Handgunning: Regarding Reloads

Regarding reloads, be realistic and don't overcomplicate it.

Handgunning: Regarding Reloads

Photos by Alfredo Rico

The act of changing magazines in a pistol seems to be an easy enough concept. The gun runs out of ammunition and the shooter puts more in. Let’s try and avoid complicating the matter.

For the armed citizen, statistics suggest that you’ll never even have to reload. (Gunfights tend to end quickly, precluding the need for a reload.) Still, good training demands that we be prepared.

Most readers have not been in a gunfight, but I have. In my experience, I can tell you that you’re not going to count rounds. Chances are that you’ll only have a vague idea of how many shots you fired. Certainly, there’s always an exception to the rule, but allow me to fall on my sword.


In my first gunfight, I ran a Mossberg 590 completely dry. As it turns out, this experience matches up with several of my friends who have been involved in similar altercations. However, if you have to reload, you best learn to do it right. Here are a few tips on reloading in a fight.


//content.osgnetworks.tv/gunsandammo/content/photos/Regarding-Reloads-1.jpg
Usually, the magazine needs to be changed when the slide locks to the rear.

Slide-Lock Reload

The first reload that I teach — and the one that I focus on the most in my training — is the slide-­lock reload. Slide lock occurs when the pistol is completely out of ammunition and the slide is locked to the rear, usually by the slide-­lock lever on a pistol. Sometimes this occurs unintentionally with a thumb that rides under the lever and pushes the slide lock lever up while shooting. It can also happen when the rebound spring on a slide lock lever is weak and allows the lever to bounce up and intercept the slide during recoil. In any case, the shooter sometimes feels a hard or static trigger pull (i.e., limited or no movement). That person will then glance quickly at the pistol to verify its condition and check to see that it’s not simply out of battery or stopped due to a malfunction.

If the pistol has exhausted its supply of ammunition and created a slide-­lock, the shooter will then drop the empty magazine by pressing the mag release with the firing hand while simultaneously acquiring a full magazine and inserting it into the pistol’s magazine well.

Once the new magazine is secure, the slide is manipulated by one of several methods to be sent forward to reload the chamber and ready the pistol to fire. While this is happening, the shooter should determine if the threat needs to be re-­engaged, make an assessment for other potential threats or disengage from the fight and bid a hasty, safe retreat.

//content.osgnetworks.tv/gunsandammo/content/photos/Regarding-Reloads-2.jpg
With a speed reload, the slide is forward. A round may still be in the chamber.

If you are proficient at performing a slide-­lock reload, then you should be able to perform a slide-­forward, also known as a “speed reload” or “in-­battery reload.” The difference is that the shooter doesn’t feel the slide lock to the rear and often learns about the empty condition of the magazine when feeling and hearing the click of a pulled trigger rather than the report of a gunshot.


When I teach the reloads, I instruct students to grasp the slide in an overhand grip behind the ejection port and forcibly rip the slide rearward until it stops, then release. Releasing it rather than easing the slide forward allows the slide to return to battery under the power of its recoil spring’s compressed energy.

I teach this method because I have to assume that most students will not practice as much as I’d like them to. This method offers a shooter a good baseline skillset.

For many who train to a higher level of proficiency with a handgun, shooters often depress the slide-­lock lever (calling it a “slide release”) and allow the slide to go forward. This is usually a faster method that can save a few tenths of a second during a reload. However, pressing the slide lock to send the slide forward can cause premature wear to the slide-­lock lever with certain firearm types such as the Model 1911.


Reloading quickly and smoothly simply takes practice. I don’t buy into the so-­called “gross motor skill” argument as dogma. If it were true, no one would be able to either press the trigger, press the magazine-­release button or deactivate a safety when under duress. That being said, pressing the slide lock during the stress of a fight requires more practice.

//content.osgnetworks.tv/gunsandammo/content/photos/Regarding-Reloads-3.jpg
A tactical reload involves an exchange of magazines held by the support hand.

Tactical Reload

Let me preface by saying that I love and respect Jeff Cooper’s Modern Technique. I consider myself a student of the art. I won’t disrespect the man that codified the fundamentals and mindset to stir controversy, discussion and our thinking. However, in my opinion, the tactical reload is a waste of training time — at least in terms of how it is currently taught in classes throughout the country.

For those unfamiliar with the tactical reload, it is executed during a lull in the gunfight when the shooter wishes to top off a pistol while retaining the partially expended magazine. The shooter acquires a new magazine, releases the old magazine into the same hand as the new magazine is held, inserts the new magazine into the pistol with the heel of the hand and then retains the old magazine by placing it in a pocket or pouch.

This entire premise of the tactical reload is flawed. There is no such thing as a so-­called “lull” in a gunfight. If you are in a gunfight, you need to get your gun running as soon as possible so that you can stop the deadly threat. The two or three rounds left in a magazine are not going to be what wins that altercation for you. Decisive and aggressive action is what will win the day. If you’re behind cover or the fight is over, then remove the old magazine, secure it and load the pistol with a new magazine. The idea of juggling magazines in one hand is ridiculous. It’s a waste of valuable training time. If you suspect that there might still be an active threat, then get your gun ready to run so that you can re-­engage.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. In an active shooter or multiple active shooter event, magazines should be secured before moving from one hot area to the next. Likewise, in combat, magazines can be hard to come by, but ammo is often plentiful. The circumstances will dictate if magazines need to be secured as the fight presses on. These events, however, are far outside the realm of the average armed citizen or police engagements.

//content.osgnetworks.tv/gunsandammo/content/photos/Regarding-Reloads-4.jpg
A retention reload may be used to secure a partially loaded magazine for future use.

Retention Reload

Here’s another point of view that runs counter to many firearm trainers in the industry. Most instructors forbid the placing of partial magazines in a magazine pouch. This, too, is ridiculous.

In the far chance that you expend all of your ammunition and you’re still actively engaged in a gunfight, you will reach for your magazine pouch first (if you’re wearing one). You won’t be digging into a random pocket. Instead, put the partial magazine back in your pouch so that it will be there when you need it. You don’t want a magazine floating around in your pocket with a wallet, keys, coins, etc.

Let me offer another piece of advice: I know many cops and armed citizens who keep a box of ammunition in their go-bag in the off chance that they need to top off their retained magazines. This is foolishness. Keep a couple of spare loaded magazines in that bag instead.

Training time is a precious commodity and should not be squandered on low-­probability manipulations. Be realistic about the threats that you might face and build your training plan accordingly.

Critical incidents tend to warp the perception of the participants. If we can build up a baseline of skill in training, we can address the worst-­case scenario.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

A New Season of G&A TV

A New Season of G&A TV

In this new season of Guns & Ammo TV, we introduce two new series and bring back a viewer favorite - Camera's Don't Lie. We look at long-range tech and see how to make shots previously thought impossible. Next we visit ISS Prop House in Hollywood.

Hornady 6MM Creedmoor

Hornady 6MM Creedmoor

Tom Beckstrand and Neal Emery of Hornady highlight the 6MM Creedmoor ammo.

Black Hills Evolution of Rifle Cartridge: .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match

Black Hills Evolution of Rifle Cartridge: .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match

David Fortier talks with Jeff Hoffman of Black Hills Ammunition about the evolution of the .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match bullet.

Beretta

Beretta's New 92X

The 92X Performance model from Beretta was created to satisfy two requirements: Speed and accuracy. Beretta's new competition pistol is uncompromising and aims for top performance.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

From milled slides to optics-included packages, these pistol options are all red-dot sight ready. Handguns

14 Red Dot Ready Pistols You Must See

James Tarr - December 20, 2018

From milled slides to optics-included packages, these pistol options are all red-dot sight...

Some guns are easier to work with than others, but the Ruger American Rifle doesn't require an engineering degree to tinker with; here's a look at some upgrade options to take your Ruger American to the next level, and make it something a bit different. Accessories

Top Ruger American Rifle Upgrades

Philip Massaro - March 15, 2018

Some guns are easier to work with than others, but the Ruger American Rifle doesn't require an...

The Winchester .350 Legend straight-wall cartridge is ideally suited for hunting hogs and deer; here's everything you need to know to make it work for you. Rifle

.350 Legend Cartridge: Everything You Need to Know

Tom Beckstrand - April 02, 2019

The Winchester .350 Legend straight-wall cartridge is ideally suited for hunting hogs and...

Don't underestimate the fun factor. Shotguns

Review: Remington V3 TAC-13

Brad Fitzpatrick - March 08, 2019

Don't underestimate the fun factor.

See More Trending Articles

More Personal Defense

The Viking Tactics (VTAC) Barricade will help you train to get back into the fight, quickly. Personal Defense

VTAC 9-Hole Barricade Drill – Firearms Training

SGM Kyle Lamb (Ret.) - October 04, 2018

The Viking Tactics (VTAC) Barricade will help you train to get back into the fight, quickly.

CoolFire is a modular drop-'in unit that facilitates dry-'fire training with your own pistol with an additional layer of realism. Personal Defense

CoolFire Training: Realism Without Firing a Shot

Jeremy Cantrell - December 10, 2018

CoolFire is a modular drop-'in unit that facilitates dry-'fire training with your own pistol...

In this Guns & Ammo TV segment, Gun Tech Editor Richard Nance and Pro-Shooter Jim Tarr discuss the benefits of airsoft training for uniformed professionals and armed citizens alike. Personal Defense

Air Gun Reviews: Why Shoot Airsoft?

Guns & Ammo Staff - August 12, 2020

In this Guns & Ammo TV segment, Gun Tech Editor Richard Nance and Pro-Shooter Jim Tarr discuss...

The physical, aural and visual feedback that airsoft training offers is more engaging than dryfire practice. The following list includes the gear and target arrangement that I've been using to practice at home. I've also added a number of drills that I've adapted from live-fire training to build certain skills applicable to personal defense. Personal Defense

Airsoft Pistol Drills

Alfredo Rico

The physical, aural and visual feedback that airsoft training offers is more engaging than...

See More Personal Defense

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get Digital Access.

All Guns and Ammo subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now