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Clip vs. Magazine: The More You Know

I love to read, and urban fantasy is probably my favorite genre. There’s something about the main character that wields both magic and a gun that I really enjoy. 

Unfortunately, a lot of those urban fantasy writers clearly aren’t all that familiar with firearms, so they make mistakes in their writing that can take you out of the story if you recognize them as mistakes.

The top two most common mistakes are probably references to manual safeties on Glocks and calling a magazine a clip.

The latter is what we’re going to focus on today. 

Of course, confusion about the difference between clips and magazines is hardly unique to the literary world. So for those of you who aren’t in the know, let’s get it all cleared up.

SO WHAT’S A CLIP? 

As far as I can tell, this mistake generally results from people thinking that “clip” is a casual or slang term from a magazine. But maybe it’s just that clips are less common, so there’s less opportunity for people to misidentify clips as magazines. Regardless, let’s start by clearing up what, exactly, a clip is. 

A clip holds ammunition together for easier, faster loading into a magazine, whether internal or external. 

World War II M1 Garand Clips and .30-06

Historically, clips were used in the military for faster reloading in combat situations. They’re still used for that, but they’re also used by recreational shooters who just want to spend less time loading and more time shooting. 

Clips are primarily used for bolt action rifles with internal magazines. That’s not the only use, though. These days, you can also find them for guns with detachable magazines, particularly MSRs in less-free states like California. 

Usually, a clip holds the ammo in a row so you can push them straight into the magazine. A notable exception is for placement in a revolver, which generally requires a circular clip. Which brings us to the different types of clips…

TYPES OF CLIPS

Stripper Clip

Stripper clips are the most common type of clip and are generally used to load guns with internal box magazines, which is what they were developed for (specifically for the Mauser Model 1889. Nowadays, they’re also sometimes used for firearms with detachable box magazines.

7mm Mauser clips

Aptly named, stripper clips are made from a metal strip against which the ammunition is held. To load the magazine, you attach the clip to the magazine, then push down on the ammo. Then you just detach the clip, and you’re ready to fire. 

En Bloc Clip

En bloc clips work differently and can only be used with internal magazines. They kind of function as part of the magazine in that they’re loaded into the firearm along with the ammunition and are required for the gun to function properly. 

M1 Garand En Bloc clip

En bloc clips were actually developed a few years before stripper clips, but reached peak popularity during World War II, when they were used with the M1 Garand. These days, they’re much less common than stripper clips. 

Moon Clip

Moon clips are used specifically for revolvers. They hold the rounds in a circle to be loaded straight into the revolver’s cylinder. Moon clips stay in place while shooting and are required for the firearm to function correctly, just like en bloc clips. 

There are two types of moon clips: full moon clips and half moon clips. Full moon clips load the full cylinder, generally with six rounds, while half-moon clips, as you can probably guess, load half the cylinder, generally with three rounds. 

Moon clips

Moon clips are more popular with older revolvers and have been mostly replaced with speedloaders for new revolvers, since moon clips make loading easy but can be tricky to remove once you’re done shooting.

In contrast to moon clips, speed loaders hold rounds in place so you can easily load them into the cylinder all at once, but release the rounds when you twist a knob rather than staying in place for shooting.

AND WHAT’S A MAGAZINE?

As I said, the clip vs magazine confusion mostly seems to stem from people not understanding what a clip is, but let’s talk about what a magazine is anyway, just in case. 

M16A2 Article Magazines
M16/M4 USGI magazines from Operation Iraqi Freedom

A magazine holds rounds and feeds them into the chamber of a gun for firing. Most magazines are removable, though some firearms, especially bolt action rifles and shotguns, have internal magazines. 

Almost all firearms use magazines. The exceptions are revolvers, which have cylinders for the same function, and single-shot firearms, where rounds are loaded one at a time directly into the chamber.

TYPES OF MAGAZINES

Internal Box Magazines

As you can probably guess, internal box magazines are built into the gun. They are loaded from the top of the receiver with the use of a clip or by hand. 

Internal Box Magazine on a Bergara B-14 Woodsman rifle

Internal box magazines are most commonly used on bolt action and semi-automatic rifles, with the SKS and M1 Garand being notable examples.

Detachable Box Magazines

Detachable box magazines are the most common modern magazine type, used by most modern semi-auto rifles, and even a large selection of bolt-action rifles. These are what generally comes to mind when one thinks of a gun mag. They’re loaded outside of the firearm, then inserted into the firearm when you’re ready to use them. 

SPUHR SICS Chassis (23)
AICS detachable box magazine

Detachable box magazines are great because they make it easy to transport a bunch of ammo and make reloading and emptying the weapon very fast and easy. 

You can pre-load and carry as many detachable box magazines as you want and load them into your firearm when you’re ready, as opposed to internal box magazines, where you have to reload new rounds every time you empty the internal magazine. 

Otherwise, detachable and internal box magazines function basically the same way. 

Tubular Magazines

Tubular magazines are fixed but work differently from internal box magazines. 

This is another example of a name being very apt: tubular magazines are shaped like a cylinder. You load them one round at a time, usually from under the barrel of the firearm, then the gun’s action feeds them into the chamber. 

In older models, you might sometimes find the tubular magazine in the buttstock – but this is practically unheard of now.

henry axe
Henry .410 Bore Axe with a tubular magazine

Tubular magazines are most commonly seen on semi-auto and pump-action shotguns, as well as lever action rifles. They’re especially popular for .22 rifles. 

CLIP VS MAGAZINE

Visually, you can easily distinguish between a magazine and a clip. A clip will only attach to the base of the rounds, while a magazine will completely surround them. 

And to help you remember the difference, think about the meaning of the words beyond firearms. A clip is a small piece of a whole, like a video clip or newspaper clipping. A magazine, on the other hand, is a complete publication of its own, larger and more comprehensive than a simple clip.

LOOSE ROUNDS

Some people get really judgy and smug about people mixing up terms like “clip” and “magazine,” but I try not to be like that. After all, it’s pretty much always clear what people mean, so getting upset just feels pedantic. 

Unfortunately, not everyone’s as nice as me, but since I’m so nice and put together this handy little guide for you, you don’t have to worry about getting judged for this misunderstanding ever again.

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One response to “Clip vs. Magazine: The More You Know”

  1. Chuck says:

    Well, I am not going to be nice. Revolvers that have the chambers correctly reamed do not need moon clips in order to be effective. If the chamber is correctly reamed, the cartridge will headspace on the mouth of the cartridge just as in a semi-automatic. They will fire just dandy. Now, when it comes to extraction, sometimes they will fall out when the revolver is upended, especially when using target loads. If you are one of those who only get satisfaction out of barrel wearing, hyper loads, the empty cartridges will need to be poked out with an appropriately sized dowel. In a pinch, a pencil will work for all but the smallest cartridges.

    This will surprise you, but the moon clip folks in Ohio also make 1/3 clips for .45 acp and 10 mm. 1/3 clips have the advantage of laying flat in one’s pocket and allow reloading if only a few shots have been fired without dumping everything in the cylinder. While moon clips and half moon clips are dandy at the range, hauling them around if one wants to conceal them is challenging.

    At one time S&W made a 9mm revolver that used fingers to extract the rimless case. I believe Ruger has a 9 mm that does not require moon clips as does one of the other revolver manufacturers. I can’t recall who it is exactly, so they will remain nameless.

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  • Well, I am not going to be nice. Revolvers that have the chambers correctly reamed do not need moon clips in order to be effective. If the chamber is correctly reamed, the cartridge will headspace on the mouth of the cartridge just as in a semi-automatic. They will fire just dandy. Now, when it comes to extraction, sometimes they will fall out when the revolver is upended, especially when using target loads. If you are one of those who only get satisfaction out of barrel wearing, hyper loads, the empty cartridges will need to be poked out with an appropriately sized dowel. In a pinch, a pencil will work for all but the smallest cartridges.

    This will surprise you, but the moon clip folks in Ohio also make 1/3 clips for .45 acp and 10 mm. 1/3 clips have the advantage of laying flat in one's pocket and allow reloading if only a few shots have been fired without dumping everything in the cylinder. While moon clips and half moon clips are dandy at the range, hauling them around if one wants to conceal them is challenging.

    At one time S&W made a 9mm revolver that used fingers to extract the rimless case. I believe Ruger has a 9 mm that does not require moon clips as does one of the other revolver manufacturers. I can't recall who it is exactly, so they will remain nameless.

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