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?
I’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 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, 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?