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Mag Orientation: Does it Matter?

If you carry a concealed weapon, spare ammo is an important part of any carry package. If not already doing so, I strongly encourage carrying at least one extra mag or speed loader. When bad things happen, even “badder” things can happen — such as a magazine failure. Nonetheless, if you’ve decided to carry spare mags as part of your everyday carry package, kudos to you. Now that you’ve made that commitment, how do you orient your magazines? While a bit of a personal choice, there are pros and cons to how you carry spare ammo. Here’s some input on how to properly orient spare magazines.

Spare Mag Placement: Bullets Forward or Backwards?

As if magazine placement wasn’t confusing enough, the mag orientation matters. What does mag orientation mean? Simply, mag orientation describes how your magazines are staged on your person. Some folks place the magazines with bullets facing forward, some place the magazine with bullets facing rearward, and others alternate the magazine orientation. Let’s delve into what each position looks like before discussing the reasons why you may or may not want to carry your magazines a particular way.

Forward, backward, or alternating orientation. Photo: Tom Stilson

“Bullet-forward” references the mag pointed towards the front of your body. For example, a magazine carried on your side will have the bullets facing in front of you. If you’re carrying a duty-style belt with the magazines in front of you, they will either face your belt buckle or forward, depending on the magazine carrier design. “Bullet-rearward” is the exact opposite of the bullet-forward method and points the bullets away from your belt buckle or behind you.

Bullets Forward

Almost universally, the preferred method of spare magazine carry is with the bullets forward. While some may readily take this recommendation and run with it, it’s not unreasonable to question why this style is so popular. Well, there is a method to the madness. This orientation provides the shooter with the fastest and most advantageous magazine access.

Indexing on mag well
“Indexing” the mag well creates control and ensures smooth insertion. Photo: Tom Stilson

With bullets forward, the shooter’s non-dominant hand grabs the magazine with the middle fingers, palm, and thumb. The index finger remains straight and parallel to the magazine body. As the magazine is drawn from the carrier, the index finger should rest upon the bullet’s face. By indexing the magazine with your finger, the shooter has a tactile and visual indicator to put the mag in the mag well. This simple and efficient method remains popular for good reason — it’s tried and proven. Nonetheless, let’s discuss bullets to the rear for a frame of reference as to why one may be better than the other.

Bullets Rearward

Over the years, I’ve seen the bullet-rearward method utilized by many law enforcement officers. However, just because someone does it doesn’t mean that’s the best method. In all reality, I’ve seen only a couple of officers proficiently use this method out of the dozens who tried. Unfortunately, the bullet-rearward method introduces several issues.

Reverse loading unable to index
When you reverse load, you are unable to index the mag. Photo: Tom Stilson

If a shooter tries to retrieve a magazine like the bullet-forward method, the index finger becomes almost useless as an index point. Furthermore, if using the index finger as a tactile benchmark, the mechanics become incredibly awkward to accomplish doing so. For most shooters using the bullets rearward method, they cup the magazine from the rear or grab it from the base. Both methods provide little control over the magazine and make insertion into the mag well difficult under normal range conditions. Under stress, the mechanics are even messier and inconsistent.

Bullets rear
Facing the bullets to the rear is not the most common or functional, but it is still an option. Photo: Tom Stilson

While some shooters may have success with this method, it’s not the easiest or simplest means of retrieving a magazine. If it works for you, great. However, those results are vastly in the minority. Overall, bullets forward is the easiest method of magazine retrieval.

Oppositional Mag Orientations

While even rarer, the occasional “oppositional” magazine carry orientation crops up. This “method” applies only to carrying more than one magazine. With oppositional magazine orientations, shooters alternate the magazine’s orientation with one mag facing forward and the other facing rearward. I’m hesitant to refer to this setup as a “method” for a variety of reasons.

Mags facing opposing
Alternating mag orientation looks aesthetically pleasing but requires a level of critical thinking that might not be ideal. Photo: Tom Stilson

While the appearance may appeal to the eye, it requires additional critical thinking by the shooter under stress. As discussed above, bullets forward require one method, while bullets rearward require another retrieval method. This means the shooter must think quickly to change their mag draw procedure depending on which magazine they’re retrieving. Effectively, they’re complicating magazine changes by adding additional variables and orientations. There’s no need to complicate matters when getting the gun back into the fight takes priority. When under stress, keep it simple and consistent.

Non-Traditional Mag Orientations

Not everyone carries their magazines vertically. In fact, I’ve seen a few carry magazines horizontally. This method sets the magazine in a cross-draw style. With this method, the bullets should ideally face upward. This places the hand in the same orientation as the bullet forward carry method.

Some holsters offer a magazine carrier in front of the holster. This same side carry is less than ideal for immediate access to the magazine. The dominant hand holds the firearm during a magazine change, which requires the shooter to reach across their body to the holster side to retrieve the spare magazine. While conveniently placed in theory, the magazine retrieval isn’t nearly as accessible in practice.

Consistency is Key

When getting started with carrying spare magazines, there’s nothing wrong with experimenting with different orientations and positions. After all, you need to find what works best for your needs. However, remain consistent with your chosen method, and practice drawing spare magazines should be a part of your training repertoire. Nonetheless, don’t stick with a failing or awkward method. When it doesn’t work, identify the issue and see if something else works better.

Personally, I prefer the bullet-forward method and have seen it work with countless shooters. In this instance, popularity suggests this method is the best one to utilize. If you don’t believe me, try all of the aforementioned methods under time constraints and see where you’re the fastest. Furthermore, see which one produces the fewest mistakes. Even if you don’t agree with my recommendations, you’ve developed new skills and practiced engraining muscle memory into your mag changes. That’s a win, no matter how you look at it.

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