Functional Manipulations

There are many names for it, but I call it the “empty reload.”  You’re firing the pistol, and it runs empty. The slide locks back on the empty mag. Getting the pistol reloaded efficiently is critical. This is the first of the “Functional Manipulations.”

Keep The Gun on the Target

For Functional Manipulations, the techniques required to keep the pistol running, I teach keeping the pistol on target. This cuts out wasted motion. Lowering the pistol down, or bringing it in closer to the body, means once the gun is reloaded, you have to get it back on target to fire. This movement consumes time. (There are situations where you would need to bring the pistol in close, for example, to reload while running, or to get the muzzle up, so you don't cover members of your team. For general self-defense, it's better to keep it on target.) Taking the pistol off target shows the threat your pistol is out of the fight. They may try to take advantage of this. Holding the pistol on target also lets you maintain visual contact with the threat, which is likely to be moving.

How To Run The Empty Reload Drill

Step One: Finger off the trigger. No manipulations without first taking the finger off the trigger and getting it clear of the trigger guard.Using the Springfield Armory Hellcat, Ryan shows the proper sight alignment when running the empty reload drill.

Old mag out. To release the empty mag out, you'll probably need to reposition the pistol in your hand to press the mag release. It’s probably not a bad idea to strip the mag out with the support hand at the same time, especially considering you might have to reload with your body in a strange position where gravity doesn’t pull the empty mag down. Once the empty mag is clear, reacquire your firing grip with the strong hand.

The support hand acquires the fresh magazine, positioning it properly in hand. Index it, align and seat it into the magwell aggressively. Remember, the key with all these skills is consistency. All these actions are based on the same techniques for Administrative Manipulations.

Now it’s time to chamber a round. We teach cycling the slide to load, as opposed to using the “slide lock” as a release. There are several reasons for this. First, this is the way the pistols are designed to function. The slide is locked to the rear, but when you pull back, it will come rearward another quarter inch or so. This ensures full spring pressure to feed and seat the fresh round. This is also the same technique used with the slide for all other manipulations. Some pistols don’t have external slide locks; cycling the slide is the only way they will work. Keep in mind; there's no Golden Rule that says you’ll always have your handgun. We want one set of skills that will work for all semi-auto pistols.

Reacquire your grip with the support hand. The sights should still be on target, or close, with minimal movement required to fire again if necessary.

Accuracy Counts

If the situation does require you to fire, slow down, and get an accurate hit. One issue we see with shooters is that they’ll try to go too fast, attempting to make up for “lost” time. There’s no “catch-up,” except the kind you put on food. Once the pistol is running again, take the time necessary to score an accurate shot.

Reloading efficiently requires practice. The best way to practice is dry fire, using dummy ammunition to work the reload over and over. Once it’s feeling good practice with your eyes closed so you can reload without having or needing to see the pistol, next, work on reloading from various positions such as lying on the ground.

You never know what the fight will look like. With a high capacity pistol, your chances of having to perform an empty reload are slim. But, we know it's a possibility, so we practice to be prepared. ~ Tiger

Tiger McKee (Training) (Use of old pieces he’s written for other pubs)
Tiger McKee is director of Shootrite Firearms Academy, located in northern Alabama.  He is the author of “The Book of Two Guns” - writes for several firearms/tactical publications and is featured on GunTalk's DVD, "Fighting With The 1911 -  McKee's new book, AR-15 Skills, and Drills, is available off Shootrite's website: