The firearms community is filled with incorrect theories, misconceptions and old wives’ tales which are universally believed, mainly through the phenomenon of urban legend.
Word of mouth is a powerful force, and even a tale that is repeated without the user testing the theory out for himself can be a powerful incentive to do – or not to do something. The firearms community has lots of myths, fables, conjecture and debatable topics which will never really go away. Whether it’s the merits of barrel seasoning (or not), or whether it’s the efficacy of 9mm versus .45 ACP, there are more opinions out there than cold, hard facts.
One of the recurring statements made in the firearms community is the theory that magazines should never be kept loaded for extended periods of time. The theory holds that the magazine spring weakens with age, causing it to eventually be unable to push the follower upwards and thus causing misfeeds and jams. Occasionally the feed lips will be mentioned; it is surmised that the strength of the magazine spring can bend the feed lips of the magazine over time, causing the magazine to once again misfeed or jam. To further complicate the matter, the people that advocate not keeping magazines loaded for extended periods also know of “someone” who did, and then went and shot off some rounds, which predictably resulted in misfeeds or jams. It’s hard to debate this logic, especially if you’re new to shooting in general. Let’s look at both parts of this theory and see if we can shed some light on it.
The majority of box type firearms magazines use a helical coil shaped spring that’s inserted into the magazine from the bottom. This spring pushes the follower upwards while being retained in place by the magazine floor plate. The coil of the spring is not round; rather, it’s boxed shaped, often matching the contour of the inside of the magazine.
In order to understand how a spring works, we need to look at what it’s made from – spring steel. Spring steel is a low alloy and medium to high carbon steel with a high yield strength. The high yield of the spring steel allows the spring to return back to its original shape despite the fact that it is loaded down – that’s the whole point of spring steel. Without getting too far into the physics and engineering aspects of creating springs, realize one key point about spring engineering: Springs are designed based upon how many cycles they can withstand before failure. What’s a cycle? Simple – a cycle is one compression, followed by one release. The spring is compressed, then it is released – that represents one complete cycle, and that’s how its lifetime is measured. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t matter how long the spring is compressed for, it only matters how many times the spring is compressed!
This is a shocking revelation for firearms enthusiasts who insist upon leaving a magazine empty, since loading it up will weaken the spring. Realize that loading a magazine and leaving it alone hasn’t even allowed the spring to go through a single cycle. Also, look at other applications where springs are compressed and released many times – how about a valve spring on your car? This spring is cycled hundreds of times per minute when your car runs, and yet valve springs don’t routinely fail on cars, even ones that are decades old. If that isn’t convincing enough to you, listen to what Century Spring, a major spring manufacturer has to say about the lifespan of springs: “in cyclic applications, springs are generally designed for infinite life.” Whoa – infinite is a long time. Finally, if you still aren’t buying it, look at the experiment performed by James Wesley Rawles, who inherited a 1911 pistol that was sealed in a manila envelope the 1950s, complete with a loaded magazine. This sealed envelope was opened some 45 years later in the mid 1990s, when Rawles promptly inserted the loaded magazine (which had been loaded for nigh on 50 years), and fired it off. Not only did the pistol work flawlessly, so did the magazine!
The supposition here is that the magazine spring is strong enough to distort the feed lips on the magazine, but it’s a stretch (no pun intended). Think about it for a minute – the spring, which is generally believed to be so weak that it cannot maintain its shape for extended periods of time when loaded, now suddenly has the strength to damage the feed lips of the magazine. You can’t have it both ways, people. We are personally not in agreement that the feed lips are overly vulnerable to stretching over time.
A loaded magazine is a great thing to have on standby, and we recommend having several ready to go, just in case. Don’t worry about the springs dying or the feed lips bending; it’s not going to happen in your lifetime. If you are overly concerned, rotate the magazines, or keep some of them unloaded. Or don’t worry at all, which is what we recommend.