuff - the reason I don't use them often.

    Quite often, CDNN (, has a nice selection of hi-power mags including Browning 13rd, Argentine military 15 & 17 rd. The Argentine mags are very reasonable, too. I have found them to be very reliable.

    Of course Wolf mag springs should get you in business too.

  2. Always a good idea if not going to the range and using those magazines then have empty mags to use to unload the filled ones into and rotate them so springs aren't compressed for months or years in any one mag.

    That reminds me I have some to unload and rotate and a few to test to see if they are still working or if I need to get replacement springs....thanks!

  3. The loaded vs. unloaded mag spring "controversy"
    is as old as the "big & slow" vs. "small & fast"
    cartridge argument.

    My version of "the truth" is that
    proper design, material selection,
    and manufacture results in springs
    that WILL NOT take a set.

    The operative word is "PROPER".
    And there is no way for the
    customer to evaluate that.
    So, we err on the "safe side".

    P.S. How often are your car engine's
    valve springs "exercised" in
    100,000 vehicle miles. And you
    do know, of course, when the engine
    is waiting for you to turn the key,
    "many" valve springs are loaded,
    and many are not.
    In a "almost random" pattern.

    So, the engine folks are forced to
    do their "PROPER due diligence".

    Thanks Clayton, for your unflagging devotion
    to the truth about guns.

  4. The area around Hastings and City Hall is better, but it's still a pit. More so at night, though. Maybe the drugs of choice these days leave people less violent? There's less crack, which might be a factor.

    In Dungeons and Dragons, there's a monster called the "shambling mound". I think whoever invented that was familiar with the Tenderloin.

  5. Those Ram-Line springs are called "constant force" springs because the spring rate is the same regardless of deflection.

    I guess the reason they chose them was to make loading the mag easier.

    I have a couple for my Taurus PT-99 and they seem to work fine.

    However, I had an Automag II 22 Mag pistol that had the same type of spring and it wouldn't feed more than one or two rounds reliably and I don't think the spring had taken a set.

    I concluded that internal friction of the spring, mag follower and the mag housing itself all contributed to the problem. The mag follower was plastic and had a cavity to accept the spring as it rolled up. I believe that design had a lot of inherent friction and thus the poor performance. The Hi-Power mags may be similar.

    In some applications, plastic works well to reduce friction, but in firearms there is a lot of grit that gets embedded in the plastic and actually causes more friction as time goes by.

    Despite the coolness and impressive (basketball size) muzzle flash of a stainless 22 Mag semi-auto pistol, I got rid of the thing. There were no alternatives to the factory mag and without reliable feeding, the gun was basically a wall hanger.