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Reloading can be a time-consuming process. When fractions of a second count, either on the street or on the range, you want every advantage you can get. Find out whether a handgun magwell is a worthwhile purchase for your weapon.
What is a Magwell?
Magwell is a contraction of magazine well. In repeating firearms — handguns, rifles, and shotguns fed from integral or detachable magazines — the magazine well may also be called the “feed way.” This is simply a port or opening in the receiver or frame into which you insert a magazine.
The term “magwell,” however, has developed a separate meaning — a detachable accessory that acts as a guide.
Magazines and Clips
You’ve probably heard the terms “magazine” and “clip” used interchangeably. In fact, in many news media and film depictions, the term “clip” is more common. What’s the difference?
A magazine holds multiple cartridges under the tension of a compressed spring for feeding into the chamber of a firearm. Magazines may be non-removable — integral to the weapon — or detachable. How the magazine holds cartridges can vary depending on the design.
For example, most lever-action rifles and pump-action shotguns have a tubular magazine located below the barrel and parallel to it. In these types of magazines, the cartridges are inserted nose to primer.
However, in detachable magazines, the cartridges are loaded one on top of the other with the bullet noses facing the inside of the magazine body.
The purpose of a magazine is to feed a firearm. A clip, in contrast, is designed to hold cartridges in proper sequence for loading or charging a magazine. The most common type of clip is the stripper.
When you insert the stripper clip into the clip guide, you press the cartridges down by applying pressure to the top cartridge. The rounds are then stripped from the clip and loaded into the magazine. The clip contains no spring of its own.
Reloading Your Weapon
The process of reloading or charging a semi-automatic pistol or rifle under stress or time pressure requires regular practice. Fast, reliable reloading is one of the advantages of the semi-automatic pistol compared with the double-action, swing-out-cylinder revolver. However, when reloading quickly, it is possible that the edge of the magazine will catch on the edge of the frame and fail to insert.
In a competitive match, this can cost you valuable time. If you need to reload your weapon in a defensive context, you need to do so now. Failure to do so with sufficient speed may result in your being seriously injured or killed by your assailant.
Unfortunately, the effects of adrenaline cause fine motor skills to deteriorate. One of the consequences is that performing coordinated and dextrous actions becomes more difficult.
Training and regular practice are necessary for developing muscle memory, which increases your capabilities under these circumstances. The actions that you perform repetitively are what you will tend to perform under stress.
To perform an emergency reload, you should first raise the pistol to eye or chest level so that the target or threat remains visible. Depress the magazine catch with either your thumb or index finger, depending on the design, dropping the empty magazine. You may need to rotate the pistol in your hand to access the magazine catch.
As you’re performing this action, reach for a spare magazine with your support hand, extracting it from a pouch or carrier on your gun belt. Ensure that you’ve gained a good purchase on the magazine and insert it smoothly into the magazine well, seating it with your palm. Depress the slide stop or retract the slide with your support hand to chamber a cartridge.
The Right Tools for the Job
However, part of being prepared, whether that’s during a match or fighting for your life, is evaluating what tools and accessories are available that can improve the efficiency of your training and practical shooting.
Handgun magwells are a famous example. No, this is not the same as the magazine well of your handgun, which is part of the frame. A handgun magwell refers, instead, to a separate piece that you attach to the frame. The magwell, as an accessory, acts as a kind of funnel or skirt. When you attempt to reload, if you’re off by even a fraction of an inch, this can result in a failure to insert the magazine. The purpose of the magwell is to act as a guide.
Competition or Self-Defense?
The magwell began in competition shooting, where reloading quickly and efficiently is often necessary for success. One of the disadvantages of a magwell is that it causes the base of your handgun to become flared. If your priority is winning competitive matches, the increase in bulk may be irrelevant. You’re carrying your firearm openly anyway.
However, if your priority is concealed carry, every increase in a firearm’s dimensions is a potential liability. There are, however, several handgun magwells on the market that are designed with concealed carry in mind.
Beveling the magazine well of a handgun’s frame is a common modification and can be considered an alternative to a magwell accessory. The advantage of beveling, as a gunsmithing operation, is that it tapers the inside diameter of the magazine well, increasing the entry port size without adding bulk to the weapon. However, it’s important to remember that this can weaken the walls of the frame. If the frame is not strong enough, it may crack under tension.
The ultimate question remains: “Do you really need a magwell on your handgun?” The answer is that it depends. If you’re a competitive target shooter and you want to plug every time leak, a magwell may be a suitable addition to your handgun.
In a self-defense context, it’s more complicated. Do you foresee reloads as being necessary, first of all? Most defensive shootings do not require that the private citizen reload their sidearm, but you can never predict how many rounds you will need in a defensive shooting.
Second, do you find that you need a magwell to help guide your reloads? You should be able to determine this through practice. If you can reload your firearm consistently without the need for an additional accessory, save yourself the expense. If, however, you find that you could use all the help you can get, consider buying one and experimenting with it.
For self-defense, as with any accessory you attach to your gun, ensure that you practice carrying it concealed, in different positions, and drawing from concealment.
If the magwell you’ve chosen causes your weapon to print more readily through your clothing or renders carry less comfortable, the only way to know this is through experimentation.
Whether a handgun magwell is an accessory worth buying depends on you. If you think you could use the help, and the magwell doesn’t increase the bulk, there are several options.