One question new shooters often ask is, “How many magazines should I have for my pistol?”
This is a good question. The answer partially depends on whether the pistol is a “range toy” or a self-defense pistol.
For a “range toy” the number of magazines isn’t vital. I prefer to have at least two magazines so that if one mag goes bad I can still shoot the pistol. In cases where mags are extremely expensive, I can live with having only one mag for a range toy.
However, for a self-defense pistol, the number of magazines is more important. The magazine is the heart of the semi-auto pistol and magazines do break or wear out. A bad mag can turn a functioning gun into a jam-o-matic.
Many new pistols come with two or three magazines standard. While it’s easy to think that having one mag in the gun and one or two spares would be enough, this is a shortsighted view. While you might not carry more than three mags at any one time, you need more than that to ensure that you always have functional mags in good shape for defensive use.
One thing I learned training with Massad Ayoob was the concept of having “practice mags” and “duty mags.” The practice mags are the mags you take to the range, shoot with in training classes, and use in competition. The duty mags are those you function test and then reserve exclusively for defensive use, whether concealed carry or home defense. The reason for having two sets is so that when your practice mags get worn out or damaged you still have perfectly reliable mags for self defense use that aren’t subjected to the rigors of the range.
Ok, we’ve established that you need two sets of mags, but that still leaves the question of “How many mags should you have?”
The easy answer is, “As many as you can afford.” If you buy a lot of mags you’ll always be guaranteed to have some good mags. The problem is mags do cost money and at some point the money spent on extra mags might have been better put towards a second pistol, or a training class, or some other purpose. Unless you have an unlimited budget, you still need a recommended minimum number of mags.
I recommend having a minimum of six magazines for any defensive pistol. This gives you three practice mags and three duty mags. That gives you enough practice mags for most range sessions and meets the minimum mag requirement for most training classes. Your three duty mags gives you one mag in the gun and a pair or spares, which should be enough for any realistic self-defense scenario. Make sure to mark your practice mags with a different colored floorplate or some other way to tell them from your duty mags.
Replace your practice mags when they wear out or break and destroy the damaged mags so they don’t work their way back into your “good mag” stash. Make sure to function test your duty mags with your preferred defensive ammo at least twice a year and then reload them and return them to service. If you have any problems with a duty mag, relegate it to practice mag status (or destroy it) and replace it with new mag right away.
Make sure to read my other articles on CCW tips:
Advice to new concealed carry permit holders
Advice to new CCW holders: Part 2 – Carry like a pro
Five tips for CCW pocket carry
Seven tips for summer carry for CCW permit holders
Winter concealed carry tips for CCW permit holders
A review of the Alessi Talon holster for IWB concealed carry