You don’t want to be out there running on empty. You’ve practiced your speed reloads, and you’re fast at them. You are impressive. But in preparing for real-world confrontations, maybe you’re focusing too much on the speed reload when you should really be concentrating on other skills. And these days, you’re more likely than ever to be faced with multiple assailants and suicidal crazies. Terrorists and other mental cases are less likely to take off running when you simply display your gun or fire your first round. You’re more apt to be involved in a fight to the death, and that could expend more ammo.
During a speed reload with a semiauto pistol, the empty mag is dropped from the magwell by pressing the mag release with your strong hand while, at the same time, reaching for the fresh magazine with your weak-side hand. To grasp the fresh mag, you normally place your index finger along the front edge of the fresh magazine to aid in aligning it with the magwell of your pistol.
Statistically, very few rounds are fired in typical defensive handgun incidents involving civilians. So, it would stand to reason that the main thrust of your practice sessions should be on getting that gun into action and putting those first rounds on target quickly. And because you don’t want to be an easy target, you should be conditioning yourself to react to a threat by moving toward cover on the draw.
“During a speed reload with a semiauto pistol, the empty mag is dropped from the magwell by pressing the mag release with your strong hand while, at the same time, reaching for the fresh magazine with your weak-side hand.”
You do have to address reloads. But instead of an emphasis on speed reloads, where you shoot to slide lock, you should spend more time practicing tactical reloads: swapping out that partially loaded magazine for a fully loaded one from a position of cover when there’s a momentary break in the action. If the attacker is upon you when you’re at slide lock, you’re out of luck. If he’s on you during a tactical reload, you still have at least the bullet in the chamber—and maybe more, if you haven’t dropped the other magazine yet. You don’t want your handgun to go empty during a gunfight, and if you must move from one position of cover to another, you don’t want to do so with a gun that has only one or two live rounds, either.
” …instead of an emphasis on speed reloads, where you shoot to slide lock, you should spend more time practicing tactical reloads…”
Statistics aside, carrying extra ammo is a good thing. For one, on semiauto pistols, many malfunctions can be attributed to the magazines: bent feed lips, worn springs or imperceptibly compressed bodies that might have been stepped on at some point. You might have to direct rounds toward the bad guy to keep him off balance and ducking as you’re moving to cover or retreating. If it’s harder for you to be accurate when moving, it will be for him, too. That might take the expenditure of extra rounds.
During a tactical reload, you want to retain the partially spent magazine—you don’t want to throw away any ammo you might need later. One way is to hold that fresh magazine with the base plate between your fingers. Take the partially spent magazine out of the pistol, insert the fresh one with a turn of the wrist, and then stow the partial magazine in your waistband or a pocket.
It’s worthwhile to occasionally practice both tactical and speed reloads one-handed. Either re-holster your pistol, place it in your waistband or, if kneeling, pinch it between your thigh and calf. Insert the fresh magazine; then, draw the pistol. With a speed reload, you’ll have to hit the slide lock lever to chamber a round. With a tactical reload, there should already be a round in the chamber.
Extra ammo for a revolver can be carried in cartridge loops, speed strips, speedloaders or moon clips. Moon clips are easily bent and limit the brands of ammo you can use, because the extractor grooves in the cartridge cases can vary from one manufacturer to another. With .357 ammo, for instance, I’ve found that many brands of ammo flop around so much in the clips that a speed reload is almost impossible. I no longer use them.
I like to carry a combination of speedloaders and speed strips. Speedloaders are quick. Speed strips are less bulky and allow you to top off your cylinder one or two rounds at a time after you push the extractor rod halfway and pluck the partially extracted empties from the cylinder. You have to know which way your cylinder rotates, and you can use the flutes on the cylinder to rotate and properly index the cylinder as you add rounds.
Tactical reloads can seem awkward at first, which is why they need to be practiced. As with any reload, they need to be accomplished while you maintain your vision on the threat without looking down at the magazine or the gun. You should be able to do these reloads in complete darkness.
Carrying a spare magazine or a speedloader in a pocket is better than not having any spare ammo at all. But it’s better to carry it in a dedicated carrier on your belt so that through muscle memory, you can access it quickly. That way, it will also be properly oriented so that when you’re under pressure, you won’t have to twirl it around in your hand to figure out which way is up. Of course, the fastest reload is a second gun … but that’s a topic for another time.
Steven Paul Barlow is a retired sergeant/station commander and former firearms instructor with the New York State Police. He has been writing on outdoor topics for more than 30 years and has served as the editor for a number of Engaged Media special publications, including Gunslingers.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the April 2018 issue of Gun World Magazine.