Send That Magazine Home — Preferred Seating Techniques By: Jim Davis


Gun folks have come up with numerous ways for getting a magazine seated and locked into the AR-15/M-16 magazine well. Being the simple man that I am, I prefer to boil things down to the very simplest ways possible.

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Some magazine seating techniques are effective, while others might lead to the magazine dropping out from the mag well. The effects of this can vary in severity. In some cases, an embarrassed, bruised ego is the worst we’ll get. In such cases, we should be motivated to fix the issue. At worst, this fumble can cause us and/or our teammates to cease habitual oxygen consumption.

Today we’re talking about some magazine seating techniques that will help you be more successful.

Mag down! An AR-15 magazine dropped at an operator's feet.
See Dick. Dick dropped his magazine onto the ground. Dick got himself and his teammates killed. Don’t be a Dick!

First Step — Prepare Your Mags

Before you snatch that magazine out with your grubby mitts, you’d better have prepared it properly.

If you’re using aluminum GI magazines, you’d be wise to download them by two rounds, for a total of 28 bullets. Why? Because if you attempt to insert them into your AR/M-4 and the bolt is closed, it will be difficult because of the spring tension pushing the top bullets against the closed bolt. Your magazine may just jettison itself out the bottom of the magazine well right about the time you expect to start slinging lead (see the previous comment about getting yourself and/or teammates killed).

This factor is not as pronounced with other magazine manufacturers (specifically, Polymer Type, 1 each). However, do be aware that even magazines of the polymer persuasion will be more difficult to seat with the bolt closed if they are fully loaded. Downloading these guys by two rounds is still a good idea.

Two popular magazines that we see today: the USGI Aluminum magazine on the left, and the Magpul PMAG on the right (this one with a witness window). Both benefit from being downloaded by two rounds.

Aside from spring tension, there might be other factors that prevent our magazines from seating properly. Worn magazines could go out of spec. I.e., the feed lips and/or top of the magazine may be spread out and simply don’t fit anymore (time to discard that magazine). Magazines sometimes take a real beating, being dropped during reloads and sometimes getting stepped on. Aluminum, and even steel magazines, can only take so much of that before they give up the ghost.

PMAG and USGI magazine feed lips.
Magpul PMAG on the left and USGI aluminum magazine on the right. The feed lips are usually the most vulnerable part of a magazine.

Other Culprits of Improper Magazine Seating

Not all rifles are created equally. Occasionally, we might see an out-of-spec magazine well or possibly an out-of-spec magazine catch. These factors can cause magazines to drop out of the rifle when we don’t want them to.

Magazine Seating — Techniques

Grip and Withdraw 

Let’s take it from the beginning with how we grip the mag when we withdraw it from our carrier—a vest, chest rig, plate carrier, belt pouch, or maybe even a back pocket. However you’re carrying your magazines, you need to arrange them for the most efficient withdrawal that you can manage. When you decide on a standard SOP, stick with it, don’t switch up.

Blackhawk plate carrier with AR magazines.
I mostly carry my AR-15 mags in a Blackhawk Plate Carrier with the rounds down and facing to the left so they come out the same way each time.

Beer Can Grip

In most cases, I prefer to use a grip on the base of the magazine called the “Beer Can” grip, in which the magazine is grasped at the bottom with the fingers wrapped around the mag’s base. Much the same as one would grip an aluminum beverage can.

For some people, the pinkie finger wraps around the front of the magazine. I place my pinkie underneath the base of the magazine, which gives a bit more stability, in my opinion. Whether or not I get my pinkie under the base during magazine withdrawal is not paramount, as long as I get a solid grip on the mag.

beer can grip of PMAG with pinky finger under base of magazine
An example of the Beer Can Grip. If possible, I like to get my pinkie finger underneath the base of the mag for added stability.
Another version of the Beer Can grip, this time without the pinkie below the magazine base.
Another version of the Beer Can grip, this time without the pinkie below the magazine base.

The average 30-round magazine is approximately seven inches long. About three inches of that goes into the magazine well, so you have about four inches of that mag to latch onto with your paw. If you grab more than that, you will interfere with the portion that goes into mag well.

High grip on PMAG that will cause improper seating of the magazine into the magwell
Wrong way! This grip is too high and will cause problems when the operator tries to seat the magazine.

In short, you won’t be able to insert the magazine without adjusting your grip. Read that as you just botched inserting the mag and the task is either going to take more time or you’ll end up dropping the magazine. Do you have more time? Is there incoming fire? Either way, bad juju.

Incorrect grip for seating an AR magazine - too high
The grip is too high in this photo, without enough room on the mag for insertion. In this case, you wind up fighting your equipment. You’ll have to shift your grip, which will either cost time or cause you to drop the magazine.

The Beer Can Grip helps to avoid taking too much real estate so we don’t FUBAR the insertion of the magazine.

Beer Can grip with pinkie under the base of the magazine.
The Beer Can grip with a finger below the base of the mag is my preferred method of insertion.

Another method of insertion is just to cup the bottom of the magazine in the palm of the hand and insert it that way.

There are other ways, to be certain, but we’re going to Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS) for now. As I see it, why complicate a good thing?

Slap Happy

Many people will give the base of the mag a slap when it’s inserted to ensure that it’s properly seated. If it’s not seated correctly (and that does happen), they’ll slap it again. And again. And…well, you get the picture.

How many slaps should one perform? It kinda reminds me of that commercial: How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop? So many questions. And let’s not forget, while you’re slapping the magazine silly, what’s going on downrange? While you’re Task Fixated on beating the snot out of the magazine base, bad guys might be focusing on you and you don’t even realize it because of your fixation.

Jim Davis slapping the hell out of the base of a stubborn magazine to get it seated into the rifle
Beware of becoming Mr. Slap Happy, pounding away on the base of that magazine that just doesn’t want to properly seat. While you’re pounding away, what are the bad guys doing? Task fixation is the enemy.

Another negative aspect of slapping the mag base is that, if the magazine feed lips are worn or spread, that slap could send a few rounds flying into the chamber area with reckless abandon—assuming the bolt is locked to the rear. Should you happen to be on the two-way range, your day just took a turn for the worse, as you now have to clear multiple rounds from your chamber.

Push/Pull Magazine Seating

A better way, I believe, is to push the magazine into the magwell and lock it in. Then, while you still have a grip, pull on the magazine to ensure that it’s properly seated. If it’s not seated, obviously, reinsert it forcefully. This technique is simple, effective, and quick.

Maintain a Stable Rifle Position

For Push/Pull (or really, any method of insertion), you will need to stabilize the rifle/carbine. Have it either on the shoulder or under the armpit with the muzzle slightly raised. Keeping the rifle in your shoulder helps keep the muzzle pointed toward the enemy and you don’t have to waste time repositioning it once the magazine is inserted.

One method is to keep the stock on the shoulder and eyes down range when seating a mag.
Keep the carbine pointed down range toward the enemy and insert the magazine. Pulling the stock against the shoulder provides stability for the carbine.

Another way to stabilize your rifle is to pinch the stock in between the inside of your bicep/arm and your body. Turn the mag well inboard toward your loading hand to assist the loading process.

Jim Davis reloads with rifle stock stabilized between arm and chest.
Add stability by placing the stock under the armpit and pinning it between the arm and chest.
Jim Davis braces carbine between arm and chest while reloading magazine.
Front view of the same technique. Note that raising the muzzle brings the mag well up into the line of sight, which helps you be able to see as you insert the magazine and also keep an eye on any hostiles that you might be facing.

What you do not want to do is only grasp the carbine by the pistol grip. The weapon is not stable, and it will be far more difficult to seat that magazine into the mag well.

Demonstration of incorrect reloading technique.
Wrong way! The carbine has no stability when it is only supported by the operator’s wrist. There’s no contact with the shoulder. In this instance, you’ll be fighting your equipment, preventing you from performing a push/pull to ensure that the mag is seated.

In Conclusion

Remember to keep your eyes on the enemy when reloading. Consistency is key. Keep your rifle/carbine stabilized. And generally speaking, the  Push/Pull technique is more reliable than slapping the magazine base. Practice your technique!