Recharge Reloaded: History of the Spare

Editor’s Note: The following is a syndicated article by author Ed Combs that first appeared in USCCA’s Concealed Carry Magazine Volume 15, Issue 2, February/March 2018 under the title, “Recharge Reloaded: History of the Spare.” 

Some dislike reload drills because it’s a part of handgun training that can expose the practitioner as anything less than an expert. You’d be amazed how many shooters, even when told to start slowly and build speed as the technique is perfected, will rush too quickly and basically negate whatever training they could accomplish. They quickly become frustrated and end up basically wasting their time (and, even worse, training in ineffective techniques that might someday get them killed). Add to this the fact that some shooters only engage in training of any kind at an actual live-fire range, and you have a recipe for general unpreparedness. It gets tougher though.

Like other areas of training and technique, reloads and the positioning of extra ammunition can be tricky. The reason is the same as why so many other areas of defensive handgunning get so hazy: Individuals offering advice and training might have been trained in handgun use decades ago, and they might be applying what we’ll call “classic” training methodologies to contemporary subject matter. This can cause difficulties, and those difficulties can often be traced back to the evolution of law enforcement equipment.

I understand that it can seem like we talk a lot about law enforcement in these pages that are dedicated to the private citizen, but please understand that many of the most important advances in handgunning equipment and tactics came from the ranks of law enforcement, especially prior to about 20 years ago. Concealed carry permit classes are also very likely to be instructed by retired law enforcement officers, and this is where the issues begin to compound.

Back in the good old days of mandatory neckties and heavy-barreled Smith & Wesson Model 10s, most officers carried 12 or 18 rounds of ammunition on the front of the duty belt. These rounds were eventually carried in speedloaders, but before the 1980s, they were carried in simple drop pouches or even old-style cartridge loops. Sometimes, these cartridges were carried on the left side of the officer’s belt buckle, but if he could swing it, he’d wear them at his 1 o’clock position. There was a very good reason for this: When the revolver was run dry, the (in this case, right-handed) officer was to get to cover if possible and do the following as quickly as he could:

1. Holding the revolver in a firing grip in the right hand, hit the cylinder release with the right thumb. Swing the cylinder of the revolver out of the frame with the middle and ring fingers of the left hand, pin it between those fingers and the swell of the palm and slam the cylinder plunger with the right hand.

2. After the cylinder is completely cleared, retrieve ammunition from the duty belt with the right hand and execute a reload.

3. Push the cylinder back into battery and index it with the left hand while regaining a firing grip with the right hand; get back in the fight.

When practiced, this could be done quickly enough. However, when it comes to running an automatic pistol, the positioning of the ammunition supply isn’t really up for debate: The two or three magazines on the duty belt are worn at the right-handed shooter’s 11 o’clock. When executing an autoloader reload from duty gear, this is the sequence after getting to cover if possible:

1. Hit the magazine release on the pistol with the right thumb. (Many agencies even train officers to always manually strip an empty magazine out of the gun, but I’ve never seen it strictly enforced except during malfunction drills.) While doing so, unsnap the first magazine pouch you can get your hand on.

2. Holding the pistol in the right hand, keep it at eye level as you drive the left thumb down into the magazine pouch behind a charged magazine.

3. Gripping it with the left thumb, index and middle finger, draw the charged magazine from the pouch, keeping the index finger on the front (or projectile) side of the magazine and guide it into the magazine well.

4. After certain that the magazine is seated, grasp the back top of the slide with the left hand, jerk back on it and release; get back in the fight.

As is apparent, this can make for quite a training scar among those who worked for years (or sometimes decades) with their spare gunloads on their dominant sides.

In all honesty, this has to be one of the reasons why the combination sidearm/magazine holster is still so popular. The fine specimen from Mernickle Holster Company [pictured above] is absolutely top-of-the-line, yet it is a holster I would not personally choose to carry. I’ve spent too many years immediately going for my left side when I run a gun dry, and I don’t see an upside worth training enough to change that.

Though not my cup of tea, such holsters are nothing new. When you look at the military holsters made for Luger P08s, Walther P38s and all different kinds of Soviet service pistols, it becomes apparent that the appeal of a combination holster/magazine carrier not only offered a shooter one fewer thing to worry about rigging onto his loadout gear but didn’t require a whole lot more training beyond “when in doubt, grab for the pistol pouch.”

The U.S. military was one group that bucked this trend when they adopted their new “Automatic Pistol, Caliber .45, M1911.” The “Holster Model 1912” was basically an old-style cavalry holster slightly modified to fit the 1911 and mag onto the newfangled “web belt,” but one thing it was conspicuously missing was an integral magazine pouch on the holster. Nope, the 1912 was to be used in conjunction with the M1910 canvas belt. That belt, the M1912 leather holster and a canvas double magazine pouch were to be worn as a system much like you’d see on a modern law enforcement officer: gun on the dominant-hand side and ammunition on the other.

What I find so interesting about that is the fact that we as a nation made that decision before most people on the planet had even seen a picture of an automobile, but, in other nations, the combination pistol/magazine carrier hung around until the 1970s (and, in a few of those nations, until present day). What can I say? Just another instance of the United States leading the way in handgunning.

TRAIN LIKE YOU’LL FIGHT?

More than a few instructors swear up and down that, in the past, law enforcement officers have been found dead on the ground with empty cartridge cases in their pockets. This is very important for reasons you might already understand, regardless of the origin of this (likely apocryphal) legend: Every time those men trained on the range, they emptied spent shells from the cylinders of their revolvers directly into their hands to avoid having to scramble around and pick them up later. This left training scars so significant as to (allegedly) cost them their lives in actual exchanges of gunfire.

What does this have to do with holsters and where you carry your extra ammunition?

Almost everything.

Look, it is of no real significance to me where and how you carry your spare ammunition. If you carry a revolver and a pack speedloader pouch in the small of your back, good for you. If you carry an auto and stow a spare mag in an IWB carrier at your 7 o’clock, that makes me happy. Even if you’re going against the advice we provide here at CCM — maybe you’re carrying a mag for your Ruger LCP loose in your pocket or you tossed a speedloader for your revolver into your purse and called it a day — that works. Do I prefer that you do those things? No. However, I understand how they happen and I would rather you have spare ammo on your person at all times than not.

What I do ask is that however it is you’ve decided to carry your extra ammunition, you train on accessing and deploying it. If you’ve invested several hundred dollars in a custom-made concealed carry system from a premier tactical company, that’s swell. If you’ve availed yourself of a very affordable yet still high-quality pocket holster, I’m, honestly, just as pleased for you. Either way, you’ll need to train drawing from that holster, and you’ll need to train in reloading the gun after you’ve run it dry or it malfunctions. If you fail to do this — if you think that “sidearm and reload physically on my person” equals “prepared to employ that equipment to save my life” — you’re falling into a very dangerous trap that’s claimed lives since back when reloads involved powderhorns and patch knives. Carry that extra ammunition, but respect it. Carry it in a way that you’ll be able to access and deploy it when needed, and train in doing so. If you’re there for your reloads, they’ll be there for you.

Discover how you can join nearly 300,000 responsibly armed Americans who already rely on the USCCA to protect their families, futures and freedoms: USCCA.com/gunsamerica.

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{ 11 comments… add one }
  • Lee September 15, 2019, 11:45 am

    ” law enforcement officers have been found dead on the ground with empty cartridge cases in their pockets”

    This is false. I have heard it regurgitated in the LEO training community since my career started nearly two decades ago. If you’ll take a quick minute to look it up, Masad Ayoob actually did the research using actual reports and crime scene photo’s and found that the most widely sited case supporting the “cases found in their pocket” myth was a completely ficticious. Ayoob has some really great articles circulating around busting a lot of “gunfighting” myths.

  • Boss September 14, 2019, 12:28 pm

    For a left handed individual, this works for me.

    Revolver:

    1. Holding the revolver in a firing grip in the left hand, hit the cylinder release with the left forefinger. Swing the cylinder of the revolver out of the frame with the thumb of the right hand, pin it between those fingers and the right thumb and slam the cylinder plunger with the left hand.

    2. After the cylinder is completely cleared, retrieve ammunition from the duty belt with the left hand and execute a reload.

    3. Push the cylinder back into battery and index it with the right hand while regaining a firing grip with the left hand; get back in the fight.

    Simi-auto Pistol:

    1. Hit the magazine release on the pistol with the left forefinger or middle finger. While doing so, unsnap the first magazine pouch you can get your hand on.

    2. Holding the pistol in the left hand, keep it at eye level as you drive the right thumb down into the magazine pouch behind a charged magazine.

    3. Gripping it with the right thumb, index and middle finger, draw the charged magazine from the pouch, keeping the index finger on the front (or projectile) side of the magazine and guide it into the magazine well.

    4. Hit the base of the magazine with the heel of the right hand.After certain that the magazine is seated, grasp the back top of the slide with the right hand, jerk back on it and release; get back in the fight.

    I borrowed heavily from the author.

  • Ken September 13, 2019, 12:40 pm

    In addition to the “standard” method of reloading revolvers other than the method described, which is taught everywhere, I also teach my students another method, which I prefer because it does NOT require the shooter to transfer the weapon from the right hand to the left, then back again, giving the shooter two chances to drop the weapon under stress. Here’s how the “my” alternate version goes. After taking finger off the trigger,

    1. Operate the cylinder release with the right thumb.
    2. Reach under the frame with the left hand palm up, then push the cylinder open with the middle fingers of the left hand.
    3. Keeping the weapon in the right hand, turn the frame of the revolver slightly to the left (so the cylinder stays open) with the barrel pointing upward at an angle to allow gravity to assist in removing the empty cases.
    4. With the fingers of the left hand extended and stiffened, strike the left index finger against the barrel and downward to operate the ejector rod. Quickly repeat if necessary to eject the spent cases.
    5. With the revolver still tipped slightly to the left, bring the barrel downward to assist in inserting the new cartridges.
    6. Use the left hand to load the weapon. If using a speed loader let it fall free.
    7. Use the left hand to close the cylinder, dragging the hand over the cylinder until it stops rotating. (To prevent damage to the cylinder crane, NEVER swing a cylinder open or shut!)
    8. Regain a firing grip and access the target.

    Finally, a word about reloading pistols from mag pouch(es) . Be consistent as possible but be flexible as conditions change. When I began shooting IPSC back in the 70s, I developed a procedure I still use if I am wearing a duty belt with multiple mags. If I am reloading for speed, I always reach for the mag closest to the front as it minimizes time and motion. It also gives me an idea about how many mags I have remaining. However if I am doing an administrative reload (in the holster) or an initial “load and make ready” load, i.e., not against the clock, I always load from the rear mag. Tactical reload? You decide.
    Be safe.

  • maddog September 13, 2019, 12:11 pm

    beter to have and not need than to need and not have. i’d sure hate to buy the farm because i thought i would never need an extra mag.
    disabled vet, 1969.

  • TJ Reeder September 13, 2019, 11:39 am

    I agree with the author, I’ve said for years that carrying the spare mag attached to the holster is a good way to die. Shifting the weapon to the weak hand to free the strong hand to grab the spare mag is ludicris.

    Also in my match shooting experience I’ve seen LEO’s reload on the clock by putting the empty mag away rather than drop it on the ground. We once had a LEO that suggest we place old carpet on the ground so mags would not hit the ground. This kind of training and practice will get one killed. I hope this habit has changed.

    Back in the god old day when I was a LEO and carried a Mod 66 I saw officers that had carried their ammo in the belt loops sop long it was actually corroded to the leather! Fact! I removed every round and wiped it off before every shift and once a month I shot the ammo I was carrying and reloaded with new. Life’s short, stupid can shorten it.

  • Nicks87 September 10, 2019, 1:47 pm

    I guess I missed the part about when and where reloads are justified/useful and what liability, if any, the shooter has concerning where all of these rounds are landing. You are legally responsible for every round that you fire from a gun and people who carry lots of ammo, shoot more and tend to shoot less responsibly. It’s just a fact. Are you seriously that insecure about your shooting abilities that you need to carry extra ammo? If that’s the case maybe you shouldnt be carrying in the first place. Or maybe you should be carrying a bigger gun if the threat is that substantial.

    • KCsmith September 13, 2019, 8:06 am

      Just because you don’t want to carry a spare magazine doesn’t mean that an attempt at belittling other people’s shooting skills justifies your bad decision.
      Like most people, I carry a spare simply because the magazine is the most likely failure of the firearm. That second magazine gives me a total of 16 rounds on my person.
      Seem excessive? It isn’t. It’s basic logical reasoning.

    • Godfrey Daniel September 13, 2019, 10:40 am

      Have you ever seen how many spare mags cops carry? I see @ least two on every duty belt I’ve ever seen and they’re supposed to be the best trained. I’ve also seen vids where cops send 10, 12, 15, 17 rounds down range and you know not all of those rounds hit the target/perp. So climb off your high horse.

      • Boss September 14, 2019, 10:56 am

        These days, I see Police carry 3 and 4 spare 17 round mags. Add it up.

    • John Rogers September 15, 2019, 8:43 pm

      Reloads justified? If your firearm is empty, and the threat still exists, a reload is justified. Is that simple enough for you?

      Are you really that stupid, or just a liberal anti gun troll?

    • Willie-O September 16, 2019, 12:53 pm

      You are an obnoxious JACKASS

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