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What's "tactical" about the tactical reload?

By Ralph Mroz, PoliceOne Columnist 
Training Director, Police Officers Safety Association

Note - this article appeared in the Q3 2004 issue of POSA's Journal of Tactics and Training. All issue of the Journal, as well as all of POSA's full-length video training programs on use of force subjects, are available free of charge to any LE officer at www.posai.org. Simply visit the website to download these material or request them in hard copy form.

One of our pet peeves is the nearly ubiquitous instruction these days of the so-called "tactical reload." That is, maintaining a partially spent magazine in your hand while you load a fresh one into the pistol…with the same hand. This competition stunt has worked its way into serious law enforcement training, and like do many previous competition parlor tricks, this one has also taken on the aura of some kind of life-saving skill.

The argument for a tactical reload goes like this: you don't want to dump perfectly good rounds on the ground because you might need them later. Therefore, take a little longer reloading and capture a partially spent magazine in your hand as you simultaneously use that same hand to acquire and insert a fresh magazine into your weapon. To the point that this takes extra time, the proponents reply that this technique is meant for a "lull" in the action when you have time to do it.

Well, in our opinion, the fight's over or it isn't- there's no such thing as a "lull." If it's over, then your weapon should be holstered. If it's not, then you need to be prepared to fight instantly-that's the way the bad guys in the real world operate. If your gun needs reloading, then getting it into fighting condition is the most critical issue facing you for the next couple seconds-so just speed reload the thing! If you then determine that you have another couple seconds in which you are safe, and you really want to recover the rounds in the spent magazine, then simply pick it up off the ground!

Besides, a tactical reload is a complicated, fine motor skill, and we all know that these go down the flusher under severe stress. (Competitive shooting is stressful, yes. Having someone shoot back at you is, however, more so.)

And OK, nothing's 100%. We can, if forced, paint ourselves into a corner in which the tactical reload may be the right solution to the problem at hand. These situations are extremely rare, however, and the answer during them is both simple and intuitive: simply insert the used magazine behind your belt, reload your gun with a fresh one, and then put the old magazine wherever you want it. This is what most people do instinctively anyway when required to "reload with retention", and it doesn't take a multi-hundred dollar day of instruction to learn.

Having recently shared these thoughts with Mike Bane, former practical shooting executive, competitive shooter, and shooting sports TV personality, we received the following reply.

You got me thinking again about IDPA's "tactical reload." I am not a fan of it at all, and I've argued the point before with [IDPA founders] Bill Wilson and Walt Rauch. I spoke with a top Israeli military firearms training person (who was also a top competitor in Israeli practical pistol sports) a couple of years ago, and he made an interesting point--he and his instructor cadre had stopped teaching tactical reloads, because "my men who tried to use them ended up dead." What he teaches now is purely speed reload...in other words, the risk of prolonged exposure in the killing zone--even behind cover--far outweighs the advantage gained of a few extra rounds. And that's in a firefight.

Given that I'm not aware of a single civilian gunfight lost because of one or two rounds of ammo (correct me if you'd heard different), I am increasingly convinced that the tactical reload is one of those "combat shibboleths" that instructors teach without any true substantiating data.

Two other random data points on the subject:

Even Walt admits in his IDPA book that the tactical reload was designed specifically around a 1911 single stack magazine (in the large hands of experienced men), and that it become much more awkward using a double stack magazine. I recently decided that because of my limited time for competition, I was going to shoot with the guns I liked, rather than anything trick. I went back to my Hi-Powers, which has been an interesting lesson in fat mags.

My friend Tom Judd, with whom I organized the first major IDPA clubs for Bill Wilson, asked me to sit in on the newest iteration of his competition safety classes. He mentioned to the class, and told me afterwards, that there is now a huge instance of failures to seat the reloaded magazine properly--particularly among people with small hands--because of the insistence on tactical reloads. I went to his next match and, boy, was he ever right!

Plus, the nature of a double stack tactical reload requires that the shooter shift his or her attention back to the gun, away from the threat. IDPA rationalizes this as okay because you're supposed to be behind cover when performing the reload. Still, even behind cover (unless that cover was a bunker in another county), I'd think I had better things to do than fumble around for a couple of loooooooong seconds...

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