If you carry an autoloading firearm, the most important component of that handgun or long gun is the magazine. Without a reliable, top-quality magazine, the semi-automatic pistol or rifle is nothing more than an expensive paperweight. The magazine is essential to the proper operation of the firearm, and it makes little sense to spend $1,500 on the gun and then go with a $15 magazine of dubious repute.

A poor design or iffy construction, flimsy or brittle feed lips or a weak magazine spring can contribute to magazine failure and thus the malfunctioning of the firearm during the feeding/extraction cycle. While the vast majority of factory-made, magazine-fed firearms are provided with one or more magazines by the manufacturer, the user may want more magazines or perhaps magazines with a larger capacity or baseplate configuration. We’ll take a look at the some of the reasons a shooter may choose an aftermarket magazine and some of the options available.

.45 Backups

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Brownells’ 7-round magazine.

I would hazard a guess that this is the reason most often given for a gun owner to purchase an aftermarket magazine. The new or used gun he or she purchased only came with one magazine, and in the case of a defensive handgun user, having a second magazine is mandatory. Factory magazines may be difficult to obtain and overly expensive if they can be had. A name and price does not always indicate quality and reliability, so let the buyer beware.

Brand X that costs $20 less than Brand AAA may work just as well with your firearm, so price may have less to do with the matter than the source of supply. Some gun makers have been able to lower the cost of their products by elimination of the extra magazine. This, of course, puts this task on the buyer. If for whatever reason you decide to go with something other than factory mags, look for a supplier with a good reputation in the industry. So let’s say you got this great deal on a Model 1911A1, but it only came with one magazine. Who are you gonna call? Brownells!

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This supplier of gun gear, parts and accessories has built an enviable reputation over the years, and it has everything you can imagine and then some, including Model 1911 magazines emblazoned with the Brownells name. These folks take this branding thing pretty seriously, so they won’t put their name on anything that’s not top shelf.

The company’s seven- and eight-round (.45 ACP) magazines are made of heavy stainless steel with a matte black finish, a Xylan exterior coating and feature an Extra-Power magazine spring for reliability. The seven-round magazine is all GI with a welded in baseplate that’s drilled for bumper pads with .525-inch spacing. The eight-rounder has a removable polymer baseplate and both magazines have an all-steel, anti-tilt follower that will hold up to thousands of rounds.

Capacity Boosters

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MagGuts installed in S&W M&P Shield magazine

A number of manufacturers offer magazines for their pistols with a little higher ammo capacity than is standard. This usually translates into a larger floorplate or a longer magazine tube, which may not be an issue unless of course the handgun is being carried concealed and this added length is unwelcome. Enter MagGuts by Corso Inc.

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This company actually produces new magazine springs, followers and lockplates that replace the factory components in your magazine. What you get after installing the MagGuts parts is an extra round in the magazine. This is done by substituting the long factory magazine spring with a two-piece spring, one fitting inside the other. This change, combined with a new, flatter follower and in most cases a new lockplate, creates the necessary room inside the magazine for that extra cartridge.

To test this, I used a MagGuts kit for a Smith & Wesson M&P Shield in 9mm. This compact, concealed-carry pistol comes with two magazines. One holds seven rounds and the baseplate is flush with the butt of the grip frame; the other takes eight rounds and extends below the grip frame, the baseplate and a rubber filler offering a bit more hand-room on the grip. Following the instructions that came with the MagGuts kits, I replaced the innards of both factory magazines. The only difference I discovered in those replacements was that with the eight-round magazine, you use the factory lockplate, and on the seven-rounder you used the MagGuts loc-plate. The installation was fairly easy and worked as advertised. So now my Shield has eight- and nine-round magazines, which can’t hurt.

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Rockin’ reload! This 9mm Sig P226 is getting fed a fresh Mec-Gar 20-round magazine.

For added firepower without modification of a factory magazine, take a look at Mec-Gar. These folks have been providing magazines to the firearms industry for over 50 years and have a sterling reputation. I was looking for a magazine that would increase the firepower of the Beretta 92FS without a longer magazine tube or a bulky extension and found just the thing at Mec-Gar. The company offers a magazine that fits flush with the bottom of the 92FS’ grip frame, increasing the 9mm’s cartridge capacity from 15 to 18 rounds.

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The “secret” behind this additional ammo volume is the interlinking of internal components. When the magazine is broken down, the follower, spring, lockplate and baseplate are one unit. Additionally, the magazine spring is telescoping and the coils are tighter at the top than at the bottom portion. A reset cavity beneath the follower takes in these coils as the follower is depressed during loading. The indented “diamond” on the heat-treated magazine tube has also been widened so not to score the cartridge cases as they roll up and down the inside of the tube. Plus, the tube is anti-friction coated inside and out to improve function and corrosion resistance. It’s no wonder Mec-Gar supplies magazines to the military and major manufacturers like Ruger and Sig Sauer.

Obsolete Mags

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Triple K mag for Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless.

There are lots of old handguns out there, and since autoloaders have been around since the late 1890s, many of them are no longer made, and ready sources for new magazines, or even used parts and magazines, are few and far between. When you can find original magazines, they are often almost as expensive as the gun that uses it.

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Take the Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless in .32 ACP. A good-condition example of this pistol can run $700 to $1,000, and original magazines are collector’s items, too, and will fetch over $150 if in decent shape. Of course, finding them can mean spending a bit of time on the Internet, prowling gun shops or visiting gun shows. Fortunately, there are a few sources of newly made magazines for most of these old handguns and the prices are usually very reasonable.

One of the bigger suppliers is Triple K. This company has been in business for over 70 years and can provide not only magazines, but also holsters and other leather, handgun grips and other items. As far as magazines, it literally offers hundreds for pistol makes starting with “A” and ending with “Z.” I went to “C” to check out what they had for Colt, and if Colt made it, they have a magazine for it. Everything from diminutive .25 autoloaders to a Model 1902 Military .38 pistol. And of course the Model 1911 is listed. Sure enough, my Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless was in there, too, and a newly made, eight-round magazine was priced at just $40. I ordered one, and when it came I noted it was well made with a satin blue finish, and when I took my Model 1903 to the range, the magazine functioned perfectly. The best part is, I can easily get more of these mags, and they cost less than a fourth of what a used original will cost.

High Performance

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Wilson Combat Elite Tactical Magazine.

Now, I’m not saying factory-supplied magazines or budget-priced models may not perform, but law enforcement, the military, shooting sports competitors and the like might just want to know that what they have in their handguns is top of the line. For this reason, they may opt for aftermarket magazines with special features to ensure reliability and functionality. Of course, the only way to truly know is get some and try them out. Here are a couple of sources you may look at that have an outstanding reputation in the market.

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With over 30 years of experience with 1911 magazines, Wilson Combat started with a clean slate when designing the Elite Tactical Magazine (ETM). One that I have experience with is the ETM for the 9mm, which has a 10-cartridge capacity. The magazine tube is crafted from aircraft-grade stainless steel tube and uses a custom-designed welding process with refined radius for each bend in the tube. The multi-step tumbling and finishing process used on the tube provides smooth follower operation and insertion of the magazine into the pistol. Observation slots are strategically placed to ensure the magazine’s structural integrity.

Self-lubricating nylon is used for the follower to allow smooth feeding and positive slide lock after the last round is fired. Its extended skirt ensures stability in operation and minimizes creep from the tube when the magazine is empty. A nylon insert at the rear of the magazine adjusts tube width for the shorter 9mm cartridge. The magazine’s springs are stainless steel spring wire and the nylon baseplates are easily removed for magazine cleaning. All these features combine to help eliminate feed lip cracking, tube spread and general fatigue, plus they’re corrosion resistant and carry a no-risk service policy. If a magazine breaks in normal use, it’ll be replaced.

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Gun Pro Sure Fire magazine.

Another interesting 1911 magazine is from Gun Pro. The Sure Fire magazine’s name would imply that the magazine is going to function properly for each and every shot, and here’s where the magazine’s design come to play. Incorporated into the magazine is an “Anti-Nosedive” spring. If you’re thinking that it’s the magazine spring itself (like I did) you’re wrong.

On the upper right-hand side of the magazine, just ahead of the feed lip, is a cutout in the magazine tube itself that produces a “spring.” At the top, the spring is given an inward curve that comes into contact with the bottom of the cartridge about to be fed into the chamber. The support this spring provides prevents that round from “diving” nose-down into the feed ramp as the breech-face of the slide contacts the rim of the case to shove it into the barrel chamber. This requires a slight modification of the follower, so the right-front portion has a cut to allow the “spring” to be in the necessary position.

The magazine tube is slightly lengthened to give room for eight (.45 ACP) cartridges and the upper rear portion of the tube has a round cutout, rather than a square, for the slide disconnector rib, which is meant to prevent cracking. From what I understand, this magazine “walks the walk,” and theoretically its well-conceived design will not only make it more reliable, but it should last longer, too.


Brownells; 800-741-0015

Corso Inc.

Gun Pro; 314-680-2363

Mec-Gar; 800-632-4271

Triple K; 619-232-2066

Wilson Combat; 800-955-4856

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