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Feed Components

Belts or spring-powered magazines commonly feed ammunition in automatic arms. These and other methods are described below.


Magazines enclose and move rounds typically under spring power. They can be organized into straight or slightly curved boxes, drums, tubes, etc. Magazines may be fixed or detachable, with the latter far more common in modern automatic arms. Fixed magazines are found in the M1 Garand, bolt action sporting rifles, tubular magazines of shotguns, lever-action rifles, some rimfire rifles, an occasional old or new pistol design, etc. Fixed magazines are built into the arm and are not normally removed.

Detachable box magazines with self-contained springs and followers are common on most individual arms. Such magazines can be carried in a pre-loaded, ready state and quickly exchanged. Detachable magazines are sometimes made into drums with a spiral or circular feed path. Box (stick) magazines are generally considered more reliable.


Ammunition belts are usually used on machine guns of squad size and larger. Belts can be cloth or flexible metal bands, or more commonly now, individual links held in position by the presence of each round. In the latter case the links disintegrate when the round is chambered. The feed mechanism must be carefully designed to discharge the loose links clear of the bolt, etc.

In U.S. practice, belts of .30 and .50 caliber (7.62 and 12.7mm) are delivered in steel cans with removable tops. The 1980s designed FN Minimi (U.S. M249) uses a plastic box to hold its 5.56mm linked belt. The box attaches to rails at the bottom of the arm. The minimi is unusual among machine gun designs in that it can also accept M16 box magazines.


Ammunition Strip
A strip is in essence a rigid belt. Fingers are formed in a strip of metal to hold each round. The strip usually travels horizontally through the gun and rounds are fed from it like a belt. Short (3 round) strips are sometimes joined to form a longer belt.


M1 Garrand Clip
A clip usually holding 8 to 10 rounds is pressed as a unit into the magazine. In the M1 Garrand it is called an en bloc clip. The clip remains in the gun until its last round is fired. That event usually ejects the clip and leaves the bolt open for insertion of the next clip.

The clip itself has no spring, instead relying on the magazine spring and movement of the bolt to feed out rounds. Clips should be designed so that either end can be inserted into the gun, simplifying their use. A common complaint about clips is that less than full clips are difficult to remove from the gun. However clips are otherwise convenient to use. Clip-fed guns are sometimes designed so that loose rounds can be inserted individually into the magazine, with or without a clip in place.

Chargers (Stripper Clip)

Ammunition Charging Strip
Chargers hold ammunition rounds in such a way that they can be pushed into a magazine with finger pressure. This is usually done in guns with fixed (non-removable) magazines or with a detachable magazine attached to the gun. The charger usually engages guide slots above the magazine so rounds can be pressed down into the magazine, and then the charger is discarded.

Chargers are sometimes designed for loading detachable magazines while outside the gun. Operationally this serves a different function than described above.


Designers have attempted, with little success, to feed from ammunition dumped loosely into a hopper. The idea is that the hopper aligns each cartridge properly so it can be fed into the arm without other user intervention. As Belleisen points out, belts are probably more practical since the loading function can be performed efficiently off-line at a factory or in camp.

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