Are 20 round AR-15 Magazines Better than 30 Rounders ?

Are 20 round AR-15 magazines better than 30 rounders ? It’s a topic that always brings up spirited debate so we figured we would wade into the debate. It use to be many many moons ago back in the days of leaded gasoline and cars that had carburetors the standard issue magazine for the M16 was a 20 rounder. I know to many people that seems like ancient history, but to those of us who actually got issued old M16A1’s with their triangular hand guards and a pile of these 20 rounders it seems like just yesterday.

There are many urban myths and legends about weakening springs, and evil green followers on AR-15 magazines that many people will bring up when I ask about the 20 round AR-15 magazines. This isn’t a debate I will dive into, if you want to read a great article about the fallacies of AR-15 mags and the myriad of followers read this piece on the topic which covers some common myths at Breach Bang Clear by “Mad Dog” Merrill, entitled “Pigeon Religion”

I’m a simple guy and I like practical things, I also like things that work best for my situations. I am not in the combat arms, or on patrol with any form of law enforcement agency so my desires and needs for magazines and firearms are very different than others. In my world, for my needs the good old fashioned aluminum government issued 20 round magazines are better for my situation than the now standard issued 30 round magazines. There are a list of reasons for that and I’ll go into them, these are all based on personal bias, not on science or anything taught from The War College or Sun Tzu’s Art of War.

Benefits of the 20 Round Magazine

Contrary to what big gun media might tell you, there are some of us out here that still enjoy the 20 rounders. The 20 rounders are of course smaller and their slightly shorter profile make them more attractive to people that are often shooting from seated positions on a bench. The 20 rounders are also more handy when shooting from a prone position, which is common when hunting predators such as fox, coyotes and other small fur bearing game. This may sound completely lazy when I type it but I also like the idea of one box of ammo for one magazine. Most rifle ammunition is sold in 20 round boxes, but most of the popular AR-15 magazines are 30 rounders. So if I want to load two magazines to capacity I have to buy three boxes ? It’s almost as odd as the whole debacle about how hot dogs and hot dog buns are sold in different numbers. Yes I know I can just load 20 rounds into a 30 round magazine and somehow magically extend the spring life, but that isn’t the point, the point is I prefer a magazine with a smaller profile and weight.

I think the moment for me when I had an epiphany was when I loaded up a Surefire 60 round magazine and began walking over to the shooting position at my local range and I thought to myself  “How freaking heavy is this, It’s only an AR-15”. That’s when it dawned on me that the massive 60 round magazine, all the ammunition added to my rail had turned my AR-15 into a huge brick. AR-15’s are suppose to be lighter than my AK-47’s and that wasn’t the case. It began the wheels turning in my head and made me reconsider a great many things on my guns, not just on this AR-15.

I decided soon after that range session that I was not, nor will I ever be a high speed low drag, Special Operations Commando, and that over the years of writing and reviewing gear that I had acquired a ton of gear, lights, and toys that are great fun to evaluate but then they sit on a shelf for a long time. It was then that I also decided that I had to take an honest look at my threats, and my shooting styles and see what would work for me and what would not. The 20 round vs 30 round magazine issue was only the first one.

Your Right to a 30 Rounder

I 100% believe that it is every American’s RIGHT to have a high capacity magazine for their rifles if they choose to own them. If you like the 30 rounders and they work for you, load them and unload them until the springs wear out, shoot them until they literally fall apart. I also understand that the needs of our LEO and Military community are different than mine as a middle aged Veteran. I think they should train how they fight and I can almost promise most Military and LEO users are carrying 30 rounders.

There are some I’m sure will freak out about the 20 round vs 30 round debate and that’s fine. There are others that will just accept that everything in the gun world is about user preference, it’s just the way it is. We can argue all we want about Glock vs Smith & Wesson or Colt vs Ruger but at the end of the day we should all be in agreement that it’s a good thing that people are still shooting and passionate enough about their guns to have healthy debate. In my mind it is better to accept reality, and continue with training that is realistic to my situation and still have fun doing it.

Left to Right: 40 Rounder, 30 Rounder, 30 Rounder with window, 20 Rounder.

It in the end it’s all about preference, and being good with what you have, we are curious as to how many shooters out there still use 20 rounders ? Are you using old aluminum “Uncle Sam” issued magazines or the new MagPul 20 rounders ? I know here in Alaska there are a fair amount of hunters that use the 20 or even 10 round magazines when hunting coyotes, wolves, foxes & Wolverines. It’s easier to shoot with a bipod or in the prone position with shorter magazines. Let the debate begin.

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