On Reloading…

It has come to my attention that there may be readers out there who do not know the most efficient way to reload their pistol. This is a totally unacceptable state of affairs, and your humble writer shall attempt to assist.

First, a few caveats. We’re talking automatic pistols here. I rarely shoot revolvers, know little about them, and would not presume to advise anyone on how to reload them. Also, I’m going to describe the technique from the perspective of a right-handed shooter. If you are some unfortunate genetic mishap who favors the Sinister over the Dexter, just reverse the instructions.

Okay, so your gun has locked back empty. Nuts. Don’t just stand there and do the stupid-face. If you’re in the middle of a IPSC stage when you run dry, just keep on doing what you’re doing. If you ran dry during a run, keep moving to the next position. If you ran dry during a stand-and-shoot string, just get on with the reload, quick as you can. Now if you’re in the middle of a bullet exchange, you might not want to stand out in the open while reloading. What is the saying, “Get Off The X?” Good advice. If there’s a chance you might take incoming fire, go ahead and get to some cover.

Okay, ready to commence with the reload? Good. First, bring the gun back into a high-ready position, about 10-12 inches from your face; the instructors at Blackwater call this “the Workstation.” Do not drop the gun down to waist level and fiddle with it. Keep your gun up and your head up. With your right thumb, depress the magazine release and allow the depleted magazine to drop free*. With your left hand, get a grip on your spare magazine; basepad in your palm, index finger extended along the front of the magazine. Ideally, you should touch the nose of the exposed bullet with the tip of your index finger, but if you can’t reach, don’t worry about it.  You want to grip the magazine in such a manner that you can present it directly to the gun, without shifting it around in your hand.

With that right hand, turn the pistol so that the magazine well is pointed towards your magazine pouch.  What you are doing here is ensuring that the magazine can move from your belt carrier all the way up into the gun in a straight line.  This is one of the secrets to a smooth and fast reload.

Look at the edge of the magwell**.  That’s where you want the magazine to go, so look at it.  You are essentially going to look the magazine into the gun.  The left hand comes up and indexes the magazine at the magwell opening.  Some people find it helpful to touch the back of the magazine to the rear of the magwell opening – I’ve never done so, but if it makes you faster or less fumble-prone, it may be worth a try.

Seat the magazine firmly with a single stroke.  Resist the temptation to give the magazine an extra tap or two, it’s a huge waste of time and it makes you look like an idiot.  Seat the magazine the first time.

Now, since the slide is locked back, you have to get it back into battery.  There are two main methods of doing so, and believe me, the debate between the proponents of each method is second only to 9×19 vs. .45 ACP.  In short, you can either depress the slide release with your thumb, or you can grasp the slide, pull it back slightly, and release it.

In my opinion, the only reason to use the slide rack technique is if you are physically incapable of depressing the slide release, or your gun of choice doesn’t have one.  The slide rack requires the fairly complicated coordination of both hands***, which can be difficult under stress, especially if your hands are sweaty/bloody.  Further, I have seen a large number of shooters induce feedway stoppages due to riding the slide forward; it’s surprisingly easy to do.  Pressing the slide stop is easier, more reliable, and much faster.

Okay, we’re almost done.  Last step is to re-establish the two-handed firing grip on your pistol, and continue shooting/fighting/whatever.  Don’t neglect this step.  I’ve lost count of the number of blown shots I’ve seen come right after a reload.  Take an extra tenth of a second, get your grip back, and get the hits.

This post took me about twenty minutes to write.  A good emergency reload can be done in under 1.5 seconds.  Time to practice!

* – If you’re the gunfighting type, you might want to make sure that you have a spare magazine before you ditch the one in your gun.  If you’re a gamer like me, you’ve probably preplanned your reload points, so you don’t need to worry about it.  Whatever floats your airship.

** – Some schools of thought opine that one should keep scanning for bad guys, even while reloading.  I disagree with this – your attention, visual and otherwise, needs to be at the task at hand.  On the other hand, if you’re some major stud who can reload in under a second while blindfolded, well, you are way past needing my advice…

*** – Someone here will probably mention Coarse vs. Fine motor skills.  Let me head this off right now – you’re an idiot.  Everything you do with a pistol, from racking the slide to hitting the slide stop to pressing the trigger is a fine motor skill.


5 thoughts on “On Reloading…

  1. Everything you do with a pistol, from racking the slide to hitting the slide stop to pressing the trigger is a fine motor skill.

    Wow, I like this! This is worthy of a post all it’s own.

    I only have one complaint with you whole post, and that is you saying to get to your next shooting point and than reload. Shouldn’t we be ready to shoot when we get in the box? Generally that means reloading on the move.

  2. I hope I didn’t say that. If I did, I didn’t mean it. I must have been misquoted! You can’t prove anything! I’ve been the victim of a right-wing smear campaign! RACISM!!!

    No, the point I was trying to get across, is that if your gun runs dry unexpectedly, don’t stop and stand there fiddling with it. Reload on the move, absolutely, if that’s the most efficient thing to do. Don’t try that in IDPA, though. I hear they frown on reloading on the move.

    Thanks for the comment!

  3. Riding the slide is a training issue, which is what we should be looking to avoid.

    If you carry a gun with a nice, large or perhaps over sized slide release lever, one can depend on hitting it much more effectively than one can depend on hitting most factory slide releases. They tend to be small, and that’s because they shouldn’t add to the width of the carry gun.

    The extra slide velocity that is picked up from pulling the slide back might, in fact, prevent a feedway stoppage. The little bit of reduced momentum that comes from the slide going forward from the slide stop position instead of the fully rearward position just might matter.

    Sling shoting the slide works well for me, and will work with every semi-automatic handgun that I can think of.

  4. Riding the slide is a training issue, which is what we should be looking to avoid.

    True. However, I’ve witnessed no small number of well-trained shooters induce malfunctions while racking the slide. This tells me that the technique itself is probably sub-optimal.

    But if you like the slingshot method, hey, it’s your life. Myself, I think the advantages of using the slide stop speak for themselves.


  5. I don’t follow the argument that, because you can do it wrong, the technique could be sub-optimal.

    It’s very possible to not drop the slide when attempting to hit the slide release, especially with stock parts. There are so many after market slide releases out there, for almost every handgun imaginable, that the problem with hitting the slide release is very evident.

    Based on that, I’d have to say hitting the slide release is also sub-optimal.

    Who knew that carrying a handgun was a sub-optimal experience? I guess we will just have to train ourselves to work past the problems, with either sling shot or slide drop. And we shouldn’t forget the magazine catch, sight picture, or trigger press.


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