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AR15/M16 FAQs


AR15/M16 Magazine FAQ

by James Wesley Rawles

Revised April 12, 1999

Editors Note : Some additions to the tables and text in this FAQ have been made... These additions are in RED, and do not reflect information yet included in the original FAQ by Mr. Rawles - any inaccuracies are the responsibility of and not Mr. Rawles. In addition the images were added to help better illustrate the magazines being discussed - Editor


In response to repeated requests from rec.guns readers, I'm posting a list of the various magazines available on the civilian market for Colt AR-15s, various AR-15 .223 clones, and Colt Sporters. It lists the different varieties, identifying markings, type of finish, and approximate values.

Note: This updated FAQ includes new information on 7.62 x 39 magazines provided by Paul McMenamin, floorplate marking/date information provided by the Colt Firearms Historical Office, and a new section on refinishinhg worn magazines.

Here they are (I may miss a few...)

(All of the following are made of aluminum alloy and gray anodized, unless otherwise noted.)

20 Round Capacity Magazines:

Original Armalite "waffle-sided." Similar in design to the AR-10 magazine. Grey. Super scarce. Pre-1963 production.
Armalite transitional magazine that features a new style body (no waffles - just vertical ribbing), with an Armalite floorplate. The floorplates have been updated to include the bend on the end, that is standard with later model magazines.  
Early Air Force contract 20 round. Circa 1963-1968. Earliest had bright alloy followers, later manufacture had dull followers. Scarce. Marked "Colt Pt. Mfg. Co. Inc." w/prancing pony and "CAL. .223" on floorplate.
Army and late Air Force contract 20 round. Circa 1969 to 1971. Dull alloy followers. Marked Colt Firearm Division" w/pony and "5.56 MM" on floorplate. I usually have these in stock.
$15 to $25
Army and late Air Force contract 20 round. Circa 1966 to 1971. Dull alloy followers. Most marked Cony w/pony. A few are marked Simmonds or Adventureline on floorplate. (Actually these are more scarce than Colt made 20s, but few collectors realize it, and oddly they pay more for Colts!) I usually have these in stock. (Image Courtesy David Albert)
$12 to $20
Colt commercial 20 round. Circa 1980 to 1989. Black plastic followers. Marked Colt w/pony on floorplate.
Colt law enforcement sales 20 round. Circa 1995 to present. (Not sold on the Civilian market. Bodies are date stamped to indicate that they are of "post ban" manufacture.) Black plastic followers. Marked "Colts Mfg. Co." and "CAL. 5.56MM" w/pony on floorplate.
Colt Blank magazine with a spacer to compensate for lack of slug  


Gun Show tip: As you walk around gun shows, look for used 20s and sort through looking for shiny alloy followers. These are the early contract magazines, and are worth a premium price. However, most dealers don't realize the significance, and will sell you these magazines at the same price that they sell the typical later vintage used 20s.

Note: The general rule is that pre-1969 20 round Colt-made magazines are marked ""CAL. .223" and that 1969 and later production 20s are marked "CAL. 5.56MM"

5 Round Capacity Magazines:

Colt commercial 5 round. (20 round body, but blocked to 5 round capacity.) Black plastic followers. Marked Colt w/pony and "CAL. 5.56MM" on floorplate. Early style (no floorplate rivet.) Circa 1989 to around 1991.
Colt commercial 5 round. . (20 round body, but blocked to 5 round capacity.) Black plastic followers. Marked Colt w/pony and "CAL. 5.56MM" on floorplate. Later style (riveted floorplate but rivet can be drilled out.) Circa 1991 to 1994.
Colt commercial 5 round. Marked Colt. (the latest bastardized style--permanently blocked) Circa late 1994 to present Sometimes these can be found in garbage cans at rifle ranges along with other refuse.
$10 to $15


30 Round Capacity Magazines:

Colt early G.I. contract 30 round. Green plastic followers. Marked Colt w/pony and "CAL. .223" on floorplate. Circa 1968 to 1969.
Colt late G.I. contract 30 round. Black plastic followers. Marked Colt w/pony and "CAL. 5.56mm" on floorplate. Circa 1970 to present. Colt hasn't had a military contract in many years. Most of these are sold to police departments. A few pre-ban ones make it out to the civilian market through police supply houses.
G.I. contract 30 round. Black or green plastic followers. These are the most common M16 magazines on the surplus market. (Countless millions made.) Circa 1975 to 1994. Marked with contractor's name and usually location (city) on floorplate. Anodized finish. Contractors included: Adventureline, Parsons Precision Products, Labelle Industries, Sanchez (DSI), Center Industries, Okay Industries, Cooper Industries, FN, and a few others. Starting around 1992, some of the contractors began using soft green plastic followers. (Not to be confused with the shiny hard green plastic followers used on the earliest Colt-made 30 rounders.) Military contract 30s are fairly easy to find at gun shows.
$12 to $30
Colt law enforcement sales 30 round. Circa 1995 to present. (Not sold on the civilian market. Bodies are date stamped to indicate that they are of "post ban" manufacture.) Black plastic followers. Marked "Colts Mfg. Co." and "CAL. 5.56" w/pony on floorplate.
G.I. contract 30 round. Black plastic followers. Teflon finish. This is the latest military specification, which started only in June, 1994). Functionally, these are the best of the breed, because they have a slick, durable Teflon coat inside and out. Very few of these magazines made it onto the civilian market before the ban started on Sept. 13, 1994. All were made by Labelle Industries. They made batches for the civilian market in both grey and black Teflon. Most of these were marked: Cal. 5.56mm, a part number, and Made in U.S.A. (Note that Bushmaster/Quality Parts had Labelle make up a batch for them with BFI floorplates. Labelle did the same for Defense Procurement Management Service (DPMS). Military production pre-Sept 13, 1994 are not date stamped. Post Sept. 13, 1994 production are date stamped an a no-no for U.S. civilians to possess. I sold out long ago, but I've heard that Quality Parts/Bushmaster (BFI) still has some.
Israeli Orlite magazines. Black plastic. The later type (circa 1992 to 1994) are the ones to buy. This type has a weave of metal reinforcement in the top one inch of the body. These work well with most AR-15s. These usually come with plastic dust caps.
Thermold (Canadian) magazines. Black plastic with no reinforcing. These work just as well as Orlites, but are a little more flimsy. They also use a lower melting-point plastic than the Orlite. (The Canadian soldiers jokingly refer to them as "Thermelts", because the feed lips melt if you get a M16 really hot (usually from firing blanks with a blank firing device.)
$12 to $18

Another exception to the no after-market rule: Sterling of England produced AR-180/AR-15 20, 30, and 40 round magazines. Some were made in alloy, and some were steel. They have magazine catch notches on both sides a small one for the AR-180, and a large one for the AR-15. They work well in both guns.) They are the only 40 round magazines of any type that I've ever encountered that work well. Sterling also produced considerable quantities of 20 and 30 round magazines, some of which are only notched for AR-180s, but most are also notched to also fit AR-15s. Most of the Sterling magazines are alloy, but some are steel. They are scarce but can occasionally be found at gun shows. (Photo Courtesy Buddy Hinton)

$20 to $50

Note: The general rule is that pre-1970 30 round Colt-made magazines are marked "CAL. .223" and that 1970 and later production 30s are marked "CAL. 5.56MM"

Gun Show tip: As you walk around gun shows, look for Colt 30 round magazines with dark green followers. (They are worth at least twice as much as other 30s, even if made by Colt.)

Some interesting background: There were actually just two sets of U.S. military contract 30 round magazine tooling, both built by Colt. They wandered around from contractor to contractor. These contracts were usually "minority or small business set- asides." Typically what would happen is a small business would get set up with the tooling, and start to crank out a contract. Then, the contract was so lucrative that the business no longer qualified as a "small business", the contract was cancelled, and the tooling got yanked and sent on to the next contractor.

All of the G.I. contract 30s work fine with two exceptions, all Cooper mags and early production Sanchez with the black followers. This is what the May 1987 issue of PM Magazine (The Army's Preventative Maintenance magazine) had to say, "The 30-round magazines made by Cooper Industries don't fit the magazine well, they double feed and they won't feed the last five rounds when fully loaded." To avoid any problems, NEVER buy Cooper mags these were recalled for destruction by the military. The second exception, some early black follower lots of Sanchez (DSI) production are also said to have feeding problems, however, they were never recalled like the Cooper mags were. To avoid problems here buy only Sanchez with the green follower (from the newer production runs) or plan on replacing the black followers with the green ones, (Thanks to Rambo for the PM information and clarification).

After-market (civilian) manufacture. Most of these are total junk! Don't even bother with any of these. The steel ones are particularly troublesome.

The only "semi-after-market" magazines worth buying were made by Labelle shortly before the 9/94 ban and are marked "Defense Procurement Management Service (DPMS)" or "BFI/Bushmaster." Labelle Industries made these to military specs. but simply put on different floorplates for sales to the civilian market. Most of these are gray or black Teflon coated.

Gun Show tip: As you walk around gun shows, look for used AR-180s for sale. Ask the sellers if they have any extra magazines available for sale. Fairly often they will have some Sterling magazines that are also notched for AR-15s. The only problem will be in convincing the seller to break those magazines out of their intended "package deal."

On 7.62 x39 AR-15 magazines:

7.62 x 39 magazines for AR-15s tend to be problematic. More and more AR owners are buying spare 7.62 x 39 uppers for their rifles to take advantage of the low cost of military surplus (Chinese and Eastern Bloc) ammunition, or as a means to get a more effective stopper for deer than .223 Remington.

The problem is finding mags that will feed when loaded with more than 5 or 6 rounds. Neither Colt (for the AR-15) or Ruger (for the Mini-30) ever made any high capacity magazines for their 7.62x39s, because neither intended those guns for military or law enforcement sales. (And both being statist/Politically Correct firms in recent years, neither produced high capacity magazines for the civilian market before the 9/94 ban.)

The Colt 7.62 x 39 rifles and clones can *accept* standard 20 or 30 round G.I. magazines, but they won't function reliably when loaded with more than 5 or 6 rounds. With its straight magazine well, the AR-15 is not well-suited to the cartridge. As I'm sure most of you reading this know, an angle builds up to the point where the 7.62 cartridges will jam horribly if you load more than about 9 rounds--regardless of which magazine you use. The cartridge simply works better in fully-curved magazines. And with the AR-15’s straight magazine well, that problem can never be properly overcome in AR-15s and clones.

Colt-made 7.62 x 39mm magazines differ from standard .223 magazines only in that they have different followers. The 7.62 x 39mm followers are black plastic and have “7.62mm” in white letters printed on the follower. They appear to be made differently from regular .223 followers. I believe these to be standard alloy M-16 magazine bodies that are assembled with 7.62 followers.

One tip garnered from the net: With the Colt-made 7.62 x 39 magazines, insert the magazines gently with the bolt closed to keep rounds from flying out the top.

Another problem is that the fat 7.62x39 cartridge tends to bulge out or even split aluminum alloy AR-15 magazines. There is a solution for that particular problem: The best magazines that I can recommend for a 7.62 AR-15 are either STEEL original Sterling-made AR-180 magazines (also notched for AR-15 magazine catch), or STEEL original Belgian FNC magazines. Then, if possible, replace the followers with Colt 7.62 mm marked followers. Even with these, don’t load more than 9 cartridges.

The MWG company makes 5 or 10-round magazines that are optimized for the 7.62x39. They are affordable, and reportedly well made. The jury is still out, however, on their reliability. . The 10 round model carries part # M10- 7.62x39. For an illustration, see:
Colt and USA Magazines

Thanks to Paul McMenamin for his input on 7.62 x 39 magazines.

With all of the aforementioned magazine woes in mind, my advice is to *pass* on buying Colt AR-15s/Sporters, spare uppers, or AR-15 clones chambered in 7.62 x 39mm. IMHO, if you want a reliable and accurate high capacity semi-auto rifle chambered in 7.62 x 39mm, buy a Valmet M62

.223 Drum Magazines:

The 90 round clear-backed drums made by MWG work surprisingly well. There are a few of these still available on the secondary market.
The Beta Company C-Mags (100 round double snail drum) function flawlessly, but do have an annoying rattle when you walk around.
$650 to $750
The Chinese-made AR-15 drums (various capacities) are absolute garbage and don't feed properly, from what many customers have told me.
Firepower Plastic AR Drum (Image courtesy Rambo)  


Notes on Practical Use:

The 20 round capacity magazines for the AR-15 should never be loaded with more than 18 rounds. (They have a tendency to jam, otherwise.) The 30s, however, can be loaded with a full 30 rounds.

Many practical shooters (including AR-15 guru Jim Crews) actually prefer the 20 round magazine, since it allows better prone shooting. Most bench shooters also prefer 20s, because the 30 is so long that it requires extra sand bagging to keep from going "high center."

For practical carry, I took a compromise approach, and have my "bad times" web gear set up to carry both 30s and 20s. (Six spare 30s, Four spare 20s.) In the carbine itself, I usually have a duplexed pair of 30s (using a spring steel Israeli duplexing clamp). And for "worst case scenario" home defense, I have a pair of duplexed 40s. (Those hard-to-find Sterling of England AR-180/AR-15 40 round steel magazines.)

On Magazine Pouches:

The earliest issue pouch for the M16 was simply the M14 O.D. canvas Universal magazine pouch. It fits two 20s (or three if you squeeze them in.)

The most commonly seen (and current) U.S. military issue magazine pouch is the olive drab triple 30 round magazine pouch. The strange straps on the sides are designed to hold hand grenades. (Hey, they could come in handy in that worst-case Y2K scenario. You never know when you might run across a case of grenades...)

They same style pouch has been made for civilian market sales in black nylon, and with and/or without the grenade straps.

An earlier (and scarce) nylon pouch was an olive drab quadruple 20 round magazine pouch. It featured an internal strap designed to be woven between the magazines with its tab left sticking up. (It acts as a “helper” to facilitate getting the first magazine out of the pouch.)

On Refinishing U.S.G.I. Magazines

One of the least expensive places to buy M16 magazines is at gun shows. Unfortunately many of the magazines you will find are have well-worn anodized finish. They function fine, but look horrible. I often have folks contact me to ask about how they can be re- finished.

Since U.S.G.I. M16 magazine bodies are made of aluminum alloy, they cannot be blued. That leaves re-anodizing, painting, Teflon coating, or Metacol III. I will address all four:

Re-anodizing would require that EVERY bit of original finish is removed with fine grit beadblasting and then solvent dipping. Otherwise they will look blotchy.

Painting can yield varying degrees of success. If your AR has a "tight" magazine well, it is likely to rub off regular paint. Therefore is best to use a bake-on finish such as Gun Kote. See: Phone: 520-883-8879

Important Note: Make sure that you remove the magazine springs before using any high temperature process, or you will RUIN the springs' temper!

Teflon coating is a more durable finish, but unfortunately also expensive (around $10 per magazine!) I have done business with Rocky Mountain Arms. They do great genuine Teflon coating, in several colors. Phone: (303) 678-8522.

Another more expensive but even more durable alternative is Metacol III. It is a bonded solid-film lubricant. It is offered by Arizona Response Ststems. Phone: (602) 873-1410. Or see their website at:

On the U.S. High Capacity Magazine Ban:

The magazine ban passed in September of 1994 banned only the importation and sale of high capacity magazines that were made after Sept. 13, 1994. To law enforcement officers conducting searches and arrests, an unmarked magazine is generally presumed to be "pre- ban." Magazines marked with dates after Sept. 13, 1994 are considered "post ban". Such magazines may only be possessed by law enforcement officers and the military. However, FFL holder may also purchase them for inventory for the purpose of resale to "qualified buyers". (Read: Law enforcement officers.) Private possession of post ban magazines is a felony. At a recent gun show I found a dealer selling a case of new-in-wrapper G.I. contract (made by Parsons) magazines with light green followers. On close inspection , I found that they were stamped 01/99 on the side of the magazine body!!! This dealer had no clue about the law, and had been selling them to the general public! Needless to say, he was soon set straight.

BTW, if you own a "post ban" firearm manufactured after the Sept. 13, 1994 ban, it is PERFECTLY LEGAL to own and use *pre-ban* high capacity magazines in it.


James Wesley, Rawles
Clearwater Trading Co.
c/o P.O. Box 642
Penn Valley, Calif. [95946]
voice: (530) 639-1999

Let me know if you'd like my updated and expanded catalog of shootable antique guns (primarily pre-1899 production "No FFL" Mausers and S&Ws), gun accessories (mainly clips and magazines), ammunition, sleeping bags, et cetera.

I'm the author of numerous firearms FAQS on topics including: M14/M1A magazines, M1 Carbine magazines, M1911 magazines, FN/FALs and L1A1s, Mauser rifles, pre-1899 cartridge guns, and European Ammo Box Markings Translations. These FAQs are available at the rec.guns web site:

I'm also the author of a pro-gun survivalist novel and screenplay. For info, see:


Last Modified on September 30, 1999