Sunday, May 31, 2015

Product Review: Tapco Mini-14 Magazines

Proprietary magazines are the bane of the firearms hobby. Generally the factory ones are the best to use, but wouldn't it be nice if all guns were like AR-15 style rifles? Imagine having your choice of several brands of high quality, low priced magazines, instead of being stuck buying what the factory offers.
I have hoped for a while now that Magpul would develop a PMAG for the Mini-14. Those hopes have been buoyed recently by the introduction of PMAGs for the AK variant rifles, the HK G36 rifles and  the AICS bolt action rifle platforms Remington 700 style). The Mini-14 is far more popular than the G36 in the U.S. so why not the Mini-14 Magpul?

Ruger's factory magazines for the Mini-14 are of excellent quality, but (and this is a big but...) they are heavy and expensive ($30+ for the 20 rounders and $40+ for the 30 rounders). The factory magazines weigh in at roughly 9 ounces.
The Tapco ones below are almost exactly half that weight (4.4 oz), similarly their cost is roughly half what the factory ones sell for. I paid $17 for this .30 round Gen2 Tapco magazine at the gun show. Looking online I found Midway USA has them for $15.49.
 
If you know the history of the Mini-14 you will remember that the factory high capacity magazines were once available only to the military and law enforcement crowd (thanks to a policy by Bill Ruger). He once said on national TV that "No honest man needs more than 10 rounds in any gun". He went on to say: "I never meant for "simple civilians" to have my 20 or 30 round mags..." gee, thanks Bill.....

Well thank goodness that policy was changed shortly after William Ruger passed. He was a brilliant business man and an excellent firearms inventor, but like many brilliant people he had plenty of bad ideas to go along with his good ones.

I had purchased a Tapco Gen1 magazine a few years ago. I made my decision to buy the Tapco based on my experience using them in my Romanian AK-variant rifle and I assumed their Mini-14 magazines would work as well in my Ruger....not so much. 
The problem (with the Gen1) was with the feeding of the rounds into the breech area. The cartridges would get stuck. I believe the cause of this was the weak polymer formulation allowing the magazine body to stretch laterally instead of keeping the cartridges in line.
Tapco took the criticism to heart and went back to the drawing board to redesign the magazine.

Tapco added a metal plate to reinforce the hole that locks the magazine into place, they changed the formulation of both the magazine body and the follower. They also increased the spring pressure while shortening the overall spring length.
I have heard that there have been continual refinements to the Gen2 since they were introduced (makes me glad I waited a while to do this review).

So onto the review. I bought this new magazine at the gun show this last weekend and decided to compare it with the original one that I had already attempted to make use of.
At 1st glace you might not be able to tell the magazines apart.

From the front you can see the metal reinforcement plate added to the lock up hole. You may also note that the original one has a distorted hole, this magazine was only used a few times!
  
You can see the new magazine has a different color follower. It also appears to be made of a different polymer than the original, it appears to have an impregnated lubricant, it has a "waxy" feel to it.

So I took them apart to see if there were any obvious differences inside. The magazine bodies look and feel identical, except for one important thing: The new ones feel stronger. The polymer is different, but the look, size, thickness of the body and external texture is the same on both.
The Gen 2 magazine springs are slightly shorter, but have a stiffer spring rate. This may have been part of the problem with the Gen 1 magazine.

When assembled you can really tell the difference in the strength of the magazine body, the feed lips on the Gen1 mags flex considerably more than the Gen2 mags do.

I decided to measure them empty, then load them to see if I could measure any stretching of the magazine body. During this I noticed the Gen1 mag was easier to load with its lighter weight spring.
They both measured .831" when empty, the Gen1 magazine measured .860" when loaded and the Gen2 measured .844". Proof positive that the Gen1 mags stretch more when loaded than the Gen2 ones.

So the only thing left to do was try out the new magazine and see if it will function. 
We brought two Mini-14s for the test. One is my 580 prefix stainless Ranch Rifle and the other is a new, fresh out of the box, 583 prefix gun.

First we tried my gun, The first 4 fired without a hitch, then a failure to feed, then two more rounds, another failure, then 4 more rounds and another failure. Then I had a failure to eject.
All told 5 FTF and 1 FTE, it was not looking good for these mags.
Here is a picture of one of the failure to feed, the cartridges were not being presented to the bolt, they would lie just below where the bolt could pick them up.
 Next we tried the other Mini-14. We noticed that the mag wobbled a lot more on the new gun with the factory stock, than it does on the older gun with an aftermarket Butler Creek folding stock

In the new Mini-14 the magazine seemed to work better, only one failure to feed on the 1st 30 rounds. We ran another 30 rounds through the magazine and had three more failures with feeding.

Overall I would say that these still need work. The Tapco engineers either have a test gun that is not very picky or they need to back to the drawing board.

 Anyone interested in buying some slightly used Tapco Mini-14 magazines?



Sources:
Keep and Bear Arms 
Tapco 
Best Mags for Mini-14 by Nutnfancy 
Magpul
Midway USA