USPSA Pistol Shooting: Managing the Mag Release

The modern semi-automatic pistol uses a single or double-stack magazine held in place by a catch. To remove the magazine requires pressing a magazine release button which disengages the catch and allows the magazine to fall free. Pistols normally have this button located on the left side of the grip frame, just aft of the bottom of the trigger guard. For many right-handed shooters this is perfectly functional, allowing the right thumb to shift slightly to press the mag release but not so easy that the mag is dropped inadvertently.

Unfortunately there are quite a few people that can’t easily reach the mag release so they have to pivot the pistol counter-clockwise about 45 degrees to allow the thumb to reach. For those of us in USPSA, this can be a real problem, especially when moving or turning to the left. The trouble relates to that all-important safety rule: the 180. At no time is the muzzle of a shooter’s pistol allowed to break the 180-degree plane that separates up-range from down-range. When shooting my SR9, the sticky mag release (even after it was massaged it was still really stiff) would often require that I pivot the gun even further t0 get a good, solid punch with my thumb. I had a few very close calls at matches that made me change how I held the pistol during mag changes: I had to hold the pistol to my right, well offline so that even with the pivot it was well short of breaking the 180.

I’ve heard arguments from 1911 shooters that this is just a part of life and that everyone should be able to flip the gun to reach the mag release then flip it back to shoot. They claim that this is actually a safety feature to avoid accidentally dropping the mag. Well, I rather doubt that John Moses Browning intended for his large-handed brethren to be able to operate the pistol easily while the rest of us were kept safe from ourselves by not being able to reach the release. No, in fact I think that he simply designed the gun as best he could to work well for most of his intended customers.

When I recently switched from the SR9 to the M&P9 I found that while the mag release was vastly superior to that of the SR9, it was still really tough to insure that I could reach it every single time, even with the smallest “palm swell” insert on the backstrap. There were some memorable miscues where I just couldn’t make it happen. This got me thinking…

This past summer (2010) I had a chance to shoot Bill’s Sig 226 for a week. He had the mag release switched to the right side since he is a lefty. After some fiddling around, I determined that using the middle finger of my right hand to punch the mag release worked really well. It allowed my trigger finger to index high along the slide, where it naturally tends to go, and required no pivoting of the pistol at all. Maybe this would work for the M&P.

I looked over the manual and switching the mag release from left to right (and vice-versa) was incredibly easy, requiring only a small punch, screwdriver, or even a knife blade. I made the change and haven’t looked back. I can’t believe how easy it is to drop the mags this way! The M&P has a raised, stippled button, which really helps but having it on the right side is clearly better for me and I have never accidentally dropped a mag after about 5k rounds. Not only that but my mag changes are noticeably quicker.

So, if you have small hands this might be a good solution. And if you have an M&P, you can try it both ways during your next visit to the range and see for yourself.

Now, where’s that Brownells catalog? I need to order a Lefty mag release for my 1911!

About William Daugherty

William Daugherty is a firearms enthusiast, competitive shooter and Second Amendment advocate living in the Upper Connecticut River Valley region of Northern New England.
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