*M16 Magazine Fix*
15 November 2009

During my last tour here, we got issued brandie-brand-new M16 magazines, straight out of a box. I make a point of saying "straight out of the box" because despite having been in the Army since 1987, I'd never seen an M16 magazine brand-new-in-a-little-cardboard-box before. They’d always been old, scratched, worn, full of sand, and thrown haphazardly in a footlocker. I suppose over time I came to believe that magazines came from the factory that way. But there they were and sure enough, they were new as new gets.

These were "Okay" brand, and it was the first time I'd ever seen this maker's mark. I’d seen plenty of Colt magazines, some from Center, Precision and a few other brands in my time, but never “Okay.” I didn't have a high opinion of them when we first got them. I must also admit that this low opinion was completely irrational and had mostly to do with the name.

Companies are proud of themselves and put forth their best efforts on behalf of their customers, my reasoning went, tend to have more superlative names than "okay." Imagine if the people who made "Taster's Choice” instant coffee instead called their product "What the Taster Settled For” instant coffee, or if "A1" steak sauce was called "Good Enough For The Cheap Cuts YOU Buy" steak sauce. Not very confidence-inspiring.

During our train-up and test firing, some of us - me included - had problems with failures to feed. Moreover, some Soldiers had problems keeping the magazines in their rifles - they'd plunk right out of the magazine well during firing. The less clever among us blamed their rifles or the ammo. Our rifles are made by the Fabrique Nationale plant in Columbia S.C., so I doubted the rifles had anything to do with the malfunctions. And since ammo was Lake City M855, I also doubted the ammo being the culprit.

So I looked at the magazines. Sure enough, the part of the magazine right near the bullets' tips was just a shave too high - the bullet's tip would jam against it when pushed forward by the bolt lugs, rather than passing up over it and up the feed ramp channels. And the reason several wouldn't sit in the mag well was because the hole for the detent wasn't big enough.

We've heard and said many, many times on this board that magazines, while essential, are disposable; and because of this, the fix for a bad magazine is simple:
  1. Find large flat rock or concrete surface
  2. Place offending mag on said rock or concrete
  3. Find second rock about size of fist
  4. Pound magazine flat with second rock
The Rubicon makes the claim that a magazine treated so will NEVER give you any more problems ever again. I'm inclined to agree.

But we couldn't just smash our magazines flat, seeing as how they were issued to us and all. Magazines are disposable out here too, but they’re not THAT disposable. To make matters worse, we didn’t discover the problems at Camp Atterbury (our mobilization site). The flaws presented themselves only after we’d landed in Kuwait. Ask anyone who's been to Iraq; if you need something for going "up-country," you had better get it before you land in Kuwait, or else wait until you get to Iraq - there is nothing for people transiting through. So we had to do something to fix these things.

Enter the Leatherman. The fix was as simple as filing a small chamfer in the front of the magazine so the bullet tip would have an angled surface to ride up, and filing down the channel for the detent so it would click in place. Once we did this to all our magazines they worked flawlessly.

Sometimes magazines can or must be worked on. When purchasing in a context where we can put our mitts on the things and load them into a functional firearm—as from a friend or at a gun show—by all means, get the ones that work right the first time. But if buying sight unseen, as when ordering online, we don't have that luxury. If a magazine doesn't work quite right, throwing it away may not always be necessary. Isolate the problem; in some cases, we may actually be able to fix it, rather than chuck the mag and chalk up the loss. Just make sure that the fix is durable—i.e., that it will last a long time (hint: duct tape is never a permanent fix for anything)—and that it doesn't weaken the magazine.

Safe and Happy Shooting,

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