Tiger McKee (courtesy shootrite.org)

Tiger McKee writes:

When your firearm runs empty you need to reload it as efficiently as possible. On the range this is easy. During a confrontation you have to reload and stay plugged into the fight – moving, communicating, using cover, maintaining awareness, assessing and making decisions. Now, if you haven’t truly learned how to reload efficiently one of two things are going to happen. Either you’re not going to be able to reload, or you’ll stop doing everything else to reload . . .

In its simplest form the sequence to reload, say with an AR, is “old mag out, new mag in, bolt release.” Any additional actions required to perform the reload add time to the process and makes the sequence more difficult to learn and apply. And, according to a study done in 1960 by Henry and Rogers, the more complex the action the more time will pass between when you run empty and then mentally make the decision to reload.

I’ve seen a lot of variations when it comes to reloading the AR. In one version the shooter presses the trigger, usually a few times without result, so they roll the rifle over to look at the ejection port to confirm it’s empty. The stock drops out of the shoulder, the muzzle tips up and the empty mag is stripped from the rifle with the support hand. Then the support hand grabs a new mag, seating it into the rifle.

The shooter’s eyes are looking at the rifle the entire time. A round is chambered, and the rifle is brought back into the shoulder pocket and firing position and visually reacquiring the target and sights. Another variation includes flipping the rifle back and forth to sling the empty mag out of the magwell.

Method two: You feel the rifle run empty. (Yes, with practice you’ll feel the bolt group lock to the rear.) Finger comes off the trigger to press the mag release. The stock stays in the shoulder, muzzle and eyes on the threat, continuing to track the target if it’s moving.

At the same time the support hand is grabbing a fresh mag, bringing it up to the rifle, and if the empty mag hasn’t dropped free strip it out with the support hand. Insert and seat the loaded mag. Slide up the mag and magwell, with the thumb extended and press the bolt release. You’re still on target, and now ready to fire.

Visually the first method looks fast because there is a lot of unnecessary motion occurring. The second method reduces the motion and actions required to reload. It may look boring but it’s smooth and efficient. Compare each reload on the timer. The timer doesn’t lie; the difference is dramatic.

Time isn’t the only factor. In the first technique the shooter drops the stock out of the shoulder, looking at the rifle. This motion informs the threat your rifle is out of the fight. Visually you lose contact with the threat, which is moving and using objects in the environment as cover and concealment. Also, the additional actions in the first method take longer to learn than the simplified sequence and make it more difficult to execute properly under stress.

Equally important is the fact that according to the study mentioned above, your reaction time required to initiate a response increases as additional actions are added to the sequence or the length of time to perform the sequence increases. It’s an easy decision to perform a simple act.

Your goal, through training and practice is to mentally and physically simplify, stripping everything down to the minimal amount of action required to perform any task. Reloads and such must be learned in advance, because there will be lots of other things to be thinking about when faced with a life threatening situation. Simple is good, especially when it comes to fightin’.

Tiger McKee is director of Shootrite Firearms Academy, located in northern Alabama. He is the author of “The Book of Two Guns,” writes for several firearms/tactical publications, and is featured on GunTalk’s DVD, Fighting With The 1911.

42 Responses to Pro Tip: Simplify Your AR Reloads

  1. Good advice for military operators and competitive shooters. For self defense, all I can say is that if I have to send more than 30 rounds downrange I need to move to Falujah where things are nice and quiet.

  2. Only problem with method 2 is if you have a double feed or stovepipe, it feels similar to empty as bolt locks back. Sticking a fresh mag into that is a cluster you know what.

    Thoughts Tiger?

    • My thoughts as a total non-expert: what’s more likely? Running out of ammo, or a double feed? I’d plan and train for the most likely scenario. If I’ve shot my AR a bunch in a fight for some reason, I’m going to assume I’ve run out of ammo. I’d probably be right 99%+ of the time. The time saved in those situations seems like it would more than make up for planning and executing on the 1% chance every mag change.

      • Malfunctions are a part of life with semi-auto’s. if you’re not including clearing malfunction drills as part of you’re training I suggest you do. Or get a revolver.

        Statistically speaking you’ll probably never need to use a rifle, let a alone a reload. Doesn’t mean you should train on using one.

        Besides its fun

    • When you have enough time behind a rifle (or any weapon for that matter) you’re able to pick up on it’s characteristics, what each recoil feels like and what it will mean. I now know that I took for granted a lot of the rounds I shot in the Marine Corps, no range fees or price hikes man we had it good but they did take alot of fun out of it, but we trained enough to the point where most of our guys could almost immediately asses and correct the issue as soon as they heard the particular click, clunk, small bang, etc.

    • They feel nothing alike once you have a little practice. When the mag is empty, the BCG does not move forward much. With a misfeed, there is substantially more BCG travel.

    • I always keep a mental round count. If it locks back or fails to fire before I hit 30 – it’s a malfunction. You should be reloading behind cover if it is available, anyway.

      Has anybody ever posted about immediate actions to clear an AR-15 on TTAG?

      Slap upward on the magazine
      Pull the charging handle rearward
      Observe the ejection of the round
      Release the charging handle
      Tap the forward bolt assist
      Squeeze the trigger

  3. In basic training my M16 would occasionally fail to extract and subsequently double feed. The first few times it happened I thought I was empty and reloaded, which obviously didn’t help anything. Since then I’ve always checked to see if it’s a malfunction or if the gun’s just empty,

    • I’ve been thinking about making a BB glove. Not something that I want to have to deal with in a home defense scenario though.

    • There are kits (sold over at Calguns I believe) that allow a shooter to install a bullet button tool in the wall of the mag so that it can be used to eject the spent mag. I haven’t gotten around to picking some up to try, but they really look like the best option for us. Apologies if you guys have seen them before.

  4. Hope that you don’t slip on the empty mag while moving. This can be a problem when moving around in low light on wood or tile floors. It’s hard to know where the mag ends up after hitting the floor. I’ve never heard of this figuring into a DGU, but you can bet if it can happen, it has happened.

    • This is why the dump pouch is standard equipment. In a home defense scenario, I’d be more worried about slipping on brass.

    • I’m guessing the number of DGU’s that involve a reload are so tiny as to be moot. It’s fun and cool looking to practice, but in real life it would be the equivalent of stopping in the middle of a 4 or 5 minute police chase to gas up.

    • “You need learn how to take your time, in a hurry”. Man, that’s poetry and Zen right there.

      • I believe this is credited to Wyatt Earp…
        “In a gun fight… You need to take your time in a hurry”

  5. Don’t people know how to count their rounds as they fire? I know 30 is a fair amount but kindergartners can do it. Count the rounds you fire and reload accordingly.

    • Right. Sure, if you’re a totally together, totally HSLD and totally awesome guy/gal, that might well work at someplace other than a controlled and sterile range, where the suck and chaos goes only one way. Otherwise, probably, not so much.

      • I forgot to mention paralyzing fear and spyncter tightening. That factors in too, no matter who you are.

        • +1000 Anyone who has actually been in a firefight and claims they weren’t scared is one of two things…a liar, or a psychopath. Being scared does all kinds of things to you, not the least of which is dump lots of adrenalin into your system. Fine motor skills go out the window when your heart is beating at 180 per. That’s why muscle memory is a good thing.

          Of course the handful of times I’ve had to reload in the middle of a fight I wasn’t looking through my sights. I was behind cover and looking for the next place I was going to shoot from. I certainly wasn’t going to pop back up where the guys trying to kill me saw me a couple of seconds ago.

    • Seriously? I can’t even count rounds when shooting at a stationary, non-threatening paper target. I need to step up my operational efficiency.

  6. Way one has been just as fast and more reliable. Also the author says your eyes are off target the whole time which is crap. Just look at your mag well when seating and them put your eyes back up. Try shooting with kit and plates on and under stress, your wont feel that bolt lock to the rear and you just hear click.

  7. It’s all about what you’re training for. If it’s squad sized or larger engagements then by all means smooth positive reloads while minimizing down time and continuing to scan, communicate and move are a big deal. If you’re just trying to repel a home invasion robbery it seems a little overboard to spend time on rapid mag changes in a 30rnd rifle. Since a robbery crew of more than 5 is virtually unheard of and basically nothing in a house provides positive cover from a .223 at those ranges and soft armor is ineffective burning through 30 rounds would generally indicate deplorable marksmanship (and suggest you’ve endangered the entire neighborhood by spraying the place down).
    For home defense I’d stay focused on accurate rapid 2-3 rnd engagements at very close ranges, then just keep doing that sans mag changes. There is no reason I can imagine to complicate the skills needed to win a 1 on 1 or 1 on 2 gunfight from across the room with the skills needed to successfully engage in squad level combat.

    Of course there are sporting uses for rapid mag changes, but the article doesn’t seem to be addressing those.

    • One of the training films fom the late 80’s was from a security camera. The bad guys and the cops engaged in a space slightly longer then a Crown Vic. All members had multiple mags. The fight ended with the bad guys running out of ammo, one ran off, the other was tackled on camera. 3x14x4= 168 rounds fired minimum. The film ended with the runner being led back in cuffs.
      More proof of the optical anal nerve story. When the sphincter tightens, it pulls the aim off just a touch.

      • I’m not sure if that’s an argument for practicing reloads or just learning to shoot in the first place, but it’s not really applicable to the question at hand.

        A running gunfight in a neutral space in which one party is intent on pursuing the other and everyone is using handguns has little bearing on a HD situation in which the defender is armed with a rifle, is on his own terrain and has no cause to pursue a fleeing opponent.

        At any rate it wasn’t my intention that people not train reloads, rather that there is more utility in many other sorts of training and preparation when the event in question is home defense with a 30 shot rifle.

  8. Or just be left handed then everything is right there in front of you, no need to check and see if you are empty or have had a malfunction… you can see it already.

  9. Tiger’s spot on about a reload taking longer if you drop your
    shoulder. One thing I would add is that by dropping the stock
    changes your perspective from the target to the rifle. Keeping
    an eye on your target and reloading from muscle memory is
    a lot safer.

    One thing I did to help speed reloads was weight the mags. I
    noticed that the weight didn’t necessarily make the release
    faster, but I had fewer hangups if there was sand and grit in the
    mag well. A couple pieces of lead shot melted into a flat bar was
    all it took.

    Counting rounds as in Method #2 is okay but takes practice when
    you’re in a SHTF situation. I always liked the practice of having 2
    tracer rounds fire last. If your rifle stopped before you fired the
    tracers then you instantly knew it was a FTF, eject etc…
    Obviously not something you want to practice a lot or at all if
    you have a crome-moly barrel.

  10. Like someone else said, probably Ralph, this is great advice if you’re deployed in a war zone or a competitive shooter. I’m not sure how many citizens will benefit from a faster reload in a DGU situation CONUS. If you need more than 30 rounds in the states to protect yourself from an aggressor, and you are under heavy fire, you’re most likely fvcked…my advice – count your shots and save the last one for yourself, because you’re going to die. In combat, rarely does one come into such a situation without a number of other dudes covering him/her. Of course, you want to reload as quickly as possible. But 1/10 of a second shaved off your reload time will ultimately make little difference within your fire team (~3-5 people). Just focus on doing it right and getting back in the fight.

    On the other hand, train train and train some more. It can’t hurt FWIW.

  11. If I run dry in a self-defense shooting it’s time to switch to frags. In the unlikely event that I do not have frags handy I’ll do a NY-reload and switch bang sticks. If I’m still among the living after that I’ve either won or worked my way to my APC!
    I’m a big fan of muscle memory for reloads and IADs but, at least at this moment in time 30 rounds will likely quite any obtuse neighbor

  12. Hundreds of years ago, Musashi, one of the greatest masters of swordfighting, had some sage words on the issue of speed in his Book of Five Rings:

    “Speed is not part of the true Way of strategy. Speed implies that things seem fast or slow, according to whether or not they are in rhythm. Whatever the Way, the master of strategy does not appear fast.”

    Essentially, Musashi was saying that fighting has a tempo, a rhythm. Work in harmony with that, and things seem to flow quickly. He was saying basically the same thing as Earp: “Take your time in a hurry.” The rhythm makes itself apparent to those who practice enough to divine these things.

  13. The fact that people even consider taking their weapon away from their shoulder is baffling to me.

    You can rotate the rifle counter-clockwise a few degrees and EASILY see if your chamber is clear, WHILE you retrieve a fresh magazine. Simultaneously. While still in your shoulder. When you see a clear chamber and your new mag is ready, rotate back to center, drop your empty, slam in the new one, send the bolt forward. All without taking your shooting hand off the grip or changing your sight picture.

    People have said that this is a better reload for combat. I will actually disagree. In combat, you have at least a fire team covering you. You can get down behind cover and perform the reload so that when you come back up you know you are 100% good to go. Once you are up, you can cover the next person who goes Black.

    This actually is a better reload for someone operating alone. And while the point is valid that DGU with 30+ fired from an AR is nonexistent, a DGU with 11+ rounds is incredibly likely. And millions of people live right now in places where their AR can only legally eat 10 round magazines.

    You should always train to keep you sight picture and eyes forward, and your shooting hand next to the trigger as much as possible. Making excuses not to do so is weak.

  14. what are peoples thoughts on taping/coupling two magazines together? I see a lot of soldiers do this so I was wondering is it a good idea. Especially for a home defense carbine where you might not have time to grab a mag pouch and dump pouch.

    • If you bang up the feed lips on a magazine, you will introduce a malfunction in feeding most of the time. From the number of banged-up mags that I’ve seen that will no longer feed, I’d recommend against it. It might be OK when Uncle Sugar is supplying your magazines, but when you’re buying them at $11+ per, you might want to think about how much money you’re willing to spend replacing magazines when (not if) you bang up the feed lips, and whether they’re always going to be easily available.

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