Bullshit! (Or, the Myth of the Tactical Reload)

tactical reload
August 28, 2015  
Categories: Guns

In the post 9/11 surge of firearms and tactics training, there has been an unprecedented number of shooters seeking out training. That is a Good thing. There has also been an unprecedented surge in the amount of totally unqualified dickheads who have taken to teaching firearms and tactics. That, of course, is a bad thing. I’m not going to waste your time or mine on a rant about the number of poseurs in the tactical industry, it would take too long and put me in a shitty mood. Instead, let’s talk about some of the ridiculous fuckery even some good instructors waste time teaching: like the so-called “tac reload”.

Hint: it’s bullshit.

Find out what you need to know about the tactical reload – we’ve moved the article to our “tactical alliance” page. Take a look there, won’t ya?

The Tac Reload is bullshit

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Jeremy Stafford

Jeremy Stafford

About the Author

Jeremy Stafford is a truculent old school LEO and a combat veteran of the Marine Corps. He has just one beady eye (the right), a single shriveled testicle (the left) and is rumored to be the adopted son of Burt and Heather Gummer. Probably only part of that's true, but really, does it matter? Jeremy has been serving with the Los Angeles Police Department for nearly 20 years, both on the road, in specialty assignments, and occasionally to the sound of the T.J. Hooker soundtrack. He recently left a position as a senior instructor at the LAPD Firearms and Tactics Division to a different assignment that is more hunting than fishing. He's a Krav Maga instructor, a court recognized firearm and use of force SME, and is likely the guy responsible for those few times you see some Hollywood type actually handling a gun correctly. Jeremy has written for a number of publications (like SureFire's Combat Tactics Magazine) and is one of the main reasons we started reading Guns & Ammo again. The other is Mudge. Stafford teaches for the SureFire Institute, mentors local youth (including kids doing the Spartan Race) and he runs many courses himself - think marathons, Tough Mudders and assorted other needless exercises in self-flagellation. Connect with him on Instagram if you're up for it (and don't require trigger warnings): @jestafford.


  1. Mike

    No insult intended

    Firstly, I agree with the principle of the argument, but not the total elimination of the technique. Your data points and facts are correct for the most part in my opinion.

    “If you aren’t in a gunfight anymore, take the old magazine out, put it in a pocket, and put a freshie in.” So throw all magazines on the ground and always shoot until the weapon is empty or at least just dump mags regardless?

    How about off duty carry; some officers typically carry 1 extra magazine of revolved speed reload or stripper clip?

    Recently, I conducted a vehicle tactics course for a several large agency SWAT teams. The students were conducting tactical reloads during the active scenarios, they were trained not to allow the weapons to go to slide lock and only speed reload when the weapon is locked open. This created a massive dilemma for them mentally (a trainign scar). I re-trained them to conduct “slide forward speed reloads” and allowed them permission, without retribution to speed reload and drop partially loaded magazines if actively engaged and concerned about running out of ammo.

    As we all know magazines become damaged and worn by constantly dropping them and reducing their service life.

    I don’t agree conceptually with a total elimination of the tactical reload. I believe it to be an administrative technique.

    I suggest getting the fresh magazine first on your belt or equipment, before dumping anything (make sure you got one). Then dump the mag out of the weapon and insert the fresh magazine.

    I’m retired LE and military reserve; I’ve been a firearms and tactics instructor since 1991. Yes, I’ve been in my share of firearms related hostile incidents, resulting in the loss of life.

    Obviously I can’t address every possible alternative and go for every explaining the context in three pages here.

  2. harvey

    Oh and mindset to shoot through stuff and realize you can be shot from behind “cover”.

  3. harvey

    LOL, I guess it’s alright to learn. My shooting lasted less than t seconds. I shot dry and reloaded on the move. I think more training should be spent on muscle memory for sight alignment, that probably saved more than anything. I don’t remember looking at my sights but had 6 center mass shots, guy disappeared and shot through drywall only missing 2x’s. Sight alignment, drawing, moving and trigger press. Maybe some quality time with malfunction drills.

  4. Jesse

    I teach this a little differently in that ALL RELOADS (post fight) should be “tactical”. Even after the shooting is over and there is no more immediate threat your weapon should be prepared and reholstered. The adrenalin from a fight gives a lot of people tunnel vision and sometimes emotional shock…the mind tries to take in and accept what just happened and the inexperienced shooter will often forget to reload and/or be aware of their environment so SCAN, RELOAD and call the police.

  5. Geoff

    I think it gets people wrapped around the problem of re-pouching the half spent mag. They preach load from the furtherest away so the closest is always fresh. If I have to reload, I’m going to the closest mag. Period. SO then I worry oh crap, this half full mag is going in the first pouch when it should be in the second or whatever. Thats not what I should be thinking about at any point before, during or after a shooting.

    People get so wrapped up in dogma its scary sometimes. Large muscle motion cuz you won’t have small muscle motor control and and such. Maybe you will. Maybe you won’t. Prepare for either. Slingshot the slide or slide release. Trigger press and magazine releases are small muscle group activities that we must count on working to win. Tactical reload. Run it dry. It’s all the same argument. Times change. Each shooter is different.

  6. Lonnie Hopson

    I have never been in a gun fight BUT, if I ever am, I will keep tripping the bang switch until my mag is empty THEN swap for a full mag, just like my drill instructors taught me in 1972.

  7. Brian Blackden

    What did I do when I was a cop using a wheel gun? OMG, I sbouldn’t be alive…

  8. Chad Richter

    My agency has taught tactical reloads since transitioning from a revolver. The reasoning was that you had one round in the chamber to engage during the reload, should the need arise.

    We also have issued some type of S&W 9mm since leaving the revolver. All of these various guns have had a magazine disconnect safety.

    Kind of defeats the logic behind that just a bit. . .

  9. steve

    sorry for multi posts, but another example would be – Let’s say youre in a house and you encounter three targets and put three rounds in each one. Your arent in an active shoot anymore, but you would replace the mag with a fresh mag – stow the old, then continue through the house.

  10. steve

    Additionally – one would also do a tac reload in a situation where you and a team of let say cops have finished a gun fight, the action has stopped, but not “all clear”, you’d want to have a fresh mag ready to go, retaining however many rounds left as a “just in case i need a few more rounds when I’m out”, and you’d want to do it as expeditiously as you can, just in case things started popping off.

  11. steve

    I disagree 100%. the only time I would do a admin change, is when I was 100% sure i was somewhere where there was no chance of a threat. If for example, i was involved in a active situation, but i was behind cover, I would do a tac reload. You never want to keep shooting until you go dry and have to recover from the slide being locked back. that would take way too long. from behind cover, you could already have a mag in your hand (saving time because you could still be in the fight, get back in the fight because you still have rounds if need be). You can perform your mag change much quicker in case you need to reengage. And you retain however many rounds still in the mag you pulled. By changing mags when you want to and not need to, you always have a topped off mag if need be. I’d rather have 10+ ready to go, than 3 before had to reload.

  12. Patrick Arnold

    Although I’ve never been in a gunfight, my instructor, who is an Army Sniper Reserve member and the S.W.A.T. sniper for our local law enforcement, trained me to just let the mag fall and concentrate on correctly inserting a new mag. A magazine costs a few dollars, the time spent fumbling around with an expended mag could cost you your life.

  13. John Graham

    Good argument for sure but don’t forget thousands of competition shooters who know that a closed chamber with a round in the breach is Infinatly faster to reload that racking the gun again. I train PMCs and will continue to use it if only for the value of dexterity and muscle memory. As I tell my guys, if you need a pistol that close your in some pretty deep shit and you’d better be fast. AKA John Geddes, author, ”Highway to Hell’

  14. TexasKrypteia

    In 2001 I was teaching a class on pistol combatives. The “Tac Reload” was not part of my syllabus. A student (who had earlier made sure I was aware of his IPSC and training course experience) asked me about tac reloads. I told him not to worry about it. He looked at me like I had suggested a 3 way with his teenage daughter. Dogma dies hard.

  15. LSWCHP

    I obviously didn’t get the memo. I’ve been shooting all sorts of guns for 36 years now, including ten years infantry soldiering, and I didn’t even know this was a thing.

    Something else not to worry about I guess.

  16. John

    I see some limited value if a suspect has fled and you intend to go in pursuit or search. That said, I’d want to have several shift mates providing cover while I was fumbling magazines.

    Of course, you can take “limited value” a bridge too far and include the tactical reload in the qualification course (as my department does).

  17. Cliff

    I think this is another instance of military TTPs bleeding over into the civilian/LE world. As an infantryman, hell yes I was keeping my magazine if I could. As a cop, not so much.

  18. Mike Blea

    Lol… You are so “SPOT ON”!!M retired Mobile Tac Team Commander and currently teach gun fighting (Not target shooting) in Katin American countries as well as in the U.S.Real world is a “Completely Different” animal than straight range or even so called Tac range situations. No time for drag applications such as this just kept five or six double stack mags at the ready and if you know what the he’ll you’re doing you should be just fine…..

  19. Nick

    Tactical reload can be used in rifles and pistols. While I am not a fan of it, it is helpful to know for dealing with stoppages in a military setting. Unless you work for one of those departments who are obsessed with gear retention (I have worked for a couple) then just toss the mag, it can’t be fixed before the fight is over. In a scenario with multiple suspects in an environment where backup is a long way out such as game wardens, or rural patrols may need the extra ammo, but it is impractical to think they will have time to unload the bad mag and reload the rounds in a good one. Great article, I’m going to have to seriously consider the usefulness on this technique.

  20. Nfn8one

    I still use this technique, after 15+ years in the USMC infantry myself, it is ingrained in me to keep my gun in as best a condition as possible.

    I carry a P938 single stack 9mm for my CCW. So I am short on ammo as it is…

    I don’t spend a lot of time training it, nor teaching it. But it is still a valid technique, IMHO.

    Thanks for the great read though! Well thought out and definitely caused me to think about my training/techniques for a bit.

  21. 2hotel9

    Empty mag hits ground, fresh mag goes into weapon, rinse, lather, repeat. When time avails you pick up your drops and put them in, wait for it, your DROP BAG. Don’t f*ck around, only stupid f*cks f*ck around.

    • Nfn8one

      I don’t walk around Jville, NC with a dump pouch, brother.

  22. JB Gleason

    This once came up at a class I attended being taught by an instructor from the FBI who wanted us to (I kid you not) train to count BACKWARDS when we shot starting with the loaded capacity of our handgun (i.e. 17, 16, 15) as we fired so that the number you were on would be the number of rounds left in the gun. Thus you would know when you were low on rounds so you could consider a Tactical Reload. Serious, ponder for a second on what he was asking us to do in the heat of a life or death fight. He started the block by asking “How do you know when to reload in a gunfight?” to which I threw my hand up and confidently said “When your run out of rounds and your slide locks back” since that is how it happened in every actual shooting I had ever been in. He gave me the stink eye and then proceeded to make us drill on this backwards counting thing. I slipped away during lunch and didn’t go back to the “training” after that. Told my supervisor the guy was certifiable and it was a waste of our time.

  23. John Hearne

    I don’t disagree with your point but the tactical reload goes back way beyond Jeff Cooper. It was used in WW I during trench raids as dropping a magazine in the the muck would mean it was gone. See McBride’s “A Riflemen Went To War”

  24. Micheal

    No personal experience to draw from. However I am inclined to agree 100%. Maybe if a shooter has mastered every other aspect of shooting it would be something to add. But when I see instructors touching on “tactical reloads” and not things like support hand shooting I just shake my head. One thing that has always perplexed me though. I have never seen or heard an instructor mention a “tactical reload” technique that applied to revolvers. If one has expended all of the rounds in a revolver. Then had to reload without a speed loader. I would think knowing how to load a few rounds, and properly index the cylinder to get a shot off more quickly might be useful. Especially if the attacker is closing in during the reload. I may very well be completely off my rocker here. It’s just something that crossed my mind.

    • Pvt.Joker

      They used to teach such things with wheelguns, back in the bad old days when LA County issued them…

      Anybody else still have a Bianchi SpeedStrip?


      • JESullivan

        HHHAHAH… amazing how much bullshit we were fed and how much evidence we still keep around!!!

  25. Steve

    Having some magazines that can be counted on to work because you have not been ejecting them in the dirt, mud, and rocks, (while practicing/competing) sounds like smart tactics to me. Since shooting matches are usually score/time, this makes it fair for everyone and preserves equipment.

  26. Bob Ballentine

    All law enforcement tactics usually evolve from something bad. If memory serves, the tactical reload evolved from the FBI Miami shoutout in the early 1980’s. It is founded in the notion that you don’t know how many rounds you may have fired and dont want to run dry should it start up again. We trained in the technique once a year and treat it as another technique we won’t be doing for the first time if that time comes.

    I get that you don’t like the technique, but don’t troll the Internet with the notion that you are some Tactics God and everyone else is an idiot. It’s your opinion, nothing more.

  27. Ordnance Marine

    Great article. Dump the depleted mag on the fucking floor and stuff a new one in. Here in Montana, the odds of me needing another 8 rounds of .45 ACP in my archaic 1911 made of fucking steel are slim to none, and the odds of my shooter bride needing another 8 rounds in her archaic 1911 made of steel are slim to none. AQnd don’t give me this “But I live in a high population/high crime area” bullshit either. Move, I did and it wasn’t that hard…..ffs.

  28. Chris

    I like the idea of putting a fresh mag in after the shooting has stopped. It can’t hurt at all. Just the wording they use and when to do it is dumb. I would agree with you on that.

  29. Michael North

    Looks like a very solid, well-reasoned position to me. How much of current training is directed to “doing cool things I can charge for” vs “yeah, you need to know this”?

  30. Karl

    I can agree that most of the time, the chances of a tactical reload is pretty astronomical. But this kind of boarders on the question of why we have officers carrying extra mags and teaching them tac-reloads?

    Yes, the stats of a R.A.C. getting into a gun fight is pretty slim to begin with, but as a Marine Vet, LEO Vet, R.A.C., etc., I still like the idea of keeping the gun in as ready of a condition as possible.

    I keep the concepts in my lectures, but I don’t spend more than a few minutes covering the idea and a few methods. We sure don’t do it live-fire since it does put more stress on the newer shooters to juggle mags.

    • Paul

      Tactical reloads have a place in modern day gunfighting. For you to claim that, “the chances of a tactical reload is pretty astronomical.” is absurd. I’ve taught LE gunfighting for 13 years. I’m happy to say that 15 of my former students have won their gunfights on the street. None have lost. After speaking with nearly all of them after their incidents, I can tell you that almost half of them completed a tactical reload before they holstered.

      I understand that the Tac reload may be a generational, regional, or philosophical concept, but it works when you train your students to use it appropriately; just like any other logical technique.

      • quinn

        He never said it didnt work. Waste of limited training time.

        Half? Honestly, I doubt it.

  31. Ken Wilson

    Good read. I have kept this technique in my tool kit for a while, even though I didn’t believe in it and have never used in a gunfight myself. Thanks for the insight and for the link to define truculent. Former 0311/0369/8541, I needed the definition. S/F

  32. Rex

    I completely agree with your mindset. However as a USMC vet, wouldn’t you agree that this concept would make sense during a high contact military patrol in which you may have multiple engagements? In which case, and pretty much only that case, would a tactical reload not make sense? Also, it is such a simple technique that is not under stress, so why not use it and possibly save yourself the need to do an emergency reload?

    • Bob from Tagab

      I can’t say I’ve seen a lot of guys using pistols in gunfights on patrol. Accessing those statistics is a bit beyond the scope of my comment here but from anecdotal evidence and personal experience, this wouldn’t be a viable tactic. Maybe with a rifle – maybe, but if I have time to fiddle around with a “tactical reload” I’ve got time to just go through normal mag change procedures. I’m no expert, but my time on the two-way range isn’t limited either.

      • Rob

        I did read an AAR from a carbine class, written by a Marine who states that not being trained in tactical reloads was one of the primary factors leading to his being permanently disabled (severed spine) in a firefight in Iraq. I haven’t been in “a gunfight or two” so perhaps I am not qualified to comment, but given the dire consequences of not being familiar with charging your weapon under stress I think that “stress reload skills” are probably not a waste of time to learn.

    • Bill

      If you are in a “high contact military patrol” (????) and you are using your pistol as your primary, things are going very, very badly. Instead of juggling TWO magazines under stress simply drop the one in the gun as you are retrieving a full one from the mag pouch. When the fight is over remove the partial mag from the gun, put it away and reload with a full mag.

    • JESullivan

      NO STRESS?? Last shootout I was in I had a pretty good shake-rattle&roll going after the shit cleared the fan blades…especially within handgun range… I hope you have a long gun for primary.

  33. JT

    I was a firearms instructor for my last department and we would have to conduct “tactical reloads” as part of qualifications. It would drive me insane! It didn’t make any sense to me why we would be including this on a qualification or a course of fire. While I think it is important to train (so people can get comfortable with the process) it shouldn’t be involved in a string of fire…. but that’s my opinion on it…

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