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  • Writer's pictureBrad Parker

Keep Your Gear: Why to Mark Your Gun Magazines

pile of pistol magazines
It's smart to make your gun magazines easy to identify

Your magazines for your pistols and rifles are probably some of the most under-appreciated and overlooked pieces of equipment. Without them you’re basically holding a single shot firearm. And it’s generally accepted that many malfunctions are caused by faulty magazines rather than the gun itself.

You need a well-functioning and robust magazine to feed your thunderstick the gas it requires.

They are more valuable than a lot of people think, and they have two elements which make it smart to mark your magazines:

1. magazines look remarkably similar;

2. magazines are often expensive.

In regard to point number one:

a. You need to differentiate your magazines from other fellow shooters;

b. you need to differentiate your magazines for different firearms;

c. you need to identify magazines for different calibers;

d. and you need to be able to identify problem children.

You find yourself shooting with friends or you are taking an instructional course. Let’s say you are shooting, oh, maybe a Glock. Do you think there are other people with you or in the class there also shooting Glocks? When it comes time to pick up your magazines off the deck, you will need a way to make sure you get yours back and not pick up other magazines. The flip side is that others who might pick up your magazines need a way to get them back to you.

people shooting pistols indoors
Lots of Glocks and empty magazines on the deck.

You might have different firearms from the same manufacturer, but they take different magazines. No doubt you should mark those differently in a way that allows you to pair the correct magazines with the correct firearm.

Along those same lines, you might have different calibers from the same manufacturer. Again, you will want to be able to identify the magazines for different calibers. This is especially important if you are shooting both 9mm and .40 S&W, the case sizes are remarkably similar at the casual glance.

Remember we said that many malfunctions are caused by faulty magazines? I know from experience that you need a way to identify your magazines so you can single out the one magazine which is causing you problems.

In regard to point number two:

a. certain platforms have very expensive magazines;

b. if your platform doesn’t require expensive magazines, you will no doubt have to acquire additional magazines which can add to the expense quickly.

If you are lucky enough to shoot Sig-Sauers or STIs, then you are lucky enough to shell out between $50 and $80 per magazine. Heck, a STI competition magazine in .38 Super will set you back $130! Even adding magazine extensions to magazines can really up the cost quickly. For example, putting a $40 Taran Tactical base extension on a $25 Glock magazine now puts that magazine in the near STI realm.

Figure you will need at least three magazines – at the minimum. Right there, that's $75 in magazines for relatively inexpensive Glock magazines. Notice the use of "relatively". Unfortunately, your life-saving firearms and tools need to be of good quality to be reliable -- and that usually costs money.

How to Mark Your Magazines

At the very least you need to be able to identify which magazines are yours. That’s either with your name, your initials or some other unique marking.

I will say the potential problem with using some sort of cool or unique symbol or mark is that it is only relatable to you or a small group. If you simply put a star or even a sticker or stencil of something like an American flag, it doesn’t help anyone else get the magazine back to you. I would suggest your name or initials. Still feel free to add any kind of smiley faces or other meaningful marks, but make sure other people have something to go with. This is particularly important in large group classes.

I like to have the model or caliber marked. And I like to have a number or letter on each magazine to differentiate it from all the others.

An interesting note about numbers versus letters – the 26 letters in the alphabet allow you to differentiate at least 26 different magazines using only one space. Using numbers will take up two spaces after the numeral 9.

So, I have three markings on my magazines:

1. My initials

2. The model number of the firearm

3. The individual number of that particular magazine.

Why the model number? My work system is all Glock handguns. So, I include in my system the:

A. Glock 26 9mm subcompact

B. Glock 19 9mm compact

C. Glock 17 9mm duty

D. Glock 21 .45 duty

One of the aspects that I like about the system is that the magazines are backwards compatible with the smaller model. The Glock 17 magazines will fit both the Glock 19 and Glock 26 and guns. The Glock 19 magazines will also fit the Glock 26.

But the Glock 26 magazine will not fit in the Glock 19 and the Glock 19 magazine will not fit in the Glock 17. The trouble I have is sometimes the 19 and 17 magazines can look similar when they are stored loose in a bag or laying in a pile on the truck tailgate. I have been in a class and found my magazines dropping out of the magazine wells during reloads. Turns out I was trying to put Glock 19 magazines into the Glock 17. Oops.

That’s why I always mark the model number on my magazines. It’s embarrassing in the class and potentially deadly in a real-life self-defense incident.

The most common method to mark magazines is usually taking a paint pen and writing on the body of the magazine and often the base plate.

I started that way and found the writing to be someone illegible due to the ridges of the manufacturer's logo on the base plate. So, I thought I would get smart and use stencils to paint the numbers. It worked really well; however, it was totally time-consuming and a real pain.

Here’s my final method that I follow today:

1. I created a stencil with my initials and used spray paint to put the initials on the sides of my magazines.

2. I sent away for base plate stickers from StickIt2theMax that have both the model number and a magazine number on the same sticker. I find that they are easy to install, extremely legible, and highly identifiable in different colors. Finally, an easy solution. I also chose to have different colors for the different magazines so there is an additional way to differentiate them.

One added benefit from marking your magazines by letter or number is that they are easily organized and you can tell at a glance if you are missing one.

You can also look at other sources like Dawson Precision which also sell numbered magazine baseplates.

However you choose to do it, take some time to organize the magazines you have and mark them. You will thank yourself later.

Camouflaging Your Magazines

Finally, a note on camouflaging your magazines. I know a lot of us do it and it makes sense to decrease the visual signature of your magazines along with your rifle, but experience shows it’s not unusual for shooters to “misplace” (lose) camouflage mags in in the field. Maybe you can use highly visible magazines for practice and save those invisible magazines for your defensive set up. Or better yet, maybe have a dump pouch to hold your empty mags

Take advantage of all our previous mistakes and save yourself some cash and some frustration.

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