General

How to Distinguish Clips From Magazines  

Left: top view of the Mauser Model C96 pistol. RIght: Mauser C96 pistol being loaded

As a firearms instructor, it drives me crazy when people who should know better use the term ‘clip’ when they mean ‘magazine’ and ‘magazine’ when they mean ‘clip.’ Even more when people believe that they are the same thing and use the words interchangeably. They are oblivious to the fact that clips and magazines are two completely different things.

Why is it so difficult? To add insult to injury, I think I know where the confusion stems from. During WWII, G.I.’s used the clip loading system of the M1 Garand and called the En Bloc Clip a clip. Because that weapon was the dominant one used in the U.S. Military, everyone started using the term to refer to any device that held ammunition and was placed in a firearm. Clip quickly became the generic term for anything holding ammunition.

stripper clips
These are stripper clips (or just clips) used to load magazines.

For some reason, that practice has become so prevalent that people who should know better incorrectly refer to a detachable magazine as a clip — even though they know they are very different devices. So, let’s straighten out this confusion once and for all. First, what is the difference between a clip and a magazine?

Definitions

A magazine is a device that is used to hold cartridges for feeding directly into a firearm’s chamber, to be fired, during the operation of said firearm. It may be a fixed internal type or a detachable type, and they both come in a variety of shapes (box, tube, drum etc.) and sizes. A magazine also contains some type of feeding mechanism that is usually powered by a spring. That type of mechanism is not present in a clip.

A clip, on the other hand, is used to conveniently hold a few cartridges, before inserting them into a magazine. Clips are generally used for loading magazines quickly. Depending on the type of clip, it may or may not remain inside the magazine during the operation of the firearm. In that regard, let’s look at a few types of clips and then magazines in more detail. Remember, they are different devices.

Clips

I will first start with the stripper clip (also referred to as a charger clip in commonwealth countries). These were originally invented by Mauser in 1888 and used by many military rifle models since. It consists of a long strip of metal into which cartridges may be slid.

At both ends of the clip there are little tabs that are bent to retain the inserted cartridges, preventing them from falling free. With a stripper clip, the user opens the bolt and inserts the clip into the slots milled into the rear receiver bridge at the rear of the magazine opening. Then, using the thumb, the cartridges are pushed off the clip and into the magazine (‘stripping’ them as it were off the clip into the magazine. This is why it is called a “stripper clip”). After the magazine is loaded, the stripper clip is removed and saved for reuse.

Loaded En Bloc clip
This is an En Bloc type clip the that is used in the M1 Garand.

There is another type of clip called the en bloc that was used by Mannlicher in 1885 and more famously by the U.S. M1 Garand. In this type of clip, the cartridges and the clip are inserted together into the internal magazine of a rifle. When the last cartridge is fired, the clip is then ejected.

Another type of clip is the moon clip, the one shown is usually used to quickly reload a revolver. This type of clip was devised to make it possible to shoot rimless .45 ACP ammunition from a revolver.

Box Magazines

Basically, there are two types of box magazine, the internal (or fixed) magazine and the detachable magazine. Internal magazines are generally seen on bolt-action rifles and usually hold about 5 cartridges. They can be filled by hand, or more quickly by using stripper clips to load multiple cartridges at a time. Box magazines store their cartridges in columns, either one above the other (single column aka single stack magazine) or in a zig zag manner (double column aka double stack magazine or even quadruple column aka casket magazine).

Mauser C96 with stripper clip prepared to be loaded
This image shows a stripper clip in position to load a C96. Note the internal box magazine in front of the trigger.

In the included photo, we see a C96 ‘Broomhandle’ Mauser that has a box magazine forward of the trigger guard. You will notice the stripper clip is in position to reload the magazine. The striper clip is placed in the groves that are milled into top of the receive. The thumb is then used to push the cartridges into the magazine as shown. Pretty cool stuff for 1896.

Detachable Magazines

Detachable magazines are designed to be attached/removed from the firearm and are loaded separately from the firearm. Detachable magazines allow the user to carry multiple magazines that have been loaded in advance allowing replacement of expended magazines quickly when needed. Detachable magazines are generally inserted through the bottom of the firearm (e.g., most modern pistols, submachine guns, semi- and fully-automatic rifles etc.), but there are some famous exceptions.

AR-15 and AK-47 magazines
These are detachable magazines. On the left is one for an AR-style rifle, on the right is the AK style.

Those exceptions include the Sten and Sterling submachine guns that have their magazine wells on the side of the firearm. The Bren gun and Madsen machine gun have magazine wells on the top. Detachable magazines may be straight or curved, depending on the type and number of cartridges they hold. Shown in the included photos are two detachable box magazines. On the left is a 20-round magazine made for the Colt AR-type rifle. On the right is a 30-round magazine for an AK-47-type rifle.

In the illustrated examples of single and double-stack types of magazines, notice that each magazine has a spring and a follower piece at the bottom of each magazine. The spring and follower keep the cartridges pushed toward the top of the magazine, where they may be picked up by the firearm’s action.

Box magazines can be made of either metal or plastic. In some firearms, the plastic magazines are made of a transparent material. This allows the user to easily see how many cartridges remain in the magazine.

Box magazines are traditionally loaded by hand, but new devices use a mechanical advantage to speed the process and make it easier on the fingers. Some of those devices are called bench loaders, strip loaders, or “thumb savers” for people who use pistols. Basically, a box magazine is usually pretty easy to load by hand until the magazine is almost full. The last couple of cartridges are usually hard to push in manually, and thumb savers reduce the effort required and prevent sore fingers and thumbs.

Box magazines have certain advantages over other types of magazines. They can safely hold cartridges that have pointed bullets something tubular magazines cannot do. They can also hold a larger number of cartridges, compared to other types of magazines. 30-round magazines are very common for rifles for instance and there exists those that can hold a 100 or more.

Magazine loading device for the M1 Carbine
Here we see an example of a magazine loading device. This one is for the M1 Carbine.

The user can preload any number of magazines in advance and can quickly switch between them. It is also much easier and faster to load or unload a box magazine than any other type. Obviously, because of these advantages, removable box magazines are the most common type of magazine used in modern pistols, submachine guns, and automatic rifles today.

Although we did not intend to discuss the type of clips used for revolvers. I feel I need to at least mention those that are called clips or resemble clips. We have the Moon Clips, Speed Strips, and the Speed Loader as seen in the included photos. I feel that the moon clip and speedloader are self-explanatory but felt it necessary to include a photo of the Speed Strip showing how two rounds are loaded at a time.

Top center is a speedloader, left is a moon clip, and right is a speed strip — all for reloading revolvers.
Top center is a speedloader, left is a moon clip, and right is a speed strip — all for reloading revolvers.

Conclusion

I hope this helps clear up the confusion between what is a magazine is and what a clip is — especially for those of you struggling to understand the difference. The correct use of terms when learning things that are new to us and seem strange cannot be over emphasized. Learn it correctly the first time, and things get so much easier and become more fun.

Are you a stickler for using the correct terminology such as distinguishing clip from magazine? What other terms do you often hear used incorrectly? Share your answers in the comment section.

  • speed strip with two cartridges being loaded in the chambers
  • Magazine loading device for the M1 Carbine
  • Cutaway illustration of a single stack magazine
  • AR-15 and AK-47 magazines
  • Cutaway illustration of a double-stack magazine
  • Left: top view of the Mauser Model C96 pistol. RIght: Mauser C96 pistol being loaded
  • Top center is a speedloader, left is a moon clip, and right is a speed strip — all for reloading revolvers.
  • Loaded En Bloc clip
  • Mauser C96 with stripper clip prepared to be loaded
  • stripper clips
  • 1911 .45 ACP pistol magazine
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Comments (33)

  1. Just for the record, in ‘Nam in the sixties we had an adapter (well some of us did) wherein we could load 20 round M16 MAGAZINES from supplied ten round CLIPS. Maybe this was just for us swabbys.

  2. Nothing wrong with getting it right.
    You will be seen as a more intelligent gun owner.
    Just my opinion.

  3. Didn’t notice anything about HALF MOON clips. Just thought some folks might like to, or need to know about them. The younger generations don’t see much about revolvers but unless someone grabs the cylinder they go BANG every time.
    I’m a big 45 cal guy for pistols and revolvers.
    Thanks for your article!

  4. When my boys and I hear some tool go on about the interchanging of these words, we just chuckle to ourselves and go about shooting the tips off matches @ 300+ yards and other silly contests.

  5. If you say clips and magazines are the same thing, you’re just wrong. There is a world of difference between the two.

  6. @ EDWARD H. GAULIN
    Why not use an indelable marker or paint pen and on the back side of the magazine write the model firearm for that magazine? Or write it on the base plate of the magazine if you store them open end down.

  7. When I was helping my Law Enforcement Officer father load magazines for his M1 Carbine during the time of the 1963 Race Riots, he would not accept an empty magazine when he asked for a clip. And as the clip held 10 rounds and the magazine held 15, he would be holding a clip with 5 rounds left when he asked for another magazine. It makes a difference. Perhaps the next article could explain the cartridge, round and shell.

  8. I’ve been a collector, historian & shooter for just about 65 years. Military training many years ago taught me the terminology of clips & magazines.
    The problem I have today with many semiauto pistols magazines is the storage & selection of the proper one among similar unmarked items. Probably the most often issue is with single-stack .45ACP mags from various manufacturers. Apparently a number of 1911 mags are not inter-changeable. Another difficulty is with mags that look-a-like i.e. Browning HP & Beretta 92s. Also with the BHP is the hasty ID 10 & 13 round mags. All of this is complicated when I have multiple mags for a single handgun on how to store them and quickly find the correct ones.
    The primary reason this problem arises is the difficulty of secure storage of the gun with all of it’s magazines and it’s cases. My safes are not large enough and I lack space for more or bigger ones.
    Others collectors must have had similar experiences and I hope they will share their solutions.

  9. ***Don’t shoot the messenger***

    The current flap over the proper usage of clip vs magazine is a relatively recent development. Back when I was growing up in the 1960s, people commonly used them interchangeably. I’m not saying they were right or wrong, only that they did it and the only ones who would correct them were drill instructors. You can find a million examples in the literature.

    Yes, I know the difference as people demand today. But I also go back far enough to know it wasn’t always this way. Remember when “gay” meant “happy”? I do. It wasn’t so many years ago, certainly within my lifetime.

  10. The correct terminology is absolutely important in this day in age of “alphabet soup” language. Especially concerning the media with their full automatic pistols, and assault weapon bs. A rock is an assault weapon. My favorite from years ago was when a local reporter was reporting on a police involved shooting of a piece of trash. The reporter said live on the air that police shot the afforementioned piece of trash with a 40mm. handgun. Didn’t know cops carried the M203 thought that was only for IRS agents.

  11. Speaking of chargers. For the Lee Enfield (SMLE) series there is a correct way of inserting the rimmed .303 cartridges into the charger.

    The first cartridge – push to the far end. The second cartridge – it’s rim goes over the top of #1’s rim. Number three – it’s rim goes under the rim of #2. No. 4 – rim goes on top of #3’s rim. No. five: rim under #4’s rim.

    Note the symmetry – it doesn’t matter which end is inserted into the slots.

  12. javier it is literally two different things.
    motorcycle and automobile. oh but they do the same job!!!

    And Ed…sensei…
    Cough Lebel cough tubular magazine with spitzer bullets…
    🙂
    I know I know even the french decided a 3 round enbloc clip gave so much fast reloading that they were transitioning to the Berthier when they could

  13. To Jakemac2, Javier, D.J. and anyone else that does not believe that words have meaning. Unlike those trying to destroy our Republic I believe they do and should be used correctly to communicate effectively. They use terms incorrectly to promote their lies, Assault Rifle for Sem-Automatic, White Supremacist for Student’s Parents and High Capacity Clips for Magazines. Be correct and specific every chance you get, do it to save America.Thank You, Ed

  14. This is a good primer for new shooters and it doesn’t hurt the rest of us to brush up. It’s easy to think we know / remember everything (me included), and we think the details won’t matter all that much… Imagine getting caught in a night time shootout. You burn through all your ammo. Your buddy has the spares in a heavy pack by his side. You call out to him for a CLIP… The enemy is suddenly silent as he tosses you a CLIP – you’re both too stressed from nearly dying to realize… you actually wanted a MAGAZINE for your rifle. No time to laugh about the mix up as there are barrels pointing your way.

    It’s not an accident that they train precision, IN ALL THINGS, in the military… or at least they used to. Plus, the worse your terminology is, the more you seem like a democrat.

  15. I just love it when anti-gun politicians call it an AR-15 with a 30 round clip. What a bunch of idiots. If they are going to make a statement about something they should get their ducks in a row and know the proper terminology before making fools of themselves in national television and the news media.

  16. There’s also the rare helical magazine for AK pattern rifles that stores the rounds in a horizontal spiral (helix).

  17. I think it was a good article, well written and informative to the unknowing. What scared me was those who do not care. Do they not care that there are Democrats, Republics, Independents and so on? Incorrect terminology is a sign of a shallow mind and is likely a person who can’t really tell or care about the policies of gun control, freedom of gun ownership and many or all of the other freedoms we claim but which the government today seems bound upon taking away from us.
    Please keep up the good work. Some of the mindless comments very well establish the need for such articles.

  18. Another excellent article by Mr. LaPorta…..but I must say that I have on on occasion, lackadaisically mixed up clip and magazine….but you know what??? I’m still alive and well! I think that the article might have been more informative for newbies….(and there are lots of them owing to the current political situation) if it included a short video especially on using clips for various weapons. But I guess space restraints would inhibit that from happening. I might add to this comment that I particularly enjoyed Jack all of Regard’s response. However, ahem, after calling out those who misspell “their” and “there”…. or “your” and “you’re” he managed to misspell “too” in the second to last sentence! Shame shame….but I’ll let you off the hook this time Jack because we’re on the same side of the proverbial political fence!

  19. Many folks that confuse “Clips” and “Magazines” are the same folks that confuse a “semi auto machine gun” with a real machine gun/assault rifle. The more confusion that can be created as far as firearms are concerned, the better in the opinion of Lefties/Democrats. In the 1970’s, the idea that a normal person could go to a gun store and buy a “high power snipper rifle”, (i.e. – a bolt action deer rifle with a scope mounted on it), was the major “Gun Control” issue for Democrats. Sooo – learning the proper terms for various firearm components is important if one needs to effectively discuss firearm control with most people. Note that the Democrats will refuse to admit that they have no idea of what they are talking about when it comes to any type of firearms.

  20. Overall a good article. Sometimes when I hear someone use a incorrect firearm term it makes doubt how knowledgeable or how well trained they are. I don’t correct them, it’s not worth starting a discussion/argument.

  21. Back in ’60/’61 when I was given a J.C. Higgins 42DL .22 rifle, I joined a shooting club on Mather AFB, CA. We were told that for .22s the ammo holder was called a clip even if it was a removable box mag like my .22. For .30 caliber and above there WAS a differentiation between “clips” & “magazines” as stated in this column.

    BTW, I still have the .22!

  22. Call them clipazeens. That’ll solve the stupidest argument. Seriously who gives a flying f#@k. Only an anal retentive person who’s joy is correcting the someone overy something like this. Over 100 years they’ve been having this conversation. I know the difference and I still willfully use them interchangeable. Try and make me not. Seriously there is way more pressing issues in this world to worry about than this. Seriously.

  23. Ed LaPorta has done an excellent job of distinguishing between clips and magazines. There should be no confusion from this point on. Having said that, I personally will not lose any sleep over how anybody describes the instruments used to load guns. I’ve had an M1 Garand that uses an En Bloc clip. I have an M1 Carbine that uses a stripper clip. I have guns with detachable magazines. I have revolvers that use speed strips and speed loaders. I’m 72 years old and have been shooting for almost the same amount of time. I can remember back in the 1950s and 1960s voraciously reading all the hunting magazines I could get my hands on. They frequently talked about loading clips into a hunting rifle when it really was a magazine they were talking about. I knew the difference and so did most of the other readers. And really, outside of being technically correct, people know what you’re talking about regardless of the nomenclature. It amazes me at the number of writers who don’t know the difference between they’re and their, or between you’re and your. But I know what they’re trying to say even if it’s grammatically wrong, so I don’t let it bother me. I think “The Real Most Interesting Man in the World” should take pride in his essay, leave it at that, and not get his panties in a bunch. There’s waaaay to much of that crap coming from all the left-wing Louie liberals who are trying to change our way of life. Let’s Go Brandon!

  24. A a good primer on the difference between clips and magazines.

    A few things were missed, some of which is quibbling, but…

    There are also such things as halfmoon clips that carry 3 instead of 6 rounds. Why? Don’t know, maybe easier to carry in an ammo pouch.

    Also of note is that detachable box magazines for many military rifles can be loaded off stripper clips with the aid of an adaptor. The adaptor is typically packaged in a box of 20-30 rounds in clips of 5 or 10. Far easier and quicker than loading individual rounds by hand.

    Would have been nice to give a little more than the odd mention to tubular and drum magazines. Though I suppose that’s a small point in explaining the differences between clips and magazines. Maybe fodder for another article.

  25. Informative article for those who need it, as it is about a clear as it can be said. Also citizens only possess DEFENSIVE WEAPONS, no matter how they operate, look, how much ammo they hold, or calibre. Citizens defend against such things as; crime, tyranny, or invasion. Citizens never assault. Just to be clear, CRYSTAL CLEAR, citizens CAN handle the truth. LOL

  26. It also drives me crazy that people who should know better call AR-15’s assault weapons and semi automatic weapons, automatics. The only assault weapons are ones that can be fired fully automatic and only the army has those and maybe some cops. AR-15’s are not equal to M-16’s even thought they look alike and fire the same ammunition.

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