EMA Tactical Countdown Magazine Review

Aliens is my favorite action movie of all time. You’ve got Hudson running around screaming “Game over!” and Apone snarling “Nobody touch nothin’,” but I really liked the gritty combat of colonial marines vs. ghoulish space aliens.

Looking at all of the futuristic weapons used in the movie, the standard M41A pulse rifle with its 10mm “explosive-tipped standard, caseless, light armor-piercing round” was the one I always liked the best. With 100 rounds of a .40-caliber round on tap, I figured the M41A was a pretty cool infantry weapon.

Probably the most interesting aspect of the rifle was the digital display on the right side of the gun, which gave the shooter an exact magazine round count. I wasn’t sure how useful it would be while engaged in combat, but I figured it would be nice to be able to check your mag load during a pause in combat. Glancing down to see “63” on the counter sure beats pulling the magazine and trying to guess.

Though not digital (or designed for explosive tipped ammo), there is an analog equivalent for today’s combat rifle.

EMA Tactical Countdown

The EMA Tactical Countdown magazine is a polymer, 30-round magazine for the AR-15/M4/M16 platform guns. The magazines are black. While resembling any number of other polymer AR mags, the EMA has a distinctive feature that clearly distinguishes it from others.

At the rear of the magazine (facing the shooter) is a clear plastic window. Visible through the window is a simple device that gives the shooter a count of the rounds remaining in the magazine.

The indicator is marked for an exact round count, but the more useful feature is the color code. The indicator is colored red, yellow and green, which indicates an approximate round count. Red is 0-9 rounds, yellow is 10-19 rounds and green would be anything more than 19 rounds.

I believe it would be highly unlikely that under the stress of combat anyone could glance down and pick out an exact number. However, the brightly colored backgrounds do stand out, which could be useful in helping someone decide if they should reload or not.

The EMA magazine has a second window in the floorplate of the magazine. This window will not give an accurate round count, but the color-coded background will still give an approximate count.

Additional Features

Though not the main feature, the Tactical Countdown magazine uses an effective anti-tilt follower. I tried to get the follower to tilt or bind up, but could not force it to do so.

The body of the magazine has a slight waffle pattern offering a decent grip during magazine changes. The body is not aggressively textured, but with very sweaty hands, I had no problems with the magazine slipping around.

Range Time

The magazine performed flawlessly on the range. Feeding was consistent and no malfunctions were experienced with the rifle while using the EMA magazine. Although it would be nice to give you some exciting story, the fact of the matter is boring is good.

My real concern lay with the disassembly and cleaning of the magazine. I wasn’t sure how easily the mag would come apart, or more importantly, how easy it would be to put back together.

As it turns out, disassembly and cleaning was easy. The round count is essentially a small tape measure, and unless you roughly pull on it while cleaning (damaging it), it will not give you any problems during reassembly.

Final Thoughts

I don’t know how useful the round count window is, but from the safe position in my office chair, I can see where it could be helpful in some circumstances. The only concern I have is the reliability of the magazine over an extended period of time on the battlefield.

In all fairness, my magazines functioned perfectly well, and I can find no fault with them…for my uses. If you are spending time in one of the many combat zones around the world, you will have to balance the usefulness of the round count window against the possibility of reliability issues.

(Side note for all of the Aliens fans out there… The role of Sgt. Apone was played by Al Matthews. Matthews is a former Marine with 13 combat awards and decorations. Among his other accomplishments, Matthews was the first black Marine to be meritoriously promoted to the rank of sergeant during the Vietnam War. I had the pleasure of corresponding with Matthews, and was impressed by him. His personal web site is here.

[Richard Johnson is a firearms instructor, law enforcement veteran, contributor to Guns and Patriots, and the publisher of Guns Holsters And Gear.]



Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


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  • Raoul O’Shaughnessy

    Why not just build your own, with full auto and underslung pump shotgun? This guy did just that and the digital ammo countdown works too!
    http://www.max-11.com/TopSecret.html

  • KC

    it’s interesting to see how the AR15 is so wide spread in the civilian market and the M4/M16 platform so popular in the law enforcement and military markets that you get a lot interesting an innovative designs for magazines and other accessories.

  • Jeff

    Mmm…, my guess is the military people are still going to opt for a p-mag with the window, until we have 100 round caseless ammo, IMO, knowing whether your magazine is more or less than half full is all you need

  • Bob Z Moose

    Wow. When there is no more things to do to a magazine, they will make a round counter. It’s silly and doesn’t do much beyond giving the recreational shooter the ability to check the amount of ammo before he has to reload the mag. Mil/LE would just drop the mag and put in a new one.

    • I have used these magazines. The round counter is really cool. I shoot mostly for gun, and so I shoot until empty, so I don’t need a round counter, but if I were LEO or solider, and had a limited supply of ammo, I could see the potential.

  • MibZ

    Since I grew up with Halo I’ve always been i interested in ammo counters, but all the ones I’ve seen have been overly-complicated and look like they’d be both impractical AND prone to failure. I saw one where it was a large digital add-on to a handgun magazine, one where there was a digital display that attached on a 20mm rail that would count based on sharp movements of the gun from recoil. That obviously seems like it would fail if you smacked your rifle butt on a wall, but during the video it correctly counted 4 rounds where humans perceived three being fired. (Fully automatic of course) I’ve seen others similar to those, but those are the most recent.

    But something like this seems a lot more reliable than anything digital, as much as we all love technology. I’d buy one for giggles if I had an AR15.

  • Harald Hansen

    Re reliability: If the tape rolling mechanism acts up, I guess you could just discard it, retaining the function of a plain 30-round magazine?

  • Likvid

    I wondered if it’s just CAA countdown mag copy, or some sort of license, then I found EMA is split company from CAA.

    By the way I wanted to purchase some, because it’s one of the few plastic AR-15 mags available here, until I heard from someone it’s actually terrible. He wasn’t been specific though.

  • gybryant

    *ahem* “10mm explosive-tipped, caseless, standard light armor-piercing round”

    Sorry. I’ve seen that movie waaaaay too many times.

    Oh, and wake me when someone makes a working version of the M56 Smartgun.

  • Komrad

    This guy actually made one of those guns.

    http://www.max-11.com/TopSecret.html

    He used a registered Suomi M31 smg in 9mm for the rifle part and 870 sbr for the shotgun part.
    It uses 50 round Suomi “coffin” quad stack mags and has the digital round counter.

  • cc19

    I tried these before. Solid mags from what I could tell; no issues feeding or anything. They also fit more snug in my mag well better than all my other mags. They’re also comparatively priced to other popular polymer mags (at least where I got mine from).

  • Robert
  • armed_partisan

    I really like these, but I haven’t jumped on board yet because I’m leery of the reliability of tape measures. I’ve never owned a tape measure that I would bet my life on.

  • Speedyfish

    “Hey, maybe you haven’t been keeping up with current events, but we just got our asses kicked, pal!” Nobody panics like Hudson.

    Thanks for the review. I saw these on-line, but I wasn’t sure it they were Jam-O-Matics or what. Seemed like the counter might interfere with functioning, but doesn’t that seem to be a problem.

    ‘fish

  • Sid

    Like many, I liked the idea of the M41A Pulse Rifle having a counter. The sentry guns had counter also (IIRC).

    But in reality, I can’t see this being necessary. The bolt locks back and the rifle makes a distinct sound when firing the last round. Change magazines and carry on.

  • Lance

    While a counter is good to qualify or shoot at a match, combat data shows otherwise. In the heat of battle most troops dont pay attention to counters so they are useless.

  • Nate

    Neat

  • DaveR

    In essence, I like the idea and the color coding seems like a practical reference.

    It looks like a dead simple design and my only concern/question is what happens if the tape mechanism binds up–could it potentially retard the follower?

  • To me it seems little more than a gimmick to sell their magazines. Well, actually, there is one other thing it seems to be – a Murphy attractant; it seems it is almost certain if the tape tears, shreds, binds or breaks it will screw up the works. Who needs more things to be able to go wrong in a combat situation – not me! I think simpler is better, in this case.

    All the best,
    GB

  • Raoul O’Shaughnessy

    Just stick with a transparent mag (a’la AUG/G36/etc) and know at a glance.

  • subase

    An effective round counting device would be something with tactile feedback. Then round counting would be a completely physical and not require looking, a more complex movement, so eventually it would become instinctual. The device would be in the stock to be felt by ones cheek and/or in ones grip to be felt by ones hand.

  • Rijoenpial

    Hi guys!

    To Raoul: the problem is the ones hidden inside the magwell that you can’t see! Hence why the Pmag has an orange painted line on the spring!These mags, especially given the window at the base of the mag, are not supposed to be dropped but put back in a pouch for tactical reloads! For SOF guys, SWAT and regular police officers, I can see the benefits! I would have put a more fluorescent color on them and ways to have them visible for night vision!

    The idea sounds, but I think it still needs some more work to make it useful in all combat type situations! And to make sure it is rugged enough to endure the rigors of combat!

    Cheers!

  • charles222

    Yeah, you don’t need these magazines. If keeping track of rounds is all that important, just load tracers at 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25 round intervals, plus two or three at the bottom of the magazine to let yourself know you’re about to be empty.

  • Don

    I like this idea. Seems like a pretty robust mechanism, fully mechanical, and doesn’t interfere with the primary function of the magazine.

    -D

    • Roland HUGHES

      When I order 10 of them, I had a problem with one of the, but after I figured out how it worked, I “Re-Crimpled” the tape and all was fine… In the event of a “Field Emergency” though, the mags WILL WORK with out counter working, i.e., if it should break, (the ribbon), it will roll itself up into the mechanism and you can continue to reload and fire all day long…

  • Kaz

    Didn’t the Japanese do this with one of their Bren clones in WW2, or am I mistaken?

  • Joe Schmoe

    The Israeli Army chose CAA Countdown mags for their next standard magazine, so these do have a real battlefield presence.

  • Looks like a cool piece of kit, but I would like to see how it holds up when it’s dirty. Thanks for the review.

  • charles222

    Huh, that is a cool note about Al Matthews. It was pretty common in the 80s to have actual former soldiers/Marines playing themselves; the technical director, Dale Dye, also played the company commander (iirc) on Platoon.

    • Roland HUGHES

      I served with Dale Dye in the 80’s at 1st FSSG, Camp Pendleton, CA… BEFORE he went full time actor… LOL

  • Latimer the Cat

    It would be nice if the bottom indicator read the same number of rounds as the back indicator (30 as-opposed-to 24) in a 30 round load-up. So much for the reliability of the main feature.

  • benji

    Mag take down and rebuild???

    Please help me out on this. How in the heck do you take it apart? I cannot find any info from EMA or anywhere else on the web that details a mag take down.
    Thanks

    • Roland HUGHES

      The mags come apart in the normal function, BUT, it has what appears to be a “Tape Measure” device on the inside that does the actulal count. after pulling of the buttplate for the mag, carefully remove the buttplate follower and your done, the spring comes rought out along with the Anti-Tilt Follower… DONE