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Reloading essentials: thoughts on when, why and how to perform this vital skill.

RELOADING A SEMIAUTOMATIC PISTOL IS not complex unless you have to do it fast. Speed comes into play in three circumstances: training, competition and combat, with the last being most critical. I once heard a famous instructor say, "Competition offers the same level of stress as a gunfight." The only thing I can think is he's never had someone try to kill him. The stress of having bullets whiz past is like no other, and if you have had this experience, you know what I am talking about.

Serious shooters know how difficult and complex a fast reload can be. The hands don't work normally, the fingers fumble, and magazines don't align like you think they will. Now add someone trying to take your life while you are moving, yelling and lacking motor skill and you will understand why reloading needs to be as simple as possible.

"Combat stress" is a bitch, and any technique added to your skill sets should take this into account. What is combat stress? It's the physical and psychological phenomena that occur when our brain perceives danger and prepares the body for action--fight or flight. Sensory nerves pass danger perception to the body's systems, which dump chemicals that create an increase in circulation and energy to certain body systems and a downshift into a maintenance mode for less important ones.

This is why people involved in combat lose digital dexterity. The fingers do not function as well as they did prior to combat. Yes, the fingers will perform, but they will be less likely to perform tasks that have not been practiced to a level of "unconscious competence," where they can be performed without thought. When practiced to this level, most any skill can be performed, even under extreme stress, when the chemical reaction of the body might be working against them.

You might wonder what this has to do with the combat reload. Reloading a pistol quickly is a complex motor skill, requiring both fine and gross muscle movements to work together, and as I just explained, fine motor skills will diminish when someone is trying to kill you. Add to this your gun running out of ammo at what might be the last moments of your life and I think you can see why practicing the reload until it can be performed without conscious thought is important.

What I am going to say now will light up Internet gun forums: Don't shoot your gun dry. Currently, it is common in combative shooting courses to practice nothing but slide-lock reloads, the emergency reload. The argument is "You might as well shoot the gun dry in training as that is what you are going to do in a fight."

While this is certainly possible, why are we training to make it inevitable? Slide lock is a really bad time to reload, especially if your opponent sees it. Exchanging magazines quickly is difficult enough, but now add the time and effort to release the slide.

And what happens if, during the fight, the slide does not lock open? You might be pressing the trigger on an empty gun as your only load stimulus failed, resulting in deadly lag time. Consider an empty gun the same as a broken gun, both requiring physical manipulation, so let's load when we can instead of when we have to.

And by employing a speed reload (simply dropping the magazine out of the gun), we make the task of having a fully loaded gun less complicated and faster. I know what you are thinking: "Why would you drop perfectly good ammo on the ground? You might need it."

While true, are you willing to risk your life for a few rounds of ammunition? Let's say you have engaged in a firelight and expended an unknown number of rounds. Your attacker is moving, maybe trying to flank you, and you have no idea what is coming next. Would this be a good time to do a speed reload, or should you try to save ammo by performing a complicated tactical reload (retaining the magazine)?

By performing a speed reload, I know I have 16 rounds in my Glock 19. How many rounds did I eject to the ground? I don't know, but I never give up a known for an unknown, and I'd rather trade a few ejected rounds for the greater importance of having a full gun. I'm doing the reload when I know I have the opportunity instead of at some future point when the slide locks back--when I have no idea how much time I'll have to reload or if I'll even get the chance.

Any time you add something to a procedure, it will increase the time it takes to accomplish the skill. Sure, you can practice the slide-lock reload to reduce the overall time, but it will still take longer because dropping the slide on a semiauto takes time.

Some advocate a "power stroke" where the shooter comes up and over the slide--grasping it overhand and then pulling back vigorously, actually hitting yourself in the shoulder, ensuring "complete slide retraction." It seems a bit excessive considering the slide only has to move a quarter-inch or so to be released and full recoil spring compression occurs shortly thereafter. In addition, the shooting and sup port hand end up awfully far apart, adding time to re-grip the pistol.

Competition-based shooters advocate using the shooting-hand thumb to drop the slide, which is certainly the fastest. It adds only about a tenth of a second to the reloading process, but the thumb is being tasked with multiple functions in a short period of time (hitting both the magazine release and the slide lever). If the timing is off just slightly, the shooter could wind up with an empty gun.

On numerous occasions I have seen shooters drop the slide before the magazine is fully inserted, which results in a dead trigger. The shooter then has to do a tap-rack, which slows the shooting time even further. In a competition this is no big deal; in a gunfight it's deadly.

Possible Solutions

In my classes I show both of these skills along with their advantages and disadvantages. I also offer several possible solutions. If using the slide lever, consider using the support hand thumb to push down. This adds a few tenths but ensures the magazine is seated first.

If an overhand grip is preferred, how about releasing the support hand and instantly cupping it, turn the slide into the hand, pull back enough to release it and then re-grip the pistol? It's much faster, just as sure and simplifies the process. Of course, you could dispense with this whole ordeal and just reload before you run the gun dry.

Give this reloading process critical thought and choose carefully. Don't just go by tradition. While I am a fan of competitive shooting, I will be the first to tell you what works in competition might not be best when your life is on the line. Practice the techniques discussed here, evaluate them and decide what is best for you in your real world of work.
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Title Annotation:ON PATROL
Author:Spaulding, Dave
Publication:Handguns
Date:Oct 1, 2015
Words:1193
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