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Reloading During a Gunfight

The basics behind reloading during a gunfight.

Reloading During a Gunfight

While it’s not all that likely you’ll have to reload your pistol during a gunfight, the ability to do so efficiently could save your life.

Most gunfights are over in seconds, with few rounds being fired. However, depending on the ammunition capacity of your pistol and the type of threat you’re faced with, you may need to reload—either mid-fight or once there is a break in the action. Of course, this is only possible if you carry a spare magazine.

Assuming you have a spare magazine, it should be worn opposite your holster. For instance, if you wear your holster in the three o’clock position, your magazine pouch should be worn in the nine o’clock position. This helps to balance the weight of your gear on your belt and allows you to use the same garment removal method to draw your magazine as you would to draw your pistol.

Your spare magazine should be carried with the rounds facing forward. This will enable you to draw your magazine properly from the pouch with the base plate in the palm of your hand and the tip of your index finger near the tip of the top cartridge. Gripping the magazine in this way gives you more control than if you were to grab the magazine by the bottom, with just your fingertips.

Properly carrying your spare magazine is a good start, but reloading a pistol takes practice. The first step is to press the magazine release with the thumb of your shooting hand. I prefer to do this while the pistol is upright, with the magazine facing down, so gravity can assist in ejecting the magazine. When the magazine is empty or nearly empty, it’s not as heavy, so it makes sense to use gravity to allow it to fall free.

Rather than try to reload your pistol with your arms extended, bring the pistol closer to your body, where it’s easier to manipulate. I like to index my elbow to my torso for consistency and keep the gun between my body and the threat, with the muzzle oriented upward at an approximate 45-degree angle.

Some prefer to have the pistol in front of their face, with the muzzle pointing to the side, but there are problems with this popular technique. First, it requires you to take your muzzle farther from the threat than it needs to be. With this technique, after reloading your pistol you have to move the gun more to get back on target—which eats up precious time.

Second, when training with this method, if you’re on the firing line with other shooters, there’s a chance your muzzle will be aimed at the person standing next to you. Last, but certainly not least, having your pistol in front of your face can block your view of the assailant.

For efficiency, as you bring the gun in to your body and rotate the magazine well toward your non-gun side, your offhand should acquire the magazine from your pouch as previously described and bring it to the magazine well. To help ensure a clean magazine insertion, a good practice is to first glance at the magazine well, then index the side or back or the magazine against the magazine well before palming the magazine forcefully into the pistol.

From there, assuming your pistol’s slide was locked to the rear, you can either rack the slide or press the slide stop with either thumb. I prefer to use the thumb of my non-shooting hand. After inserting the magazine, I stay in contact with the pistol and roll my hand over to hit the slide stop with my thumb. This ensures the magazine is seated before the slide goes forward.

If you use the thumb of your shooting hand to hit the slide stop, there’s a chance you could send the slide forward before inserting the magazine. This could lead you to believe you chambered a round when, in fact, you didn’t.

Of course, there is no need to wait until your pistol is empty, with the slide locked to the rear, before reloading. Sometimes taking a proactive approach is a better idea. As the saying goes, reload when you want to, not when you have to.

This brings us to in-battery reloads, be it a “speed reload,” a “tactical reload” or a “reload with retention.” These are conducted in order to top off a partially loaded pistol.


As the name implies, the speed reload is—or should be—fast. It’s performed the same as the slide lock reload except you don’t have to manipulate the slide, since there’s already a round in the chamber. The downside to the speed reload is you are abandoning a partially loaded magazine.

The tactical reload and the reload with retention enable you to maintain your partially depleted magazine, which could be important should you run low on ammunition during a protracted gun fight. The former is accomplished by drawing the fresh magazine and staging it near the magazine well. Then, after ejecting the magazine from the gun into your hand, insert the fresh magazine into the gun. Now you can store the partially depleted magazine on your person.

The drawback to the tactical reload is that it requires you to control two magazines in your hand simultaneously. This can be difficult, especially when a small-handed person is trying to perform this action with double-stacked magazines.

The reload with retention is a viable alternative. To accomplish this, simply strip the magazine out of the pistol and stow it in a pocket, in your waist band, etc., then draw the new magazine and insert it into the pistol.

While the slide lock reload may well be required mid-fight, the other reloads should only be performed when there is a break in the action and, preferably, available cover. Knowing how and when to efficiently reload your pistol and possessing the requisite skill to do so could make all the difference in a deadly encounter. 

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