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Load, Reload, Rinse, Repeat

DC Reed/Director

Let’s talk about semi-automatic pistol reload procedures. Bam! I just started a huge argument. Also, just to be ticklish, I want to propose a change to how we as a police/military/CCW shooting community train reloading our semi-automatic handguns.

To start off, there are techniques and there are procedures and by the way, they are not the same thing. Techniques are non-prescriptive ways or methods used to perform functions or tasks.

A Procedure is the physical and prescriptive “how” of doing that particular something.

For instance, my technique will be, “Keep my weapon loaded at all times. Speed load my firearm whenever it runs empty and avoid running empty by proactive thinking and action whenever possible.”

The procedure is how, exactly, to do that speed load. As in, “Step 1 is this, and then Step 2 is that,” etcetera. In fact, there are a couple of different procedures to speed loading a handgun. Which one I choose to use depends on the exact conditions I’m encountering. We adapt procedures to the specific environment, our abilities, and of course, the threat we face.

Also, there are strengths and weaknesses to all procedures. There is not one perfect procedure that solves problems 100% of the time. You evaluate them under the conditions you are in right now and you pick, frankly, what may be the lesser of two dangers. Hopefully with training you pick the right procedure for a specific environment which matches your abilities to counter the current threat – and that means you survive a little longer

Don’t get bored, I’m getting to the meat of things.

Okay there are a thousand names or labels for every procedure and I’m not married to any of them but for the sake of my TAG, LLC students I have my stock names. For instance, under the heading of Administrative Loading Procedures there is the “Range Reload.” This is a training-only or range level reload, not used under real hostile engagement type environments. Go to CCWGuardian.com and look for the training video, “Load and Reload a Semi-Auto Handgun.”

A Range Reload is where during a pause in training (and only if allowed to do so by the instructor) a student with a holstered weapon and has a chambered round, needs to top off their weapon with more ammunition before the next series of firing events. They reach around and pop their mag release and remove the magazine while the weapon remains fully in the holster. If they can’t do this safely without un-holstering (even a little bit) or disengaging their holster’s safety devices, then they are not allowed to perform this procedure.

Understanding the above, the shooter pops their mag release and removes the magazine leaving the weapon holstered. They then either insert a fully loaded mag back into the weapon, ensuring it’s fully seated, or top off the mag they just removed with more ammunition and re-insert it fully. Bingo, a safe and practical Range Reload.
Why do a Range Reload? The technique is to keep the line hot, weapons topped off, and keep the training moving along as efficiently as possible to make maximum use of limited training time. The procedure is comprised of the steps above.

I tell my students on the range all the time, “Ammunition management is a problem; it’s just not my problem!”

Now you get the idea of techniques versus procedures.

Next is the area where there was a lot of agreement for years but now, not so much. I’ve heard this stuff called ‘Combat’ reload, ‘Emergency ‘reload, ‘Slide-lock’ reload and a half dozen others. But let’s focus first on the technique. The technique is to rapidly reload the weapon whether the slide is locked to the rear or not. For here let’s call it “Speed Reload.”

Now, a Speed Reload is just how it sounds. Rapid, under dynamic or let’s say, austere conditions, you need to load. Fast. Sure, ninety-nine percent of the time this is due to an empty mag bringing the weapon to slide-lock, but I’ve also seen this used with the slide forward to quickly top off a weapon where you may have only a round or two left, but are still in an active and deadly engagement.

Therefore there are two different procedures under the technique of Speed Reloading.
First let’s describe a “Slide-lock” Speed Reload. While firing in real-world conditions you will not likely be counting your rounds and can easily shoot to empty. You’re indication of this is the weapon’s slide locks open and to the rear. Cops often call this a “clue” but hey, let’s not get too technical yet. This should generally be your most practiced reloading procedure as it requires some dexterity.

SLIDE LOCK SPEED RELOAD: First, move! Don’t ever, ever, reload standing still. Be hard to hit. Next, keeping the weapon high and up in the lower edge of your line of sight, let go with your support (non-firing) hand and go for your spare mag. Simultaneously with your primary shooting hand still holding the weapon, press the mag release as you bend your elbow to snap the firing arm sharply back and vertically twist the firing hand and weapon to forcibly expel the empty magazine. Ideally it should fly 2-3 miles before hitting the ground.

This is better demonstrated than described, because you are using centrifugal force and inertia to send the empty mag flying and out of the way of your support hand bringing that reload quickly towards the magazine well. It requires some timing and practice to hit the magazine release right at the pivotal moment you are snapping the weapon back and over to take full use of the centrifugal and inertial forces. Bottom line, get the empty mag gone and out of the way.
Now the flat side of the weapon’s mag well is facing to your support side and you have correctly grabbed a spare mag with your supporting hand. Move the flat side of the magazine to the flat side of the weapon’s mag well and insert. Slam it in, don’t finesse here, making sure it’s fully seated. Again, we have videos to help illustrate this.
Next you have to get the slide back forward and chamber a round. This is where we as a defensive shooting community have evolved a bit based on competition. I used to teach to bring the support hand up and over the slide serrations and grab the slide there with the support hand thumb closest to the eyes and pinky forward. Then pull back aggressively to rack the slide back a bit and release it to allow the recoil spring inside to ‘sling-shot’ the slide forward. However, this leaves my support hand moving rearward towards my shoulder and out of place to quickly re-establish a solid two-handed grip.

Instead, I now teach a pinch-style slide grab where, after inserting the fresh mag, rotate the weapon slightly inboard to the body’s centerline, still high up at head level and still aimed towards the threat. The support hand runs up the support side of the weapon to grab the rear slide serrations with the support thumb pointing forward and the top of the slide in the palm. Now, pull back and ‘sling-shot’ the slide forward. If done right your support hand is in position to re-acquire good two-handed grip a bit faster this way. This should be your most practiced reloading procedure.

Wow, that should start some fights. Many of you are already going to CAPS LOCK to respond! All I ask is to try it first before calling me a Commie.
Some tips: Keep your head up and use only your peripheral vision to accomplish this reload. Move the whole time you’re reloading and when possible move to hard cover. Don’t stare at your gun, keep moving and watch for a threat to appear. Don’t ride the slide with your support hand during the ‘sling-shot’ forward. You can cause a stoppage. Smooth is fast and go only as fast as you can do it right the first time instead of rushing. But, well, don’t just stare at it…reload the darn thing!

Okay, so can you use these same procedures for when you want to reload but the slide’s not locked open on an empty magazine? Yes!

SLIDE FORWARD SPEED RELOAD: As I discussed above you don’t normally count rounds when in an active hostile engagement. You shoot to stop aggressive, deadly action against you. But if at some point you say to yourself, “I’m about out” you have to fix it. In other words, a fully loaded weapon is preferable to a weapon going to slide lock at the worse possible moment. If you can prevent having to do a Slide Lock Reload, why not? Remember our overarching technique from page one?

“…avoid running empty by proactive thinking and action whenever possible.”

So, follow all the procedures discussed above except you initiate a Speed Reload on your own volition, not due to a slide lock. You decide to reload because maybe the weapon starts feeling lighter. The slide’s still in battery and there’s a round still in the chamber.

Move and snap the weapon back as before while reaching for the spare mag and pressing the magazine release all at the same time. Keep the weapon high and at head level in the lower part of your vision. Insert the full mag and seat it fully, then run your support hand back out and into a good two handed grip. Boom, a one second reload with practice.

The technique is the same; rapidly reloading your weapon under hostile or deadly threat conditions, but the procedure is slightly modified to avoid running empty. Do you throw away a few rounds in favor of many rounds? Yes, that’s a consideration. Strengths and weakness, eh?

But wait, you say, “Isn’t this Tactical Reload” territory. And here’s where the fight will start.

TACTICAL RELOAD: I have taught so-called Tactical Reloads (also called a “Tact Load”) for years and now I rarely teach it. (Blasphemy!) For the unwashed, let me explain briefly the concept. If there is a lull or pause in the action (huh?) or the action is possibly over but you have to move into additional threat areas, you will want to top off or replenish your weapon. Sound familiar? It’s the situation I described above for Slide Forward Speed Loading; partially expended magazine, a desire to top off.

So keeping the weapon pointed at the threat, moving to cover if possible, the shooter first retrieves a full spare mag and brings it up to the side of their weapon. The weapon is brought rearward and kept high by bending the firing arm elbow to gain some dexterity and allow the shooter to retain observation of the threat area. Now, place the little finger and ring finger of the support hand (that’s holding the full spare mag) under the weapon and pop the mag release to allow the support hand to grab and retain it. Smoothly give it to the little and ring finger of the weapon hand (that’s holding the gun) and then insert the full mag up into the weapon, thus topping it off. Grab the partially expended mag from the weapon hand back with your now empty support hand and stick the mag in a pocket – but not in the mag pouch where it could be mistaken under stress for a full magazine. Ta Da.

This is essentially a “hot swap.” Like refueling a car while still driving.

The purpose is to top off the gun while retaining the depleted mag should you really, really need those couple of remaining rounds. A very common variant of this is to conduct the swap completely with the support hand. Grab the partially expended mag with the pinky and ring finger as illustrated above, but then pivot the support hand palm and insert the fresh mag. Keeps the mags all in the support hand and leaves the weapon hand alone. I can do this with 1911 magazines but not easily with double-stack mags like Glock or Sig’s. My hand is a bit too smallish to manipulate fat mags under stress like this.

The famous Gunsite training center in Arizona is the ‘World Leader of Tactical Reload Instruction’ (Capitol letters intended). They often joke that if you go to slide lock you owe the cadre a case of beer. I am a multiple course graduate of Gunsite and will go again, but I argue this with them a lot. Jeff Cooper, hear me out. I no longer believe in Tactical Reloads, unless you’re on your way to the car, the station, or the house. Fight’s 100% over, okay, now you can Tact load.

But in any kind of hostile environment, or possibility of continued engagement, I’m either shooting to slide lock or I will speed load with the slide forward when the gun feels light. To wit: I can execute a slide lock speed load in 1 to 1.5 seconds on a bad day. On a good day, three quarters of second! Tactical reloading takes me 3 to 5 seconds and with about three in ten attempts I fumble a mag under stress while moving anyway.

And I’ve been doing this for 35 years!
I’ve seen cops and CCW students take 10-15 seconds to fumble through a tact load. Crazy, right? But why? Usually it’s because some mediocre range instructor said so. So, where an agency policy is such they insist I train their members in Tactical Reloading, I teach a variant called “Reload with Retention.”

RELOAD W/ RETENTION: So start from the same premise: bad day to be you, lull in the action, ammunition mostly depleted, a desire to top off, yada-yada.
Move to cover, heads up, gun up high but rearward, and while doing this release the partially expended mag into your support hand and quickly pocket it. Grab a fresh, full mag from your pouch and seat it smartly into the gun. Pow! You’re done.

Try it and have someone clock the entire time the gun is without a mag. Now do the traditional Tactical Reload and clock the time where the gun is without a mag. With a little practice, it’s the same. Plus it’s the same skills used to Slide Forward Speed Reload except you pocket the mag instead of slinging it away. It also reduces the error rate of dropped mags and reduces the stress of trying to apply a fine motor control procedure while under stress. Boo-yah!

In closing, there are, oh, seventy thousand or so more potential variations of defensive reloading, each one with its own name. I have students and colleagues come up to me and say, “Have you heard about the new ‘Monkey-Flip Snag’ procedure? It’s taught by Special Forces in Antarctica!”

Or, “Joe Bigrep is a former Elite Lean Six Sigma team leader and he says on TV that this stuff sucks!”

Yeah, yeah. Look, I try to teach simple, workable, life-saving skills and while open to evolutionary thinking, I do not jump on fads quickly. If I teach it I want to know I’m teaching something that is already proven to work and solves a critical problem.

So I answer politely, “No, I haven’t seen a Monkey-Flip Snag reload. And neither should you.”

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