The Difference Between a Clip and a Magazine

Over the years, it has become a pet peeve of mine. It uses the terms “clip” and “magazine.” I was at a youth class last night and heard it misused over and over, and it was also in the handouts.

I have ideas about why people incorrectly use the words “clip” and “magazine.” It may be that they were taught wrong as these children were. Maybe they think “clip” sounds cool. Could it be that “clip” is a shorter word than “magazine?” Maybe they could say “mag.” Pretty sure they hear it in movies every day. Many people, including instructors, are using the terms incorrectly. In my opinion, there is simply no excuse. Especially when you are teaching a child or a new shooter. Please don’t be lazy. Say the correct term, and in your handouts, print the correct term.

So, what is the difference between a “clip” and a “magazine”?

Difference between a clip and magazine
The difference in clips and magazines. Image via

A clip is used to feed a magazine. A magazine is used to hold rounds.

A clip is a strip or block that rounds or cartridges attach to. The strip or block is then used to feed or fill a magazine. Sometimes you can distinguish a clip attached to a gun, such as the famous clip-fed M1 rifle, by the exposed ammunition cycling into the gun. The clip is the strip of ammunition exposed from the gun, feeding the magazine inside the gun.

Often someone shoots a semi-automatic pistol in a movie, and you hear them say, “I’m out of ammunition. Hand me another clip.” They really mean to say magazine.

A magazine is a device that holds rounds and feeds them into the chamber of the firearm. In a semi-automatic pistol, you insert the magazine in the bottom of the gun, and it locks into place. It holds the ammunition until it is cycled into the chamber. They have a spring mechanism that pushes the ammo up into the chamber as the rounds are cycled. Magazines can be box, tubular or drum, but they can also be internal, inside the gun, such as with a shotgun or SKS.

If the idea is still unclear to you, here is a link to a video to help clear things up.

Teach them well!

Mia Anstine is an outdoor writer, licensed outfitter, hunting guide, life coach, keynote speaker, and range safety officer, firearms instructor, and archery instructor. She is the founder of MAC Outdoors and Host of the MAC Outdoors podcast. 

6 Replies to “The Difference Between a Clip and a Magazine”

  1. I’m so glad you wrote this. When I used to give firearms instruction in the military and someone asked for “another clip” I would give them several paper clips and tell them that should work well in a firefight, but I would suggest using a “mag” instead…

  2. Thats one of the first things they taught us in the Military. Only Military weapons that use Clips were M1 Garands and 40 mm Bofors.

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