Four Pistol Reload Methods & Nine Magazine Tips

By Col Ben Findley
Col Findley reviews the best Pistol Reload Methods and as a bonus includes nine tip for keeping your gun magazines organized and ready.

Two Gun Magazines
Can you hold two magazines in one hand and perform a solid Tactical Reload without dropping one or both of them?
AmmoLand Gun News
AmmoLand Gun News

USA –  -( Can you do it? Can you hold two magazines in one hand and perform a solid Tactical Pistol Reload without dropping one or both of them?

Even for trained shooters it is difficult to do and when you add the stress factor it gets very difficult. But, you’re only betting your life on it, right?

Well, you better know the best methods of reloading your gun in a deadly-force gunfight and make some key decisions. It is critical to reload your handgun using the best method for getting your gun recharged with fresh rounds in your gun and do it quickly. I want to focus here on only semi-automatic pistol reloads to keep my thoughts focused. What follows are my 4 major pistol reloads and 9 magazine (mag) tips to help you shoot faster and survive longer.

Some shooters prefer one pistol reload method over others, so these are my opinions and understandings. There are several factors that influence a safe and effective reload, like the type of gun you are using, the capacity of the particular mag, your motor skills and dexterity, training, and situational factors.

So do your own research and decide for yourself, but pray you will not have to shoot all rounds in your mag and shoot to slide lock in an actual deadly-force encounter. Here are 4 types of pistol Reloads and some suggested mag tips to consider.

The 4 major Pistol Reload Methods :

  • 1) EMERGENCY RELOAD (ER) or Slide-Lock Reload;
  • 3) TACTICAL RELOAD (TR); and
Pistol Reload Methods : Place Index Finger of Support Hand on Front Strap of Mag to Help Guide Mag into Mag Well
Pistol Reload Methods : Place Index Finger of Support Hand on Front Strap of Mag to Help Guide Mag into Mag Well

1) EMERGENCY RELOAD (ER) or Slide-Lock Reload

You perform a ER when the pistol’s slide is locked back, all rounds have been fired from the mag and chamber, and the gun runs out of ammo. There is NOT a round left in the chamber and the gun and mag are empty. An ER can also be done when there is a malfunction or stoppage emergency. Recognize that most properly operating semi-auto pistol slides will lock back to the rear after the last round is fired and the mag is empty and must be loaded again. So, you press the mag release to release the empty mag, insert the new fully-loaded mag by placing your index finger of your support hand on the front of the mag to guide it, and then release the slide forward. These steps are very similar to the SR steps that follow.


You can do a SR when the mag is NOT empty, the slide is forward and not locked back, and the gun is in battery with a round in the chamber. The partially-spent mag is released from the gun and allowed to fall to the ground and a new fully-loaded mag is placed into the gun. The purpose of a SR is to keep your pistol completely loaded to full capacity and quickly recharge it during a dangerous encounter, when you have a quick chance in the gunfight to do so. It is done when you have a temporary calm interval, lull, or lack of activity or movement. Your gun is still in battery or loaded.

Remember, this can be done when you have the time to SAFELY and QUICKLY reload, even when the threat or danger level is very imminent. BE CAREFUL with the SR.

Some question whether or not you should do a SR dropping the partially-loaded mag to the ground. With the SR, during the lull you need to get your gun loaded with as much ammo as you can and back in use very quickly because your life may directly depend on it. This varies a lot by the situation, gun model, number of bad guys/gals, standard mag capacity, threat level, etc. When you do your SR it’s your decision and the partially-spent magazine falls to the ground to save you some time fumbling with it.

Pistol Reload Methods: Here are the STEPS in a SPEED RELOAD:

1) Press the mag release with your strong-hand thumb to eject the partially empty mag to the ground; Keep the gun high center chest (high ready position) near your chin to concurrently scan for threats, improve peripheral vision, and see the target quicker. In a SR, an advantage is that the gun is still in battery and loaded with a round in the chamber, so you do not have to rack the slide and there is less manipulation. The disadvantage is that you have ejected a mag with rounds in it to the ground.

2) A split second before your strong-hand thumb presses the mag release to release the mag to the ground, your support hand should have grabbed and started pulling out a new fully-loaded mag from where it is stowed. You should index your strong arm’s elbow inward into the bottom of your rib cage while angling the gun in your strong hand upwards. At the same time, your strong-hand thumb should move to the mag release button.

3) Place your index finger straight alongside the front strap of the mag to guide it when you get the full mag and insert it into the mag well. The tip of your support-hand index finger should touch the top round in the mag.
Place the back of the mag into the mag well directly to the rear against the backstrap and with the rounds in the mag bullet-end facing forward toward the target.

4) Quickly move your support hand up in position to quickly rack the slide rearward to chamber a round from the new full mag.

(3) TACTICAL Pistol Reload Method (TR)

When there is a round in the chamber and you have a partially-spent mag during a break or lull in the action, it may be necessary for you to catch your breath and refresh your partially-filled mag with a fully-filled one for the action that follows. You want to retain and keep on your person the mag with the few rounds left in it that you are ejecting, while quickly inserting a new fully-loaded magazine, during the break in action. Try to get to cover first if possible and do the reload behind cover.

The shooter gets a new mag with his support hand, moves it toward the gun, releases the mag in the gun to the support hand where it is held at the same time the new mag is inserted into the mag well. The shooter has two mags in his support hand at the same time. BE CAREFUL! Dexterity and fine motor skills are involved. The partially-spent mag is stored in the pocket or elsewhere. There are different options for where to put the new mag, like between your two middle fingers or between your fourth finger and last/pinky finger. It’s a personal preference and you must consistently practice whichever one you choose. Remember, you do NOT want the ejected mag to go to the ground so it will be readily available later. Do NOT drop one or both mags or fumble with them. Practice helps. The major advantage of the Tactical Reload is that you have a few extra rounds or so already in the partially-empty mag for later and have a fully-loaded mag immediately. The major disadvantage is that it requires fine motor skills and dexterity to satisfactorily do it.

Here are the procedural STEPS in a TACTICAL RELOAD:

1) Grasp the new full mag from your pouch or pocket FIRST with your support-hand thumb and index finger and move it toward your gun’s mag well.

2) Eject the partially-empty mag into your support-hand fingers that are together to form a pocket to catch the ejected mag. Do NOT eject the mag to the ground. Put the mag between your two middle fingers OR your fourth finger and last/pinky finger. You should decide your technique before an encounter, so practice each and decide for yourself which works for you. You must be able to effectively manipulate 2 mags in your support hand at the same time. Be sure and keep the gun in your high center-chest area near your chin when doing manipulations to better scan for threats and see the target quicker. Also, index your strong arm’s elbow inward into the bottom of your rib cage while the gun in your strong hand is angled upwards.

3) Insert the new mag held by your support hand’s thumb and index finger into the mag well. Use your support hand’s index finger extended straight alongside the front of the new mag to index and guide it and insert it into the mag well. Be sure the tip of your support-hand index finger touches the top round in the mag.

4) Store the partially-loaded mag that you removed from the gun somewhere on your person. The gun will still be in battery and loaded, so there is no need to rack the slide rearward to chamber a round.

(4) RELOAD WITH RETENTION : Pistol Reload Methods (RR)

With the RR, you first release the partially-loaded mag into your support hand, stow it in your pocket (NOT onto the ground), then get a fully-loaded mag from your pouch, and place it in the gun, with rounds still in the magazine, one round in the chamber, and from a tight, close high-ready retention position. This is a more basic and efficient reload method than some of the others and is preferred by many shooters, since there are less manipulations and only one hand (support hand) is used. It is intended to be used when the bad guy/gal’s action has stopped. I prefer the RR Method myself.

Pistol Reload Methods: Here are the procedural STEPS in a RELOAD WITH RETENTION:

1) Eject the partially-loaded mag in the gun into your support hand;

2) Stow it in your pocket or appropriate place on your body with the support hand;

3) Grasp the new fully-loaded mag from its mag pouch with your support hand; and

4) Insert the new mag into the gun’s mag well with your support hand.

9 Mag and Reload TIPS to Consider:

Tactical Reload Tips
5) Ensure the Mags Always Face the Same Direction in your mag pouch, so you can grab them and insert them correctly and quickly in the gun (I like to face the bullet-end of my rounds in the mag towards the front);
  • 1) When you grab or acquire a mag from the pouch or insert it into a mag well, always index and guide it into place by extending your support-hand index finger on the front strap of the mag;
  • 2) Always safely keep the gun’s muzzle pointed downrange or slightly up to the air on your right side, while grabbing the mag from the pouch and performing the reload;
  • 3) Hold the gun up high in the chest or chin area (high retention position) with arms in close to the body during reloads and mag changes;
  • 4) Label your Mags by Priority (1,2,3,4), so you will know which ones are the reliable ones and your frequency and order of use;
  • 5) Ensure the Mags Always Face the Same Direction in your mag pouch, so you can grab them and insert them correctly and quickly in the gun (I like to face the bullet-end of my rounds in the mag towards the front);
  • 6) Rotate & Shoot your Various Mags Often (especially carry ones) to ensure they function well (I try to change my carry mag springs once a year or so);
  • 7) Never Place EMPTY Mags back in the Mag Pouch so you can expect the mag you reach for to be loaded; some say put ONLY fully-loaded mags in the pouch, while others say put the partially-loaded mags in your pocket or in another pouch or at the back position of a double-mag pouch (your call);
  • 8) Divide your mags into 2 categories: Practice Mags and Personal Protection-Carry or Home Defense use, based on their reliability and length of use;
  • 9) Have at least 4 Mags Per Gun, since they are easily damaged, are perishable, and will not last forever; your purpose and use for the gun influence the number of mags you should own. (Don’t Delay, Order Extra Mags)

Continued Success & Safety First Always!

Photos by author.

Note: This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only and the author strongly recommends that you seek counsel from an attorney for legal advice and a certified weapons trainer for proper guidance about shooting & using YOUR firearms, self-defense and concealed carry. It should not be relied upon as accurate for all shooters & the author assumes no responsibility for anyone’s use of the information and shall not be liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information or any damages or injuries incurred whatsoever.

Col. Ben Findley
Col. Ben Findley

© 2016 Col Benjamin Findley. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in whole or in part by mechanical means, photocopying, electronic reproduction, scanning, or any other means without prior written permission. For copyright information, contact Col Ben Findley at [email protected]

About Col Ben Findley

“Col Ben” is retired with 30 years service in the U.S. Air Force, with joint services Special Ops duty and training, and is Air Force qualified as “Expert” in small arms. Ben is an experienced NRA-Certified Pistol Instructor, NRA Range Safety Officer, and FL Concealed Carry License Instructor.

Ben recently wrote the book Concealed Carry and Handgun Essentials for Personal Protection with 57 comprehensive Chapters about concealed carry and handgun principles, techniques, and tips for both experienced and new shooters. His book is endorsed by several organizations and is available on his website at Contact him at [email protected]

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Jaques Pratt

I concur with Jim and NotsoSilent. As per situation outlined in the article for a Speed Reload, there is NO logical reason for step 4. Why rack the slide and waste a round? The article states at the outset for Speed Reload, “You can do a SR when the mag is NOT empty, the slide is forward and not locked back, and the gun is in battery with a round in the chamber.” So please explain why would one then: “4) Quickly move your support hand up in position to quickly rack the slide rearward to chamber a round from… Read more »


Jim in Conroe has the same question as I do. Please explain your reason to rack the slide and waste 1 round of ammunition.


In an intense firefight, will you really be counting the rounds you fired so as to know when to reload?

Or is it more of a feeling?


In an intense firefight kill the enemy and get out ! My Glock21 is on my hip with plenty of magazine capacity. If I have my Colt New Agent concealed I always have an extra mag.,same with my full size 1911’s ! Magazine capacity is critical !

Clark Kent

Yes, but can you count past ten without taking your shoes and socks off? I have serious doubts…


Kent,you insist on fighting mental health don’t you ? gee dud,JohnC,and you are the three stooges here on Ammoland ! Everyone just considers the source with you three fu*ck ups ! Get that much needed mental health evaluation you so critically need !

Clark Kent

So, Tex, answer the question. Can you count past ten without taking off your shoes and socks? Obviously your metal powers are pretty small if you can’t answer that simple question. I’m waiting……

Wild Bill

There must be something up if he wants you to reply, Tex. He must need a reply to add to his total to get paid. I wonder what he means by metal powers. Clark Kent…metal powers… oh, now I get it! What a jokester.

Wild Bill

Yes, John it is more of a feeling. The feeling of your slide locking back, as the words “Oh, shit” and “RELOADING!” slip past your lips. This is why we move to cover as fast as possible in the shoot, move, and communicate series.


I would not hold thge fresh magazine in between my fingers when I also have the spent magazine between my other fingers!

I would grab the fresh mag with my thumb, palm, and forefinger while pulling out the spent magazine with my ring and index finger – which allows me to rotate my hand along with te grip of the gun so that the fresh mag and grip are aligned and ready to have the fresh mag inserted.

Worse comes to worse, the first shot will be fired one-handed.


I would offer an alternative method, somewhat. When you remove the spare magazine from the carrier you use your thumb, not your index finger to run up the side of the magizine. This situates your hand firmly around the magazine and also allows your thumb to A. Feel if the top round has started to work its way forward, out of the magazine so you can easily push it back, B. Use your thumb to guide the magazine into the magazine well of the gun and, finally, C. Since, in this position, the butt plate of the magazine is already… Read more »

Jim in Conroe

It seems like this method would require you to rotate the magazine 180 degrees after withdrawing it from the magazine holder to inserting it into the firearm’s magazine well. That’s the only way I can envision checking the top round with your thumb on the front of the magazine, then guiding it into the mag well and having your hand positioned to slap check that the magazine is seated. With the fore finger method, your hand remains in the same position on the magazine through the whole maneuver.

Mike Murray

Too complicated. The vast majority of people, trained or not, will shoot the gun dry. No one counts rounds, and I see little reason to disable a perfectly good gun in a fire fight. Speed reload, and practice the hell out of it. If truly bad luck strikes, you better have the capability to do a NY reload. As far as the utility of “old” guns like lever actions goes, one lever action (10-11 rounds) in hand, a couple slung, and a bag full of revolvers would provide a hell of a lot of firepower. The ultimate version of the… Read more »

Wild Bill

I agree, Mike, too complicated for a firefight. Keep it simple, stupid is my rule. I remember when it was just loading. Then people added reloading. Then tactical reload to “top off”! Dropping a partially loaded magazine to the ground (what COL. Findley calls Speed Reload) was considered a grave error. Now, people that need to teach classes to make money have overthought loading into four kinds of reloads. IfLoad in preparation for a fight. Load again to get back into the fight. BUGs are good, too!

Jim in Conroe

I don’t understand why step four in the speed reload is different from step four in the tactical reload. In both cases the firearm is in battery with a round in the chamber at the completion of reloading. There should be no reason to rack the slide in the speed reload.


With the Tactical Reload you will draw the fresh magazine with your weak hand, and then eject the partially used (spent) magazine into the same hand and reload the firearm with the fresh magazine. You will then stow the spent magazine for later use if needed. With the Reload with Retention, you first remove the spent magazine and stow it in your pocket for later use if needed, and then draw the fresh magazine and reload your firearm. Hope that helps.

Jim in Conroe

No, that really didn’t help I was talking about step 4 of the Tactical reload vs. Step 4 of the speed reload, not the retention reload.

Please read my question again.


Hello: I also served over 30 years, all active. Worked Spec Ops out of NC. Used many weapons especially long guns. The lead in to your article to handguns states that a Sharps or Winchester respecter of Civil war vintage could have been used in past mass shootings effectively as the M16, Glocks etc. There is no way a Sharps or any of the lever guns can reload fast enough to cause the carnage at Sandy Hook or in Colorado. Especially when the adrenalin factor is factored in. Maybe you had some gun nut write the lead in for you.… Read more »


Wrong article genius.

In addition, the author was quoting fro a study that showed that despite higher rates of fire available, the loons who do these shoots don’t go full mag dump and reload instantaneously. There’s deliberation with their shooting, walking, admiring, stalking, shooting. The outcome based on the time duration from first shot to last would have been the same as if the shooter was using the old time guns quoted in the article.

Back to magazine changes.


Ditto on the wrong article comment.

However, if you take the total number of rounds fired at SH (which was 154) and divide iot bvy the total time spent shooting them (which was 9minutes, 34 seconds) you have a rate of fire equal to 16 rounds a minute

Which is the same as what you can get with a Henry’s lever-action rifle!.

Wild Bill

First, it is nice to meet you, James, and thank you for your service. I had to think about what the author was saying, too. I think that he was trying to make a point about magazine capacity. The gun grabbers would like the low level information voters to believe that anything over ten rounds is high capacity. Firearms familiar people know better. And have known better for more than a hundred plus years. Based upon your previous MOS, I look forward to more of your comments. Again welcome.

Wild Bill

And probably should have attached to the other article, but we all knew what you were writing about.


Interesting methods. Some of the auto loaders do have magazine safeties. Which could be an issue. Some have old style bottom magazine releases, which also could be an issue, as well. I like my Makarov PM for concealed carry, and have recently put a Zahal grip on it. The new grip allows magazine changes just as any newer auto loader. The majority of the newer auto loaders, single and double stack will not have issues such as I listed above. And as always, training is critical. I’d suggest reloading training, while also doing dry firing training. And of course if… Read more »

Col Ben

Hi Jay! I appreciate your comments my friend. Mag safeties can be a problem, but know your gun. Without any doubt, training and practice are key for an effective reload or any skill you need to be proficient in. Also, praying we never have to shoot to slide lock in an actual DF gunfight is necessary. We can get bogged down in techniques and types, so stick to what works for you. I do, but nice to know others. Yes, just had my nails done… not really. Those belong to my lovely model and wife.

Jim Macklin

Speed is important to an IDPA or IPSC competitor who wants to win trophies. It is important to the 18-40 year old beat cop or sheriff deputy. It is important to the soldier in combat. When you’re 55- to 70+ years and have some arthritis, not dropping your full magazine is more important that blinding speed. Shoot and take cover. Drop and retain one magazine and put it in your pocket. Draw the full magazine and put it fully into the gun. Drop the slide. Don’t drop te gun. 5 seconds won’t win a game, but it is faster than… Read more »

Capn Jack

All of these methods are interesting, but one fact is missing. Darn few semi-autos out there, with the exception of the 1911 can be fired with out a magazine inserted. Something that should be seriously considered is removing the magazine safety, if your pistol has one installed.

Jim Macklin

Many semiauto pistols do not have a magazine safety, you just have to look at the specs before you buy the gun. It is true that such safties can be removed but some recommend never altering any safety device on a gun that you might carry because some unscrupulous DAs will tell the jury you removed a safety to make your gun “more deadly.”
Ruger has similar guns with and with magazine safeties, so do S&W. .

Jim Macklin

Many semiauto pistols do not have a magazine safety. Ruger offers several similar models with or without magazine safeties or even manual thumb safeties. So does S&W.
Some authorities suggest never removing any safety device on a gun carried for self-defense since some unscrupulous DAs will tell a jury “that you removed a safety to make your gun more deadly.” At one time deactivating the 1911 grip safety was popular in competition, removing magazine safeties is/was also popular.