Look At Your Firearm While Reloading

There are too many people in the firearm world – especially when it comes to “real world” or “defensive” use of firearms – who hide behind the word “tactical” as an excuse for poor technique or performance.

Today I would like to discuss reloading, both of handguns and rifles. Basically, anything with a magazine. There are many things to discuss when it comes to reloads, and this is a topic I plan on covering in detail in the future. To be specific, I believe that looking at the firearm during the reload, whether I am fighting or gaming, is important and beneficial.

Some people protest that you should never take your eyes off the target during a reload – that doing so is only for competition or “gaming.” I beg to differ. If someone is trying to kill me while I reload, it isn’t going to matter if I glance down at my pistol for a fraction of a second. They are still going to be doing the most dangerous thing they could possibly do, which is…try to kill me. My steely gaze is not magically slowing down their bullets.

The most complicated portion of a reload – perhaps better termed as the easiest portion of a reload to screw up – is inserting the magazine. During the time which the magazine is approaching the magazine well, looking at my pistol will help me return it to shooting condition as fast as possible. The weapon is already in front of me, it’s not as if I need to turn my back to the threat to look at the magwell. If looking down speeds up my reloads, it follows that this will enable me to stay alive longer in a real gunfight.

It just so happens that this also makes split times faster during competition. Look, just because something is valued by a competition shooter (see the above linked photo of Bob Vogel) does not mean that it is immediately suspect for “tactical” or “gunfighting” purposes. It may or may not be useful, but it should be evaluated on its merits, not simply whether it is a “game” technique or not.


Here’s what Mike Pannone had to say on the topic:

You look at it with a quick glance. Anyone who says “no” isn’t realistic. I was taught in every shooting package I ever did by every unit I was in or contracted shooter I shot with that if you can see, you should glance down quickly (maybe .20 sec) to ensure proper orientation and insertion of magazine. If you do this properly you are creating the proper procedural memory. This will allow you to perform the act even when you can’t see because you orient the pistol to your body and oncoming magazine the same way every time. You lose nothing in quantifiable situational awareness that you wouldn’t lose by blinking 2 times in rapid succession but you are affording yourself the highest likelihood for success.  If it is at night and you have NVG’s you may still glance down because that is part of the action but with time your situational awareness of limited vision will remove that. With any useful vision available I will look, without I won’t.

Summary- Looking for a split second when vision is available is the way every great shooter (military, L/E and sport) I know does it. They do this for a specific reason and that is to have the best likelihood of success without loss of situational awareness.

If you get the chance to take any courses taught by Mike, I would highly recommend doing so.


39 thoughts on “Look At Your Firearm While Reloading”

  1. I asked Rick Taylor about this. He says he never has to reload – he hits his targets the first time. So basically he was no help to those like me who occasionally miss.

    1. Did you ask him what he does when he has more targets than rounds in the magazine?
      I mean what happens if you find yourself getting jumped by an entire clan of ninjas? or you want to send your whole class down range to watch you shoot targets?

      1. Rick Taylor never has more targets than rounds. A clan of ninjas did jump Mr. Taylor once, which is why today there are no more clans of ninjas.

      2. He doesnt even need his weapon. He trains in Ameri-do-te he is a weapon he will just use a hurticane on them or if it is serious enough, his kill face.

      3. Red ninjas aren’t a problem, but be wary of the rare ones in black, or even worse, the American ninja.

      4. Rick Taylor moves strategically and fires one round. Once the ninjas have formed the traditional conga line fighting formation. Press. One round and never to be heard from or talked about again are the Conga Ninja Clan.

  2. My understanding of the reasoning behind it isn’t that you’re staring the target down, it’s so that you don’t look down at your gun, and then look back up to a missing target that has since moved and you’ve now lost track of.

    Of course, that justification doesn’t necessarily make the technique any more correct.

    1. The very act of glancing at the magwell negates this thoery, because it makes for a fast,more consistant load. How far can someone move at .20 even in dead sprint? We’re talking handgun range here. Be realistic.

  3. Along these lines about reloading but not a topic touched on in the article, I’ve heard it said you should have the mag you are switching to in your hand before dropping the mag in the firearm. In case you’ve already used the mag you think you’re switching to, or it fell off you, you at least still have the mag in the firearm. Which in the case that it is the last mag you have maybe you can clear the malfunction, or if it is empty maybe you know somewhere there is more ammo (but not mags). Although I don’t think anyone expects the gun fight to wait for you to recharge a magazine. I think the generally accepted thing to do at that point is transition to side arm anyway. Thoughts? ( As a three times decorated internet arm chair commander it is all hearsay to me )

  4. Watching the reload is an extension of determining if I really need to reload. In gross terms:
    1. Gun stopped going bang.
    2. Why?
    3. Look at the gun to determine why it stopped going bang.
    4. Reload or remedial action.

  5. I may look at my reload in a match or qualification or (far fetched) a gunfight, but I don’t want to train that way. I want to train so that at 0300 I can get my weapon up and running even if there is no light.

  6. Is that the Rick Taylor way to wear eye protection?

    “When I was young, we didn’t have these newfangled sunglasses. We had to squint!”

  7. You and I are in a fistfight… OK, now look at your feet.

    Clearly you need to keep your head up, or you are going to get punched. Same thing is true with reloading a gun. If a Bad Guy peeks around a corner at you, and sees you looking DOWN at your hands… and you don’t see him… you are in trouble. So keep your head up, Dingus.

    I mean, isn’t that a big part of the point of keeping the gun up between you and the threat? It keeps your eyes pointed in a useful direction, instead of looking down towards the floor.

    I’m not sure how much the “don’t look at your hands” thing really applies to pistols or ARs. With an autoloading pistol my head stays up and I can look at the gun by only shifting my eyes a small fraction. OTOH, I can stick reloads blindfolded so I don’t really think focussing my eyes on the gun actually buys me anything. I mean, make a circle with your thumb and index finger, close your eyes, now stick your other index finger through the hole. It isn’t hard to hit the hole every time. You really don’t need to look.

    Maybe its different with an AR… personally wouldn’t know about that.

    I only ever rag on people who look down at their hands while reloading a revolver with a speed loader, because in that case you really do end up looking down towards the ground. With a revolver you gotta keep your head up and reload by feel instead of by sight—otherwise you end up in a pretty badly compromised position, similar to my fistfight example.

    1. What would be doing to the bad guy when you’re gun is unloaded anyway? Give him the stink eye? You’re not going to shoot anyone until that gun is reloaded, so why not optimize the time to load by taking a glance at the “empty gun” and insure it’s happening.


    2. Ben, stop being such a effin mallninja. Go take a tactical course blindfolded or run a IPSC/IDPA match and put up a link here so we can see what a superior reloder you are.

    3. Glancing at the magazine well for a moment and looking down at your feet are two different things. And no, there is absolutely no connection between looking at your feet in a fistfight and looking at the magazine well during a gunfight. Bullets will not magically stop flying because you have not locked your eyes on your opponent. OMG, what if you have multiple opponents and they are not all standing together in a neat, El Pres-style line?! What if you need to find cover? These are things which will require taking your attention away from that one bad guy.

      You are way out of your league on this discussion.

      1. LOL. Do you find that you often feel the need to inform others of their league status? That remark tells me more about you than you are ever going to know about me.

        I said that I had no AR experience, so I’m not offering an opinion on that.

        I also said that I look at the gun when reloading an autoloading pistol, because it doesn’t require more than a quick glance, which is remarkably similar to what you just said in your reply, which is remarkably like having a discussion with someone who doesn’t listen.

        I also said that I don’t really have to look. If I close my eyes the reload still happens. I’m not looking at my keyboard while typing this message either. I don’t have to watch my hands while I play guitar! I don’t use a mirror when I scratch my ass, and I can jerk off without looking at my dick.

        I also said that I only really worried about it with revolvers. That’s because I really do end up looking more or less at my feet—if not for the revolver blocking my view—and at the rate I reload I would be looking down like that for a number of seconds. To me, learning to reload a revolver without looking is absolutely worth the effort.

        I guess you decided to ignore the revolver example in favor of informing me of my league status.


        1. Only when dealing with those who display intellectual shortcomings (and a lack of relevant experience).

  8. I don’t think the author is suggesting that you look away from your threat. Under actual conditions, everyone will be looking for and/or moving to cover, or at least you should be. If you’re not moving from cover to cover it generally means that you got caught out in the open. You want to keep situational awareness at all times so you want to leverage your peripheral vision by bringing your weapon into that envelop to aling your hand motion with your magazine. Nano second magazine changes are not all that important as you’re not Doc Holliday facing off with a pistolero. Chances are you be shot from someone firing from a covered position.

  9. Muscle memory helps build consistency in pistol reloads. You don’t wake up one day and have muscle memory. It takes practice, both in posturing to perform the reload and seeing the reload through. You bring the pistol towards you while you drop out the magazine, visually watch/verify that magazine drops free, see your support hand guide in the next magazine and bring your eyes back to target while you run it home and release the slide.

    Under enough stress its easy to jam that magazine against the forward or rearward edge of the opening and not get the magazine where its going. I’ve done it plenty of times shooting IDPA. If you aren’t watching this happen, you’re going to be slower in correcting it. This is why competitive shooters have mag wells on their pistols ( in classes where its legal anyway ). They can make that error while reloading on the clock and get away with it because the well will correct the magazine as they force it into seating.

    For concealed carry, most don’t have a huge mag well. Military and law enforcement don’t run mag wells either. Therefore its important to incorporate a small fraction of your peripheral to see that your spent mag clears the weapon and that the fresh one is already on its way up before you pick your head up to re-engage your target.

    I will say that watching the entire reload isn’t advisable either. Once you’ve seen that your reload will be successful, getting your target back into focus before you press your weapon back out will speed up how quickly you index yourself and your weapon to the target while you reacquire sight picture.

    The small amount of time in which this all occurs, after regular practice, is fractions of a second. Its important to note though that you shouldn’t try to reload faster than you can successfully do so. A millisecond reload is useless if you can’t do it with repeatable consistency. Taking the few extra tenths of a second to ensure that you bring your weapon back into service is far more important.

    As for rifles, I’ve no helpful experience to speak of. I can imagine most of the same principles carry over.

  10. And here I thought we were supposed to throw fresh magazines into our John Browning -peace be upon him and his invention- blessed blaster from hip height like Stalone in the Expendables. Guess my Movie Fu moves are a bit out of date. But I swear he said that was the only Rick Taylor approved relad in the dvd commentary reel. Odd.

  11. The real question is who is the creepy guy standing behind you. Are you sure he is not the REAL threat?

  12. I’ve been following this blog for a while, and I fail to understand why the clearly uneducated, unexperienced feel the need to attempt to throw their poor excuse for knowledge at people, who clearly do these thing for a living. And then get pissed if when proven wrong, by people with experience. You can play call of duty, and change mags blindfolded all you want, but you have no real world experience, so your incorrect opinion is invalid.

  13. I too have watched this site for a while. Typically those types of critics are asked to put up or shut up. Of course in the end they never, ever provide physical counter evidence to the articles they criticize. Then they aren’t heard from again. I love it, it’s like automatic waste management.

  14. Similar to Chris and ST4, I’ve been reading here off and on for a while, always enjoy the articles and most the commentary. Still, I have but one question to ask- and please don’t ridicule me for being a novice shooter (which i ain’t, BTW, just not a ‘worldly’ one)- but I gotta ask… who the hell is Rick Taylor and why should I listen to him? (snicker)

    1. Count yourself lucky Rick Taylor didn’t show up on your doorstep the minute you posted that. He may have been at the window watching you type that and considered tactical rolling through the glass and slapping you for not knowing who he was and showering daily in Snake Oil ® to maintain operational duty effectiveness.

  15. I respectfully disagree that you should look at your gun while reloading. It runs against the bodies natural reactions…what if you can’t because you have a stress focus, what if there is no light and you can’t see, what if you screw it up because you were relying on visual info to complete a complete motor function while going through the effects of time distortion.

    For a full run down of why check out an article that I just wrote.

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