If you’re an ordinary citizen I believe you should have lots and lots of magazines. Loaded ones. Every magazine you own should be loaded. Always. Ideally, you should have dozens of these magazines—most of them for your rifle—placed in advisable positions in your home, automobile, vacation property, and any other place you own and frequent.
Why Always Loaded?
Magazines are made to provide an on-demand, interchangeable-packet source of rounds for your trigger presses. Note, however, that they don’t work that way unless they’re already loaded when you need them. No one goes into a gunfight with empty mags with the plan that they’ll load them when the trouble starts. Surely you have no plans to get into a gunfight, but you don’t get to pick the time, date, place, or conditions for when someone will bring a gunfight to you. Not to put too fine a point on it, if you’re not ready and loaded at that moment you die.
Those who do not have your best interests at heart will tell you that preparation is for paranoid whackjobs. Ignore them. Preparation is a fundamental responsibility, and yours to fulfill. Many responsible citizens keep extra ammo on hand. If that ammo is stored in boxes or loose in ammo cans rather than in magazines it is entirely useless when you may need it. It makes no sense to store useless ammunition. Be responsible and keep your ammo in mags.
Won’t keeping them loaded ruin the spring?
Nope, not for a long time. Series of loading and unloading (shooting) wears out the spring far faster. Modern magazines can be kept loaded for years with no diminishment in function. A couple of caveats to observe include not loading them beyond capacity—in fact downloading by 2 or 3 rounds helps better preserve function—and keep them bone dry, as your ammo is exposed to the atmosphere of wherever they’re stored. Ammo has a varied shelf life, especially with regard to the conditions of their storage environment, so have a plan to rotate stored-magazine ammo into your training on a schedule (say, 6 months to 1 year+). Oldest first: first in, first out.
One caveat: if you’re using polymer mags with polymer feed lips (e.g. PMAGs) it makes good sense to keep the dust cover on your stored mags. Older generation polymer magazines had some trouble with mouth deformation over time. While new gen mags seem to have addressed this in some measure, it still likely makes good sense to use the cover to provide a little support.
Where and How to Store Loaded Mags
The primary point of storing loaded magazines is so that there’s ready ammo for an emergency situation (despite how unlikely that would be, the point is preparation). So the other component of this preparation is effective location of your stored magazines. Effective location is likely going to be different from one person to another, so choose what works best for you.
For instance, if you carry a rifle and/or pistol with you in your car or truck, it stands to reason that you should have a cache of extra mags in your automobile. In a time of civil unrest, your home is likely a place you’ll want to be able to defend, so select one or two (or more) places in your home to place a cache—make sure it’s an easily/normally accessible location and not the attic or a secret compartment behind the refrigerator or something. It’s likely best to locate an ammo cache in a bedroom closet, in a gun safe, under your bed, or some other normally accessible location. Out of plain sight, yes, but not out of quick and easy reach when you want it.
A storage cache can take many forms. It could be a few magazines laid out on a closet shelf or it might be a dedicated loaded-magazine storage apparatus affixed to a wall or perhaps an organized system of storage containers. Or maybe just a duffel bag. Whatever suits your needs and preferences and preserves your ammunition from the destructive effects of moisture will work.
A popular way to organize stored magazines is with a magazine box, like this MTM Tactical Mag Can.
I’m not a big fan of plastic ammo cans because they break more easily and they don’t have an airtight seal, like most steel ammo cans do. However, the organization this sort of box affords can be helpful.
If you’re storing your magazine inside your climate-controlled home, you might find that soft-sided, loose storage works best. In that case, small duffle bags can fit the bill (image below):
Or you might go fancy and use an array of these magazine holders.
A Simple Plan for Ordinary Citizens
Here’s a way to begin and maintain your effort to have loaded magazines on hand. Create a schedule for magazine and ammo purchases and stick to it. An example would be to purchase one rifle magazine every week. Take it home, load it, and place it in one of your ready caches. Every so often as your storage requires, purchase a 500 or 1000-round box of ammo (because its much cheaper that way).
Note that you need only do this to the point where you believe you have a sufficient collection of loaded mags. For one person sufficient might mean 10 magazines in one or two places. For others, it might mean 100 or 300 mags divided into 4 or 5 cache locations. Build yours to suit your preferences or needs. Once you reach your sufficient magazine point, you need only buy ammo to fuel your training, while rotating out the oldest ammo in magazine storage.