Running Full Capacity

Speed Reload

So there you are with your firearm drawn to the Low Ready Position after having just stopped two assailants who tried to run up on you with knives for no apparent reason at all. Your heart is racing, your mind is working overtime, your hands are sweaty, and if it wasn’t for all that fabulous mindset training from your NRA Personal Protection Course, you would be thinking to yourself right now, “What just happened? Why did that just happen? What do I do now?” But, you knew this day would come. You trained for it. You never wanted it to come, but it did; and when it did, you didn’t say “Oh God no!” You said, “Right. Not going to happen to me. Sorry guys. You picked the wrong guy.” Now the only thing running through your mind is the events that just took place.

“Who did I shoot first again? The man with the big knife that was sprinting up on me, I shot him twice in his upper chest and once in his mouth. The other guy with a knife behind him didn’t stop running. I shot him twice in the throat. They are both down not moving. I need to call 911. Has somebody called 911 already? Is there anybody else around here? Yes there is. A woman is leaving the Laundromat across the street. She is on her cell phone. Their car is still running. Their headlights are on. Wait is that someone else in there. He is getting out. Hands. Hands. Look at his hands. He has got something in his hands.”

As you can see, the mental capacity needed to maintain control and awareness in a life threatening encounter is unreal. Most likely you have never ran your brain to that level of capacity before. Unfortunately in a lethal encounter there is no rest. Your mind will run at full capacity like this until you have been returned to the comforts of home. It will not empty itself until way past the threat being subsided. Now if only our handguns would work the same way. But they don’t. After doing simulated combat training, I found very quickly that the more my mind was at full capacity, the more empty my firearm was. It seemed like the more shots I fired the more I had to think about.

So, in short, to ensure your firearm is at full capacity, you will have to think even more. This obviously isn’t the ideal situation as you want your mind to be as clear as possible when defending your life, but with proper training and practice, this intense thought process diminishes simply from repetition alone. You will begin to unconsciously perform. But that is a high level of competence that does not come over night. In the above example, what should have been incorporated in your thought process was the addition of “Get behind cover and concealment. Where is good cover and concealment? How many shots did I fire again? Five; that means I have six left. I should reload.” This added level of thinking is necessary to keep your firearm at full capacity for, hopefully, obvious reasons.

So what is the best way to get a fresh supply of rounds into the gun? There are three ways:

  1. Speed Reload
  2. Tactical Reload
  3. Reload With Retention

Each of these reloads is designed for a specific situation and each should only be used for their specific situation. The reason being is there are two main differences between the function of all of them and using the wrong one at the wrong time can get you killed. One of the major differences is whether or not you want to keep the magazine you are swapping out, and the other is the amount of time your handgun is left without a magazine in it.

You are probably asking yourself right now, “What about revolvers?” Revolvers were designed for reliability and ruggedness. Their most beneficial attribute is they offer a smaller frame for larger caliber systems then do semi-automatics. Their disadvantage however is that their reloading process is slightly less instinctive than a semi-automatic, especially when trying to do it quickly. It is a myth that the time to reload a revolver takes considerable longer than a semi- automatic. In fact you can get very quick at it. How fast you do it depends on how much time you spend practicing and whether you use a speed loading device or not. However, the same amount of time you take learning how to reload your revolver, can get you lightening fast with a semi-automatic. Also, with a revolver you will usually find yourself needing to reload sooner in the shooting than you would if you had your 9mm/.40 cal. Now you don’t have to go get rid of your revolver, you just have to realize all of this now before it is too late. But semi’s are different. They are designed with capacity in mind. The whole point of a semi-automatic is to get rounds down range quickly and keep them coming quickly. Therefore, they are the most popular handgun selected for self-defense and for that reason this article will only cover reloading them. If you would like to learn the proper way to reload a revolver under stress, in the heat of a battle, take a NRA Personal Protection Course.

The Speed Reload
The Speed Reload

The Speed Reload

The Speed Reload is designed to keep the gun at full capacity when there is very little lull in the fight. We start all of these reloads the same; by first counting our rounds as we shoot. Yes, you heard me correctly. We don’t just keep shooting until the slide locks back (unless it is absolutely necessary). This process really starts at home by going through all of your carry magazines and determining each of their levels of fullness. For example, for a ten round magazine, I consider seven or more rounds to be full, four to six to be an area where as soon as there is a lull in the action I will reload, and less than four I will reload immediately. I make this same analysis for my eight round 1911 mags and my 33 round pre-bans.

It is important to realize and understand that the Speed Reload is only for when you need to put a fresh magazine in the pistol and don’t have time to worry about the one leaving the gun. This

is usually necessary when there are multiple adversaries and the threat is very imminent. The counts in the steps are this:

Speed ReloadCount 1) I have shot X rounds, therefore I have Y left – reload/don’t reload?

Count 2) Reload – First, turn the gun with your support hand while still holding it with your strong hand as you bring your support hand down to its same side hip. At the same time you are bringing your support hand to your hip, index your strong arm’s elbow into the bottom of your rib cage.

Count 3) Establish a good grip on your spare magazine at the same time your strong side thumb (index finger if a left- handed shooter) goes on the magazine release button.

Speed ReloadCount 4) Make sure you have a good grip on your spare magazine and have started the process of pulling it out of its carrier before you release the magazine in the gun. Not a second before. Make sure as you draw the spare magazine your support hand index finger is laid up the front of the magazine with the tip of that index finger touching the top most round as soon as possible.

Count 5) Turn the magazine upright and aim (peripherally) to place the back of the magazine into the gun’s magazine well flush against the backstrap wall, to about a half an inch in.

Speed Reload Count 6Count 6) Using your palm only, shove the magazine into the well with one smooth, hard, smack and then slide your support hand up into position on the gun to reestablish the proper grip.

Speed Reload



The Speed Reload should be triggered mentally before physically (i.e. slide lock). You should hear yourself saying, “Five, four, three, speed reload.” In the very, very rare instance I have to run to empty and the slide locks back on me, that change in dynamics will interrupt my process enough to trigger me to Speed Reload IMMEDIATELY and at that point I will press the slide release with my support hand thumb (support hand middle finger if a left-handed shooter) to load the chamber when I bring my support hand up. Note: NEVER drop a slide on an empty chamber. Always ease it down.

Count 7) I extend back out to a High Ready Position with my finger on the trigger to assess the condition of my threat. If he is stopped, I do not shoot, I go to a Low Ready Position, look for the presence of more threats and seek cover to wait until the police arrive. I don’t worry about that “empty mag” sitting on the ground. I get to cover!

This whole process should take less than 2 seconds to do. But start slow when dry practicing. Slow will make you smooth and smooth will make you fast.

The Tactical Reload
The Tactical Reload is for when you believe you should reload (magazine has less than seven but more than three) and there is enough lull in the action that you can either get to cover first, or catch your breath a little and get your bearings if you are already behind cover. Basically you have enough time to keep the magazine you are replacing, but not enough time to sit down and let your emotions overcome you as you come to terms with surviving and winning. Yes you can relax a little but you are still assessing the presence of known threats. You don’t believe the fight is over yet!

The only difference in steps between the Speed Reload and the Tactical Reload is on Count 3, instead of gripping your spare magazine with your index finger running up the front; you place the grip it between your two middle fingers, or between your index and middle fingers. On count 4, instead of releasing the magazine the second you have a secure grip on the spare, you wait to until you have brought up your support hand up to the base of the gun so you can grab the magazine being released by pinching it with your support hand index finger and thumb. You are doing this while still securely holding onto the spare magazine in between your middle fingers. Then, by rotating your support hand, the fresh magazine can be inserted inside the pistol the exact same process as before and the “empty” mag can be inserted in the same place you retrieved your spare mag.

As you can see the chance of fumbling here and dropping something is great, so you need to be secure enough behind cover and tactically hidden enough behind concealment to award you the opportunity to slow down enough to do it right. The benefit to the Tactical Reload over the Speed Reload is that you get to keep those four, five, or six rounds in the “empty” magazine for later. The cost is the time it takes to do it right. But you must slow down and do it right. Dropping a magazine on the ground would not be good while waiting for the police to arrive as that would give away your position causing you to have more threats coming after you at a time when you just “got rid” of more rounds than you would have if you chose to do a Speed Reload. Practice this one a lot (preferable under the supervision of an instructor) both in light and darkness.

Reload With Retention (RWR)
The last reload is the IDPA made famous Reload With Retention. Many get confused by why this is necessary in IDPA matches. First, the “retention” it is referring to is not of the magazine but of the firearm. Its name is trying to signal that you should be in a ready position where the gun is retained close to your body. The Reload With Retention is suitable for any of the Retention Ready Positions, but works best with the High Compressed Ready Position. This reload is intended to be used when you are pretty sure any and all criminal acts against you have stopped completely and are just waiting for police to arrive. It is at this critical phase when most relax and their awareness usually goes to non-existent. Usually it is because they desperately want it to be over and begin to believe “it is over.” The Reload With Retention helps you to remember to stay alert and aware by forcing you to reload by tactile feel only, with no sight of the magazine or handgun necessary. In a Retention Ready Position like the High Compressed Ready Position you will have your head up and the gun will be below your field of vision. It physically reinforces where you mentally should be.

Reload With Retention (RWR)You perform the exact same steps as the Speed Reload except you release the magazine in the gun first, before gripping your spare. You bring your “empty” magazine down to place inside a pant or coat pocket, then you grab a spare magazine (the exact same way as described for the Speed Reload) and insert it inside the pistol. The slide should already be down because you were triggered mentally to reload. Again, the two main differences are that the firearm is retained close to your body, not out away from you, and everything is done slowly and without seeing what you’re doing. It is a great technique for reloading inside closets or under beds or cars. Next time you shoot an IDPA match, make sure the course requires a RWR when it is appropriate to do one and not just because they need to throw one in the course to meet guideline requirements. There is a purpose for the RWR and training for it will allow you to use it when you need to reload without thinking. Not thinking, now there’s something you don’t get too often when defending your life. I’d take advantage of it. That is all for now. Be safe out there.

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Johnathan is a NRA certified firearms instructor currently serving the Northern Finger Lakes Region of New York State. He is qualified to teach the entire PISTOL discipline of the NRA shooting courses: Basic, F.I.R.S.T. Steps, Home Firearm Safety, Personal Protection Inside the Home, Personal Protection Outside the Home, Advanced Personal Protection, and is also certified by the DCJS to teach NYS self-defense and use-of-force laws. He became familiar with firearms through professional instruction and had to learn like most of his students - from the ground, up. Contact Johnathan today to learn what many do not, that, "Knowing when to shoot is just as important as knowing how."
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good too know

Luis Vargas

” NEVER drop a slide on an empty chamber. Always ease it down.”



Only the really good shooters know training and reality are generally far removed the first, second, and even the third time. Train, but don’t get cocky that the training will make you superhuman. It’s 100% effort for whatever percentage of benefit you can squeeze out of your particular situation, and NOBODY knows what will happen until it does. We can just prepare as best we can and hope something actually stuck, and that the situation fits the training profile. Train as you live, live as you train.