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Spring Fatigue: Should I Store Magazines Fully Loaded?

ammo magazine

Ok, you’ve decided that buying a handgun for personal and home defense is a good idea. (I’ll leave the discussion about the best weapon for home defense to another post.) You’ve taken the necessary training, you’ve practiced at the range, and you’ve attended the requisite Concealed Carry Permit course and passed the test.

Now you can legally wield your firearm.

And you take it seriously too. You take proper care of your semi-automatic buddy. You visit the range regularly and always clean your weapon afterward. You even have more than one magazine for it and you clean those as well.

Is there anything else, you ask? Then a friend tells you that you need to rotate your magazine to fend off spring fatigue. What?!? What is this spring fatigue and is it something that you need to worry about?

What is Spring Fatigue?

Let’s first define define a couple of terms to make sure that we are all talking about the same thing. What your friend is referring to as “spring fatigue” is not technically spring fatigue. What he is really talking about is sometimes called “creep.”

Creep is a slow degradation in the strength of a metal used in a spring such that over time it loses its elastic capabilities. The concern expressed by your friend is that the constant compression of the spring will cause it to eventually deform to the point where it cannot adequately push the next round into the firing chamber, causing a misfire. But there is also something called “spring fatigue.”

Spring fatigue happens when you repeatedly compress and release a spring. Over time, the “cycling” of the spring from a compressed state to a relatively uncompressed state will weaken the spring in area where there may be tiny imperfections in the metal. How quickly this may happen depends on the type of metal used and the frequency of cycles.

Should I Worry?

worried about spring fatigueI’ve asked this question myself. I’ve done research online. I’ve asked friends who have made a living using semi-automatic weapons for their experiences. And I’ve satisfied myself with the following answer.

However, I will admit that what I haven’t done is my own empirical testing. I haven’t taking a spring loaded magazine and kept in compressed for 3 years and compared its performance to an identical magazine that hasn’t been stored fully loaded. I’ll leave that testing to you; I’ve satisfied my own concerns with the research used to find the following information.

Spring Creep

Spring creep does indeed happen, just not in the normal wear and tear of a semiautomatic magazine. Spring creep is usually a concern under extreme conditions. When the spring is compressed or expanded beyond its normal range, creep can happen. Compressing a spring stretching it beyond what it was designed to handle, will indeed, cause the spring to deform. Magazine manufacturers have anticipated and calculated the range of motion of their springs and have designed the magazines to limit that range of motion.

Spring creep can also be accelerated under very high temperatures. This causes the metal in the spring to behave differently and narrows the range of effective operation of the spring. Once again, this is not at concern for most handgun owners.

Spring Fatigue

Spring fatigue, on the other hand, is something that can happen during the course of normal use of a handgun. Notice I said normal use, not normal storage. Spring fatigue (remember that’s degradation in performance of a spring due to the repeated cycling from the compressed to uncompressed state and back again) does happen over time.

When you go to the firing range and put 250 rounds through the handgun using a single magazine, you are contributing to spring fatigue. But, assuredly, it’s not imminent. A good, quality magazine is designed to last for many, many cycles before spring fatigue begins to set in.

What to Do?

I’ve satisfied myself that spring creep is not an issue. I’ve also determined that spring fatigue may be in the long run but I’m not losing sleep over it.

What I’ve done: I’ve purchased multiple magazines for each semiautomatic handgun and rifle/carbine that I own. I keep ammunition stored in the magazines. I typically store one or even two less than the capacity of the magazine. For example, if the magazine hold 15, I’ll only put 13 in to make sure I’m not approaching the spring creep threshold. This is probably not necessary though. When I target practice, I use all of the magazines in a round robin manner.

That’s my take on it. You do what you feel is best. It certainly won’t hurt anything to rotate your magazines, keeping half of them loaded and the other half resting empty. But I personally don’t believe that it will necessarily help anything either.

What’s your take? Do you store your magazines loaded? Or do you rotate them? 

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20 Comments on “Spring Fatigue: Should I Store Magazines Fully Loaded?”

  1. Jarhead Survivor Says:

    Great topic, Joe. I store all my mags fully loaded and ready for action.

    Reply

  2. eileen Says:

    I have a Sig that is several years old, and has only had a few boxes of bullets fired through it in it’s lifetime. After sitting around loaded, and the mags loaded for a year or so, it jams when I try to shoot it. Don’t know if the springs may have gone bad, but I no longer rely on it, and keep a 357 revolver in the nightstand instead.

    Reply

    • fiddlestix Says:

      If you notice, purchasing a new firearm requires a “break in” period. The gun will be tighter, and the mags will be harder to load. After several hundred rounds through it, you’ll find it much easier to load and the action will be smoother.

      This same thing can result when leaving a mag loaded for for years at a time. Any material left under pressure will have a certain modification of the original structure due to the forces exerted that aren’t changing. A cycling mag would be less likely to suffer from what you’re seeing because it’s sprung force has been released and recycled over and over. A magazine left in one position will eventually have the metal in the spring bend out of spec because of the pressure on the metal without release, and not have the same return spring rate.

      You would be better off to leave it half loaded with a new mag spring for a year to relieve some of the strain from the spring. Spring creep is an issue without a doubt, but for anyone who shoots their weapon at least once a month you’ll probably never see it. Shoot it once every 3-5 years with a fully loaded mag the whole time and you’ll for sure see it.

      Reply

      • eileen Says:

        Thank you very much for the information. I will pick up a couple of new magazines, and not leave them fully loaded again. I live in a gun hating nanny state, shooting opportunities are few, so you are correct that it has not been shot enough. Still, I am convinced the revolver is more reliable.

        Reply

      • Joe Says:

        Thanks for your comments, fiddlestix. You make good points.

        As I kinda mentioned in the post, people tend to land on both sides of the question: is spring creep for real and is it something that I should worry about?

        In my anecdotal experience and according to the mechanical engineering research I’ve done, I’m not worried about spring creep in my magazines. Evidence suggests that it’s the cycling between expansion and compression that eventually fatigues a spring.

        However, having said that, there is absolutely nothing to be lost by periodically rotating your magazines. It will not harm anything and doesn’t take long to do.

        Joe

        Reply

  3. Mark Says:

    Great question and I believe it’s a non-issue. I also leave a round or two out of a mag when carrying or storing, guess I’m also on the cautious side. I’ve never had a failure to rack in a new load with a QUALITY mag.

    Reply

  4. Roy Patterson Says:

    If you want to leave Magazines fully loaded, check and see if you can find the guy on the internet that makes special springs for Mags.
    I don’t keep mine all loaded. just a couple and rotate them every month.

    Roy

    Reply

  5. Sharky Says:

    Hello, My name is Sharky and I thought this article was accurate and informative. Here is my personal experience. It is all true.

    In 1994, when it became apparent there would be a “crime bill: and war on weapons by Billery Clinton, I loaded all my magazines fully, bought more and loaded them too. Many were for Glock, ar15, AK, 10/22, M1A and HK91. I put them in storage in military ammo boxes and bought a handful of magazines for all my guns to practice with.

    That was 1994. I recently took a sample from each container (2012) and tested for rust, creep, basically all things that would cause problems. There was not a single malfunction in any magazine. All functioned as if they were still new in the box.

    I repeated this on accident in 2003 with a bunch of extra Glock magazines. I loaded a bunch and proceeded to forget I had them. well, I found them fully loaded and stored away a couple weeks ago. They all functioned perfectly after being fully loaded for all those years. I still have dozens in loaded condition if there are any disbelievers but I hope you will believe me.

    I would like to make note that I took no special precautions except the ammo boxes. Other than that they bumped, bounced and were/are exposed to heat and cold extremes from below freezing to above 100 degrees. None of it was scientific at all, just storing and then after all those years, testing for function. Magazines seem to be very robust and I have a lot of confidence in all of them stored this way.

    Reply

  6. nitrox Says:

    I would like to share my experience with you. I started doing practical shooting in the 90’s and after a few years moved on to another sports. I used a 1911 45 cal and 5 (chip Mccormick shooting star) magazine. I stored the gun and the 5 fully loaded 8 round magazine in a bag and forgot about it.

    Last year after almost 12 years to my surprised I found the bag with the gun and the 5 fully loaded magazine. The next day I brought the gun and the magazine in the range. I only sprayed WD40 on the gun and tested the 5 fully loaded magazine. Everything work smoothly. the magazine didn’t fail me. I was so happy with the results.

    I am now back in my sports and having fun with it. I am still using the same gun and magazine.

    Btw, I lived in southeast asia and its very humid in my country.

    I hope this information will help you.

    Reply

  7. Jack W. Says:

    I read recently that one of the best tests to determine degradation of your spring is to purchase replacement springs for each type of magazine that you have. Periodically, disassemble your magazines and compare the length of the old spring to the newly purchased unused spring. If there is more than 20% difference in their lengths then replace the weakened springs.

    Reply

  8. Eddie Says:

    I own an ak-47 varient and i have 10), 30 round magazines 8 of them polymer and 2 steel and two more steel 20 round magazines and i keep the in my safe fully loaded will the spring lose its strength causeing malfunctions jamings and misfeed if i keep them stored away fully loaded? please respond its killing me to know thanks a bunch.

    Reply

  9. self defense store Says:

    Good article. I’m going through many of these issues
    as well..

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Letting the Police Know that You Have a Concealed Weapon | PreppingToSurvive.com - April 23, 2012

    [...] Spring Fatigue: Should I Store Magazines Fully Loaded? [...]

  2. Mag rotation time - Gunner Forum - May 7, 2014

    […] I don't agree or disagree anyones post . Even if you are 100% sure that there is no damage to the magazine or magazine spring, and that leaving it fully loaded will not hurt it one bit, you would also have to agree that there is absolutely no harm done by periodically rotating the magazines, rotating the ammunition, and/or replacing the magazines. Most of us like to shoot our firearms often and need to do so to maintain our shooting skills. Most of us also own a number of firearms and like to use them all. These are perfect excuses to rotate your magazines and ammunition after each use including those that have been carried or stored for any significant length of time. For me a reasonable period is 2-3 months but for others it could be 2-3 weeks or 2-3 years, or never. Since there is no harm I would suggest doing it more often but you have to decide this for yourself. http://preppingtosurvive.com/2012/02…-fully-loaded/ […]

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