Reloading in Competitive Pistol Shooting

Reloading in Competitive Pistol Shooting

competitive-pistol-reloadMarksmanship isn't the only factor in winning in competitive pistol shooting. Efficiently reloading a pistol is also a make-or-break element.

If you are interested in becoming more proficient in the action shooting sports, practicing the reloads is essential. All of the action sports (IPSC, IDPA, GSSF, 3-gun) require that the shooter fire a certain number of rounds, then either advance to another shooting position or engage a different set of targets, reloading in between or, sometimes, reloading either before or after the shooter moves from one position or another. Again, different games have different rules, and all the while, the clock is running.

Fortunately, this is a skill that can be learned because it’s all about fundamentals and muscle memory. Once the shooter understands the physical mechanics, it’s really just a matter of practicing and being able to repeat the drills on command in a match situation.

One point to remember when reloading the semi-auto pistol is to keep the finger out of the trigger guard, and keep the pistol at eye level and bring the pistol closer to the face. Watch the magazine go into the magazine well, and into the pistol. Seat the magazine, then extend the arms, pick up the sights and continue firing.

The type of competition you are engaged in will determine what type of reloading you will perform. In USPSA, the type of reload performed is the emergency reload, where the targets are engaged and at a convenient point, the magazine in the firearm is dumped on the ground while the pistol is recharged with a fresh magazine.

In IDPA, there are two reloads permitted, the emergency reload and the tactical reload, or reload with retention. In this scenario, the magazine is not just dumped on the ground, but has to be retained on the shooter during the entire string. Additionally, all reloading of the firearm needs to be performed behind cover, not so in USPSA. Always consult the rule book of the form of competition you are engaged in for specifics.

Footwork when reloading is critical, the shooter needs to be able to move and reload at the same time.

Regardless of the type of competitive pistol shooting you are engaged in, there are some fundamentals of reloading the pistol that are common to any type of practical shooting. The main point is that the finger must come out of the trigger guard as soon as the reload is initiated. The second is the pistol is held at eye level and drawn close to the face. The thumb presses the magazine release button, and at the same time, the weak hand moves toward the fresh magazine, assuming this is an emergency reload.

Editor's Note: This article is from Gun Digest Shooter's Guide to Competitive Pistol Shooting.


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  1. In paragraph four, an ’emergency reload’ is not ‘done at a convenient time’, it is done when you hit slide lock. A tactical reload is done at a convenient time.


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