Street Smarts – Tactical Reloading Under Fire

Gunfight survival tips to keep your duty pistol topped off and in the fight!

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  • Tactical-Reload-Under-Fire-tactical-LawEnforcement
    In certain situations, it makes tactical sense during a “lull” in a gunfight to replace a partially expended magazine with a full one.
  • Tactical-Reload-Under-Fire-tactical-LE
  • Tactical-Reload-Under-Fire-tactical-Law-Enforcement
    Taking cover for protection while you attempt to perform a tactical reload can mean the difference between life and death.
  • Tactical-Reload-Under-Fire-swap-mag
  • Tactical-Reload-Under-Fire-swap
    For a tactical reload, swap out a partial mag with a fresh one, and place the partial in a pocket—separate from your full mags.
  • Tactical-Reload-Under-Fire-swapmag
  • Tactical-Reload-Under-Fire-swap-mag-2
    For a tactical reload, swap out a partial mag with a fresh one, and place the partial in a pocket—separate from your full mags.

The tactical or retained reload is the mainstay of most modern, mainstream firearms training programs. The concept is simple. You have fired X number of rounds in a dust-up, and you have a taken cover while there is a momentary lull. You use this time to refresh the ammo supply in your pistol. You do so in hopes that your opponent will not, thus giving you an advantage in the fight. There have been many versions of this reload over the years, and before we examine a few, we need to set a few definitions in place to get on the same page.

Setting the Record Straight

A major thing that I see in training, and sadly on the internet, is that many people talk around each other because they are attempting to say the same thing, but their understanding of the words is different. This is often the case, even though they are saying basically the same thing. We’ll also agree in advance that three things must take place before we even consider a tactical or retained reload: You must have time, distance, and cover prior to attempting a tactical reload. Without time, distance from your attacker, or cover that is adequate to stop incoming rounds from the attacker’s weapon system, you should not disassemble a perfectly good, functioning firearm in the middle of a gunfight. The definition of a tactical reload is the practice of taking a partially expended magazine from a semi-automatic pistol that still has some rounds in the magazine, a round still in the chamber in the pistol, and replacing it with a full magazine so the pistol is at maximum capacity again after the shots are fired. The partially expended magazine then goes into a pocket. This is a “just in case” magazine, and you would not want to put it back into a magazine carrier with other full magazines.

The tactical reload is also very commonly referred to as a “retained” reload because you retain that partial magazine. When people refer to “tactical” reloads and “retained” reloads, they are saying the same thing in common usage. People often confuse a slide-lock or “emergency” reload with a tactical reload. I think it’s simply because of the word tactical. The slide-lock or emergency reload is just that, an emergency: The gun is empty. We need to refuel it. So we dump the empty magazine out onto the ground as we grab a fresh one, stuff it into the pistol and chamber a round.

Building Basics

The traditional tactical reload is often commonly done in sequence once the time, distance and cover have been obtained. The sequence starts with the shooter drawing out a fresh magazine with an index finger properly on the magazine. This is done just as they would an emergency reload. The gun is brought back into the shooter’s workspace, that basketball-sized “sphere of dexterity” that exists for most people directly in front of their chin. This area allows the shooter’s attention to remain downrange and yet have the power and dexterity to do the job at hand. The shooter drops the partial magazine into the palm of their hand and inserts the fresh magazine into the pistol. The partial magazine goes into a pocket. I have heard of some guys who advocate back-filling their magazine pouches—at that point, they take the partial magazine and put it in the last magazine pouch. I’ve even heard of some guys taking that partial magazine and inserting it backwards in the pouch to signify that it is a partial magazine. I do advocate back-filling your pouches, but I leave the partial magazine in a pocket.


  • Randy Harrison

    Great piece on this. I learned long ago that if you do not train for situations like this, you will fail when confronted with a deady threat. Once stress kicks in, you will forget everything other than what you have trained into your motor skills. Learn how to run you gun and KEEP IT RUNNING at all costs. Do this until it is second nature, and it will help you survive a life and death conflict.