In the USMC every Marine attends a course in the School of Infantry. There, Marines all learn a common set of skills before being sent off to their respective Infantry MOS training courses. A large portion of that training is dedicated to the art of mastering the service rifle. One of the first individual skills drilled into a Marine is the ability to change magazines in his or her rifle quickly and fluidly. A simple task at face value, getting it perfect takes time - our veteran staff members couldn’t count all the times they practiced reloading. Any downtime or time waiting for different training areas to free up was spent reloading. The Marines teach two different methods of reloading: The Tactical Reload and the Speed Reload.
The Tactical Reload is largely drilled into the minds of Marines as the more desirable of the two methods. The tactical reload is done whenever there is a lull in a gunfight. It’s used to refresh the ammo source in a rifle before the rifle runs dry. An element of the tactical reload encourages the shooter to retain their magazine and store it for later use. Generally, a tactical reload is done after the Marine has fired or believes they have fired 15 to 20 rounds from their magazine - if you’re a seasoned black rifle shooter you’ll recall the standard magazine holds 30 rounds. So, why is this done? The idea is no shooter wants to go “dry” in a gunfight. Trying to dispatch a threat and running out of rounds mid-engagement is just bad practice.
The Windowed PMAG
PMAG recognized the need for shooters to be able to determine their round count easily, so they developed the 30-round windowed AR 15 magazine. A universal fit for all .223 or 5.56 AR 15s, the Windowed AR 15 PMAG provides a reliable round count from 0 to 30. At 0 rounds, a red marker on the magazine’s spring will be shown at the top of the window, letting you know you’re dry. At 20 rounds the rounds will disappear from the window, letting you know you’re at 66% readiness. This simple but creative round-counting magazine is a great way to help you when you’re practicing the tactical reload.
Now, let’s go over the steps for the Tactical Reload:
Step 1. The shooter decides to commit to a tactical reload. The shooter draws a magazine from their magazine pouch with their non-firing hand. The magazine should be facing ammo side up, with the projectile facing away from the shooter. To simplify this, magazines are best stored upside down, with the projectile pointing left for right-handed shooters and right for left-handed shooters.
To draw a magazine in this position, the dominant hand grips the magazine with the thumb pointing downwards. This allows the wrist to naturally rotate upwards, putting the magazine in the optimum position to reload the weapon.
Step 2. The shooter takes their non-firing hand with the spare mag and brings it upward to the rifle. The non-dominant hand must grip the magazine that's in the weapon at the same time it grips the spare magazine. You want the spare magazine to be placed slightly above the magazine in the weapon.
Step 3. Hit the magazine release, and pull the old magazine from the weapon. Shift the fresh magazine over and up into the magazine well. Ensure it locks in places. The whole time you are retaining the old magazine in your hand. The old magazine is then stored, preferably in a drop pouch, but a cargo pocket works too.
During this whole reload you have your rifle point downrange and your firing hand retains its position on the grip. The rifle is held up to the shoulder and stays ready. The stored half empty magazine is perfect for later use if things get rough.
The Speed Reload
The speed reload should only occur when you are in the midst of a firefight, and you run dry. The tactical reload is so important because it keeps you from running dry. A speed reload occurs when you need to immediately reload and get back into the fight. This is a life-or-death situation and the precious seconds you take to retain a spent magazine aren't needed.
Step 1. You identify the fact the weapon is empty with the bolt locked back to the rear.
Step 2. Hit the magazine release, and allow the magazine to drop.
Step 3. At the same time, you are dropping the magazine your non-firing hand is reaching for a spare magazine. The magazine arrangement does not change for the tactical reload. Retrieve a spare magazine and then slam it into the magazine well.
Step 4. Using your entire palm, hit the bolt release latch and send the bolt home. You use the palm to ensure it's hit hard enough and is done in a hurry. Trying to use your fingers is difficult since fine motor skills are challenged when stressed.
You don’t concern yourself with the spent magazine because your concern is getting back into the fight and protecting yourself. This is the simpler reload, and it’s worth mastering for those ‘Oh, s***’ situations.
These are the methods our USMC veteran writer, a professional shooter, learned to reload his weapon under fire. It takes hundreds of hours of practice to build muscle memory. Once learned it's hard to forget, even when placed under incredible stress. That's why Marines are so successful at winning wars.