Reloading a handgun is a basic skill, but there’s more than one way to do it. Here, the author discusses a practical variation of the tactical reload.
Reloading a defensive handgun is a basic skill. It’s something every defensive handgun training course should spend a good bit of time teaching and something everyone who carries a defensive handgun should spend time practicing. Most doctrine separates reloading into three techniques: the administrative reload, the tactical reload and the speed reload. Although all three serve the same purpose of keeping your pistol full of ammunition, they all have different applications.
I’ve detailed these techniques here before, but to refresh, the administrative reload is a range reload that’s conducted at leisure, and the speed reload is done when your handgun is out of ammo and you need more ammo in it immediately. The tactical reload is something between an administrative and speed reload, and its conduct and proper application is one of the most misunderstood concepts of defensive handgun management.
Hurry, Just A Little Bit
A tactical reload should be conducted when you have time … but when there are also tactical considerations remaining. It’s suggested that you conduct a tactical reload during a lull in the gun fight or action. I’m not sure how to precisely define “a lull in the action,” but I am sure that the more ammunition you have in your gun the better off you are, and that you should never holster a handgun that’s not fully loaded. Those two considerations are what drives the conduct and need of a tactical reload.
At the basic level, with a tactical reload you retain the magazine you’re ejecting from the pistol because it’s not empty and you might need it later, or because you’re in a situation where you might need the ejected empty magazine later on so that you can load it with more ammunition.
Most trainers teach the conduct of a tactical reload as follows:
- Bring your pistol into your workspace while retrieving a fully loaded magazine with your support hand, holding it in your palm and between your index and middle finger.
- As you eject the partially expended or empty magazine, grab it between the thumb and index finger of your support hand.
- While holding both magazines, insert the fresh magazine into the pistol.
- Store the ejected magazine in a pocket, or if it’s the only extra magazine you have, put it your magazine pouch.
This is not a timed activity, but it’s one you should be able to conduct smoothly and with minimal focus, while keeping at least some of your attention on your surroundings. Those talented at conducting a tactical reload can accomplish the task with graceful fluidity in about 5 seconds.
My main problem with the above method is that you must manage two magazines with one hand at the same time. Granted, you’re not supposed to be doing this with blistering speed or while you’re being shot at, but there’s still a reasonable possibility that you’ll drop one—or both—of the magazines. That’s not a good thing, and I think it makes just as much sense to conduct a tactical reload as follows:
- Bring the pistol into your workspace.
- Eject the partially expended or empty magazine into your support hand and store it in your pocket.
- Retrieve a fully loaded magazine and insert it into your pistol.
- If you still have time and the partially expended magazine is your only other magazine, move it to your magazine pouch.
Though speed is not a principal concern, this second method can be conducted just as swiftly, and it limits the possibility of dropping the partially expended magazine, or more importantly, the fully loaded magazine. Admittedly, the second method leaves your pistol unloaded for a second or so longer. But remember, you should only be conducting a tactical reload when time is not a priority, such as when there’s no immediate threat or when you’ve solved the problem and are holstering your handgun.
If time is of any concern, conduct a speed reload.
Don’t Drop It!
Outside of tactical considerations, the tactical reload can and should be frequently used on the range during practice or training sessions, too. Why? Well, the worst thing you can do with a pistol magazine is drop it on the ground where the feed lips might become bent, or where it can be gobbed off with dirt, debris or mud. Yes, when practicing a speed reload, your ejected magazine goes to the ground, but the most common reason for stoppages in pistols is magazine related. There’s no reason to risk damage unnecessarily.
I’m not suggesting you replace the practice of a speed reload with a tactical reload. What I am suggesting is that if you’ve finished a drill and have depleted your magazine to the point you cannot run the next drill, if you conduct a tactical reload—especially if you use the second method described above—you’ll circumvent the possibility of a magazine being damaged or fouled because it was dropped either intentionally or accidentally.
Hopefully, you’ll never be in a dangerous situation where you need to conduct a reload of any type. And, hopefully, if you do need to reload your pistol in conjunction with some sort of dangerous situation, you’ll have the time and cover necessary to allow for you to do it tactically. Pick either tactical reload method described here, the one you like the best and feel is the most practical, and practice it. It might save you from fumbling when you can’t afford to drop the ball.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the January 2024 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.
More On Handgun Training:
- Video: Target Transition Training With The Dot Drill
- The Shot Timer And Defensive Handgun Training
- Gun Digest’s 10 Best Shooting Drills And Firearms Training Posts
- MantisX: Simple And Effective Training
- Video: Is A Full-Sized Pistol The Best Training Option?