Rifleman Q&A: Clip vs. Magazine

posted on August 20, 2021
graphic noting "Rifleman Q&A" black gray color

Q. I hear the terms clip and magazine used almost all the time. My buddy says there’s a difference between them: i.e., clips are used in rifles and magazines are used in pistols. What’s the deal?


A. Today the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but the purist feels that a “magazine” is an ammunition reservoir for charging the gun’s chamber and a “clip” is a reservoir for charging the “magazine.” This oversimplification is not rigidly adhered to by all the manufacturers or writers.

If one takes the purist line further, and ignores the fact that in 1909-1910 U.S. Ordnance reports referred to the “clip” (not “magazine”) of the upcoming service pistol, we can define some common cartridge carriers as follows:

• Integral magazine: An ammunition reservoir contained in the gun and not readily removable. Examples: Mauser ’98, Springfield M1903, Remington Model 700 Rifles (all integral boxes); Winchester Model 94, Marlin Model 39A (tubular); Savage 99, Mannlicher-Schoenauer (spool type).

• The detachable or removable box magazine: A container first manually loaded, then placed in the magazine well and manually removed when empty or at will. Examples: Most current semi-automatic pistols, AR-15 rifles, Model 52 Winchester rifle.

• A “clip” or “stripper clip” holds cartridges that are to be stripped down into detachable or integral rifle (and sometimes pistol) magazines. It is removed from the gun or magazine before firing. Examples: clips for Mauser ’98 and Springfield M1903 military rifles, pre ’64 Model 70 Winchester target rifles (all integral magazine types); Mauser “broomhandle.”

• A “charger," “charger clip” or "en bloc clip" is placed together with its complement of cartridges into the integral magazine. After the last cartridge is fired, the empty charger clip is ejected or drops from the bottom of the rifle. Examples: M1 rifle, Italian Carcano rifle, etc.

• “Half-moon clips” (three- or six-round capacity) are used in pairs in some revolvers to permit use of the rimless cartridges. Examples: M1917 Colt and S&W .45 ACP revolvers. By extension, revolver “speed-loaders” can be considered a form of clip.

To complicate matters, there are those loading systems that do not exactly fit the above categories. The British Lee-Enfield military rifle for instance has a removable 10-shot box magazine that can be loaded when detached or loaded when in place by pressing cartridges via stripper clips or one-by-one down through the top of the receiver. Rifles like the U.S. M16 use 10-shot stripper clips plus a separate adapter for filling their detachable box magazines.

—Roy Dunlap


This “Questions & Answers” was featured in the December 2004 issue of American Rifleman. At time of publication, “Questions & Answers” was compiled by Staff, Ballistics Editor William C. Davis, Jr., and Contributing Editors: David Andrews, Hugh C. Birnbaum, Bruce N. Canfield, O. Reid Coffield, Charles Q. Cutshaw, Charles M. Fagg, Charles Karwan, Angus Laidlaw, Evan P. Marshall, Charles E. Petty, Robert B. Pomeranz, O.D., Jon R. Sundra, Jim Supica, A.W.F. Taylerson, John M. Taylor and John Treakle.

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