How to Reload a Revolver with Moon Clips

Below: When flush in the cylinder, the moon clip provides necessary headspacing for rimless cartridges.

Below: When flush in the cylinder, moon clips provide necessary headspacing for rimless cartridges.

Even in a world full of high-capacity autoloaders, many lawfully armed citizens still choose a revolver.

Revolvers have a number of advantages over semi-automatic pistols, but speed of reloading is not one of them. Revolvers are limited by relatively small ammunition capacity, which is made even worse by the slow and sometimes difficult reloading process.

Over the years, a number of different techniques have evolved to help load revolvers more quickly and reliably, including speed loaders, speed strips, and moon clips. All of these involve some type of device to hold the rounds together and help simultaneously align them with the chambers in the cylinder.

Of these techniques, however, the use of moon clips may be the least understood. Outside of revolver competitions, the use of moon clips is somewhat uncommon, but they are a tool worthy of your consideration.

 

Ultimately, moon clips are just another way of loading a revolver.

 

Moon clip basics

A moon clip is a star-shaped sheet of thin metal, usually spring steel, designed to hold multiple cartridges together as a single unit. Most moon clips are designed to hold the exact number of rounds necessary to fully load a particular revolver’s cylinder, but there are also “half-moon clips” that fill half the cylinder, and even “one-third” moon clips that hold only two rounds each. This article will focus on the more common “full-moon clips” that hold 5, 6, 7, or 8 rounds, depending upon the full capacity of the revolver in question.

Moon clips are actually required for most revolvers chambered for semiautomatic calibers like 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP. These calibers use a rimless case that is designed to feed and extract more efficiently in an autoloader. The moon clip rides inside the indented groove in the case, and functions like a cartridge rim to set the headspace for the cartridge when chambered. Revolvers using rimless cartridges cannot be fired without moon clips.

The moon clip can also be used with traditional rimmed revolver cartridges such as .38 Special, .357 Magnum, .44 Special and .44 Magnum. With rimmed cartridges, moon clips are not required, but may be used to increase speed and efficiency in loading.

However, unlike a revolver designed to fire a rimless cartridge, a revolver chambered for a rimmed cartridge must be specially modified to allow the use of moon clips. The cylinder has to be cut so the moon clip sits flush on the mouth of each chamber without changing the head spacing of the cartridge.

However, only the inside of the chamber mouth has to be recessed, so even a cylinder cut for moon clips can be used without moon clips in the traditional manner. The necessary cylinder modification to accommodate the use of a moon clip can be part of the original factory design of the revolver or can be done as an aftermarket modification by a qualified gunsmith.

Moon clips advantages

A five round moon clip in .38 Special and a six round moon clip in .45 ACP.

A five round moon clip in .38 Special and a six round moon clip in .45 ACP.

Moon clips are designed to increase the speed and reliability of loading a revolver. Like a speedloader, the moon clip holds the full number of rounds required to reload the revolver together as a single unit. All of the rounds can be inserted into the chambers simultaneously, with a single motion.

Unlike the function of a speedloader, the cartridges are never separated from the moon clip—all the rounds stay attached to each other and to the moon clip even when the revolver cylinder is closed for firing. This has some advantages over a traditional speed loader. There is no fumbling to release the rounds from the loader and there is no risk of dropping or losing rounds that are released from the loader prematurely.

The moon clip, however, also aids the reloading process. Traditional revolvers can have difficulty in reliably extracting spent cartridges. If the revolver is not handled properly, one or more empty cartridges can get stuck and fail to extract.

In a worst case scenario, the ejector star can actually slip past one or more of the cartridge rims, making it even more difficult to clear the spent casing. This can’t occur with a moon clip because all of the empty cartridges eject simultaneously, and the moon clip provides a firm platform that the ejector cannot pass.

Moon clips disadvantages

The spring steel moon clip assists with loading and unloading.

The spring steel moon clip assists with loading and unloading.

Moon clips do have a number of potential disadvantages that must also be considered. As a tactical matter, using them limits your ability to perform partial reloads. Several defensive revolver schools advocate techniques that involve partial reloads during a gunfight, essentially keeping the revolver as full as possible by loading one or two rounds as is necessary and practical. This cannot be done with moon clips because loading and unloading is an all or nothing proposition; either all rounds are in or all rounds are out.

Moon clips also have the potential to decrease the reliability of a revolver. Moon clips are stamped from relatively thin spring steel and can be bent or slightly warped by improper handling. A bent moon clip has the potential to jam a revolver by inhibiting the proper rotation of the cylinder. This can be prevented, in large part, by careful handling of the loaded moon clips, and by checking each moon clip in the revolver for proper function.

Finally, moon clip revolvers involve some additional hassle and tools. While it’s possible to load and unload moon clips by hand, or with common tools like a pair of pliers, it is much easier with specialized tools. Moon clips should hold cartridges very securely, even if dropped, so inserting and removing the cartridges is necessarily difficult. Having the proper tools makes the process much easier, but involves additional steps not required with a traditional revolver.

Carry considerations

A black moon clip for .45 ACP.

A black moon clip for .45 ACP.

There is no doubt that moon clips can be a huge advantage in revolver competitions. For most revolver shooters, using them will be faster than other reloading methods. However, the use of moon clips for concealed carry involves a balancing of the previously discussed advantages and disadvantages.

Any reliability concerns can be minimized with proper handling of the moon clips. However, this requires a strategy for carrying moon clip reloads. Just carrying a loose moon clip in a pocket is not ideal. Moon clips carried in the pocket should be protected by an appropriate carrier that prevents flexing of the cartridges, which can bend the moon clip. There are also a number of ways they can be safely carried on a belt.

The moon clip is stamped from thin spring steel with a shape designed to maintain a secure grip on the cartridges.

The moon clip is stamped from thin spring steel with a shape designed to maintain a secure grip on the cartridges.

Interestingly, moon clips tend to work better in some calibers than others. The smaller rimmed calibers like 9mm, .38 Special and .357 Magnum use much thinner clips that are more prone to bending or damage. Moon clips for .45 ACP, on the other hand, are much thicker and less likely to bend.

Similarly, long and thin cartridges like .357 Magnum are more difficult to load than short and fat cartridges like .45 ACP. The stubby .45 ACP rounds simply drop into the cylinder much easier than the ganglier .357 Magnum rounds. Generally speaking, moon clips tend to work best in .45 ACP for all these various reasons.

Do you or don’t you?

A Blade-Tech (www. blade-tech.com) Twin Moon Clip Belt Holder showing only one moon clip. The second moon clip is inserted in the slot above the moon clip shown for a total of two.

A Blade-Tech (www. blade-tech.com) Twin Moon Clip Belt Holder showing only one moon clip. The second moon clip is inserted in the slot above the moon clip shown for a total of two.

If you want to use a revolver chambered for a rimless semi-auto cartridge, you simply have to use moon clips. If you have a 9mm, .40 S&W or .45 ACP revolver, moon clips are required. However, they also tend to work best in these calibers, particularly the larger calibers.

Using moon clips with rimmed revolver cartridges for self-defense purposes may be a closer call. You have to balance the advantages and disadvantages of moon clips. Of course, the advantage of a moon clip conversion for a rimmed cartridge revolver is that they can be used when desired, but do not always have to be used. This gives you the flexibility to use moon clips or not, depending upon the circumstances. You can even combine the use of moon clips and more traditional loading methods to fit any particular circumstances.

Ultimately, moon clips are just another way of loading a revolver. Whether they are right for you depends a lot upon your shooting and carry habits, as well as your tactical training. Only you can decide if moon clips may work for you, but it’s a reloading technique worth considering.

Related: Don’t make these concealed carry mistakes: Learn your rights to defend and keep yourself out of jail…

 

[ Duane A. Daiker is a contributing editor for CCM, but is otherwise a regular guy—not much different from you. Duane has been a lifelong shooter and goes about his life as an armed, responsible, and somewhat opinionated citizen. Duane can be contacted at Daiker@RealWorldCarryGear.com, or though his fan page on Facebook, and welcomes your comments and suggestions. ]


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