Knowing how to shoot is the most important part of carrying a gun for self defense. Knowing how to properly reload is the next most important part of carrying a gun. If you find yourself in a situation where you need to draw and shoot your firearm, there’s a good chance that you’ll need to reload. Reloading – that is, dumping the empty (or depleted) mag, inserting the new mag, and returning the gun to battery – is a simple enough process. However, when you’re under less-than-ideal conditions, you need to know how to do it properly, efficiently, and safely. Reloading in a defensive situation will likely be quite different than a range reload. That’s why it is important to practice reloading in a variety of different locations, situations, and positions. Remember that it is wise to train the way you fight. Standing tall and proud, directly in front of an assailant with your entire body in plain view, is probably not how you’ll find yourself. That’s not to say that you won’t, but it isn’t likely. You could be sitting at a desk, buckled in the driver’s seat, or crouching behind a car for cover. All of these situations require you to be able to adapt to the different locations, yet still able to get back in the fight.
When carrying an extra magazine (or two, or ten), make sure they’re carried properly. That means you don’t just cram it into your pocket, subjecting it to lint or other debris. Loose pocket carry also prevents the magazine from being in the exact same position every time you access it. Consistency is key. Muscle memory is a big deal when the adrenaline is pumping.
For our purposes, your magazine carrier should be located on your weak side. If you’re right-handed like me, that means putting it on your left hip, right at the nine o’clock position. The mag should be placed in the carrier with the back of it facing forward. This ensures that the magazine will be facing the right way when you remove it from the carrier and toward the waiting firearm (more on that later).
Prep for the Reload
First off, you’ve got to get the empty mag out of the gun. Hit the release button and let gravity start to work. If you need to give it a fling or even a tug, do it. Don’t rely solely on gravity; it helps, but isn’t always reliable. You also can’t be picky about where it lands. If the mag hits the pavement hard and is no longer serviceable, that’s OK. You can buy new magazines; you cannot buy a new life.
Using your weak hand, reach over to the magazine carrier, positioning your hand so that your palm is facing your side and your thumb is on the front edge of the carrier. Pull the magazine straight up until you clear the carrier. It is important to note here that you need to be sure that any kind of cover garment is out of the way. Accidentally grabbing hold of your jacket or shirt as well as the magazine can slow down your reload or thwart it completely if it causes you to drop the mag.
As you’re moving the magazine across your body toward the waiting gun, begin to pivot your hand so that the magazine is now facing right-side-up, with the rounds forward. By placing the magazine in the carrier with the back facing forward, you do not have to reposition your hand on the mag in order to orient it the proper way for a reload.
You can tilt the handgun sideways a bit if you like, bringing the magazine well closer to the waiting mag. Once you’ve got the mag started in the well, use the palm of your hand to seat it. Don’t be afraid to use some force and ensure that it is firmly locked into place.
If you shot your gun until it was empty, then the slide should be locked back. At this time, you can grasp the slide, pull it briefly to the rear, let go, and allow the slide to return to battery, stripping a round off the top of the mag as it goes forward. You can also use your thumb to disengage the slide catch/release, which will also allow the gun to return to battery. The method you use is up to you; both have their merits.
If you didn’t shoot the gun until it was empty, you still follow the procedure above, but without manipulating the slide. This is a situation you could find yourself in if you accidentally hit the magazine release and a partially-loaded mag falls out of your gun. In a situation like this, basic gun safety is just as important as it is at any other time. Your gun is still loaded, so make sure it is pointed in a safe direction and be aware of your surroundings.
Drawing from a seated or crouching position is very similar to drawing from a standing position, with a few things to keep in mind. Because your body is more compact in these positions, you’ve got less distance to cover when drawing the mag and getting it into the mag well. It also means you may have more obstacles to overcome. The arm of your chair, the edge of your desk, and your seatbelt are all things to be aware of when drawing from these kinds of positions.
Hitting the chair arm or getting caught on the seat belt can be a big problem. At best, they slow down your process as you maneuver around them. At the worst, it causes you to drop the magazine.
Lying prone in an effort to make yourself as small of a target as possible is a very real possibility in a defensive situation. In this case, you may have to roll from one side to another as you give yourself access to the fresh magazine. This is a bit different than the other positions because it adds one more step to the process, but it is still fundamentally the same.
Even though you will be in a physically different position and/or environment when reloading from cover, lying prone, or sitting at a desk, the same basic concept applies. You still dump the old mag from the gun, reach for the new one with your palm facing your body and your thumb forward, move the mag across your body and position it toward the magwell, use your palm to ensure the mag is seated properly, then get the slide back into battery if you’re not doing a tactical reload.
At the end of the day, there’s really no wrong way to reload a handgun. What I mean is that the magazine will only exit the well in one direction, thereby allowing you to get a fresh mag loaded in its place, which, coincidentally, can only go in one way. The method laid out above is not the only way to do this procedure. You may find another option that you like better. The important thing to do is find what works for you and then practice in those situations and locations, either with empty magazines or dummy rounds. The only time you should use live rounds is when you are in a properly controlled training scenario.