Light-Speed Reloads

Getting new rounds into your gun quickly can save your life. Here's how to get better at it.

Technology is a wonderful thing. John Moses Browning was a genius, but limited to steel and wood he could fit only 13 rounds into the Hi Power. Between the miracle of modern plastics and computer-aided design, modern pistols can hold a surprising number of rounds. The standard Glock magazine holds 15 rounds of .40 S&W or 17 rounds of 9mm. The new Springfield XDm can hold an amazing 19+1 rounds of 9mm. That's not a pistol; that's a clown car.

Today, any new pistol larger than a snubnose that doesn't hold at least 10 rounds is looked down upon with the same concealed pity people usually reserve for ugly babies.

Ironically, FBI statistics show that most gunfights last only a few seconds, with less than half a dozen rounds fired, well within the magazine capacity of any auto and even most revolvers. Remember, though, that the FBI round count is only an average. Your experience may vary, as they say.

Many gun owners who carry on a daily basis practice their draw, and that is a good thing. Repetition leads to perfection. Similarly, the reload must be practiced to ingrain it into muscle memory.

There are two basic but very different ways to reload a semiauto pistol: the speed reload and the tactical or retention reload (I prefer "retention" as "tactical" has taken on an almost religious connotation in some shooting circles).

The speed reload's sole purpose is to get a fully loaded magazine into the loaded pistol as fast as possible, whereas half the focus of the retention reload is retaining the partially spent magazine.

The subject of the "correct" way to reload a pistol has split shooters and instructors into warring camps much the same as the .45 ACP versus 9mm Luger debate has. But the whole purpose behind reloading your pistol is to get more rounds into it. Period. The faster you can do this, in my opinion, the better.

Some shooting sports are set up so that you should never drop a magazine in the dirt unless your weapon is completely empty and the slide is locked back.

I'm sorry, but I don't buy the idea that in real life you will need to perform a reload only under a certain set of circumstances. You may need to dump a half-empty mag in the dirt to shove a full one in because sometimes getting a full mag in the gun immediately is more important than not leaving rounds on the ground.

You may, in fact, have to reload while running flat out--and, trust me, that ain't easy. If you've never practiced reloading while running under controlled conditions (unloaded gun, making sure to keep finger out of trigger guard, etc), seriously bad things could happen if you're ever forced to do it for real.

The thing to remember is that speed itself is a tactic and a rather important one. Professional shooter Matt Burkett trains a lot of law enforcement and military and puts it succinctly: "The one thing that can't be argued with is that the most tactical thing you can do in a gunfight is shoot the other guy first. Speed is tactical." This is the philosophy behind the speed reload.

Everything being equal, a speed reload takes half as much time to do as a retention reload because the latter requires more steps to perform.

Step 1: Break the firing grip and depress the magazine release as the support hand starts to move for the fresh mag.

Step 2: The support hand grabs the magazine, palm centered over the basepad and index finger pointed down along the mag body.


Starting with both hands on the pistol in a firing grip, the first step of a speed reload is breaking your grip on the gun. The support hand comes down to where the spare magazines are (usually the support-side belt) while the strong-hand thumb depresses the magazine release on the pistol. Finger comes off the trigger and stays off.

I have small hands, so no matter what type of pistol I'm shooting I have to twist the gun in my hand to be able to reach the magazine release with my thumb. This slows me down a tiny bit but not enough to make a practical difference.

As the magazine button is depressed, the support hand grasps the spare magazine. If the spare magazine is mounted vertically on the belt, the rounds should be facing forward. If, like some police officers, you have your spare magazines mounted horizontally on the belt, the rounds should be facing up.

The heel of the magazine should hit the middle of your palm, with your forefinger pointed down along the body of the magazine and its carrier. The spare magazine comes out, rotates, and is brought forward and up to the pistol, where it is inserted with authority. The support hand then reacquires its grip on the gun.

This sounds a lot more complicated than it actually is. The speed reload is a very smooth, simple technique that, once ingrained into your muscle memory, can be done very quickly.

I have been carrying a Glock 34 daily for the past four years and shooting it regularly in competition. After extensive practice I can reload it in well under a second with my eyes closed because the speed reload is all about muscle memory.

What's the point of a circus trick like a blindfolded reload? It is no different than having to reload in the dark or reloading while not taking your eyes off a potential threat--both very real potential scenarios.

How far down and back you should pull the pistol during the reload is a question that has no right answer. It has more to do with the geometry of your pistol than anything else; depending on the grip angle, you will have to position your pistol a certain way to ensure the new magazine will go in smoothly.

Not everyone who shoots well, even on a professional level, uses the same technique.

"Grab a spare magazine off your belt and bring it up naturally," says Angus Hobdell, a professional shooter for CZ-USA. "Wherever it ends up, that's where y

our gun should be during the reload." This is the opposite of what everyone else does, but it seems to work for Angus.

Step 3: Insert magazine into the mag well. When you're starting out, you want to "look" the mag into the well. In time, it will become instinctive.

As a starting point for practice drills, when performing a reload pull your strong-side elbow into your body while turning the pistol butt 45 degrees to the side to accept the new mag.

As new baseball players are told to keep their eye on the ball during fielding practice, until you have developed the appropriate muscle memory you want to "look" the mag into the gun just like you look ball into glove. This means focusing on the pistol butt where the magazine is to be inserted. Practice slowly at first to hone your technique before trying to increase your speed.

As always, fast isn't fast; smooth is fast. You don't always need to start with an empty magazine in the gun, but do it occasionally, just to make sure you're hitting the magazine release button fully. Remember to keep the pistol more or less vertical until the old mag has dropped free, otherwise it may hang up in the gun. When you are dropping empty magazines, practice over carpet to reduce wear and tear on your magazines (not to mention your floor).

Step 4: Insert the magazine with authority to make sure it's locked in, then reacquire the firing grip.

Currently, one federal agency is training its people to position their pistols vertically in front of their faces when doing reloads. This is taking the "look your mag into the gun" technique to what I feel is an unnecessary extreme. Not only does that block your vision, it takes the muzzle of your potentially still-loaded gun (one round in the chamber) much farther away from the direction of the threat. Plus, it's slower.

Once you feel you have mastered the reload, try doing it while moving--forward and back at first, then side to side, always while keeping your finger off the trigger and the muzzle pointed downrange. You'll soon see that what looks simple really isn't. Which is why we practice.

Some pistols are easier to reload quickly than others. The Glocks seem very quick to reload. I think this is because plastic on plastic is much more forgiving than the metal-on-metal reload of a SIG Sauer or a Beretta.

Just due to their design, double-stack magazines, which narrow at the top to the width of a single round, are easier to get into a gun quickly than single-stack magazines, which are the same width their entire length.

The bigger the magazine well in relation to the magazine you're trying to fit into it, the smoother things will go. That is why the competitive shooters bolt those huge mag wells on their guns. These people shoot for a living; if those mag wells didn't do something, they wouldn't be using them.

Reloading at speed, especially while moving, isn't easy even for the pros. If the professional shooters, the guys and gals who shoot tens of thousands of rounds each year, have problems reloading quickly just due to match pressure, how much trouble is the average cop or concealed-carry permit holder going to have when he or she is faced with a high-stress, life-or-death situation?

As far as I'm concerned, there's no reason for anyone who carries his or her gun openly--military, law enforcement, private security or civilian--not to have at least a beveled magazine well opening if not an exterior mag well bolted onto the gun. With open carry, concealability is not an issue, so there is no reason not to give yourself every advantage.

Adrenaline nearly obliterates fine motor skills, so the bigger that magazine well, the better. This is not just my opinion. A certain three-letter government agency recently contacted a gunsmith I know to design a bolt-on mag well for its SIG Sauer 226s.

That's not to say you absolutely need a big bolt-on mag well, but even a small bevel will help smooth out and speed up the reload.

Some people decry beveled mag wells, saying they will clog the gun up with dirt. Really? Think about that. If there's so much dust and dirt where you are that enough can get up into the gun through the magazine opening to jam it, wouldn't the ejection port be a much more likely point of entry?

I have a risky job and quite frequently travel in high-crime areas. Because of that, and personal experience, I am always armed. For the past month on assignment I've been carrying a SIG Sauer P226, which holds "only"15+1 rounds of 9mm +P+. Realistically, what are the chances that I will get into an armed confrontation, much less an actual gunfight where I'll need to do any type of reload, much less a speed reload? Greater than zero, which is why I practice, and why you should too.

You may not need a big honkin' mag funnel (l.) but if concealment's not an issue, you'll find a bolt-on well will make your reloads a lot quicker than will a standard setup (r.).

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