Don’t Get Caught with your Dick in your Hand: AMS

Grey Ghost Gear

We always see Dave fiddling with his mags and assorted projectile-filled shooting accoutrement at the range and in classes. Today he explains why.  Mad Duo

Grunts: Accoutrement


Don’t Get Caught with your Dick in your Hand—Ammunition Management Strategies

Dave Merrill

Many of us spend a lot of time on the range practicing reloads. This is all fine and good, and learning how to reload (especially an Emergency Reload) can be a critical skill. We’ve talked about reloads a bit; Jeremy Stafford recently talked about why he hates the DVDA fumbling of the Tactical Reload, and there are other kinds of reloads too. However, this piece isn’t about reloads per se, but about doing everything you can to not let your gun go dry in the first place. It’s all part of a good ammunition management strategy.

Far too many people train themselves to just shoot until the magazine is empty and then perform a reload, then shoot again. Great, you’re getting some reload practice in. But is that all you’re doing? If you’re only training to shoot until bolt lock, you’ll always shoot until bolt lock. The Emergency Reload has become the standard reload. On a square range, no big deal. Out in the world, making entry with only two rounds in a gun can get you laid down faster than a Tijuana prostitute on payday.

A car without gas is just a white trash lawn ornament, and a gun without bullets is just a club. So here are some simple guidelines for your ammunition management strategy:

Always Top Off

Though it’s fun to imagine, not every gunfight will be a scene out of World War Z. Let’s say you send and expend 5-6 rounds into someone, and there’s no more immediate fight. Are you going to continue along your merry way with a partial mag? Not if you’re smart. When you have the opportunity, take out that used mag, stick it in a dump pouch, and put in a fresh one. Perform a proper push/pull to ensure it’s seated and move on. When you have more time later you can top off, consolidate, and load it back in your rig. I should note there’s a variation of this that involves simply dropping the partial instead of stowing it. You can argue the merits of that among yourselves.


Keep Your Primary Reload Ready

You should have a primary reloading point for every weapon you carry. For some it’s a kydex, FastMag, or similar pouch on the beltline while a chest rig works as a backfill. Others run rifles completely from the chest and secondaries from the belt. No matter how you decide to shake it out, it should be in a place where you can get to it fast. You always want your primary reloading point to have a full mag, whenever possible. That awkward grab-air-and-grapple-back for your next mag should be avoided. It not only looks dumb, but it’s slow.

So when you’re topping off, go for the last-to-use magazine position. It’s not uncommon to see people performing a top-off from the primary reload point, only to have to unnecessarily shift around more mags. That’s not the preferred way to do it. The last-to-use mag, not first-to-use, is for topping off.

Always Bump Forward

If you’ve done some shooting and that primary reloading point is empty, bump your mags forward to fill it when you get a chance. In an ideal world, administrative reloads should always be performed using the last-to-use point, and Emergency Reloads should be performed from the primary reloading point. Remember, you’re not bumping forward in the middle of an active fight. Don’t dick this up because you aren’t thinking.

Monitor How Many Magazines you Have

This will give you at least a general idea of how much ammunition you have at the ready. Unless you’re carrying an extraordinary number of mags in a rucksack of doom, your ammunition is finite in supply.

Have both of these and you’ll only have to worry about walking.

Know When to Swap

There are a lot of ideas about this; some good, some good only on paper, some residing in dumbfuck town. Let’s discuss some of them:

-Counting your shots

This may work while gun gaming, especially when you can pre-plan your course of fire. Nary have I met anyone that can even do this under the pressure of playing a videogame, let alone a real fight. Counting out loud can help, but try concentrating on that in real time. No worky.

-Loading tracers for the last few rounds

On paper this sounds amazing. See the tracers, and you know you’ll be empty soon. You can either prep for a reload or a transition. There are several problems with this line of thought though. First, typically tracers don’t ignite the microsecond they leave the barrel. They can travel quite a distance before they start burning. Second, you may not even see the tracer when you’re looking through your optic even if it does burn. Furthermore, unless you’re the only one shooting, can you reliably know that it’s your tracer you’re seeing? Lastly, even without the other issues, have you practiced this way? Is every mag you use set up in this manner? Are you reliably getting tracer ammo in resupply? Leave the tracers for machineguns and target designation by leaders.

-Judging by Weight

This is one of the ways I check when pulling a magazine out. A fully loaded AR mag weighs about a pound. I don’t have a calibrated hand, but a quick judgement can readily be made. This is especially useful during hours of darkness. I’ve heard some competitive shooters say they can tell while it’s inserted in the gun. If you’re running a sufficiently lightweight rifle with an extended mag, this is probably easier to do than with a slung issued gun and standard magazines.

-Looking at Windows/round indicators

These are definitely useful for administrative purposes (and cool pictures).

-Body Math

Attributed to Paul Howe, body math is counting the number of people you’ve put down instead of trying to track individual rounds. If you know about how many rounds you put into someone, you can get a decent idea of how much is left in that magazine. When the opportunity arises, swap the magazine.

-Automatic Round Counters

No longer the realm of the best movie ever made, Aliens, several different electronic round counters exist. They range from small to massive. Currently I can see the utility for armorers use (especially those transparent to the fighting man such as the FN SmartCore), but until we get to the point that they’re small, reliable, and ubiquitous I wouldn’t count on them.


Several people have offered up the amorphous and mildly voodooish, “I just know”. Likely they just have a rough idea based upon some of the above and they found an opportunity. If you’ve used some ammunition and you have both time and cover, just swap it to be sure. You can unfuck your rig later.


None of this is to say that there isn’t a time when the Emergency Reload is necessary—just that it should be considered an actual emergency and not the standard mundane reload many treat it as. You may not have the time or cover to check your magazines or reset any gear. In an active fight, you don’t fiddle fuck with anything and instead focus on face shooting. With rifles, in order to warrant an Emergency Reload several per-conditions have to be met:

-Out of ammo!

-Still in a Fight

No Secondary/target outside of skillset for secondary

Put simply, you’re having a shitty day. And that fucker has to be filled up yesterday. As such, it should still be a training focus—just don’t make it your only focus.

Just like with anything else, you have to have a little discipline to make your ammunition management strategy work. That automatic reload or secondary transition you can do didn’t just appear suddenly out of the ether and neither will this.


Mad Duo, Breach-Bang& CLEAR!

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About the Author: A combat veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Dave “Mad Duo Merrill” is a former urban warfare and foreign weapons instructor for Coalition fighting men. An occasional competitive shooter, he has a strange Kalashnikov fetish the rest of the minions try to ignore. Merrill, who has superb taste in hats, has been published in a number of places, the most awesome of which is, of course, here at Breach-Bang-Clear. He loves tacos, is kind of a dick and married way, way above his pay grade. You can contact him at Merrill(at) and follow him on Instagram here (@dave_fm).



Emeritus Dave Merrill wrote for Breach-Bang-Clear from late 2013 until early 2017, including a year as its Managing Editor. He departed our ranks in May of 2017 to accept a well-deserved position as social media manager for RECOIL Magazine. He is a combat veteran of the Marine Corps who describes himself as a "...former urban warfare and foreign weapons instructor for Coalition fighting men." Merrill's articles are well worth the time it takes to read them - there's a lot of knowledge tucked away in that skull.

DFM has 82 posts and counting. See all posts by DFM

2 thoughts on “Don’t Get Caught with your Dick in your Hand: AMS

  • September 18, 2015 at 10:52 am

    Good article, especially as it applies to both pistol and rifle ammo management. I’ve always thought these were basic skills but my weekly range trips show me they are not universal known.

    In the category of I wish I had a picture, I use to shoot with a fellow who had custom mag holders made for single stack .45 acp mags. He wore then perpendicular to his belt and had about 8 of them. It gave him a very strange radiator look.

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