Competitive Shooting

Numbering Your Magazines

IWI Tavor Magazines

If you attend a major IDPA or USPSA match, you will invariably see a gun with number magazines, much like the .40 S&W magazines for a S&W M&P Pro Series. When I first started shooting competitively, I wondered why people do this, until a shooter explained they number their mags so that if something goes wrong with a magazine, you can know which one it was and pull it out of the rotation.

After all, a magazine failure in the middle of a match is going to cause a serious problem and would likely be the difference between a win and a loss. Or as I’m fond of saying “Life is too short for bad magazines.” This applies to more than just magazines though; just as a magazine is a possible point of failure on your firearm, so are the holster, belt and magazine carriers. If you have a backup holster for your competition gun, do you have a way of differentiating it from your main holster? Again, grabbing the wrong holster or, worse, yet the holster for a different gun than what’s in your bag would be a pretty lousy way to spend your match time: Yet I’ve had days where I’ve shown up to the range and pulled a 1911 holster out of my bag…and the gun in the bag wasn’t a 1911.

The numbering system and rules of redundancy don’t just apply to the world of competition. In fact, the guns I carry for self-defense also have their magazines/speedloaders numbered, for the exact same reason.

If I start having problems with a magazine for one of my carry guns, I definitely want to find out about the issue on the range so I can discard or repair the malfunctioning magazine. Tracking your gear for your self defense guns could be the only thing that separates you from a “click” when you’re depending on that firearm to save your life.

Numbering your gear, whether for self-defense or competition also allows you to better track your training. If I’m trying out a new ammo load for competition, I’ll progressively load my mags for the first string.

The first magazine has two rounds, the next magazine has five rounds, the third magazine has ten rounds and the fourth magazine is loaded to capacity. Yes, you could easily do this without numbering your magazines, although I’ve discovered that the number on the bottom of the mag makes it much easier for me to remember which part of the progression I’m on when I’m actually shooting.

The final reason to number your magazines (and the rest of your gear) is that it decreases the odds of one of those mags failing from overuse. When I’m running a match, I rotate each magazine in order—the very first shots of the first stage are fired from the lowest numbered magazine (in my case Number 0 ) and then the magazines are rotated forward based on use from there.

This decreases the odds of me using one particular magazine more or less than other magazines, which distributes the wear and tear evenly among 4-10 magazines instead of unevenly across 1-2 magazines.

The magazine is, in my opinion, the most critical component of a semi-automatic firearm. If you shoot your gun for sport, or carry it to defend your life, it’s important that you’re confident the feeding system for your firearm won’t fail you at a critical moment.

Take the time this week to number your magazines and you’ll be able to increase your level of confidence in that system! And share how this system works for you in the comment section.

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Comments (12)

  1. one guy said he would stomp a fail-magazine on the range, & when he got home, he’d bang it completely flat w/ a sledgehammer & vise-anvil, a never-again-strategy

  2. I don’t number mine but it may be a change. I do color code the magazines though, which other readers might try.

    In our house we have a XD 45, XD 9mm subcompact, and a XDm 9mm. It was the XDm that set me over. Going to the range and pulling out the right magazine for the right gun was nigh impossible. The XDm and XD mags look almost identical, though they don’t fit in each other.

    So I took some colored electrical tape, pick a color for each gun, then cut tiny squares of it and stuck it to the bottom of each magazine. Most of the time, when in the back, the bottom of the mag is pointed up, so you can glance in the bag and grab the right one. Since my 45 is a bedside gun most of the time, I just wrapped a piece of yellow electrical tape around the grip to know it is yellow. For the other guns I just remember the XDm is red and the XD is blue.

    It wouldn’t take anything to write a number of the tape as well.

  3. In fact, I use a silver sharpie to number my mags. Shows up very well on the plastic surface. On 1911s I have to write a little bit smaller because the basepad is so teeny-tiny on those single stack magazines.

  4. It typically attach labels to the magazines themselves and then mark their failure count on them. This means I can skip most of the book-keeping. The only problem is that if multiple guns of the same type may have differing magazine preferences. But for simple stuff it works well.

  5. @Kevin: I use a silver Sharpie. If it’s a chromed/stainless magazine, a black Sharpie should work just as well. Alternatively, you can usually find paint-based markers at most craft stores, which might work better on chromed mags.

    @Bond in Michigan: It was Tam’s suggestion that got me started doing it, too. It was a great help in trying to determine if I was having feed issues due to a specific magazine or deficiencies in my grip (it was actually a combination of my grip and the pistol being finicky about ammunition). I like that letter and number idea – it would be especially helpful if you have guns that use similar-but-different magazines.

  6. I will probably number my magazines this winter when the weather is bad. I do intend to use a letter and a number. Each gun type will have a letter, each magazine will have a unique number. Thus all AR-15 magazines could be A-1, A-2, A-3, etc. and all pistol magazines will start from the end of the alphabet, Z-1, Z-2, Z-3, etc. for perhaps the Glock 23. This was discussed, probably at “View from the Porch”, and it was reported in the comments that “Elmers Painter” and “Silver Metallic Sharpie” worked well.

  7. So what are you using to write the numbers? Looks a little like White-Out, or is it just a white pen of some sort?

  8. Glad I could help. I actually just looked at the mags and you’re right, the “&” is backwards on all of them. That is quite odd to say the least.

  9. I’ll also be doing this over the weekend. Thanks, Caleb!

    Has anyone else noticed the “&” is backwards on all four of Caleb’s mags? Just checked – all of my M&P 9mm mags have it the right way. Weird.

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