How to Improve Your Reloads

I was reviewing my times, scores and footage from my drill session on July 2nd trying to figure out how I can improve my rifle reloads.

To become faster at reloading detachable mag fed guns, evaluate your guns parts, your technique and even your stage strategy to eliminate unnecessary movements when reloading.  (If you run a tubemag shotgun: buy a dremel – this article isn’t for you!).

Specific things I look for in my guns to improve my reloads are:

  • Mag Well: Is it flared?  Is it positioned to be easily accessible?  Is it mechanically designed to make mag-changes simple and ergonomic?
  • Mag Release: Is it accessible without unnecessary hand movements?
  • Bolt Release / Slide Stop / Charging handle: Does it require substantial force or hand movements to operate?  How difficult is it to access the charging handle (the abscence of a bolt release is an almost insurmountable challenge for 3-Gun – unless you have VERY good stage strategies).
  • Mag Release, Slide Stop, Bolt Release or Charging Handle: Are they positioned such that they are not easily accidentally engaged?  Are they tactile enough for you to know when to perform an emergency (chamber empty) and tactical (round in the chamber) reload?  Is there a big enough of a difference between the manual arms of both reloads to merit practicing both?
  • Magazines: are they heavy enough to drop free when the mag release is depressed?  Are their spring tensions light enough that they are easy to insert and don’t cause malfunctions but heavy enough that they drop free?  If they don’t drop free, how difficult are they remove?  For the same gun, different mags may function differently, do those differences in functionality cause stoppages or different behaviours (such as mags not falling free).  How durable are the magazines?  Will they survive multiple drops without deforming to the point of causing malfunctions? Can the mags be coupled and if so, is there any advantage doing so?  Also critically important for magazines is placement and compatability with magazine pouches (which itself is a whole other topic, worthy of an entire blog post).
  • Grips: are they big enough to give you a good purchase but small enough to not need you to shift your hand when reloading?  Is it angled naturally to allow you to minimally cant the gun when reloading?  For pistols and some PCC’s, is the grip long enough to keep your fingers from interupting your reload?
  • For long guns, is the butt stock long and comfortable enough that you can keep it in the shoulder when reloading?  (Tube fed shotgun guys, you’re out of luck on this one).
  • Is the trigger take up (the weight and travel before the gun fires) light and short enough to fire fast but heavy or long enough to avoid an accidental discharge?  You SHOULD take your finger off the trigger when reloading, hence take up is the most important trigger factor that impacts your reload times (as opposed to it’s reset).
  • Weight distribution impacts recoil management and target acquisition.  Better recoil management enables you to initiate a reload faster in the shooting cycle.  Improved target acquisition allows you to bring the gun back on target faster once you’ve completed a reload.

Two general rules I follow with weight distribution are:

1.  “If it doesn’t move, lighten it.  If it moves, lighten it more.”

2.  “If it’s close to the body, lighten it.  If it’s far from the body, lighten it more”

(There are some exceptions to those rules and I’ll write more in detail on those topics in future articles.)

In Canada especially, reloading is a huge component of your time when action shooting.  Before you buy any gun you should give serious consideration to each of these points to potentially avoid making a purchase you later regret.

If you have already purchased a gun, considering them can help in chosing an appropriate upgrade path.

While reloading is very important, it’s not the be all, end all.  There are tradeoffs to be made, especially given that there are multiple other fundamental shooting techniques to consider.  Hence, reloading should not be the sole factor in your gun buying decision making process.

Personally, I have observed it’s not a consideration most shooters normally make.

Another vital factor to consider is that physical defeciencies with your gun’s reloadability can be offset by practice – which I personally prefer to upgrades (although I like my upgrades too).

As with all shooting techniques, your goal through practice should be first to focus on consistency, then speed.  The only way to build consistancy is consistant practice, and the only way to speed up is by being consistant.

For me on the range I consistantly do a reload drill I call the “1R1” drill.

Starting from a compressed or low ready, eyes focused on the target (not down sights), on signal, I acquire my sight picture while prepping my trigger, fire one shot, reload, fire another shot, then record my time.  I do 5 reps of this drill, then retrive my target, record my score, reset the target and prep for another set.  Normally I will run 2 – 4 sets of this drill while on the range (for a total of 20 – 40 rounds).

Running this drill, my best set average time from 48 sets is 2.71 seconds.  My worst was 3.84 seconds, a 1.13 second difference.

Put in perspective, my average split times for follow up shots is 0.28 seconds.  If I could consistantly reload at my best, I would be able to make 4 extra follow up shots on a stage and have the same time as if I reloaded at my worst. My average pistol reload time is 3.09 seconds, so I have some ways to go.

While with 3-gun speed is king, accuracy still is important (less so than in some other Action Shooting disciplines).  Given that to reload, you break your sight picture, change your grip, and reqacuire your sight picture – you still SHOULD focus on accuracy, in particular for shots AFTER you have completed a reload.

I have ran the 1R1 drill exclusively with a standard size IPSC Metric target with pistol at 10 yards using minor scoring (A-zone hits are 5 points, C-zone hits are 3 points, D-zone hits are 1 point, misses are -10 points).

For each set, I have a maximum of 50 points, with my best set average score being 50, my worst being 38, and my average being 45.4.  This means at 10 yards, I have a 91% hit rate for this drill.

That level of accuracy is over-kill for 3-Gun shooting with USPSA Time Plus scoring.  It’s a bit of a pet-peeve for me that 2D’s score equally as 2A’s, but it’s just a different game.

That game lends to the importance of strategy.

While I personally always train to land A-zone hits, USPSA Time Plus 3-Gun shooting against paper targets relies on either a single hit in the A-zone or 2 hits in the D-zone.

Practically speaking, the majority of shooters opt for 2 hits as opposed to risking taking a miss with one shot.

In a theoretical stage with 6 or more paper targets, following Canada’s 10 round pistol magazine limit, a shooter who takes 2 shots will be forced to reload.

As a part of a stage strategy, it is best to time reloads such that they are multi-tasking so as to not add unnecessary time (i.e. – reloading while moving or transitioning to different targets).  With all Action Shooting techniques, the idea is to be effecient and the best way to execute a stage effeciently is to multitask.

Let’s say it takes 5 seconds to move to a target and 3 seconds to reload.  If you move to the target THEN reload, it will add 8 seconds to your time.  If you reload while you move to the target, it will add 5 seconds to your time.  A 3 second difference.

With me personally, that’s 10 extra follow up shots.

Conversely, a shooter trying to land single A-zone hits and avoid a reload COULD gain the time from both the reload and the follow up shots.

With my average reload and follow up shot times (0.28 seconds for follow up shots, 3.09 for reloads) on a 6 target stage that would be a 4.77 second reduction (1.68 seconds from follow up shots and 3.09 seconds from one reload).  For a 10 target stage, that would be a 5.89 second reduction.

Unfortunately, given that each hit outside the A-zone is a 5-second penalty, you would need a 100% A-zone hit rate to justify doing it.

For most shooters for most stages don’t have the ability to do this (I might try, if all pistol targets are 5-7 yards).

Ergo, we all need to work on our reloads.

Hope that helps and I hope to see you on the range soon!

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