Tactical Reloads

Reloading. Whats the real history on this ? and can it really be done under duress ?

Tactical Reloads
Reprinted with Permission
Is it Practical ? Well…..The so-called “tactical reload” began many years ago back at a little school we now call Gunsite. It is important to understand this for a number of reasons: 

(1) Gunsite is located in the middle of a desert in Arizona, where the ground is fine sand.

(2) Gunsite originally allowed only 1911-pattern pistols at its courses, and for years afterwards still posited the 1911 as a critical “fundamental” of shooting; therefore, many students to Gunsite used 1911-pattern pistols.

(3) This all began decades ago, back when the 1911 (and to an even greater extent, the 1911 magazine) was notoriously less reliable than current manufacture quality 1911-pattern guns; the thin single-stack 1911 magazines of the day held at most seven rounds.

(4) Gunsite’s doctrine back then (and perhaps still, I don’t know) was “never let your gun go dry!” Meaning, you should never shoot to slide lock.

Now put all of this together. You have finicky guns with finicky single-stack magazines being dropped in the fine sand with ammunition still in the magazine. Initial result: jammed magazines. Later result: malfunctioning gun.

So the folks at Gunsite devised what they called the administrative reload. Rather than dump a partially-loaded magazine on the ground, the shooter would remove it and stow it in a pocket before loading the gun to full capacity. This protected the magazine and the ammunition from lying in the sand. This was pretty easy to accomplish because anyone could hold two of those thin single-stack magazines in his hand at once.

Someone eventually realized that, when you’re only carrying 15 or so rounds on your person and you are shooting simulated house-clearing exercises, it might be a good idea not to leave a quarter of your total ammunition supply on the ground.

Time goes on, and IPSC! (which had its genesis with the same people running Gunsite originally) begins to change into more of a game and less of a “martial art.” Competitors quickly determine that there is no reload as fast as the speed reload which is dropping a partial mag on the ground while inserting a loaded magazine into the gun (which already has a round in the chamber). In a snit, the “martial arts” shooters decide that this is Not Tactical and add this dangerous speed reload practice to the list of “things in IPSC that will get you killed.”

For a while, the tactical reload was an absolute mainstay of tactical firearms training in the military, law enforcement, and private sector classes. It was usually taught as one of many different options, along with the slidelock reload and speed reload.

The IDPA came along, and in a further effort to separate itself from IPSC they created a rule which forbade the speed reload. This is when the real cult activity began. Suddenly, people who learned everything they knew about shooting from Guns & Ammo determined that IDPA’s rules were absolute and unquestionable tactical doctrine. Tactical reload good, speed reload bad!

It is worth noting that, while IDPA was in its developmental stages I had a chance to discuss this issue with Ken Hackathorn (who, among other qualifications, happens to be one of the founding IDPA Board of Directors members). Ken predicted with uncanny foresight that IDPA would do to the tactical reload what IPSC did to the speed reload ...  people would be convinced it was the One True Way.

OK, that’s the history lesson. But what are the practical benefits and problems with the tactical reload?

The benefit of the tac load is that you are not leaving ammunition behind. Therefore, in the event that you are engaged in a protracted gun battle, you will have as much ammo as possible on your person.

The problem with the tac load is that it is a fairly complicated fine motor skill that requires dexterity and practice to do well, consistently, under stress. Many folks might opine that such training effort be better dedicated to more definite uses ... like, say, SHOOTING!

The logic which applied to a range technique for low-capacity firearms with finicky magazines does not necessarily apply to a real world application for high-capacity firearms with a proven track record of reliability in a variety of extreme environmental conditions.

It really all comes down to a simple cost-benefit analysis. Learning to perform a tactical reload takes time and effort. For people with smaller hands, it becomes even more difficult. All so that you can save a few rounds? Sorry, that just doesn’t wash. If I eject a partial magazine from my 92G Vertec and reload with a full magazine, I have more ammunition in my gun than a 70’s era 1911 shooter would have on his entire body. Why do I need to fumble around under stress to save a few extra rounds?

Now, some people will say that the tac reload does not occur under stress because it happens during a “lull” in the fight. This is range mentality thinking. In a real fight, how do you know how much longer your “lull” is going to last? You don’t. There is no way to tell whether you have another hour, or minute, or fraction of a second before a threat appears. Unlike during a static range exercise, you the shooter are not controlling the timeframe of the fight. The bad guy does. You might wait five minutes before doing that tac load, and convinced that you are in a “lull” finally perform the maneuver and *BAM* that is the moment the BG just happens to pop out from behind a wall and start shooting at you.

We see this in a training environment fairly regularly. Send a student through a live-fire shoot house scenario and he will perform a tactical reload after engaging a few targets, before moving further into the building. He wants to have a full gun before continuing but doesn’t want to leave ammo behind. Very good. Now change it from a live-fire scenario into a force on force scenario (like Simunition FX). The threats are no longer static cardboard or paper targets. You can no longer stand in a “cleared” room and be certain of safety. No, now the threats are real live armed human beings with brains and legs. Engage some threats in Room #1 and ... who know when someone might come running through the door? No “lull” here. So what happens? Most students forget to reload at all. The more experienced ones tend to do a speed reload ... even if that same student bad-mouthed the technique as “gamey” all afternoon.

It is critically important to note that there has never been a single recorded instance in which a tactical reload made the difference in a law enforcement or private citizen lethal force encounter. In other words, there has never been a case in which someone (a) performed a tac load and then (b) needed those saved rounds to win the fight. A skill with no practical value and no real-world application should not be considered a staple of tactical training!

It is also important to keep in mind what real world gun fights are like. They are not IPSC- or IDPA-like field courses in which a sole defender must fight off half a dozen threats. Real world fights usually require 4-6 shots fired. Real world fights are not room-to-room house-to-house affairs. They happen in one area, they happen fast, and they do not require you to engage gangs of BGs from multiple positions using up dozens of rounds of ammo.

There is a counter-argument, of course. “I don’t train for the average fight, I train for the extreme fight!” Fine. If you really think a half-loaded mag might make a difference, there is a very simple solution for you. Carry one more spare magazine. Now you can afford to leave two half-full magazines on the ground and still have the same amount of ammunition. So if you carry one, carry two. If you are already carrying two spare magazines, you are kidding yourself if you think you are going to get into a fight against so many people that you will survive long enough to fire that many rounds.