Wednesday, March 31, 2010


It's an important skill to be developed at most training programs. It is an essential part of the gun game known as IDPA. Many have said that it is a required technique for the well-trained gunman's toolkit. We say that claims of the need are a myth, and the so-called tactical reload truly fits that old cliché of "a great solution to a non-existent problem.” Let’s start by identifying just what the TR is.

There are various terms used for various reloading techniques. For clarification, we will confine this discussion to autoloading pistols and use the following terms:
SPEED RELOAD (SR): while there is still a round in the chamber and the slide is forward, the magazine is released from the gun and allowed to fall free as a new magazine is placed into the magazine well.
EMERGENCY RELOAD (ER): similar to the speed reload EXCEPT all rounds have been fired and the slide is locked back with an empty chamber.
TACTICAL RELOAD (TR): with rounds still in the magazine and a round in the chamber, the shooter secures a spare magazine with the off hand, brings it to the weapon, releases the magazine in the weapon into the off hand where it is held while the replacement magazine is placed into the magazine well. The partially spent magazine is then secured for later use.
RETENTION RELOAD (RR): with rounds still in the magazine and chamber, the magazine in the firearm is released into the off hand and secured for later use. The off hand then gets a spare magazine and inserts it into the magazine well of the firearm.

Why would we argue against the need for the tactical reload? There are a number of reasons. First and foremost is the fact that outside of the military there has been no verifiable instance of the rounds saved with a tactical reload making a difference in an actual gunfight. I can say that with a fair amount of confidence because several different people in several different venues have been trying for several years to find an example without any luck.

Second, the tactical reload is the reload that is most likely to be messed up. By its very design the TR is complicated and cumbersome in comparison to other reload techniques. It requires manipulation of two magazines at the same time and with the same hand. As can be regularly seen at matches, when a reload is flubbed it is almost always a tactical reload. Under the stress of an actual incident we can only expect the problem to increase, not decrease.

Third, the tactical reload does nothing that cannot be done as well or better with another method of reloading. If your concern is saving the ammo in the used mag the retention reload works better. It is more reliable, as you only have to manipulate one magazine at a time. If your concern is getting a new magazine into the firearm the speed reload or the emergency reload are better. Again, one needs only manipulate one magazine. So if our concern is speed, the SR and the ER provide a faster reload than the TR. If our concern is saving the remaining rounds of ammo, the RR provides greater reliability than the TR.

Fourth, learning the tactical reload is actually anti-tactical. It takes time from our limited training resources to develop a skill that is not needed, and it creates another decision-point for us by increasing the number of options we must pick and choose from. Both of those issues adversely impact our overall fighting ability.

"But wait" some say. "The TR is designed to get you a full magazine into the firearm during a lull in the action." And they are right...but there is a huge problem. How do we know if there is a lull in the action? Literally by definition we cannot know if there is a lull until the lull has already occurred. I've fired a few rounds at the Bad Guy, and I'm securely behind cover. My opponent seems to be down and out, so I start to reload. He suddenly jumps up and charges my position. No lull any more. If I am able to do the TR, I am gambling, as I don't know if my "lull" is actually sufficient until after the TR is completed.

But let's stay with this scene for discussion purposes. We've had our encounter, the Bad Guy is down, and you have some cover and want to top off the gun. The SR is a better choice here because we have no idea if we have a lull or not. Just drop the partially spent magazine. If things are really over or there really is a lull, then you can pick the magazine up after your firearm is fully loaded. If you happen to be in a position where that is problematic, such as wading through the floods after Katrina or in mud up to your ankles, the Retention Reload shines. You have greater control over both magazines at all times, thus reducing the chance of fumbling one or both of them and losing them in the mud or water. Remember, we need to decide what we want to do. If we are reloading because we think there is a further need for our gun, we need to reload as fast as we can, thus the SR or ER. If we want to save our partially expended magazine and there are no time constraints, the RR provides the greatest reliability.

Michael Bane, well known shooter and writer, relates the following comment from a discussion with an Israeli security specialist and top firearms instructor:
"We stopped teaching tactical reloads," he told me, "because the people who tried to do them kept getting killed." That is the basic problem with the Tactical Reload. I won't go so far as to argue that it gets you killed all by itself. But the time and effort spent learning to perform it well is time and effort that is not spent learning something that could make a difference for you. It is a nice trick for the range, but nothing that can't be achieved just as well with a Retention Reload.

The Tactical Reload can be learned, and it can be done. I learned it well and can do it quite quickly. But it still remains a solution searching for a problem. Many things can be done well given enough training, but their actual tactical benefits are few. And that is the crux of The Myth of the Tactical Reload, the idea that it is tactical in any way, shape, or form. It is the only reload that substantially differs from the others. The SR, ER, and RR all rely on a simple task...take one magazine in the off hand and insert that magazine into the magazine well of the firearm. The TR complicates that task in a way that provides no benefit to the shooter.