Letter Re: Can Firearms Magazine Springs “Take a Set”?

Although I’m retired from federal law enforcement, I am far from being a firearms expert or zealot. For me, a weapon was just a tool furnished by the agency to conduct business. Things (and my opinion) have changed a bit now – although I’m still not as aggressive as a lot of preppers.

That said, I have a question regarding the reliability of magazine’s that one might keep loaded (i.e. in a nightstand) for months or years. Wouldn’t the magazine springs tend to (eventually) take-on a “set” that would reduce reliability? Should we replace certain springs with better(?), rotate the magazines every few months to relieve the compression loading on the springs … or ?

To make this question more specific I’m asking about factory magazines for a SIG P229 (.40 S&W) and a Model 1911 (.45 ) ACP.
I would be interested in your opinion on the topic generally. Thanx, – C.

JWR Replies: In my opinion, the entire “springs taking a set” premise is over-blown. I’ve been told by a metallurgist that only a coil spring that lacks proper tensile strength at the time of manufacture will show weakness significantly over time, under compression. Ditto for magazine feed lips. So if a magazine is properly manufactured, then this should not be an issue within the span of a couple of generations. With that said, as an ultraconservative “belt and suspenders” type, I do rotate my loaded magazines once per year. (I keep only half of my standby magazines loaded, at any given time.) But shooting that ammo in target practice–my favorite way to “rotate” it!–is more for confirmation of having reliable ammunition than it is about magazine trustworthiness.

In 1989, I took part in firing two 7-round M1911 magazines of .45 ACP ball ammo (with 1943 headstamps) that had been stored loaded continuously since the end of WWII. These two magazines had been left in the back of a desk drawer in a manila envelope with a 1945 postmark. Not only did the cartridges all fire, but the pistol functioned without a single failure to feed. I just wish that I had shot video of the event. These days, that clip would probably do well on YouTube.

One thing is for certain: If you have troublesome magazines, do not attempt to “tweak” them, by bending their feed lips or stretching their magazine springs. Both of these methods will only make matters worse, because you will be destroying tensile strength of the steel. If any magazine you own is not 100% reliable, then either A.) strip it as a source of spare parts (namely, its follower, floorplate, and floorplate retainer), and discard the rest, or, B.) paint its floorplate red, so that it will be relegated to “target shooting only” status. The last thing that you want is an unreliable magazine mixed in with the good ones that you ‘ll trust your life to, if an when times get Schumeresque.