Clip vs Magazine: What’s the Difference?

Richard Mann

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When it comes to clip vs magazine, there seems to be some confusion among many shooters, or at least a tendency to say one when we mean to other. Both “clip” and “magazine” describe a device used to help feed ammunition into a repeating firearm, but they’re not the same thing. If you’re on the range shooting a Glock with a buddy, and you ask him hand you another “clip,” he’ll know exactly what you mean. But you will saying about the wrong thing—so let’s get clip vs magazine cleared up.

Simple put, a magazine holds the ammunition of a loaded repeating rifle and helps to feed it into the chamber as the rifle’s action is worked. A clip, on the other hand, is a device used to help load ammunition into a magazine. As basic as that sounds, there are several types of clips and magazines, which makes things a little more complicated. But it’s worth taking a minute to fully sort out the clip vs magazine issue if only to help you communicate with your fellow shooter more effectively.

The Internal Magazine

Many lever-action rifles have an internal tubular magazine under the barrel.

The magazine is at the very heart of every repeating firearm, as it holds extra ammo at the ready for repeated shots. Without it, you’d have to load rounds individually, and you’d have a single-shot, not a repeater. There are two types of magazines: external and internal. The former are removable and the latter are fixed. So, let’s start with the latter.

Internal magazines come in different forms. Some rifles, like pump-action 22s and many lever-action rifles, have a tubular magazine that’s attached under the barrel. Most, however, have an internal magazine that’s situated just below the action. If you load your hunting rifle by opening the bolt and pushing rounds down against a spring-loaded gate, then you are loading the rifle’s internal magazine. However, nobody calls an internal magazine a “clip.” The confusion comes with external, detachable magazines. So…

The Detachable Magazine

The author loads a double-stack detachable magazine into a rifle’s magazine well.

A detachable external magazine is a steel or plastic rectangular box that serves the same purpose as a fixed internal magazine—but can be removed. The area from which it’s removed is called the magazine well and is usually situated under the action, just like most internal mags.

Almost all modern semi-automatic repeating firearms feed from a detachable magazine; it’s become the standard. Detachable magazines are used with semi-automatic handguns and rifles, as well as with many bolt-action rifles because they make ammunition management outside of the firearm easy, and they make loading and reloading fast and reliable, which is especially useful when volume fire is needed. Most detachable magazines are rectangular and either of the single- or double-stack design. But there are also drum magazines, and you could argue that the linked belt that feeds some machine guns is a magazine of sorts, even though it uses clips (links) to hold the ammunition together.

The Stripper Clip

A stripper clip loaded with 30-06 rounds.

The stripper clip is used to help load a rifle’s internal magazine, but it’s not inserted into the rifle’s internal magazine with the ammunition it holds. A stripper clip holds several cartridges in a straight line and is inserted into a slot in the top rear of a rifle’s receiver when the bolt is open. Once that’s done, you just push down on the top round in the clip and all the cartridges are stripped from the clip and forced into the rifle’s internal magazine. Then the stripper clip is discarded or saved for use again. Though detachable magazines are now very popular with bolt-action rifles, some shooters still use stripper clips with rifles like the 1903 Springfield to help manage ammunition and to help load the rifle faster. Stripper clips can also be used to assist with the loading of some detachable magazines.

The En Bloc Clip

An en block clip for the M1 Garand.

The most famous rifle to use an en block clip is the M1 Garand, which replaced the 1903 Springfield as our military’s service rifle in 1936. The M1 Garand is a semi-automatic rifle, and though it was originally designed to feed from a detachable magazine, the Ordnance Department specified the en block clip because another rifle designer convinced them it was better. The en block clip holds several cartridges together so they can be inserted into a rifle’s internal magazine at the same time. Unlike a stripper clip, the en block clip goes into the internal magazine with the ammunition. In the case of the M1 Garand, when the last round has been fired, the rifle’s bolt is locked to the rear, the en block clip is ejected, and the shooter can reload with another clip of ammunition. There are some other old military rifles that also use an en block clip, but modern rifles have transitioned to the detachable magazine.

Moon Clips

Moon clips (bottom right) are used to hold several cartridges together to allow for faster loading and ejection in revolvers. They are also used to help revolvers chamber and fire rimless cartridges. The blue tool in this photo is used to press the cartridges into the moon clips.

There’s another kind of clip that’s specifically used with revolvers to allow them to chamber and fire cartridges that do not have a rim, or to allow them to be loaded with multiple cartridges at once. Most revolver cartridges have a rim that extends beyond the diameter of the cartridge body. This rim stops the cartridge from sliding too far into the cylinder. But some revolvers are chambered for un-rimmed cartridges, and the moon clip serves as a rim for these cartridges. In some cases, the moon clip is a half-moon, only holding half the cartridges that will fill the cylinder.

Moon clips are sometimes used in place of speed loaders, because they’re smaller and make it so that all of the empty cartridge cases are ejected together. Because of this, some revolver cylinders are machined to accept a moon clip even if it’s a revolver chambered for a rimmed cartridge. Moon clips are fast to load and eject, but the process of inserting the cartridges into the clip takes a bit of time and sometimes a special tool is used to press each one into its respective slot.

Clip vs Magazine Conclusion

So there you have it. Those are the standard types of clips and magazines. Now that you’ve got all the information, let’s revisit that simple explanation of the difference between a clip and a magazine, but make it even simpler: A clip helps to load a firearm’s magazine. A magazine—even if it is detachable—is the rifle’s magazine.

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