Efficiently loading your magazines will get you out on the range sooner and help you to be prepared in a self-defense situation. Here are a few effective techniques for loading pistol and rifle magazines.
Load a Pistol Magazine
To get rounds into the magazine, you need to compress the magazine spring as you slide rounds past the feed lips and into the main body of the magazine. This can be accomplished by using just your hands, or with the assistance of a magazine loading tool.
With a Tool
A magazine loading tool simply helps you to compress the spring to make it easier to slide each round in past the feed lips of the magazine. One tool that you will commonly see on the range is an UpLULA, which works for 9 mm to .45 rounds, with options for .22 magazines. There are also other brands of magazine loading tools.
The physics of loading a magazine is very simple. There is a tab at the top that pushes down on the follower for the first round, and then pushes down on the previous round for the rest of the loading process. Pushing down compresses the spring, which you can also accomplish without a tool by using your thumbs.
To load a magazine by hand, you need to compress the spring and slide the round into the magazine. I use the thumb of my hand that’s holding the magazine to help compress the spring, and then my other hand pushes the round down until it slides into place. The first round on most magazines is easy to load, because you’re barely compressing the spring, but as you add rounds, the spring is compressed more and the tension becomes stronger, making it more difficult to slide rounds into the magazine.
Sometimes it helps to set the bottom of the magazine against a table or other solid surface. This can be something like your belt or waist, but it varies depending on how strong your magazine spring is and individual hand strength. You might have to push the follower or round down with the base of the cartridge, and then slide the round under the feed lips.
If you have a lot of trouble loading a pistol magazine, a tool might be your only option. If your firearm is primarily for self-defense, I encourage you to find a firearm magazine that you can load without any tools or help. You can also work on your hand strength to help you build the muscle and skill to load your mags. Sometimes it’s just about technique and understanding the mechanics of what you are doing.
Load a Rifle Magazine
There are also rifle mag loaders, however, most people tend to find that loading a mag for your rifle is much easier than some pistol magazines. This is because of the platform, and how much force is required from the magazine spring in relation to the moving parts of the gun that take a round from the magazine and feed it into the chamber.
My basic technique for loading a rifle magazine is to hold it in one hand and the rounds in the other hand. For an AR magazine, like a P-Mag, I simply push the round in past the feed lips until it “pops” past them and into place. As I load more rounds, I make sure that the base of the round below is also pushed back against the back of the magazine. By paying attention to this, I am making sure that my rounds are not sticking out past the front end of the mag, which would make loading frustrating. So if you have trouble getting a round into an AR magazine, make sure the previous round’s tip isn’t in contact with the front of the magazine.
Clean a Magazine
There aren't many reasons to unload magazines once you load them unless you are cleaning the magazine.
Contrary to popular belief, magazine springs do not “take a set” or wear out from being left compressed and loaded. The fastest way to weaken magazine springs is actually loading and unloading, because you have to repeatedly compress and decompress the spring. Magazine springs are the part of a magazine that wear most often and need to be replaced.
Loaded magazines are not a problem. Neither are empty mags. If your firearm is for self-defense, leaving your magazines loaded is obviously preferable so that you are ready to insert and shoot in case of an emergency. Be sure to check your state’s storage laws.
If you drop the mag during a reload and it has sand or dirt on the first few rounds, empty all of the cartridges. Remove the base pad, and clean the entire magazine. This means using a brush designed for the job, and pulling a rag through at the end to get any dirt or sand that might be sticking to the magazine body. This is why you should not oil a magazine. Oil attracts grit, which can cause problems. It’s also a good idea to clean those rounds with a rag before you reload them into the magazine.
When you load a magazine by hand without using a tool, you are able to feel each round. This tactile act might cause you to feel a high primer or defect in a case. This is another layer of safety, and why I choose to load my mags by hand. An experienced shooter might be able to feel if a round was too short, or if a case was damaged. This can help prevent ammo malfunctions that might pose a safety concern.
Looking at and touching your ammunition to search for imperfections or inconsistencies is a good habit to build into your routine. If you work with ammo a lot, this becomes second-nature. This is especially important if you are using hand-loaded, non-factory ammo. We competitive shooters even gauge our ammo with a tool, on the lookout for high primers and any rounds that are not perfect. This is especially important when using hand-loaded, non-factory ammo.
When you understand the basics of loading and using a magazine, your shooting experience can become much more enjoyable.