BY STEVE COMUS
Firearm magazines are amazing things. When they work properly, repeated shots come quickly and naturally.
But what happens when the magazine isn’t present, for some reason or other? At best, it’s a single-shot firearm. And some gun designs make shooting single-shot without a magazine in place difficult, if not impossible.
Traditionally, bolt-action hunting rifles have had no magazines at all (true single shots), have had “blind” magazines where the bolt has to be open and/or cycled to empty the magazine, have had magazine floorplates that hinge down so the contents of the magazine can be dumped instantly, and have had removable box magazines.
All of these designs can work great and have proven themselves through the years. But a removable magazine is useless if it is missing in action because it fell out during a hunt.
The good thing about removable magazines is that they pop in and out easily and quickly. The bad thing about removable magazines is that the pop out easily, sometimes when the shooter doesn’t want them to or doesn’t even realize they have fallen out.
This can happen if the magazine doesn’t “click” fully in-place when inserted into the rifle, yet there is enough friction to keep it in place until the rifle is bumped or cycled and it falls out.
Murphy, of Murphy’s Law (that holds that anything that can go wrong will go wrong, and at the worst time), is alive and well when it comes to removable magazines in hunting rifles. If the magazine falls out during a hunt in the wilds, there is little chance that it will be found — except perhaps by some other hunter who comes along later.
Since semi-auto firearms dominate the industry these days, every shooter is familiar with the removable magazines used by almost all of them.
And, since removable magazines are so ubiquitous, folks just get used to using them and tend to get along fine. That’s when we’re talking about things like AR-type rifles and auto pistols.
But bolt-action hunting rifles can be a bit different, both because of the ways magazines go in and out, the ways they “click” into position and the mechanisms (levers, buttons, etc.) that let them loose.
Removable magazines in the majority of bolt-action hunting rifles are a relatively new phenomenon. Certainly, there have been removable magazines on centerfire hunting rifles for nearly a century. Witness the Model 40 Savage that was introduced in 1928, to name just one.
But now, a modern hunting rifle that doesn’t have a removable magazine is the exception, rather than the rule, as it was just a couple of decades ago.
Removable magazines in bolt-action hunting rifles can be very handy, especially if the hunt calls for getting into and out of motor vehicles a lot.
But there is one caution here, and that is that the hunter needs to put the magazine in the same place (pocket, etc.) every time lest he or she will be fumbling for it when it is time to load quickly.
On one hunt not long ago, a young hunter took the magazine out of the rifle and made the rifle safe when getting into the truck to go to a different location to try to find a buck deer.
On the way to the other location, he spotted a deer fairly close to the road and jumped out, with rifle in hand. But rather than sliding the magazine in place and taking the shot quickly before the deer disappeared, the young hunter was fumbling in one pocket and then another, trying to find where he had put the magazine when he entered the truck.
The deer looked a bit puzzled but decided not to stick around and watch the modern-day Elmer Fudd fiddle around.
I have watched enough in the field to suggest that the biggest culprit when it comes to having a magazine fall out and perhaps get lost has more to do with it being fully inserted and locked in place than any problem with the release mechanism.
What happens is that the magazine is inserted and pushed into place, but sometimes not quite hard enough for the latch to “click” shut. When that happens, the magazine can fall out as the rifle is being carried. Or chances are that when the bolt is cycled, it will fall out, because it isn’t locked in place.
There are several ways to address this potential problem. One is to pay attention when the magazine is inserted and make certain it is locked in place. A no-brainer.
Another is to put it in place and then wrap a piece of duct tape around it, with the tape secured to the stock on either side. Not pretty, but the magazine won’t be lost.
One situation that seems to contribute to magazines not being fully inserted to the clicking point is when a fully loaded magazine is inserted when the rifle’s bolt is closed. It’s not uncommon for hunters to cycle a round into the chamber, close the bolt and then insert a fully loaded magazine.
This results in one more round in the rifle, but the resistance when the fully loaded magazine is inserted and the top round pushes against the bottom of the closed bolt. There is much more resistance to fully insert the magazine than there is when the magazine is inserted when the bolt is open.
As shooters of other firearms with removable magazines have learned, it is always good to have an extra one, two or more. That way, there can be quick reloads and also there is a fresh magazine should the one that is supposed to be in the rifle fall out and be lost in the woods.
One nice thing about today’s removable magazines in bolt-action hunting rifles is that they seem to work flawlessly when inserted properly and they feed both smoothly and positively.
So, it’s a good idea to carry at least one extra magazine into the woods or wilds when hunting, even though extra magazines can cost a pretty penny for some rifles.
The cost is worth it if/when the extra magazine is needed. Also, an extra magazine full of cartridges is a handy way to carry extra ammo on a hunt anyway.