Types of Pistol Reloads

Disclaimer

The information in this post reflects the content that I teach in my classes.

As with any other firearm discussion, there is more than one way to complete a task. In every tactical class that I have taken each instructor had a different take on this topic. 

You may complete a reload different than I do. That is OK. That doesn’t make me right and you wrong. 

If you would like to add a comment to provide information, I will respect your viewpoint if you respect mine.

Context

A reload is a reload, right? Actual there are three types of reloads. We look at each type and where they are used. But first, we need to lay a little groundwork. 

Reload Postions

Before we can start the reload, we must first position the pistol. The position you use a matter of personal preference.

Compressed Low Ready

The compressed low ready position we use during a reload is a modification of the classic low ready position.

The classic low ready is accomplished by lowering the gun and arms to an area below the target without bending the arms. Should the target suddenly become a threat, the handgun can be quickly raised to the vital zone and a shot can be delivered.

How far you lower the handgun in the low ready position depends entirely on what is going on around you.

During a reload we modify this position by binding and pulling the arms back. The pistol is raised to a near-level position.  With your elbows resting against either side of your body, the compressed ready position provides a stable and comfortable stance. 

During the reload, you maintain your shooting grip with your shooting hand. The reload is done with the support hand. 

The question with this position is what do you do with your eyes. During a defense situation, you will what to maintain your focus downrange. This means that a reload from this position, must be done by feel. 

Can this be done? Yes, I know several shooters that can reload from this position without losing their focus. How did they get there? The answer is simple; practice, practice, and more practice. I am not there. I will drop a magazine more than once. 

Compressed High Ready

The Compressed High Ready does not have as much in common with the High Ready as the name implies. 

In the Compressed High Ready, the pistol is held as it is in the other ready positions.  However, in this case, the pistol is pulled in straight toward the chest, perhaps below the dominant eye.  The inside of the wrists/forearms can touch the chest, and the elbows can drop down and touch the sides of the rib cage in a relatively relaxed position.  The muzzle of the handgun should be pointed downrange. 

During the reload, you maintain your shooting grip with your shooting hand. The reload is done with the support hand. 

The question with this position is what do you do with your eyes.

Reloading from this position is better than the compressed low ready position. The pistol is just the line of sight. The reload can be seen with a quick glance down. This will require you to break your focus downrange. Something that might not be easy in the stress of a defense situation. 

It is best to practice until you can reload by feel. 

Workspace

For novice shooters, your “workspace” is the area directly in front of your face – it’s the stuff you can see without moving your head up or down. Keeping the gun “up in your workspace” is considered an advantage by some tactical trainers so that you can keep your eyes downrange even while looking the magazine home into the gun.

The advantage to reloading up high like that is that you don’t have to look down – even if you take your eyes off the target to look the magazine into the gun (like you should) your head is still up, making it easier to see important stuff downrange when you finish the reload.

The disadvantage to reload up so high is that as it turns out, it’s slower. It may only be half a second or so when compared to bringing the gun down lower.

A half-second is a long time, especially in a defense situation. 

Another issue is that if you practice the position at most ranges, don’t be surprised if the RSO freak out over muzzle discipline. 

Types of Reloads

Now that we have laid our groundwork, let’s look at the different types of reloads. 

Administrative Reload

An administrative reload is the first type of reload that you learned. 

Administrative reloads (aka admin reloads) have become a universally taught practice across all dynamic shooting courses.

The admin reload is basically when you (re)load your unloaded pistol to prepare it for use.

It is done in a safe and low-stress situation. Focusing on the reload and not downrange is not an issue. However, doing this can develop some bad habits.

Start your training by focusing on the reload. Overtime work toward reloading by feel. 

This pretty much involves the following core procedures:

  1. Presenting the gun from the holster (or rest position) onto an imaginary target, acquiring sight picture and sight alignment.
  2. Bring the gun into your reload position and insert a loaded magazine into the gun.
  3. Cycling the action in order to chamber a round into the gun.
  4. Press checking the chamber in order to verify a round is chambered.
  5. Ensuring the gun is in battery.
  6. Returning the gun into the holster (or rest position).

Obviously, when conducting an administrative reload, you must go through the steps while following all of the core safety rules.

Tactical Reload

A tactical reload is the replacement of a partially depleted magazine with a full mag.

This is only executed when it is absolutely safe to do so. If you are ever in a situation where you have had to fire your defensive handgun, you will more than likely have no idea how many rounds you have fired.

In that you should always expect multiple assailants, it is a good idea to get a full magazine into your gun as soon as possible.

One debated idea revolves around what to do with the partially depleted magazine. I believe it should be retained

Unlike competition settings, most people do not conceal carry a large number of magazines. In fact, most people carry only one backup mag in their EDC.

While there may not be many rounds left in the partially depleted mag, you may need them.

There are two distinct schools of thought on the methodology used in tactical reloads as well. Each has its pros and cons. With that in mind, we will look at both.

Tactical Reload #1 – One Out, One In

  1. Bring the firearm up into your “reload space.” Make sure the pistol is not past 45 degrees as it will begin to impede the drop of the exiting magazine.
  2. Bring your support-side hand to the base of the magazine in the gun.
  3. With your firing-side hand, press the magazine release and let the mag fall into the palm of your support-side hand.
  4. Take the partially depleted magazine and place it in a pocket. DO NOT put a half-empty magazine back into your mag pouch.
  5. Now transition your support-side hand from pocketing the old mag to grabbing a new one.
  6. Pull out your new magazine and start moving it toward the mag well.
  7. With the new mag in hand, insert the top of the magazine into the well. With one firm and smooth motion, drive the magazine into the grip. 

Tactical Reload #2 – Combat Version

  1. Bring the firearm up into your “Reload space.” You should still maintain your awareness downrange. Make sure the pistol is not past 45 degrees as it will begin to impede the drop of the exiting magazine.
  2. With the support-side hand, index a fresh magazine from your pouch and start bringing it toward the gun. The grip on this magazine will be different than in other scenarios. As opposed to being set in the center of the palm, the magazine will need to be seated between two of your fingers.
  3. Once the magazine is at the base of the gun, use your firing-side thumb to release the exiting mag.
  4. Let the partially depleted mag now drop into your palm and hold onto it with one or two fingers.
  5. Now angle your hand so the fresh magazine can be seated into the mag well.
  6. With one firm motion seat the new mag into the gun.

The position of the fresh magazine is debatable. Some advocate putting it between the pinky and ring finger while others teach index and middle finger.

The factor that will influence your decision on this is the size of your hands and dexterity. 

When choosing the technique that suits you best, you must explore the fundamental pros and cons of each technique.

The “one out, one in” technique is easy to execute but does leave the firearm without a magazine for a longer period of time.

The “Combat” version does allow less time without a mag in the gun, but it requires decent dexterity and hand size.

The “Combat” reload was created when the most common weapon was the 1911. Slender single-stack magazines are much easier to manipulate than modern double-stack polymer mags.

In the end, you should try both and find the technique that fits you best.

Emergency Reload

The emergency reload has many names, but is always the same issue. The slide of the firearm is locked back, the magazine and the gun are empty.  If you are in the middle of a self-defense scenario, this is indeed an emergency. The technique to get the gun back into operation is as follows:

  1. Bring the firearm up into your “reload space.” You should still maintain your awareness downrange. Make sure the pistol is not past 45 degrees as it will begin to impede the drop of the exiting magazine.
  2. With your firing hand, press the magazine release button. Simultaneously, reach back with your support-side hand and index your fresh magazine. You should make an effort to get as much of your hand around the magazine as possible. The base plate of the magazine should be in your palm. This allows for greater control of the new magazine.
  3. Pull out your new magazine and start moving it toward the mag well. If done correctly, the new mag and old mag will pass in mid-air.
  4. With the new mag in hand, insert the top of the magazine into the well. With one firm and smooth motion, drive the magazine into the grip. Avoid beating on the bottom of the magazine in order to get it to seat.
  5. Now that a fresh magazine is in the pistol, we need to get it back into the battery. There are two methods to choose from. The first utilizes the slide stop. Point the weapon back downrange and with your support-side thumb, press down the slide lock. The spring tension in the gun will now run the slide forward and bring the gun back into the battery. A second technique is called the “slingshot.” After the magazine is seated, grab the back of the slide with your support-side hand. With one quick motion pull the slide to the rear and release. The slide will now run forward and the gun will be back in battery. 

In Closing

Pick a reload position that is most comfortable for you.

Practice it until your selected position is second nature to you.

Don’t be afraid to start with one position, workspace for example. As your experience increases, you can move to another.

Remember in the stress of a defense situation, your brain is going to default to the position that is most comfortable with. Don’t fight is. Go with the flow.

Remember that your final goal is to keep your focus downrange, complete the reload as quickly as possible, and most important; don’t drop the magazine. 

Some final tips.

During the reload, move to cover. If no cover is available, a least most offline. A few steps left or right may save your life. 

You don’t have to go to the range to practice your reloading. Add the practice to your dry fire practice. Not doing fry fire practice, shame on you. It is the easy and cheapest way to keep your skills fresh.

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