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Reprinted with Permission
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
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.
Todd Louis Green
Law Enforcement Operations Manager