Knowledge of the right terms may have no practical implementation in your activity. But still, it’s nice to have a proper vocabulary and use words for things they really mean to avoid misunderstanding and awkward situations.
The shooting community knows many cases of interchangeable use of gun-related terms, such as a bullet and a round, a caliber and a cartridge, and, of course, a magazine and a clip – the textbook example. In this article, we’ll explain the difference between a magazine and a clip in plain words, describe how each works, and provide some examples.
Gun Clip vs. Magazine
We assume that the fact that both devices can be inserted into the gun to load it confuses the most. If you don’t know what parts constitute a gun and how they vary in different types of firearms, the difference between a clip and a mag may be challenging to process. We can say that a clip feeds a magazine, and a mag feeds a firearm, but this knowledge is formal and hardly eliminates obscurity.
Let’s provide definitions. A magazine is a device or a gun part that holds ammunition and feeds it into the firearm’s chamber upon cycling. A clip is a simple piece of metal, the only purpose of which is to retain rounds. Still not entirely clear, yeah?
Then let’s consider what types of magazines there are.
Types of Magazines
Sure as hell, you’ve seen action movies where people shoot guns. When all rounds are fired, a shooter ejects a magazine and inserts a new one. These are called detachable magazines. However, there are other types that you might not know of.
The most common type of a detachable magazine is a box magazine that takes its name from a box-like shape. All modern semi-automatic firearms use a detachable design as a standard. Let’s take the AR10-pattern rifles as an example. The standard chambering for AR-10 is the .308 Win, so to feed one, you need a detachable .308 magazine usually designed to accommodate 20 rounds.
There also are drum mags capable of holding 50-110 rounds and far less common rotary mags, such as the standard Ruger 10/22 magazine in 10-round capacity.
The box magazine consists of the body that contains the spring and the follower inside. The spring pushes the rounds into the gun’s chamber, and the follower serves as a platform on which ammunition rests. On the top of the box, there are feed lips that retain rounds inside.
Detachable magazines are reloaded by hand or, if you want it faster, with a clip. We’ll return to that later.
As the name suggests, the internal magazine is integral to the firearm’s action and can’t be removed without disassembly. Such design is characteristic of most bolt-action rifles.
The internal box magazine can be loaded by hand, one round at a time, or with a clip that allows inserting several rounds with one gentle motion.
Tubular magazines are also integral to the firearm, but unlike internal box mags, they, obviously, are cylinder-shaped. This mag type is common to most pump-action and some semi-auto shotguns, as well as lever-action and some .22 bolt-action rimfire rifles. Rounds are loaded only by hand.
As you see, magazines can be visible and hidden, but they are present in all firearms except revolvers and single-shot rifles.
Now, let’s consider clip types.
Types of Clips
There are three types of clips: a stripper slip and an en bloc clip, used to feed detachable and internal mags, and a moon clip for loading revolvers.
The stripper clip is a strip of metal intended to hold ammunition in one row. It doesn’t feed cartridges. Its only purpose is to speed up loading.
No matter the mag design, there’s only one way to use the stripper clip: you need to insert it into the guide on the mag’s rear side and gently push rounds down. The rounds will get automatically arranged the way they should. After the cartridges are stripped down, the clip is removed manually or with the bolt thrown forward.
Some stripper-clip-loaded bolt-action rifles include the Lee-Enfield, Mosin-Nagant, M1903 Springfield, and SKS. Today stripper clips are mostly used to load detachable AR mags fitted with a guide.
En Bloc Clip
These actually contributed to the magazine vs. clip confusion the most. Unlike the stripper clip, the en bloc clip loads only internal mags. It is inserted into the magazine and stays in the rifle until the last round is fired. Then the clip is automatically ejected by the rifle, and the ejection is accompanied by a distinct ping sound you might have heard in the movies about both World Wars.
The working principle resembles that of the detachable magazine – both stay in the gun and feed rounds, right? Wrong. The detachable magazine has its own spring that feeds the ammo into the rifle. The en bloc lacks the spring, and the feeding mechanism is a part of a gun, not the clip.
The most famous firearm that used the en bloc clip was the M1 Garand semi-auto rifle. Clips for this rifle were double-stack and accepted eight rounds of .30-06 Springfield. However, for some time, single-stack en bloc clips were more common. Some guns that used single-stack clip designs include the American M1895 Lee Navy, the German Gewehr 88 (until 1905), the Italian M1870 Vetterli, the Austro-Hungarian Mannlicher M1895, etc.
By the way, en bloc clips are also called Mannlicher clips, after the German arms designer and the inventor of en bloc clips Ferdinand Mannlicher.
Though revolvers don’t have magazines, they can be fast-loaded with a moon clip. These are circular pieces of metal with spaces for ammo to be snapped into. When rounds connected with the moon clip slide into the chambers, the moon clip stays in the revolver. Once the last round is fired, the clip with the brass is pushed from the gun by the shooter.
Unlike rimfire cartridges having the rim for holding the rounds in place, centerfire cartridges can’t be fired from a revolver without the moon clip because it’s the clip that holds them in place instead of the rim and doesn’t allow them to fall farther into the chambers.
Today, revolver shooters mostly use speedloaders. The device holds the rounds and drops them in places with a knob release.
- Clips feed magazines, and magazines feed firearms.
- A clip doesn’t feature the feeding mechanism of its own.
These two concepts will help you differentiate between a clip and a magazine, no matter the dimensions and designs. So use terms properly and take care.
Max DesMarais is the founder of hikingandfishing.com. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor adventure, travel, and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. Max grew up hiking all around New Hampshire and New England. He became obsessed with the New Hampshire mountains, and the NH 48, where he guided hikes and trail runs in the White Mountains. Since moving out west, Max has continued his frequent adventures in the mountains, always testing gear, learning skills, gaining experience, and building his endurance for outdoor sports. You can read more about his experience here: hikingandfishing/about