AR Magazines & Case for the 20-Round Mag with Steve “Yeti” Fisher

20-round magazine

We recently sat down with Steve “Yeti” Fisher of Sentinel Concepts to discuss his AR magazine preference and the case for the 20-round AR magazine. We explore what he looks for in an AR magazine, how to best determine if a magazine is safe to rely on, and in what cases he prefers to use shorter magazines, and more.

Be sure to read past articles with Steve “Yeti” Fisher here:

Q: Can you talk about what you look for in a magazine and share what you prefer to use?

Steve “Yeti” Fisher, Sentinel Concepts – When I look at magazines that I choose for myself, I look at their ability to feed a variety of ammo reliably. Obviously, projectile lengths between 55, 62, 69, 77..and 85-grainers all matter. Having a magazine that can feed all of these reliably is crucial to me. I have seen and tested magazines throughout my career from various manufacturers. I’d say that since the late 80’s up until today, I’ve had a good run at almost everything that is out there regarding magazines and followers.

In my case, doing testing involving perhaps 15-20 different lower and firearms manufacturers, finding commonality and something that will work almost all the time is critical, as nothing is foolproof.

I say with no real bias that the best magazines I have run across are the Gen 3 Magpuls. They are amazing. After that, I go to the D&H/” Hartford” (NHMTG) metal magazines. Those are ultimately my go-to magazines for everything that I do. I’ve had great success with them and never hesitate to use them in courses. While there are other magazines that are good, they are not what I would want.

Q: What kinds of issues should we be looking for in our magazines? Are there things that go bad?

Steve “Yeti” Fisher, Sentinel Concepts – Cracking is one thing. I see this happen on the rear spine, near the feed lips. That can happen when people store them loaded for an extended period. Even without the cracking, you may get a spreading due to tension.

Spread feed lips can be an issue that occurs when someone simply unloads a magazine by hand. Depending on how one unloads the magazine, it can cause feed lip bends.

The nose-diving of followers is an issue. This is something that should be long behind us, with the old green and black followers in metal magazines. In recent years, there are enhanced followers that have come out, from Magpul, for example, that are an ideal replacement in these older magazines.

Magazines can also go bad simply through use. Dropping them on concrete or stepping on them at the range…a lot of things can happen. Ultimately, magazines are an expendable wear item. They are inexpensive enough that when I have a problem with one, I get rid of them. Once they’re done, they’re done. I would strongly advise anyone who reads this article not to get married to a piece of metal or polymer that is a wear item on your gun.

Q: Let’s say someone purchases some new magazines…Does each person need to test their mags on their own specific gun before they depend on them? I can imagine some are hesitant due to ammo shortages…

Steve “Yeti” Fisher, Sentinel Concepts – They should, within reason. An easy thing to do is load one or two rounds in the magazine, fire the gun and make sure the bolt locks to the rear. If it does, cool. That is an excellent test to use.

Some people want to test to see that the magazine drops free from the gun 100 percent of the time. That is more of a manufacturer spec tolerance with the makers of all these guns and lowers that are out there on the market. I don’t necessarily worry about that because of the way that I reload my rifles. I am a very positive reloader, so I grab my spare source of ammunition first, bring it up to the gun, rip/strip the magazine, and insert the new one. I do this because it works 100 percent of the time with all of the firearms and magazines that I use or guns that I may be borrowing for specific courses where I find myself using the end-users weapons. So, while you’ll see a lot of talk about this, I feel it is important to some, but not many.

Q: I use a lot of Magpuls and metal mags from DSG. I’ve seen magazines from other manufacturers that I’ve wanted to try, Lancer as an example, but ultimately avoided due to not wanting to do “extensive” testing. How much do you need to shoot with a magazine before you have trust in it?

Steve “Yeti” Fisher, Sentinel Concepts – I think if the magazine will take two cycles fully loaded, say 60 rounds, It’s going to be pretty reliable for what 85-90 percent of people are doing with that gun. Especially in today’s day and age where people are being conservative with their ammo expenditures. I will say that Lancer makes a good magazine that works. It’s going to work for you as a homeowner, and if you shot two full mags of it through your gun and the gun locked to the rear, I think it’s a magazine you could be confident in it at that point.

Put it in service and use it. Mark it, label it, or whatever you choose to do so you know if a particular magazine is having issues, you can get rid of it, or only use it with dummy rounds for manipulation practice.

Q: Not to open a can of worms, but you load your 30-round magazines to 30, correct? I know this is something that’s been overblown in the past…

Steve “Yeti” Fisher, Sentinel Concepts – It’s way overblown. It’s bullshit, to be brutally honest. I put 30 rounds in my magazines because they are designed to hold 30. It’s simple. With spring tensions and followers created the way they are with these guns, you should be able to seat and lock a 30-round loaded magazine, even with one in the chamber on most modern rifles today. Yes, some rifles are questionable, and some guys are still living in the 70s and 80s with bullshit range mantra, and I understand it. But the only time most people are going to top off or do a magazine exchange with their gun is probably at the range. I load 30, I expect to shoot the magazine’s capacity, and then I do a bolt lock reload (laughs). It’s pretty simple.

Q: Lately, I’ve found myself gravitating more towards a 20-round magazine. Let’s dive into the case for the 20-round magazine.

Steve “Yeti” Fisher, Sentinel Concepts – I love this topic; I get this asked a lot because I take many 20-round magazines with me on the range. I have multiple reasons.  

The first is for shooting prone while zeroing. Depending on the range, the target, if you’re shooting off a bipod or a bag, a 20-round magazine makes life a lot easier as far as elevation, depending on target placement. For me, a 20-round magazine is what I want if I am going to be shooting off a bipod or a bag.

20-round magazine

A 20-round magazine is also something I use for load separation. For me, when I zero my guns, all my guns are zeroed with 77-grain ammo. 77-grain is where I live and what I shoot a lot of. While I have 55 and 62-grain for up-close burner drills and basic manipulation stuff, the easiest way for me to separate ammo is through the use of 30s and 20-round magazines. It’s also nice to have the 20s loaded up and in my bag for any time I need to zero.

Another reason I like to use 20 round magazines is for low-profile carry in backpacks. If you’re carrying a small AR with a LAW folder in a backpack, having a 20-round magazine in the gun makes for an easier withdrawal from the bag, especially if you are using a low-profile, skinny bag vs. a larger one. 

Once you combine an optic, light, laser, and folding stock, that 20-round magazine makes things a lot easier. You can then simply grab a 30-rounder out of the bag for your reload if needed.

There are also guns out there like the Ruger American 5.56 bolt-action. A 20-round magazine is perfect for that gun when I am driving around on the farm on my ATV or out coyote hunting. It makes for a gun that is very light, handy, and portable. I think guys overlook it because it’s ten bullets less, but there’s still merit to it, and it’s something that more shooters should consider adding to their collection.

For hunting, it can be easier to block a 20-round magazine to 5 or 10 rounds with a magazine limiter than it is a 30-round magazine for states that require that.

20-round magazine

Finally, I’d mention that the 20-round magazine has some good applications for law enforcement, especially regarding belt space. It’s a lot easier to put a 20-rounder on a belt than it is a big 30-rounder sticking out. I got done with a training class in California where some agencies have a policy where they cannot have these big, evil, scary magazines sticking out and visible on their kit. Having a low-profile 20 on their belt tends to blend in very well in comparison. Overall, they are also easier to stow on a belt or in a pocket.   

Once you understand the applications of the 20-round magazine, they start to make a lot of sense. Honestly, if they were not good magazines that didn’t have their place, companies would not still be producing them. If your readers don’t own any 20s, I think they should pick up a few and see how they can fit them into their inventory. They might be surprised just how handy and valuable they can be in the right circumstance.


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3 years ago

The idea of separating out premium ammo from blaster ammo by using 20rd’ers is quite clever, and not something I had thought of.

3 years ago

I use nothing but 20’s, lighter, more compact, plenty of fire power

Brad Graham
Reply to  beaky
3 years ago

Still using ancient COLT 20 round steel mags
and they still pass muster.

6 months ago

The reason to down load a 30 round mag is because it is easier and more fool proof to insert into the rifle..I have seen many fully loaded 30 round mags fall to the ground because they did not get fully inserted into the rifle..

3 years ago

I would seriously question loading a metal mag to 30 and expecting to shoot to bolt hold open anywhere but on a flat range.

Gen M3 Pmags are the best yet.

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