Debating the Reload with Retention

One of the pillars on which IDPA is built are the “3 IDPA Approved” reloads, which are as follows:

  1. Slide-lock reload – run the gun dry, dump the empty magazine, grab a fresh one and drop the slide on the new mag.
  2. Tactical Reload – draw the fresh magazine, drop the partially loaded magazine into your hand, insert the fresh magazine, and then stow/secure the partially loaded magazine.
  3. Reload with Retention – eject the partially charged magazine and stow it, draw and insert a fresh magazine into the gun.

The idea behind the last two reloads is that if you’re in a running gunfight, you’d not want to leave any ammo behind, just in case.  This contrasts to the most common reload in USPSA, where you just dump the magazine, empty or otherwise, jam a fresh one into the gun and keep going, not worrying about leaving bullets behind.

Die-hard IDPA shooters say that retaining your ammo is a good idea, and the die hard IDPA-haters say that it’s a silly idea because it slows you down.  Now, where the debate gets interesting is if you read the IDPA rule-book, which has the following two items in it:

HQ urges course designers to draft scenario courses that do not require tac-loads or reloads with retention to be performed “on the clock”.


Slide Lock reloads are the recommended type of reload in IDPA. Statistics show that this happens in the real world, regardless of intention or training. Tactical reloads and reloads with retention are intended for use during lulls in the action and should not be required on the clock.

There are a few ROs I’d like to show that section of the rule book to…but that notwithstanding, the fact that the IDPA rulebook itself clearly states that Tac-loads and reloads with retention shouldn’t be done on the clock would seem to indicate that they’re not really a great way to put extra magazines in your gun.

So why do ROs put these reloads into COF and have them done against the clock?  I think it’s a combination of two factors.  The first reason is what I call The Dark Forces factor.  The name comes from a video game I played a lot as a kid – the later levels of the game ramped up the difficulty not by throwing challenging puzzles at you, but by pumping wave after wave of nigh unkillable superbadguys at you. Instead being creative to make the game challenging, they took the easy way out. That same principle applies to the reload issue with IDPA. People are looking for ways to introduce challenges into COFs, and so they throw a tac-load or RWR.

The second reason I think you see these loads on COFs is revolver shooters. I love the wheelgun guys to death, but IDPA’s dedication to being “revolver neutral” is nuts some times. A compassionate RO can see a course of fire, and call for “any IDPA approved reload” after six rounds. For the wheelgun guys, that’s no problem, because they’ve got to reload anyway. But for everyone else, they’re going to have anywhere from 2-5 rounds left in the gun, and now they have to dump that mag and perform a complicated and time-costly reload.

Of course, all ranting aside, I don’t think reloads with retention are going away. For better or for worse, ROs will continue to put them in COF on the clock, so as much as I may not like it, I need to practice it. Now comes the gamey part for you guys out there. The IDPA rule-book makes no differentiation between a tac-load (slow) and a reload with retention (less slow). It also doesn’t say anything about not putting an extra, empty magazine holder on your belt for that spare mag. I use the Blackhawk single and double stack magazine holders, which have this huge, wide mouth on them. That means that for a reload with retention, I drop the empty, catch it, slam it into an empty magazine holder, and now my hand is right next to my fresh magazines, so I can continue my reload. It’s actually quite a bit faster than the tac-load, is completely legal, and allows you to utilize roughly the same muscle memory that you’d use for a standard, slide-lock reload.

Ultimately, that’s the best solution to the “IDPA approved reload” question – practice. If you can master the above technique for a reload with retention, when you see those COF that involve that particular skill, you won’t roll your eyes in frustration – you’ll get excited to do your new, speedy-gamer reload. For your ease of training, here are the steps to the fast RwR.

  1. Eject empty magazine into hand
  2. Stow empty magazine in empty magazine holder (this needs to be a mag holder that is easy to get mags in and out of, I prefer the Blackhawk! models)
  3. Draw fresh magazine
  4. Insert fresh magazine into gun
  5. Keep blasting

Lather, rinse, and repeat for best training results.


  1. Except that violates the tactical rule of having only full magazines in holders. I guess it depends on what reason you are participating in IDPA, building tactical skills or just to compete?

  2. I think it’s an established fact that I’m playing IDPA as a game, and as such am looking to win. Any defensive/tactical skills that I’m training on is just gravy.

  3. ParatrooperJJ brings up a good point.

    However, the stated reason for the Reload with Retention is to *keep* the ammo there for use. Thus storing it in a mag pouch is a good way to do that, based on the rationale for the requirement.

    It does have a tactical drawback possibility, that you’ll load a non-full magazine, but that’s a tactical decision.

    If you’re participating in IDPA, you’re competing. You’re working on better, faster techniques and plans.

    Do you participate in IDPA with your daily carry arm and setup? (I do at times, just for that practice.)

    But I also do it to *compete*, because it *is* a competition, and that’s part of how you push yourself.

  4. When I was still shooting IDPA, our local group had a lot of cops as members. Many were on the various SWAT teams and they wanted COFs with RWRs. According to them, that matched their daily issues better than empty to slide-lock.

    I can see their point. Most couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn and they needed to reload more often. In one COF, we had a standard target covered with a t-shirt. Behind that target was a steel plate. You had to continue to shoot until you dropped the steel. That was a real challenge to some of the shooters.

  5. Don’t know what the IDPA rule book says on it, but one afternoon some time ago when I had RSO duty I saw a member practicing on the action range: he had a big ass magnet on his belt and was practicing “drop and stick” with a blue steel magazine.

    He got pretty good with it, drawing a fresh mag from a pouch while the one from the gun was falling and pushing the falling mag against the magnet with his inside wrist and forearm while he moved the full one to the gun.

    Somehow, though, I’ve never seen anyone on the street with a big magnet on their belt….

  6. Yeah, I’m pretty sure that that magnet would get you a “failure to do right” penalty, as it quite obviously is contravening the spirit of the rules.

  7. Great, now I’m gonna have to dig up my old copy of Dark Forces and see if it runs in DosBox…

    I find the requirement to retain partial mags amusing when all the trainers I’ve worked with have explicitly said “you will always do speed reloads when your life’s on the line.”

  8. Well, and what’s funny about that is that even the IDPA rule book says that you’re most likely to run the gun to slide lock in an emergency, so that’s the “preferred” reload.

  9. A couple of points, if I may:

    I’d seriously consider giving a FTDR to anyone showing up to a match with a spare magazine carrier specifically for use the way you describe because I’d consider it competition only equipment. Also, it would violate the rule that you can only have two spare magazines on your belt.

    Adding such a carrier means your normal carrier must be carried further back to still keep it behind the center line of the body, negating some of its usefulness.

    While the rulebook discourages the RwR on the clock, it does not forbid it.

    Some of the persistence of the RwR on the clock in stage design may be due to the pre-2005 rulebook, that did not contain those discouraging words IIRC. Some of the stage designers still have the old ruelbook memorized.

    Gabe Suarez teaches the RwR as part of his standard actions after the first part of a gunfight. If you can shoot better than the average LEO during a gunfight you may actually NOT keep spraying bullets into the surrounding environment until your gun runs dry and need to do one.

    Training will always win out over supposedly better equipment. I’m going to practice some RwR right now.

    Good night,

  10. Alex, it’s not really a FTDR penalty for a couple of reasons – one, there’s nothing in the rulebook that says you cannot have more than two magazine carriers on your belt. The way I see it is that IDPA stipulates three magazines – one for the gun, and two spares. I just happen to carry all three on my belt for the duration of a match, and in the event that I need to do a tactical reload, I simply want to have the magazine somewhere I can get it easily. When I explain it like that, it’s not FTDR worthy.

  11. Supposing it’s legal for a moment, how much time are you gaining using the empty mag carrier compared to stowing the mag in your front pant pocket?

Comments are closed.