There is a wise maxim that was presented by German military strategist Helmuth von Moltke; “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” While this may seem to be an idea that applies to battlefield tactics, it can easily apply to our own personal lives and our ongoing desire to master the defensive handgun. There are many variables in a dangerous conflict that we may not be able to control yet many times our weaknesses are areas where we simply don’t prepare enough. In the realm of defensive handgun, the most commonly neglected area is in weapon manipulations for malfunctions and reloads. Many people are exceptional shots, but if their gun goes unexpectedly quiet, an internal “oh crap” surfaces and the scramble begins.
I hear it all the time, “My gun never malfunctions.” Well, I am here to tell you that there is a word you need to add to that sentence … “yet.” Malfunctions are a real-world fact with firearms. The cause of these frustrations range from ammo issues to worn parts, but they are a reality we need to deal with. As a general rule, we classify handgun malfunctions in three ways; type one, type two and type three. There are certainly other malfunctions that can occur, but most issues outside these three tend to be catastrophic failures that require tools to remedy. The type one is also known as a failure to fire. It can be caused by several things but commonly it is a failure to completely seat the magazine. No round enters the chamber and we get a deafening “click” when we press the trigger. The remedy for this is simple. Move the gun closer to your torso in what we call your workspace. Firmly tap the magazine with your support side hand, grasp the slide and while angling the ejection port towards the ground, rack the slide. An easy-to-remember phrase is, “Tap-Rack-Roll.”
Now here comes some great news. As we move on to the type two malfunction, our clearance technique remains the same. The type two is a failure of the spent brass to completely clear the ejection port. Many times it turns into a stovepipe situation. Once we experience a dead trigger, we do the same technique. Bring the gun into your workspace, tap, rack and roll. This is why we roll the gun. It allows gravity to assist us in clearing out obstructions from the ejection port.
With one and two out of the way we move onto type three. This is a double feed. Essentially, two bullets fighting for the same space in the gun. This is a little more time consuming and a great example of why practice matters. The trigger will once again be dead. Most shooters will already see that the slide is not all the way forward. We bring the gun into our workspace, now lock the slide to the rear. We need to get the mag out and have to take tension off of it to accomplish that. Once it is locked to the rear, release the magazine. You may retain it or discard it. While some groups train to ditch any magazine connected with a malfunction, I would caution against this unless you ALWAYS carry two additional magazines on you every day. You may need the rounds in that mag. With the mag out, firmly rack the slide three times to ensure the chamber is clear. Re-insert a magazine and rack the slide once again to reload the gun. Just like that you are back in the fight. There are certainly small variations on a theme with these techniques, but regardless of what version you choose – practice them.
While we are in a quoting mode here let me share a gem from Ken Campbell at Gunsite, “Keeping your gun full of ammo is a problem…just not my problem.” The gist of this is that we should always work to keep our weapons topped off with full magazines if possible. The best way to do this is to use what are called tactical reloads. This is the replacement of a partially depleted magazine with a full magazine. It is carried out in the following fashion. Bring the gun into your workspace, eject the partially spent magazine into your hand and pocket it. As your hand now comes past your mag pouch grab a fresh mag and insert it into the gun. The technique is called one out and one in. There is another version of this where you get your fresh magazine in hand first then drop the partial into your palm. A little bit of gun yoga later and you have switched the mags. While it is true that your gun is without a full mag for a shorter period, this technique came to be when slender 1911 mages were the norm. If you are running Glock or other double stack mags it can be bulky. The choice is yours though. Just a quick note on the tactical reload. Much has been made of when you should do one. This is not a gun fighting component. There will be no “lull” in the battle. It is on or it is off. The only time you should ever do this is if you are 100% safe with no threats in proximity.
Last up we have the emergency reload. This is an empty magazine with a slide locked to the rear. This is a quick fix fortunately. Bring the gun into your workspace and index a fresh magazine. As you are pulling it out and bringing it towards the gun, eject the spent magazine. Now insert the fresh mag in one smooth firm motion, seating it solidly. With your support side hand, rack the slide and now the gun is loaded once again. There is a version of this technique that can be used on several pistols where you simply press down the slide lock and in doing so the gun goes back into battery. There are some pistols where this is a challenge so I teach a reach over and rack the slide technique because it works on all handguns.
The problem with all of these techniques is that they are not glamorous. They are monotonous drills that are not nearly as enjoyable as shooting. They are crucial however and a failure to master them will keep you from being a well-rounded pistolero. As I say in classes, “You can be the best shooter in the world, but if you can’t keep your gun running you will become a bullet sponge.”