Photo by U.S. Army/Sgt. Joe Padula

Bangbang, crap. Bangbang, crap. Repeat as necessary. The year was 1987. The place was Fort Benning, Ga. The weapon was a Colt M16A1 that I had meticulously maintained.

This was a bolt-over-base malfunction. SPORTS—or “Slap, Pull, Observe, Release, Tap, Squeeze,” what we were taught to do as immediate action in the event of a malfunction—wouldn’t fix it. In this case, the bolt slips past the base of the cartridge and catches it amidships. Most commonly, friction will carry the round partially out of the magazine and dent the body of the cartridge case, locking the bolt half open. To fix the stoppage, you have to lock the bolt to the rear, remove the magazine, clear the damaged round, reload and fire. Even under perfect conditions, that takes a while. The culprit this particular day was not the rifle, but its rubbish magazine.

Origin Story

In 1955, Eugene Stoner completed design work on a most remarkable firearm. The AR-10 melded modern state-of-the-art materials science drawn from the 1950s-era aircraft industry into several existing gun designs. The magazines for the original AR-10 were pressed from light-gauge aluminum and imbued with a waffle pattern to enhance their rigidity. They were originally intended to be disposable.

The AR-10 eventually morphed into the AR-15/M16. The gun’s magazines plodded predictably along this same evolutionary track. When the M16 hit the streets, the lightweight, pressed-aluminum magazines of the AR-10 were simply miniaturized to accommodate it. The waffle pattern became the more familiar longitudinal grooves, but the concept was the same. Ultimately, the small, boxy 20-rounders were replaced by 30-round magazines.

The lightweight magazine bodies were mightily susceptible to denting, but the biggest problem rested with the followers. The lack of no-tilt legs on those old cast-aluminum followers is what created such a headache for me that day so long ago at Fort Benning. The result was that bolt-over-base stoppage that was such a pain to clear.

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