Mastering lightning fast handgun reloads (VIDEO)

Reloading your pistol both unerringly and expediently is a touchstone skill for handgun shooters and, as is so often the case in life, the key to success is organization. Presenting a lot of same issues as dealing with malfunctions, the ability to get your weapon back in ready-fire mode is essential and I have a story from a police officer friend of mine that illustrates this very point:

A while back, my friend policed with another officer in a high crime district.  Their precinct tended to get at least one shooting a month. One night, this veteran officer found himself on the hunt for a murder suspect he believed to be hiding somewhere around an abandoned parking lot.  Patrolling the far edge of the lot on foot, the officer took fire from the suspect who had taken up an ambush position in some nearby bushes.

The officer responded immediately with force while he moved rapidly to cover, suppressing the assault with firepower and emptying his gun in the process.  Taking cover briefly behind a large dumpster, the officer—rather than wait to test the structural integrity of his questionably “bulletproof” partition—reloaded his pistol very quickly and rejoined the fight within milliseconds.  The surprise move caught his attacker (who had also emptied his weapon) off-guard, allowing the officer the opportunity to sink a few rounds into the man’s torso and fortunately neutralize the threat.

Beyond debate, the officer’s ability to keep his weapon loaded was the reason the he won the fight.  Here’s how you can too:

Organization will set you free

The key to fast reloads is to have your gear staged correctly on your person and to get very familiar with this layout. If you are confident your extra ammo is under your right breast, you will instinctively reach for it. There is not much in this world faster than instinct.

Considerations over extra magazine placement should be central when formulating your individualized tactical rig and the answers will be highly dependent on where your body shape best allows you to carry these magazines. Try to use the least amount of movement as possible on the reload; this can be achieved by placing your mag pouch close to your center on your strong or weapon side. Also, make sure your carry mags are turned over with the ammo facing down (so you can easily grab the magazine right side up).

When should I reload?

You should attempt a reload the minute you find your sidearm in one of these two conditions:

  1. The last round of the magazine is loaded in the chamber, with the slide closed and the hammer back (called “a tactical reload without retention”).
  2. The slide locks to the rear because the weapon is empty.

You should seek cover if available, but situation will dictate tactics so practice reloading on the move.  Regardless of which situation you find yourself in however, your first response should be the same: let the empty magazine fall to the ground. To do this:

  1. Try to use your strong hand thumb to depress the magazine release. That will free up your support hand to quickly go for another magazine.
  2. Bring your weapon back to your “workspace”—the comfortable area not too close to your body but not out to far—by bending your strong arm. Keep your wrist straight, but bend your elbow. Keep your elbow in line with your midsection (an imaginary line from your nose to your belly button).

Never fuss around with retaining the empty mag during a firefight (you should have plenty of extra loaded magazines on you anyways, now shouldn’t you?). And you should practice this way. That’s right, drop your magazines in the dirt while you’re training, just remember to give a good dusting off before you use them again.  Trust me, it’s a good habit to get into; you’ll fight the way you train.

What’s the best way to conduct a lightning fast reload?

Well that depends a lot on what style of magazine pouch you’ve decided to go with.  If you have a covered, stiff, snapped mag pouch you can use what I like to call a Tiger Claw grip and pull a loaded magazine out with your fingers together and bent, unhooking the fresh ammunition in the process. If you have a floppy snapped, Velcro covered mag pouch or an open top:

  1. Rip that snap or cover away.
  2. Seat the base plate of the magazine in the palm of your hand.
  3. Place your index finger along the forward side of the magazine.
  4. Use your finger to guide the magazine home into the mag well.

Eyes up, glance down

When you reload it is of the utmost importance that you keep your eyes up, your head up and your gun up.  All of your speedy reloading is for nothing if you allow your opponent to slip off your radar and mount an attack.

This presents a bit of a quandary for both novice and seasoned shooters alike: if I have to keep my eyes on target, how am I going know if I’m reloading effectively?

The trick to this is to keep your hands close to your body (in your previously mentioned “workspace”) and glance down quickly to get a mental reference where you are in the reloading process.  In particular, make sure you see the tip of the magazine enter into the mag well. Once this happens, it is pretty safe to look back up and continue to watch for threats. Manipulate the slide if needed to perform a speed reload and get back in the fight.

Hopefully you don’t ever find yourself in the same situation as the police officer mentioned above, but if you do, it will be too late to practice reloads. Train today to be safe tomorrow.  Until next time, continue to hone your skills and keep adding to your tactical toolbox.

This article originally ran on Guns.com as “Mastering lightning fast handgun reloads (VIDEO)” on January 17, 2012 and has been edited for content.

Safety warning: Jeffrey Denning is a long time self-defense professional and any training methods or information he describes in his articles are intended to be put into practice only by serious shooters with proper training.  Please read, but do not attempt anything posted here without first seeking out proper training.