Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Reloading: Essential or insignificant?

Opinions on reloading, especially when running a semi-automatic pistol, vary greatly, even among the instructional community. Depending on your background or desired application, reloading is everything from critical to useless…”something that seldom happens” except in competition where it is often times forced on the shooter. So, what is the reality of the reload in combat? Do we ignore it or do we emphasize it? Remember what they say about opinions and those stink! Also consider an opinion is not fact, even if you do read it on line from a “famous” person…

Based on my many interviews and life long study of armed conflict (something many claim to have done) I will offer this: reloading in a pistol fight does not happen often…but it HAS happened and when it does there is a need to reload very, very quickly! Based on my many years of training law enforcement officers, legally armed citizens and some military folks, most do not reload very well. They are slow, look clunky and uncoordinated, are imprecise or carry their spare magazine in a piece of crap magazine pouch (LE issues the worst!), having given NO thought to what they bought other than price. A properly fitted magazine pouch should cover no more than half of the magazine body so the shooter can get a proper grip on it. Proper grip is important if you wish to do it well! A magazine pouch made for a Glock 17 is not a good choice for the 26, regardless of what the gun store clerk told you.

Others do it so well it is all they want to do!  Go on You Tube and watch all of the homemade videos of people attempting a one second speed reload. Many are quite good, but what does it mean? Bragging rights mostly, as performing a reload that fast, unless you are expecting it (like in a competition) is unlikely.  What about “load when you want to, not when you have to?” Having used the H & K MP-5 for many years (it did not lock open on the last round unless you had an MP-10) I am a BIG proponent of the concept, the problem is most are not capable of that level of focus…they will shoot their gun empty, even in practice. Yes, YOU may be the exception, but I am talking the typical student of pistol craft. Please resist the temptation of logging in to dispute this by telling me how awesome you are. I get it…

Even keeping the gun “topped off” seldom happens. I emphasize in my classes to keep the gun topped off. “There is no reason to start a three round drill with one round in your gun”, I say time and again, yet students continue to ignore my words. “I wanted to have a slide lock reload to force myself through it” I am told. Why would you do that? I know its bullshit and the student knows I know, but saying it is a way for them to save face. An armed professional always knows the status of their gear…something that can be accomplished with a bit of discipline. There is a time to reload under pressure, but a three round drill that is emphasizing some other skill set is NOT the time to do it! I want the student to concentrate on the skill being taught, not doing an unnecessary reload, which divides said concentration. And let’s be honest, most adults have only so much concentration capability, so I do not want to waste what they have on unnecessary actions!

So, when do we practice the reload? Some say we do not practice it at all, claiming that when the gun needs reloading during other training activities it will be enough. Sounds good, but will it? In my almost four decades of experience, this depends on the training regimen. If running the gun empty seldom happens in your routine, then it will probably not be enough. In addition, watch people when they do practice. The gun will go empty and they will reload it at some lackadaisical pace, as they do not want to “damage” their magazine by dropping it or don’t want to bend over to pick it up. If it is not “reload practice”, then it is not what will be emphasized. Lack of discipline, you say? Yep! It is…but saying this will not change it…its human nature, pure and simple. In my classes I constantly yell, “do not waste the opportunity for a good practice repetition!” meaning when you need to draw, reload, clear a stoppage, etc. do it like you are in a fight! But they won’t unless I ride them; they will fall back into just getting the task accomplished. Yep…lackadaisical…I sometimes wish I could just threaten my student’s lives just a little bit…make them understand what is at stake…but I just don’t want to go to jail at this late stage of my life. In the end, its up to them…

This is why I teach the reload and I make people practice it. I still teach the classic in battery speed load versus just teaching the emergency or slide lock reload. I do this as I think of the speed load as ”training wheels” for the emergency load.  If you take a moment to think about it, the emergency reload is the same as the speed load, you just have to drop the slide. Should we discuss the “controversy” of how to drop the slide? Shooting hand thumb, support hand thumb, over hand (saddle) grip, “pull on a rope” grip? You have no idea how much I do not give a shit how you release the slide! As long as you get it done as quickly as possible, that’s all I care about. For more on this, go to the Handgun Combatives You Tube channel where I address this subject in one of y videos.

What is interesting to note is even though I teach the speed load and tell students “load when you want to, not when you have to” the only time they will do so is when they are forced to do it…when they gun runs dry! You know what else is interesting? How they stand and stare at the gun when it does happen, especially when the slide does not lock open due to a malfunctioning slide lock lever or their shooting hand thumb was resting on it. This results in a five to six second reload which is a “get killed” level of speed…

Tactical or magazine retention reload? I show students a couple of ways to do this but spend little time practicing it. Why? They seem to get plenty of practice as they perform the “lackadaisical reload” previously discussed. You know, so they don’t damage or have to bend over a pick up their magazine. Ok, ok…rant off…sorry…

How fast should a reload be? As I previously stated, if a shooter does have to reload in a fight, it needs to be fast as the history of pistol fighting over several centuries has shown us they are over quickly...seconds not minutes. Just like the draw from the holster, I think you should be able to perform a shot to shot reload in around two to two and a half seconds with a pistol, regardless of the situation faced. No, this is not hard to do standing still with no stress on the square range, but can you do it on the move in the middle of a fight? Sitting behind the steering wheel of your car? Hunkered down behind low cover? Something to consider.  A revolver reload will be slower…no way around this even with speed loaders, but we have known for a long time that the primary advantage of a pistol over a revolver is capacity (not firepower…and AC-130 has firepower) and speed/ease of reload. The “New York Reload” as popularized by Jim Cirillo is the answer here.

Should I just “look” the magazine into the magazine well? Sounds inviting, but from personal experience…and the experience of the many people I have interviewed…you will have a hard time taking your eyes off of the person who is trying to kill you. And if you are behind cover, you will probably want to track where they are so they don’t flank you. “It is only a brief second” you say? Then go ahead and believe it /do it…I don’t care… I’m just telling you what will happen when someone is trying to take your life. You are welcome to any gun fighting fantasy you choose. I think it is ok to watch your magazine as you are learning, but as you get better, it is a good idea to do it quickly and efficiently by feel. There is a method for doing this that many instructors do not know or teach…reloading should be done by feel, not sight just like the draw.

In order to reload…or any crisis-level skill, really… to a level of motor skill “automaticity” you will have to practice it. PRACTICE is the key to any skill development and anchorage and anyone who disputes this does not understand proven motor learning skill development. How often should you practice? It depends on how much you suck at the particular skill! If you struggle with reloading, you will have to focus on it. I would suggest you practice reloading in a dry fire environment…don’t waste expensive ammo practicing to reload. If you can walk out on the range and perform a 2-2.5 second emergency reload cold, go practice something else! I start each of my practice sessions with a series of skill drills and I use them to tell me what I need to practice on that day. My reload standard is 1.5 seconds for a speed load and 2 seconds for an emergency reload. I add .25 second for garment removal. I will be honest here, if I am struggling with a skill, I will work it unconcealed until I smooth it out, then I will conceal.

I do each drill three times and if I hit the standards, I practice what I want on that day. If not, that is where I focus. It is a system that works for me and has done so for decades. As Bruce Lee so eloquently said, “Advanced skills are the basics mastered.” To me, “mastered” means automaticity.

So, did I change your opinions on reloading? Probably not…but if I have gotten you to think about it, consider what you do or how your practice, then I did my job. Did I step on what your guru thinks? Yeah…don’t care. What I do and teach I know works in the street over many years. It doesn’t mean other techniques don’t work; I just have confidence in mine. Stay safe, thanks for checking in and have a great holiday season!


  1. Great article as always. Practicing reloads can be done at home, just need to take all safety precautions!

  2. Very good observations.
    In answer to your final question, no, you didn't change my mind, because I agreed with you from the outset.

  3. Thank you for the articles - but then it always make me feel good to read something I agree with. Hah! Great advice about feeling the reload instead of looking it into the gun. And your candor on things such as how to manipulate the slide is appreciated (even if I'm pretty opinionated on that.) Maybe some negative reinforcement for your students? At one time, you owed Cooper a case of beer for every slide-lock. By the end of class, he'd have a wall of beer. Heard of other instructors giving push-ups for each slide-lock. Might be hard in our snowflake world, but just an idea, and given with all the grace possible and in recognition of your accomplished skill as an instructor. BTW, Happy Thanksgiving!

  4. First, thank you for the great article!
    I've taken a couple tactical classes where we taught to always keep your eye on the "target" and as the empty was being dumped, raise the weapon to just below line-of-sight while insert the next magazine. Unfortunately since I practice at a "target range", this and "rapid fire" is frowned upon.
    The drill I've developed for myself involves loading three mags with one round each. Two on my belt and chambering the third mag. Although I originally did the drill with one target at 15yds, I'm now using 3, one for each of the three successive rounds. I start in low ready, reloading by feel with the barrel lowered as I kept my eyes on target. I thumb the slide release by feel as I raise the barrel to engage the next target. I've been doing this every couple weeks for several months now, getting better at "clean" mag loads. One of the mags I use is an older off-brand mag that sometimes doesn't lock the slide. This occasionally adds a "surprise", with the need to rack the slide.
    I know it's far from a perfect method, but it is teaching myself what I believe are three important things: reload by feel, keeping eyes on target, and re-engaging the target with reasonable accuracy.