What’s the difference between tactical and speed reloads for the AR-15? Put simply, in one case you retain the magazine removed from the gun and in the other you let it fall to the ground. Why might you wish to retain the magazine? Do you recall the incident in Mogadishu, Somalia, where our Soldiers got into a running gun battle and had to fight it out all night? It became known as the “Blackhawk Down” incident. One of the many lessons learned involved retaining magazines—rather than dropping them on the ground—because they might be needed later. Today, most of the military units we see at Gunsite Academy use drop pouches, and we recommend them to our students. What’s a drop pouch? It’s an open-topped pouch, usually worn on the belt, into which empty or partially depleted magazines get dropped and retained.
For the sake of these drills, let’s assume we’re going to do a speed reload when the bolt locks to the rear—when the carbine is out of ammunition—and we start by dropping the magazine to the ground. We perform a tactical reload any time we have expended an unknown amount of ammo, yet the bolt is forward and cartridges remain in the magazine. In both cases, maintain control of the AR-15 with the strong hand, barrel pointed downrange and finger off the trigger. The safety should be switched to “SAFE” at this point.
It’s quicker to do two things at the same time so, in the case of the speed load, press the magazine-release button to eject the empty magazine to the ground while reaching for a spare magazine with the support hand. Insert the spare into the mag well, pushing up firmly, then pull down on the magazine to make sure it is seated. Hit the bolt catch to send the bolt forward and resume a firing position.
There are a couple of ways to do a tactical reload, but I think this one is easiest for most people to accomplish: Grasp the magazine in the AR-15 with the support hand while pushing the magazine release with the trigger finger. Pull the magazine out, put it in a pocket or dump pouch, then insert a loaded magazine in the magazine well by pushing up firmly then pulling down to make sure it is locked in place.
For a speed reload drill, load your AR-15 with a magazine containing two rounds. Attempt to fire three rounds. The bolt carrier will lock back after the second round, so reload and fire two more. This is a “two-plus-two” drill.
A “three-plus-three” drill can be used to set up a tactical reload. With the AR-15 loaded with a full magazine, fire three, perform a tactical reload and fire three more rounds.
Working these drills will help you determine how to carry your spare magazines while improving your AR-15-manipulation skills. Then, if you ever find yourself with a magazine-related failure at a critical moment, you’ll be prepared to perform the appropriate reloads.