Magazine Information 
The AR-15 / M16 Magazine FAQ
by James Wesley, Rawles
Copyright 2006.  All Rights Reserved


Revised April 8, 2006

Copyright 1997-2006, 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.

Note:  This updated FAQ includes new information on 7.62 x 39 magazines provided by
Paul McMenamin, floorplate marking/date information provided by the Colt Firearms
Historical Office, and a new section on refinishing worn magazines.

Here they are (I may miss a few...)

(All of the following are made of aluminum alloy and gray anodized, unless otherwise
noted.)

20 Round Capacity Magazines:

Original Armalite "waffle-sided." Similar in design to the AR-10 magazine.
Gray. Super scarce. Pre-1963 production. $175  to $250 each.

Early Air Force contract 20 round. Circa 1963-1968. Earliest had bright alloy
followers, later manufacture had dull followers. Scarce. Marked "Colt Pt. Mfg.
Co. Inc." w/prancing pony and "CAL. .223" on floorplate. Usually $55+ each. Some have cartridge counter holes in the side. These sometimes come in tan VCI paper four packs or silver foil two packs.  (Collectors are thrilled when they can get them in sealed original military contract  wrappers.)

An Air Force armorer e-mailed me to say that he had seen at least four variations of the early Colt-marked 20-rd magazines, having the .223 marking on the base plate.  These
are: no perforations (cartridge counter holes) in the sides, four holes in each side, five holes in each side, and six holes in each side. ANY of these are particularly rare and collectible.

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 $20 to $45 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 Colt w/pony.  A few are marked Simmonds or
Adventureline on floorplate.  Usually $20 to $40 ea.  (Actually these are more
scarce 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 $25+ each.

Colt law enforcement sales 20 round. Circa 1995 to present. (Not sold on the
Civilian market.  Bodies are date stamped. Black plastic followers. Marked "Colts Mfg. Co." and "CAL. 5.56MM"
w/pony on floorplate. These cost law enforcement agencies around $25 each.

5 Round Capacity Magazines:

Colt commercial 5 round. (20 round body, but blocked to 5 round capacity.) Black plastic
followers. Marked Colt w/pony and "CAL. 5.56MM" on floorplate.  Early style (no floorplate
rivet.)  Circa 1989 to around 1991. Usually $25+ each.

Colt commercial 5 round. . (20 round body, but blocked to 5 round capacity.) Black plastic
followers. Marked Colt w/pony and
"CAL. 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.  (the latest bastardized style--permanently blocked)
Circa late 1994 to present  Usually around $10 to $15 each. Sometimes these can be found
in garbage cans at rifle ranges along with other refuse.

30 Round Capacity Magazines:

Colt early G.I. contract 30 round. Green plastic followers. Marked Colt
w/pony and "CAL. .223" on floorplate.  Marked with part # 62667 on the side of the magazine body and 62665A on the follower. (Circa 1968 to 1969.) Usually $45+ 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 dark 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 "CAL. 5.56mm" on floorplate.  Circa 1970 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
make it out to the civilian market through police supply houses.

G.I. contract 30 round. Black of 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, FN, 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 earliest
Colt-made 30 rounders.) Military contract 30s are fairly easy to find at gun
shows. Usually $18 to $25, depending on maker and condition.

Colt law enforcement sales 30 round. Circa 1995 to present. (Not sold on the
civilian market.  Bodies are date stamped with month and year (such as "12/99")  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 U.S. military
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 contract was 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 of the magazine body. To avoid the bad lots, NEVER buy any Coopers or
Sanchez, unless they have the later style green followers and are in sealed original GI contract
wrappers or have date-stamped bodies marked "02" (2002) or later. (Indicating later manufacture.)

So in summary, here are the good ones:
Adventureline
Bushmaster (BFI)
Center Industries
Colt
DPMS
FN
HK

Okay Industries
Parsons
Simmonds (Universal)
Sterling

 

And here are the *potentially* bad ones:
Cooper Industries
DSI (Sanchez)
And of course anything aftermarket (Usually made of blued steel--these are JUNK!)

G.I. contract 30 round. Light green plastic followers. Teflon finish. This is
the latest military specification, 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. Most were made by Labelle Industries.
More recently they've been made buy Heckler & Koch , USA. They have been
made in batches for the civilian market by Labelle
in both gray 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 and were a no-no for U.S. civilians to possess from
9/94 to 9/04. Most dealers get $15+ each for Teflon coated 30s these days. I sold out
long ago, but I've heard that D&H Manufacturing is the current contractor and a few are
trickling out as surplus.   The best mail order prices seem to be at:  http://www.sturmgewehr.com/webBBS/parts.cgi

Current U.S. military production alloy mags all have light green plastic followers, and gray teflon coated or anodized bodies.
They are all date stamped, and were banned from civilian sale up until September of 2004 when the U.S. ban "sunsetted."

The British SA 80 mags have steel bodies and are excellent.  As of this writing, a quantity of pre 9/94 SA-80 magazines
was recently released as surplus. At $19 to $30 each, they are the best buy currently on the U.S. market.

Israeli Orlite magazines. Black plastic. The later type (circa 1992 to 1994)
are the ones to buy.  This type has a weave of metal reinforcement in the
top one inch of the body. These work well with most AR-15s.
These usually come with plastic dust caps. Most dealers get around
$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
a lower 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.

After-market (civilian) manufacture.  Most of these are total junk! Don't
even bother with any of these.  The steel ones are particularly troublesome.
The MWG brand plastic 5 and 10 round plastic magazines, however, work great.

An exception to the žno after-marketÓ rule: Sterling of England produced
AR-180/AR-15 20, 30, and 40 round magazines. Some were made in  alloy, and
some were steel. They have magazine catch notches on both sidesůa small one for
the AR-180, and a large one for the AR-15.  They work well in both guns.)
They are 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 occasionally 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
the AR-15 magazine catch. The only problem will be in convincing the seller to break those
magazines out of their intended "package deal."
 

On 7.62 x39 AR-15 magazines:

7.62 x 39 magazines for AR-15s tend to be problematic.  More and more AR owners are
buying spare 7.62 x 39 uppers for their rifles to take advantage of the low cost of military
surplus (Chinese and Eastern Bloc) ammunition, or as a means to get a more effective
stopper for deer than .223 Remington.

The problem is finding mags that will feed when loaded with more than 5 or 6 rounds.
Neither Colt  (for the AR-15)  or Ruger (for the Mini-30) ever made any high capacity
magazines for their 7.62x39s, because neither intended those guns for military or law
enforcement sales.  (And both being statist/Politically Correct firms in recent years, neither
produced high capacity magazines for the civilian market before the 9/94 ban. I have seen
any SINCE the ban expired, either.)

The Colt 7.62 x 39 rifles and clones can *accept* standard 20 or 30 round G.I. magazines,
but they won't function reliably when loaded with more than  5 or 6 rounds. With its
straight magazine well, the AR-15 is not well-suited to the cartridge.  As I'm sure most of
you reading this know, an angle builds up to the point where the 7.62 cartridges will jam
horribly if you load more than about 9 rounds--regardless of which magazine you use.  The
cartridge simply works better in fully-curved magazines.  And with the AR-15Ūs straight
magazine well, that problem can never  be properly overcome in AR-15s and clones.

Colt-made 7.62 x 39mm magazines differ from standard .223 magazines only in that they
have different followers. The 7.62 x 39mm followers are black plastic and have
ž7.62mmÓ  in white letters printed on the follower. They appear to be made
differently from regular .223 followers. I believe these to be standard
alloy M-16 magazine bodies that are assembled with 7.62 followers.

One tip garnered from the net: With the Colt-made 7.62 x 39  magazines, insert the
magazines gently with the bolt closed to keep rounds from flying out the top.

Another problem is that the fat 7.62x39 cartridge tends to bulge out or even split aluminum
alloy AR-15 magazines.  There is a solution for that particular problem: The best magazines
that I can recommend for a 7.62 AR-15 are either STEEL original Sterling-made AR-180
magazines (also notched for AR-15 magazine  catch), or STEEL original Belgian FNC
magazines. Then, if possible, replace the followers with Colt ž7.62 mmÓ marked
followers. Even with these, donŪt load more than 9 cartridges.  I've also been told by a
couple of folks that the ProMag 20 round 7.62 AR mags work really well.  They often
require a little tweaking for fit but feed very well.

The MWG company makes 5 or 10-round magazines that are optimized for the 7.62x39.
These are priced at $14.39 each, so they are affordable, and reportedly well made.  The
jury is still out, however, on their reliability. . The 10 round model carries part # M10-
7.62x39. For an illustration, see: http://www.shadow.net/~mwg/magazine.html

Thanks to Paul McMenamin for his input on 7.62 x 39 magazines.

With all of the aforementioned magazine woes in mind, my advice is to *pass* on buying
Colt AR-15s/Sporters, spare uppers, or AR-15 clones chambered in 7.62 x 39mm. IMHO,
if you want a reliable and accurate high capacity semi-auto rifle chambered in 7.62 x
39mm, buy a Valmet M62 <g>

.223 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 these
(pre-ban) for $19 to $240 each, these days.(They were $450 to $650 during the ban!)

The Chinese-made AR-15 drums (various capacities) are absolute garbage and
don't feed properly, from what most customers have told me.

The Firepower brand 75 round drums.  One reader with experience with these
wrote to tell me:
"They will hold 75 rounds but only feed 72-to-73 rounds leaving a few in the mag
(no hold open).  They have all been reliable on semi-auto but the plastic rear panel
will break if the drum is dropped. When used in a full-auto guns none of the mags
could keep up with the cyclic rate after around 5 rounds.  (The bolt would close
on an empty chamber after 4-8 round burst.)  Mags are loaded from the top and
the plastic rear is not removable.  The magazine body is also cut for AR-18/180 latch.

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, because the 30 is so long that it requires
extra sand bagging 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.)

On Magazine Pouches:

The earliest issue pouch for the M16 was simply the M14 O.D. canvas žUniversalÓ
magazine pouch.  It fits two 20s (or three if you squeeze them in.)

The most commonly seen (and current) U.S. military issue magazine pouch is the olive
drab triple 30 round magazine pouch. The strange straps on the sides are designed to hold
hand grenades.  Hey, they could come in handy in that worst-case socioeconomic collapse
 scenario.  You never know when you might run across a case of grenades.  ;-)

They same style pouch has been made for civilian market sales in black nylon, and with
and/or without the grenade straps.

An earlier (and scarce) pouch was an olive drab nylon quadruple 20 round M16 magazine
pouch. It featured an internal strap designed to be woven between the magazines with its
tab left sticking up.  (It acts as a žhelperÓ to facilitate getting the first magazine out of the
pouch.)

On Refinishing U.S.G.I. Magazines

One of the least expensive places to buy M16 magazines is at gun shows.  Unfortunately
many of the magazines you will find are have well-worn anodized finish. They function
fine, but look horrible.  I often have folks contact me to ask about how they can be re-
finished.

Since U.S.G.I. M16 magazine bodies are made of aluminum alloy, they cannot be blued.
That leaves re-anodizing, painting, Teflon coating, or Metacol  III.  I will address all four:

Re-anodizing would require that EVERY bit of original finish is removed with fine grit
bead blasting and then solvent dipping.  Otherwise they will look blotchy.

Painting can yield varying degrees of success.  If your AR has a "tight" magazine well, it is
likely to rub off regular paint.  Therefore is best to use a bake-on finish such as Gun Kote.
See: http://members.aol.com/GUNKOTE/index.html/    Phone: 520-883-8879

Important Note:  Make sure that you remove the magazine springs before using any high
temperature process, or you will RUIN the springs' temper!

Teflon coating is a more durable finish, but unfortunately also expensive (around $10 per
magazine!)  I have done business with Rocky Mountain Arms.  They do great genuine
Teflon coating, in several colors. Phone:  (303) 678-8522.

Another more expensive but even more durable alternative is Metacol III.  It is a bonded
solid-film lubricant. It is offered by Arizona  Response Systems.  Phone: (602) 873-1410.
Or see their website at: www.arizonaresponsesystems.com
 

On the U.S. High Capacity Magazine Ban:
 
The magazine ban passed in September of 1994 banned the importation and sale of
high capacity magazines that were made after Sept. 13, 1994.  The ban expired on Sept. 13, 2004,
b
ecause of the law's "sunset" clause.  It is now null and void.  Any restriction markings on magazines
can be ignored, at least under the Federal law.  Consult your state and local laws!)
 

On Kalifornia:
If you are a California resident, take heed! By law, Californians had to acquire their lifetime
supply of 11+ round magazines by December 31, 1999.  No purchases or transfers after that
date are allowed.

Suppliers:
The following are the sources of AR-15 magazines that I would recommend,
in descending order of preference (based on my experience with their pricing
histories.  The companies with the higher prices are toward the bottom.)
Please note that  I have no financial interest in any of these companies:
 
   Matco / What a Country!
   www.whatacountry.com

   CDNN
   1-800 588-9500

   Cheaper Than Dirt
   http://www.cheaperthandirt.com

   J&G Sales
   http://www.jgsales.com/jgsales.html

   Quality Parts (Bushmaster)
   www.bushmaster.com

   DPMS
   www.dpmsinc.com

   Chesnut Ridge
   http://www.chestnutridge.com/products.htm

   Fulton Armory
   http://www.fulton-armory.com/

   Gun Parts Corp
   http://www.gunpartscorp.com/

   One Eyed Jack's
   1-800-571-3780

OBTW, you will find lots of useful links at:
   http://www.AR15.com/
 
 

I hope that you find this information useful.

 James Wesley, Rawles
 e-mail: rawles@usa.net

I'm the author of a Survivalist Blog (Web Log journal).  See:  http://www.SurvivalBlog.com

I'm the author of numerous firearms FAQS on topics including:
M14/M1A magazines, M1 Carbine magazines, M1911 magazines, FN/FALs and
L1A1s, Mauser rifles, pre-1899 cartridge guns, and  European Ammo Box
Markings Translations.  These FAQs are available at my web site:
http://www.rawles.to

I'm also the author of a pro-gun survivalist novel and screenplay. Lots of information
available for free download. See:   http://www.rawles.to