Skip to main content

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. 

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Handgun Basics

Handgun Basics

SIG Academy's Hana Bilodeau joins Rich and Jim to discuss the essential skills all handgunners should master.

Federal Premium Punch Defensive Handgun Ammo: Reviewed & Tested

Federal Premium Punch Defensive Handgun Ammo: Reviewed & Tested

Handguns editor Scott Rupp fires some Federal Punch .380 defensive handgun ammo into ballistics gel the range for a performance test run.

Teaching New Shooters

Teaching New Shooters

Julie Golob of Team Smith & Wesson guest stars, joining Jim and Scott for a discussion of how best to introduce new shooters to the sport.

KelTec CMR30 22WMR Review - Compact, Versatile & Fun to Shoot

KelTec CMR30 22WMR Review - Compact, Versatile & Fun to Shoot

Designed for lightweight, low recoil accuracy, the CMR30 .22 WMR features a nice, single-action trigger, ambidextrous dual non-reciprocating operating handles, ambidextrous safety and heel catch magazine release. The KelTec CMR30 is a .22 Magnum carbine that holds 30 rounds in each of its two flush-fit magazines. That's a lot of firepower for a 3.8-pound, semi-auto, collapsible truck gun. It comes out of the box as you see it, including Magpul sights and ambidextrous, non-reciprocating dual operating handles. She's a straight blow-back tack driver that delivers a ton of fun.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

While some modifications require an experienced gunsmith, the average shooter can install most parts in just minutes.
Instead, the curtain-rod engineer with a8 Popular Drop-In Glock Mods Accessories

8 Popular Drop-In Glock Mods

Dusty Gibson - July 17, 2013

While some modifications require an experienced gunsmith, the average shooter can install most...

If you're in the market for a 17-round, compact .22LR pistol that's feature packed, then the P17 is definitely an option for you.KelTec P17 22LR Pistol – Feature Packed, Accurate & Fun to Shoot Rimfire

KelTec P17 22LR Pistol – Feature Packed, Accurate & Fun to Shoot

Handguns Staff - August 14, 2020

If you're in the market for a 17-round, compact .22LR pistol that's feature packed, then the...

The new Ruger-57 looks to put a charge into the 5.7x28mm pistol market—and you know you want one.Ruger 57 Pistol Review Reviews

Ruger 57 Pistol Review

James Tarr - June 05, 2020

The new Ruger-57 looks to put a charge into the 5.7x28mm pistol market—and you know you want...

Do you remember the first time you fired a gun? If you're like most, you were somewhatPro Tips For Controlling Recoil Training

Pro Tips For Controlling Recoil

Richard Nance - April 11, 2017

Do you remember the first time you fired a gun? If you're like most, you were somewhat

See More Trending Articles

More Personal Defense

You don't have to spend a lot of money on a defense pistol to effectively protect your home and family.11 Best Defensive Pistols Under $500 Semi-Auto

11 Best Defensive Pistols Under $500

Brad Fitzpatrick - April 07, 2020

You don't have to spend a lot of money on a defense pistol to effectively protect your home...

These seven tips will help stack the deck in your favor to prevent, or at least survive, a carjacking attempt.7 Must-Know Tips to Survive and Prevent a Carjacking Personal Defense

7 Must-Know Tips to Survive and Prevent a Carjacking

Richard Nance

These seven tips will help stack the deck in your favor to prevent, or at least survive, a...

Cold weather garments present obstacles in both drawing and firing, and gloves add another potential hurdle.Cold Weather Carry Personal Defense

Cold Weather Carry

Richard Nance - September 12, 2018

Cold weather garments present obstacles in both drawing and firing, and gloves add another...

Ever since gunpowder was invented, shooters have been making handguns with the biggest hole down the barrel that they could safely shoot.Best Big-Bore Handguns of All Time Personal Defense

Best Big-Bore Handguns of All Time

Joseph von Benedikt - May 27, 2015

Ever since gunpowder was invented, shooters have been making handguns with the biggest hole...

See More Personal Defense

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Handguns App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Handguns subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now