Understanding the distinction between clips and magazines is crucial. While folks often use the terms interchangeably, they serve distinct functions and play vital roles in different types of firearms. So, let’s delve into the intricacies of both, examining their histories, functions and differences.

What Are Gun Clips?

Clips are devices that neatly clip cartridges in place. Typically made of sheet metal, though brass and polymer variants exist, clips hold a cartridge at the base by the rim or case head. Cartridges are loaded in the clip bullet forward and stacked vertically.

En bloc Garand clip.

One common type is the stripper clip. Invented around 1890, the stripper clip was widely used in both World Wars and as late as the Vietnam War. It loads a magazine by pressing the cartridges from the clip into a magazine. There is usually a boss or slot in the receiver to stabilize the clip as the magazine is loaded. The clip is then removed for later use or discarded in combat.

Another variation is the en bloc clip. Designed by Ferdinand Ritter von Mannlicher, the en bloc clip looked similar to a stripper clip but was inserted into the magazine itself and remained there during firing. As the last cartridge was expended, the clip fell out of the bottom of the magazine.

The M1 Garand, developed in the 1930s, uses an en bloc clip holding eight cartridges. This sheet metal clip is pressed into the magazine and the bolt released to load the chamber. When the last cartridge case is ejected, the en bloc clip is also ejected. This is a very fast and reliable system. While stripper and en bloc clips offered rapid loading for trained shooters, they have been replaced in service use by detachable magazines. As far as I am aware, there isn’t currently a rifle manufactured with a fixed box magazine that also accepts stripper clips.

The Lee Enfield detachable magazine was designed to be used with stripper clips.

Clips for Revolvers

Revolver clips, often referred to as moon or half-moon clips, serve the purpose of enabling the use of cartridges designed for self-loading pistols in revolvers. These clips, arranged in a circular fashion, ensure proper headspace for cartridges in revolvers originally designed for rimless cartridges. Modern variants come in materials like aluminum and polymer, offering both speed and convenience in reloading.


Magazines are storage devices attached to firearms, housing and feeding ammunition into the firing chamber. Unlike clips, which are primarily used for loading, magazines continuously feed cartridges into the firearm during firing.

Magazine was a term originally signifying the place on a ship or in a fort where shells, cannon balls and powder were stored. It was also used to describe a tube or box attached to a firearm, holding shells. It is generally agreed the lever-action Volcanic was the first tubular magazine firearm containing a fully enclosed cartridge. Soon after, the Henry rifle appeared with a tubular magazine holding 16 cartridges loaded nose to base. Tubular magazines prevent loading pointed-tip bullets as the bullet tip may ignite the primer it touches.

This illustration shows how a magazine catch functions. The catch or latch may be on the front, back, side or bottom of a magazine.

The development of rifle magazines centered on box-type integral magazines and removable box magazines. Mauser bolt-action rifles and most military bolt-action designs used an integral box magazine that fed from the top. The Lee Enfield magazine was removable but intended to be loaded by stripper clips. Remington’s Model 8 and Winchester’s .351 used a removable magazine as well. Today, many sporting rifles use a non-detachable box magazine in the stock. Other modern rifles including the CZ 600 and Ruger American use removeable magazines. Most shotguns use tubular magazines, while a few use detachable box magazines.

Some early pistols including the 1896 Mauser used a fixed magazine ahead of the trigger guard that was fed from stripper clips. Most designs featured a removable box magazine. The German Luger and Colt 1903 established the superiority of removable magazines.

Materials like stamped steel, aluminum and polymer are commonly used in magazine construction, with polymer gaining popularity for its durability and cost-effectiveness.

Removable box magazines have become the norm, enabling quick reloading and enhancing firearm performance. The iconic Glock magazine, renowned for its reliability, features a blend of metal and polymer construction.

Differences and Functions

The primary distinction between clips and magazines lies in their functions. Clips are used for loading ammunition into firearms, offering rapid reloading capabilities. Magazines are the spring-loaded devices or loading areas on a firearm that feed rounds into a firearm’s chamber, ensuring a steady supply of rounds.

The difference seems simple enough. And it’s important to use the proper terms both inside and outside the gun community. Understanding the distinctions helps in proper firearm maintenance as well as making informed decisions in selecting equipment.