AR~15 M16 MAGAZINES Read About Em
ALL CREDIT TO: James Wesley, Rawles
The Lowdown on AR-15/M16 Magazines
by James Wesley, Rawles
In response to repeated requests from rec.guns readers, I'm posting a list of the various magazines available on the civilian market for Colt AR-15s, various AR-15 .223 clones, and Colt Sporters. It lists the different varieties, identifying markings, type of finish, and approximate values (as of October, 1998).
Here they are (I may miss a few...)
(All of the following are gray anodized, unless otherwise noted.)
Orig. Armalite "waffle-sided." Similar in design to the AR-10 magazine. Grey. Super scarce. Pre-1963 production. $90+ each
Early Air Force contract 20 round. Circa 1965-1967. Earliest had bright alloy followers, later manufacture had dull followers. Scarce. Marked Colt w/prancing pony and ".223" on floorplate. Usually $25+ each
Gun Show tip: As you walk around gun shows, look for used 20s and sort through looking for shiny alloy followers. These are the early contract magazines, and are worth a premium price. However, most dealers don't realize the significance, and will sell you these magazines at the same price that they sell the typical later vintage used 20s.
Army and late Air Force contract 20 round. Circa 1969 to 1971. Dull alloy followers. Marked Colt Firearm Division" w/pony and "5.56 MM" on floorplate. (These usually sell for $15 to $25 at gun shows.) I usually have these in stock.
Note: The general rule is that pre-1969 20 round Colt-made magazines are marked "CAL. .223" and that 1969 and later production 20s are marked "CAL. 5.56MM".
Army and late Air Force contract 20 round. Circa 1966 to 1971. Dull alloy followers. Most marked Cony w/pony. A few are marked Simmonds or Adventureline on floorplate. Usually $12 to $20 ea. (Actually these are scarcer than Colt made 20s, but few collectors realize it, and oddly they pay more for Colts!) I usually have these in stock.
Colt commercial 20 round. Circa 1980 to 1989. Black plastic followers. Marked Colt w/pony on floorplate. Usually $20+ each.
Colt law enforcement sales 20 round. Circa 1995 to present. (Not sold on the civilian market. Bodies are date stamped to indicate that they are of "post ban" manufacture.) Black plastic followers. Marked "Colts Mfg. Co." and "CAL. 5.56MM" w/pony on floorplate. These cost law enforcement agencies around $12 each.
Colt commercial 5 round. Black plastic followers. Marked Colt w/pony and "5.56mm" on floorplate. Early style (no floorplate rivet.) Circa 1989 to around 1991. Usually $25+ each.
Colt commercial 5 round. Black plastic followers. Marked Colt w/pony and "5.56mm" on floorplate. Later style (riveted floorplate but rivet can be drilled out.) Circa 1991 to 1994. Usually $20+ each.
Colt commercial 5 round. Marked Colt. Latest bastardized style--permanently blocked) Circa late 1994 to present Usually around $15 each.
Colt early G.I. contract 30 round. Green plastic followers. Marked Colt w/pony and "5.56mm" on floorplate. Circa 1968 to 1975. Usually $30+ each, depending on condition.
Note: The general rule is that pre-1970 30 round Colt-made magazines are marked "CAL. .223" and that 1970 and later production 30s are marked "CAL. 5.56MM".
Gun Show tip: As you walk around gun shows, look for Colt 30 round magazines with green followers. They are worth at least twice as much as other 30s, even if made by Colt.
Colt late G.I. contract 30 round. Black plastic followers. Marked Colt w/pony and "5.56mm" on floorplate. Circa 1975 to present. Usually $20+ each, depending on condition. Colt hasn't had a military contract in many years. Most of these are sold to police departments. A few pre-ban ones make it out to the civilian market through police supply houses.
G.I. contract 30 round. Black or green plastic followers. These are the most common M16 magazines on the surplus market. (Countless millions made.) Circa 1975 to 1994. Marked with contractor's name and usually location (city) on floorplate. Anodized finish. Contractors included: Adventureline, Parsons Precision Products, Labelle Industries, Sanchez (DSI), Center Industries, Okay Industries, Cooper Industries, and a few others. Starting around 1992, some of the contractors began using soft green plastic followers. (Not to be confused with the shiny hard green plastic followers used on the ealiest Colt-made 30 rounders.) Miltary contract 30s are fairly easy to find at gun shows. Usually $9 to $25, depending on condition.
Colt law enforcement sales 30 round. Circa 1995 to present. (Not sold on the civilian market. Bodies are date stamped to indicate that they are of "post ban" manufacture.) Black plastic followers. Marked "Colts Mfg. Co." and "CAL. 5.56" w/pony on floorplate. These cost law enforcement agencies around $11 each.
Some interesting background: There were actually just two sets of contract 30 round magazine tooling, both built by Colt. They wandered around from contractor to contractor. These contracts were usually "minority or small business set- asides." Typically what would happen is a small business would get set up with the tooling, and start to crank out a contract. Then, the contract was so lucrative that the business no longer qualified as a "small business", the contractwas cancelled, and the tooling got yanked and sent on to the next contractor.
All of the G.I. contract 30s work fine, except for some black follower lots of Cooper Industries and some black follower lots of Sanchez (DSI) production. These were recalled for destruction by the military, due to poor tolerances. NEVER buy Coopers or Sanchez, unless they have the later style green followers, since they may be from a bad lot!
G.I. contract 30 round. Black plastic followers. Teflon finish. This is the latest mil. spec., which started only in June, 1994). Functionally, these are the best of the breed, because they have a slick, durable Teflon coat inside and out. Very few of these magazines made it onto the civilian market before the ban started on Sept. 13, 1994. All were made by Labelle Industries. They made batches for the civilian market in both grey and black Teflon. Most of these were marked: Cal. 5.56mm, a part number, and Made in U.S.A. (Note that Bushmaster/Quality Parts had Labelle make up a batch for them with BFI floorplates. Labelle did the same for Defense Procurement Management Service (DPMS). Military production pre-Sept 13, 1994 are not date stamped. Post Sept. 13, 1994 production are date stamped an a no-no for U.S. civilians to possess. Most dealers get $30 each for pre-ban Teflon coated 30s nowadays. I sold out long ago, but I've heard that Quality Parts/Bushmaster (BFI) still has some.
Israeli Orlite magazines. Black plastic with a weave of metal reinforcement in the top inch. These work well with most AR-15s. These usually come with plastic dust caps. Most dealers get about $15 each for these.
Thermold (Canadian) magazines. Black plastic with no reinforcing. These work just as well as Orlites, but are a little more flimsy. They also use alower melting-point plastic than the Orlite. (The Canadian soldiers jokingly refer to them as "Thermelts", because the feed lips melt if you get a M16 really hot (usually from firing blanks with a blank firing device.) These usually sell for $12 to $18 each at gun shows.
Aftermarket (civilian) manufacture. Most of these are total junk! Don't even bother with any of these. The steel ones are particularly troublesome.
Speaking of steel AR-15 magazines, Sterling of England procduced AR-180/AR-15 40 round steel magazines. (They have magazine catch notches on both sides--a small one for the AR-180, and a large one for the AR-15. They work well in both guns.) They are both the only steel AR-15 magazines that work well, and the only 40 round magazines of any type that I've ever encountered that work well. Sterling also produced considerable quantities of 20 and 30 round magazines, some of which are only notched for AR-180s, but most are also notched to also fit AR-15s. Most of the Sterling magazines are alloy, but some are steel. They are scarce but can occassionally be found at gun shows, usually for $20 to $50 each, depending on metal type and capacity.
Gun Show tip: As you walk around gun shows, look for used AR-180s for sale. Ask the sellers if they have any extra magazines available for sale. Fairly often they will have some Sterling magazines that are also notched for AR-15s. The only problem will be in convincing the seller to break those magazines out of their intended "package deal."
The only "semi-aftermarket" magazines worth buying were made by Labelle shortly before the 9/94 ban and are marked "Defense Procurement Management Service (DPMS)" or "BFI/Bushmaster." Labelle Industries made these to military specs. but simply put on different floorplates for sales to the civilian market. Most of these are gray or black Teflon coated.
Drum magazines: The 90 round clear-backed drums made by MWG work surprisingly well. There are a few of these still available on the secondary market at gun shows for under $150 each.
The Beta Company C-Mags (100 round double snail drum) function flawlessly, but do have an annoying rattle when you walk around. Most dealers sell the for $650 to $750 each, these days. (I have just a couple of pre-bans left in stock for $625, delivered.)
The Chinese-made AR-15 drums (various capacities) are absolute garbage and don't feed properly, from what my customers have told me.
Some notes on practical use:
The 20 round capacity magazines for the AR-15 should never be loaded with more than 18 rounds. (They have a tendency to jam, otherwise.) The 30s, however, can be loaded with a full 30 rounds.
Many practical shooters (including AR-15 guru Jim Crews) actually prefer the 20 round magazine, since it allows better prone shooting. Most bench shooters also prefer 20s, becuase the 30 is so long that it rerquires extra sandbagging to keep from going "high center."
For practical carry, I took a compromise approach, and have my "bad times" web gear set up to carry both 30s and 20s (six spare 30s, four spare 20s). In the carbine itself, I usually have a duplexed pair of 30s (using a spring steel Israeli duplexing clamp). And for "worst case scenario" home defense, I have a pair of duplexed 40s, those hard-to-find Sterling of England AR-180/AR-15 40 round steel magazines.
A note on legalities for U.S. readers:
The magazine ban passed in September, 1994 bans only the importation and sale of high capacity magazines that were made after Sept. 13, 1994. To law enforcement officers conducting searches and arrests, an unmarked magazine is generally presumed to be "pre-ban." Magazines marked with dates after Sept. 13, 1994 are considered "post ban." Such magazines may only be possessed by law enforcement officers and the military. However, FFL holder may also purchase them for inventory for the purpose of resale to "qualified buyers" (read: Law enforcemnt officers). Private possession of post ban magazines is a felony. BTW, if you own a "post ban" firearm manufactured after the Sept. 13, 1994 ban, it is PERFECTLY LEGAL to own and use *pre-ban* high capacity magazines in it.
I hope you find this info useful...
James Wesley, Rawles
Clearwater Trading Co.
c/o P.O. Box 642
Penn Valley, Calif.