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USPA is free-style,” Chuck Anderson told TTAG this morning. “You can do whatever you want with your magazines to get through the stage.” I called the United States Practical Shooting Association’s Area 1 Director ’cause I didn’t want to look like an idiot (as if) commenting on Gabby Franco’s magazine management. So, as you can see in the tail end of this video, the former Top Shot competitor has “issues.” She takes a fresh mag for her Glock from the rearmost position on her belt. After she’s done with her string, the Gabster can’t find a place to reinsert the mag. Which raises a bunch of questions . . .

Did Gabby need to keep that mag (i.e. did she need more than three more mags)? Should she have dropped it and swapped mags as a matter of course rather than reholster a dry gun? If Gabby needed to keep the mag, why not just put it in her pocket (not easy with those jeans but still)?

Gabby’s (and my) confusion highlights the magazine management challenges facing anyone using a semi-automatic handgun for self-defense (or competition). Here are three important considerations:

1. Do you carry a spare magazine?

If you don’t carry a spare mag, magazine manament isn’t an issue. Until and unless it is. The most likely problem when running a handgun: a mag-related malf. If your gun doesn’t work when you need it to, well, that sucks.

Almost as bad as not having enough rounds to stop the threat/get out of Dodge. I know: most gunfights are three rounds at three yards in three seconds. But I’m also down with the rabbi’s admonition that no one ever survived a gunfight complaining that they had too many rounds left. You have a front pocket. Use it.

2. Do you practice dropping your mag?

There is no reason to keep an empty magazine during a defensive gun use (DGU). There is every reason to let it drop. For one thing, losing the empty readies the gun for a reload. (You do carry a spare mag right?) For another, you don’t want to have an empty magazine in your support hand; you’re gonna need it for fending off a blow, calling 911, pushing innocents out of the way, etc.

If you don’t practice dropping your mag, if you strip it from the gun with your support hand thousands of times at the range, you’re going to find yourself with a handful of empty mag during a DGU. Use clearly marked practice mags and drop it every time. Train as you mean to fight (which also means moving as you draw and reload, but don’t get me started).

3. Can you perform a strategic reload during a DGU?

During a strategic reload (I prefer the term to “tactical reload”), you remove and retain a not-empty mag and replace it with a fresh, full one. As the video above indicates, a strategic reload’s about as easy as asking Klara Wester for a date. Now try doing it (reloading the gun) while moving to cover or concealment with bullets and/or a bad guy coming at you.

“Operators” may be able to master the strategic reload but I reckon it’s a bit much for your average gun guy; deciding when and whether to drop a mag or retain it in the heat of battle violates the KISS principle. The compromise: train yourself to do a tactical reload after you’ve moved to cover or concealment.

Your ammunition magazine is your friend. Your spare is your best friend. Anyone who seeks to limit your ammo capacity—and by that I also mean you who don’t think you need a spare mag—is not acting in your best interest. That is all.

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  1. 15 in the gun 33 on the belt. I kid but if only.

    I carry one standard capacity Glock 19 spare mostly in case of a malfunction, I have found reloading a fresh mag is faster that trying to “diagnose” a problem. If I had room for two I would, but it’s just not realistic for my daily adventures.

  2. Isn’t that a job for a shirt pocket? Of course, she didn’t have one. A pocket, I mean – there is, unfortunately, a shirt.

  3. Still working on my reload with retention in idpa. Looks like gabby inserted the used mag in the front holder instead of putting it back in the rear most holder.

  4. In USPSA you always holster an empty gun. You’ll here the Range Officer saying, “Unload and show clear.” After showing clear the next command is “Gun Clear, Hammer Down, Holster” and the Range Officer will declare “Range is clear” and allow everyone to go forward and check targets.

    The lady in the lady in the video needed to put the mag away to use her support hand to clear the gun. There should be no rush after the sting of fire to clear and holster – no matter how many dudes want to zip the process. Pulling the mag from the rear mag holder leaves the front mag holders full of ready magazines.

    USPSA gives shooters a lot of practice but it is still a competition; USPSA is a game.

  5. First, there’s very little about IPSC/USPSA shooting that is real-world, except the actual shooting of the gun. The magazines, number of mags, location on the belt, the holster, you name it – all very poor training for any DGU, unless terrs show up on a practical range and they have brown skin instead of white and they’re about the size of a USPSA target card, or they’re slithering along the ground about the level of a popper.

    This is why the IDPA came about – and the gamesmen are corrupting even that group.

    When I shot IPSC, we used to let our mags hit the ground. Part of clean-up after we finished a stage was to go downrange with the guys scoring targets, make sure we agreed with the scoring, and as we moved from target to target, we’d pick up our mags that we dropped on our way through the stage. Most high-classification IPSC shooters often dropped mags which had rounds left in the mag. The practice was that you’d shoot a position, then move to the next position and if you didn’t have enough rounds in your mag to do the next position without a mag change, you dropped your mag while you were moving, put in a fresh one and hit the next position with a full mag. Remember, IPSC is about hits vs. time. Take too much time changing mags when you should be shooting and your score goes down dramatically.

    Then the 1994 ban came about. Suddenly, competitors who had race guns with very high cap mags (like mine – at 21 rounds) and in oddball, low-volume cartridges (.38 Super, 9×21, 9×23) quit dropping their mags. Whereas we previously could buy a new mag to replace one where we dropped it and messed up the feed lips, now we started thinking “I might not be able to get another mag for this…” and people started doing what you see Ms. Franco doing – worrying about putting that mag back on the belt.

      • Of course. But the larger issue of holsters was the single most contentious issue at the formation of the IDPA. In IPSC, the holsters are make-believe. The holsters used with those raceguns enclose the trigger guard area and clamps it. If you sweep the gun forward, it’s released. There was no “up and out” requirement and the race holsters were in no way realistic to what you’d even use for open carry. Couple that with optical red-dot sights and 21 round mag capacities, and a 1911 is only slightly more competitive than a wheelgun.

        There’s no way I’d use a race gun for a DGU unless my alternative was rocks and insults. I’d pick a stock GI-issue 1911 or S&W Model 10 over any race gun, any time.

      • Not exactly true Nick, maybe I can help. The short version, what became USPSA started out with no divisions, run what you brung. When the higher capacity frames like the Caspian, McCormick/STI came on the scene those shooting the old single stack were at a disadvantage because they had to do multiple reloads where the other guys had none. Wilson (a huge contributor to USPSA and former board member) along with several other people wanted a division for single stack 1911’s to even out the competition. That proposal was turned down to put it mildly. Wilson went on to form the IDPA as a competition that was geared more to the CCW shooter, it does have a division for 1911’s. Ironically USPSA gave approval to a Single Stack division in 2008 which has become very popular and Wilson Combat 1911’s are fairly rare at IDPA matches.

    • While I will be the first to admit that it is more sport than training, I do believe that USPSA/IPSC competition teaches several things which are useful in a DGU.

      1. Carry a spare mag; more, if you can get away with it.
      2. Shoot everything at least twice.
      3. Accuracy counts. Make sure your hits are good ones. Ride that front sight. Don’t try to rush your shots, ’cause you can’t miss quickly enough to win.
      4. Speed counts. Take your time, quickly. Ride that trigger reset. Shave time from your reload splits and your target transitions.

      IMHO, IDPA is worse training than IPSC. No mag drops unless you’re at slide-lock? Two shots max before returning to cover? Failure to do right? In a DGU, there are no rules. You just have to win.

      • I think it depends upon how you approach the competition. Use a race gun and corresponding holster with mega round mags, optics, etc, and this has little comparison to DGU. Essentially, it’s all about the score.

        Use a concealed carry gun and holster (as long it meets the rules) and limit your mags to only those you carry on the street, and the “competition” has a lot more application to DGU. Yup, score suffers, but practical practice increases. Heck, where else can I draw, move, live fire, mag change, etc, all while under some from of stress? I put about 5000 rounds downrange through my STI every year at a local competition, and rarely look at the score. Just looking for the practice.

        In a DGU, I’ll take the competitor with me over the occasional target shooter any day…

        • I do the same thing for the same reasons Professor. (Hence part of my name.)

          Although I compete with my Uncle so I do look a the scores.

          I run a stock Para P-18 and DAA PDR holster (not the skeleton race holsters.) I do run the DAA mag holders though.

  6. Tach reloads aren’t that tough with some dry practice at home. That belt rig looks a little cumbersome too. I like some nice light double mag paddles from fobus or uncle mikes. Functioning pants pockets are also must. Also, is ghosting (pointing a finger or real gun at the target before the buzzer to practice) allowed in USPA. I think it’s a no-no in IDPA

  7. The young lady appears to be shooting a USPSA\IPSC stage or course of fire. It has nothing at all to do with “real life” magazine management except that putting a depleted magazine in one of your carriers almost guarantees you will reload with it at inconvenient time, whether competition or “real life”.

    I have to disagree with the statement that USPSA rules allow you to do anything with magazines, in fact there are rules covering how and where you carry them that vary depending on the Division you are competing in.

    I can’t help but wonder why bullets were throwing up dirt up around the left side steel popper before she started her run?

    • “I can’t help but wonder why bullets were throwing up dirt up around the left side steel popper before she started her run?”

      Because there was another stage off-camera to the left, and the shots at the rightmost target on that stage were impacting the berm at a ~45 degree angle near her left steel?

  8. Great advice, RF. Sometimes I carry a reload, and sometimes I do not. Summertime apparel usually has me switching to smaller and lighter firearms, as do the events I am planning for. What I find irritating are overly specific courses of fire. Shoot 2 shots here, move 5 steps, shoot 1 shot per, Tac reload, etc. The tactical reload is an excellent skill to master, as is reloading from kneeling and / or cover.

    My favorite courses of fire simply involves punching holes and ringing steel. In fact, I like the unknown courses of fire where there is no pre-planning. Just move and shoot as quickly as you can.

    Speaking of which, I’m off to the range. I’m going to try and answer the vitally important question of getting a Glock 19 Gen 4 vs. a Glock 23 Gen 4 for CCW, on-duty backup, and quarterly range Qual. I can get either with the mags that Gaston intended. Keep in mind that I already have a Glock 27 and 35. If any of the AI care to chime in, I’m all ears. I’m currently leaning towards the 19.

    • I’d say if you have a 27 then get the23 cause the new 23 mags will fit the old 27 too! I have both and they are both excellent but why mix it up with more calibers?

  9. Ok let me say mag changes for a DGU are stupid. Carry another gun and if you have to reload or the gun malfunctions, drop it or throw it while drawing another gun. Reloading just involves more crap that can go wrong in (to quote Costa) a time is life situation.

    • Jimmy Cirillo used to call this a “New York reload.” He was a big advocate of the “second, third… whatever.. gun,” ready-to-go as a reload.

    • Two things come to mind. The first is a quote and I can’t remember where I heard it, but essentially, “If you are a civilian and find yourself in a situation where a tactical reload becomes a necessity, you’re at the wrong address.”
      On a more serious note, two or more pistols? Can we get serious? It’s hard enough for the average civilian to comfortably carry ANY pistol and keep it reasonably concealed. Ankle holsters are a joke and really do not lend themselves to quick draw once you’ve thrown away your main gun. Probably be better advised to carry spare magazines in ankle carriers! If a person is going into such dangerous locations/situations that they think they may need mutliple reload magazines or even worse more than one defensive sidearm, how does that relate to the average civilian going about his routine daily business? Maybe you ought to just strap that AR across your back and call it good.

      • It’s hard enough for the average civilian to comfortably carry ANY pistol and keep it reasonably concealed.

        Are you a cop or in the military?

        a person is going into such dangerous locations/situations that they think they may need mutliple reload magazines or even worse more than one defensive sidearm, how does that relate to the average civilian going about his routine daily business? Maybe you ought to just strap that AR across your back and call it good.

        “You don’t need that! What are you, paranoid? You might as well haul that evil assault rifle around with you then!”

        OMG A PRIMARY CARRY AND A BACKUP GUN IN A POCKET HOLSTER. OMG. It’s sooooooo hard for me to carry both. I need someone like Cliff to train me, clearly.

    • Aharon, I’ll try and draw some of the fire headed your way: When I carry I don’t generally carry a spare mag. Most usually I carry one pistol. I live and work in a safe place. I do often, when having to go to “the wrong address” carry two G-36’s, one in each coat or jacket pocket, behind a rectangular rounded-corner piece of very thin polyethelene, in custom pocket holsters. The arrangement balances the blazer or coat, so that one low-hanging pocket doesn’t scream “he’s got a pistol” to the pistol-spotting crowd. I always lift my suit, blazer, or coat over seatbelts. I don’t know which hand/arm will be grabbed, be injured. The arrangement has been the same for years. If you think it is difficult to draw quickly, look at the Chiness Circus acts. Anything can be done quickly with practice. If I’m the slightest bit uncomfortable with the crowd, my fingers are in a pocket, thumb on the outside, and relaxed, a common enough posture and inoffensive. Half of the carry world won’t have much of a chance if their strong-side arm is grabbed, a common tactic when sucker-punching someone. I learned the technique one day while listening to Gerald Ford give a talk. The Secret Service guy next to me (random) looked like he had thin paperback books in each blazer pocket. I later asked the only SS guy I knew about it. Fancier pockets than mine, but I’m no SS guy. The same arrangement works fine with good suit trousers. With a suit jacket or blazer, you have to buy the kind with functional pockets.

  10. When I shoot IDPA, dropping a mag with cartridges in it is a penalty. You can only drop empty mags. I shoot like I carry, so I do not have a gunbelt and mag holders. I do count rounds, and if I have two or three rounds left and am moving from one firing point to another, I will switch to a full mag, but obviously cannot drop the mag.

  11. Tim, in a real DGU you Won’t count rounds….trust me. The best practice is to shoot all the targets until the gun runs dry IMO. Move laterally and get off the fukn X.

    Always, always, always carry a spare mag on you person.

  12. +1 on USPSA being a game and therefore boxing its competitors into certain behaviors that don’t make sense on the streets. (Cover, what’s that?) Same with ICORE and IDPA (even if they won’t admit it) and hell, even trap and skeet when compared to actual hunting.

    As to #2, once upon a time I was trained to strip the mag out of a Glock because the early mags would swell slightly when full & wouldn’t drop freely. Yup, it’s slower, but much more positive than relying on gravity alone…

    • As a military veteran I know the difference between cover and concealment, but question – is sending a lot of rounds downrange towards your opponent the equivalent of cover? If it is it might justify extra mags to accomplish this while you find REAL cover.

  13. I don’t wholly agree with Robert when he says that only “operators” have the skills and time or what not to master “strategic” reloads.

    I also disagree with the idea that you ought to drop the mag and forget about it in the first place.

    • She takes a fresh mag for her Glock from the rearmost position on her belt.

      Well, there’s actually a position on her belt that’s more rearmost. Just above…well… the bit ya’ll were looking at.

  14. If they are successful in limiting maga capacity to 10 rounds (or even 7) by law and it is allowed to stand unsuccessfully challenged, how long before they legislate that you are a defacto felon if you carry more than one such magazine on or near your person?

  15. Magazine management will become even more important when we all have 5 round mags. Jokes aside, I attended a shooting school out west and had only my NY 10 round (before the SAFE 7) mags. Most everyone else had standard cap mags. To avoid emergency reloads during drills, I did a lot of tactical reloads and would end up on the firing line with a beltload and pocketful of mags with 1,2 and 3 rounds left in each and more drills to go. I tried a lot of rotation schemes but never did get a good system. Now, for my shooting enjoyment out west, I just keep standard cap mags with friends out there.. Makes it kind of hard to get to ’em in an emergency situation here in NY.

  16. Honestly, someone must be gay to notice she stuttered a little putting that mag away at the end.

    Perhaps she was flustered.

    I’m going to shut up now before my fiance reads this.


  17. Ok no one replied with what likely happened.

    In USPSA it is uncommon to shoot a stage where there isn’t a single reload. Thus it becomes habit for many on the unload and show clear command to put the magazine that we pulled out of the gun into the first magazine pouch. Since this didn’t have a reload her first instinct to put it in that pouch didn’t work.

    As far as equating it to defensive use of a handgun, unload and show clear is a distinct command we are clearing the gun. When we reload in USPSA the magazine hits the deck. In IDPA the magazine hits the deck 90% of the time, the other 10% it goes in the pocket of our fishing vest. Unload and show clear is an administrative action done only on command of the RO.

  18. With a tail set like that I could forgive her for most anything. Except killing me. And that would be a distinct likelihood if she were to read this post. lol


  19. I think the writer needs to get more informed about the activity I was performing, because it has nothing to do with self-defense. This is USPSA and this stage is a classifier. This stages doesn’t require a mag change however as you can see at the beginning of my video I checked the first magazine on my belt to make sure I had a mag full of bullets in case of a malfunction which means that I don’t take for granted a small stage (anything could happen) once the stage ENDS who cares where I put the empty mag? and by the RULES of USPSA I am not allowed to keep my gun loaded. We shoot in what is called a “cold range”.
    What I consider more critical is to be ready to solve problems (malfunctions) and act quickly in the middle of your shooting and at the same time keep your concentration to maintain your speed and accuracy to finish it.

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