Like a lot of other gun folks, I’m guilty of encouraging folks to stock as much ammunition and magazines as they reasonably can. While I still encourage this sentiment, I realize it isn’t very helpful. As such, I’m going to expand on how to determine what I believe is an adequate minimum number of magazines and how to manage them in this post.
Let’s start with a foundational understanding that magazines are a consumable component of a firearm. With use overtime, magazines will fail and may need to be repaired or replaced. The failure may be the result of parts wearing down, breaking, or accidental damage. Examples such parts include, the spring, the follower, or base plate. Like the gun itself, proper regular maintenance may prolong the life of a magazine.
With that said, I firmly believe the absolute minimum number of magazines one should have for a firearm is two. The primary reason for this is that magazine supply in the market can fluctuate and is susceptible to shortages. Not to mention that production of magazines for firearms that are no longer manufactured is likely to eventually stop as demand for those magazines decreases. For these reasons, I suggest that every owner have at least two magazines on hand for every firearm they own regardless of the firearm’s intended application(s). This includes firearms that are never or rarely fired.
Given many firearms only include a single magazine when purchased (more common in rifles than handguns), I like to suggest picking up a spare at the gun shop if they are available or immediately ordering a spare from the manufacturer or an online retailer the very same day. Be aware that a spare magazine may be a notable additional expense. For example, a spare rifle magazine for the Fierce Arms Fury LR rifle runs $120.
I’ll say it again, I consider two magazines to be an absolute minimum for any firearm that accepts magazines. This minimum may be adequate for safe queens that are rarely fired, hunting rifles that are shot a couple of times a year, or recreational firearms that see modest use. I don’t consider this minimum to be adequate for firearms that are intended for self defense use or competitive shooting sports.
Firearms used for defensive or shooting sport applications tend to see more frequent use than others. As a result, I suggest the minimum number of magazines to be double the number of magazines used for those applications plus a spare.
For example, take a pistol that is used to participate in competitions that require a minimum of three magazines. For this pistol I suggest seven magazines as the minimum number of magazines to have on hand. Three of those magazines should be reserved for actual competitions, three for training and practice, and a spare to rotate in when a magazine fails. Assuming the competitor makes heavier use of the training magazines, then one of the training magazines is most likely to fail. When it does, a competition magazine becomes a training magazine, the spare magazine becomes a competition magazine, and a new spare magazine is purchased. If a competition magazine fails, then the spare magazine becomes a competition magazine, the training magazines remain the same, and a new spare magazine is purchased.
Another (and similar) example can be made of a defensive handgun. Assuming the defensive firearm is carried (or staged for home defense) with a single spare magazine, then five magazines are what I suggest for an adequate minimum. Two reserved for use in the event of an actual defensive encounter, two reserved for training and practice, and a spare to rotate in.
For cases where a firearm is used for multiple purposes (for example I use the H&K VP9 for both everyday defensive carry and IDPA competitions), then I suggest the adequate minimum number of magazines to be equal to a spare, double the larger number of magazines required for its purposes, plus the number of magazines required other purposes. For example, assuming the pistol is carried for self defense with a spare magazine and three magazines are used in competitions, then I suggest nine magazines to be an adequate minimum. Two reserved for defensive carry, three reserved for competition, three reserved for training, and a spare. In case of a failure, a competition magazine becomes a training magazine, a carry magazine becomes a competition magazine, the spare becomes a carry magazine, and a new spare magazine is purchased.
The idea in this approach to determining the adequate minimum number of magazines and reserving them for dedicated use is to contain the likelihood of a magazine failure to occur during training or practice since the cost of failure is the lowest. This doesn’t guarantee a failure won’t occur in a non-practice setting, but it reduces the risk of it happening there.
Furthermore, I think all spare magazines should be tested for reliability as soon as they are purchased. This allows us to exchange it if possible, or replace it before it is put into reserved use. The last thing I would want is to learn a magazine is defective when I’m counting on it to work.
In closing, what I am suggesting here is what I strive to do in terms of having, what I consider to be, an adequate number of magazines on hand and managing their usage to minimize the risk of failure when it really counts. I share it with the hope that readers will put a little bit of thought into what the right number of magazines is for them and how they should manage them. If you have a different approach, then I invite you to comment below and share it with the rest of us.