Gunfighting Fundamentals

Suarez International reloading doctrine

One of the elements of Suarez International gunfighting doctrine that tends to cause lots of discussion is the way we encourage students to perform their reloads: by default, we retain the used magazine. There are lots and lots of tacticool guys on the Interwebz who favor playing Hansel and Gretel with used magazines, but as WT member Saladin (who has been there and done that) famously remarked during the subgun class in Prescott: “Ammo don’t come in magazines.”

Without a reliable magazine to feed from, your semi-automatic becomes only slightly more useful than a muzzle-loader. I’m sorry if that hurts the Hansels’ tacticool pride, but that is the truth of the matter. Because the Hansels usually misrepresent what we teach to fit their preconceived notions, I figured I’d post what we teach on this blog. I have also added some personal observations on unexpected benefits of following what we teach.

Suarez International courses teach you how to fight. What you can do on a nice shooting range when the sun is high in the sky, you are feeling good, everything is right with the world, and nothing is really at stake is of marginal interest in this context. The usual context of the techniques we teach is one where others are trying to murder you and yours, and you are taking appropriate actions to keep them from doing that. We want techniques that will still work when it’s dark, your adrenaline level is maxed out, your hands are shaking, your ears are ringing, and lives are at stake.

So what should you do in this context when your gun stops working because it ran out of ammunition, or needs to be reloaded because you have just fired it a bunch? Without training, the most likely course of action when your gun stops, is that you will stop what you are doing, and stare at it while your brain tries to analyze the situation. Impersonating a silhouette target during a gunfight is NOT good for your odds. Instead of doing that, what course of action will stack the odds in your favor the most, and what is the best way to prepare you for this?

The following was written to be specific to pistols, but another theme in SI training (commonality between platforms) means that we do similar things for reloading carbines and shotguns.

My good friend and retired SI Staff Instructor Chris Upchurch coined the term "overridable default" for what we teach. As the "overridable default", we teach the following in case of a slide lock / emergency reload, or proactive reload:

  1. Finger off the trigger, move pistol to your “workspace” (come to class, and we’ll show you exactly what that means).
  2. Activate magazine release using your shooting hand. This may mean having to shift the gun slightly in your hand so you can reach the magazine release. Which finger is used depends on the location of the magazine release. Come to class, and we’ll show you exactly what that means for your pistol and hand (right or left).
  3. Yank the magazine out of the magazine well using your using non-firing hand
  4. Stow used magazine in your pocket (or your belt or dump pouch if that makes more sense for your gear setup)
  5. Access magazine in magazine pouch. Tip of index finger almost on tip of top bullet. 
  6. Place the flat part of the magazine on the flat part of the magazine well, and accelerate it in, in a manly fashion (even the ladies).
  7. Run the slide using four fingers and the palm of your hand, vigorously, whether you think you need to or not.

 SI Staff Instructor JD Lester demonstrates how to perform a reload during a recent CRG2 class in North Carolina. Click image for lager version.

The "overridable" part of "overridable default" comes from the fact that if our lizard brain is screaming at us that we don't have time to stow the magazine, we skip step 4. The “lizard brain” is what I call the part of our brain that is in control during high adrenaline situations. This is the part of our brain that we need to train by doing the right thing again, and again, and again, because it will do what we have done the most of, whether it makes sense for the current situation or not.

In other words, we agree with the Hansels that retaining any magazine (empty or partially loaded) is not worth getting shot! However, by making the whole thing (including stowing the mag) our default (i.e., most practiced option), it is more likely that we will do the right thing when the time comes, because skipping a step from a well-rehearsed routine is easier than adding a fairly fidgety and seldom-practiced step while under pressure.

Yanking out the mag and retaining it as our default option turn out to have some other - unexpected - benefits:

  1. Yanking out the magazine (Step #3) guarantees that we make a hole for the new mag before we try inserting the new mag. Arriving at step 6 with the old mag still firmly seated is NOT good for your OODA loop. I’ve seen it happen, and the results were never pretty.
  2. A "muffler pipe" failure to eject can mimic a slide-lock situation, because the slide is partially to the rear. If our lizard brain misidentifies this as a slide-lock situation, we still successfully clear it, as long as we flip the gun to the right on the rack part. By retaining the mag as a default we save the ammo in the mag, even if we misidentified it. I've had that happen myself. By the time I took out the mag, and it was heavier than usual, my lizard brain realized something was wrong. By the time I got to step 6, my lizard brain had figured out what was going on, and automatically put in the flip with the rack. 
  3. A double feed can also mimic a slide-lock situation, because the slide is partially to the rear. If our lizard brain misidentifies this as a slide-lock situation, we still successfully clear it, for most guns, using the steps above. Trying to drop the mag without yanking it out is never going to work in the case of a double feed. Once again, by retaining the mag as a default we save the ammo in the mag, even if we misidentify it.
  4. Pushing up on the slide stop during firing may cause a slide-lock situation, while we still have ammo in the gun. By retaining the mag as a default we save the ammo in the mag.
  5. Magazines don't get damaged from repeatedly hitting the ground if we are teaching on concrete or rocks, or dirty if we are teaching on sand or mud. While it would be ideal to have a set of training magazines, and another set of magazines to carry, some folks show up for class with the only 3 magazines they own, and will need fully functional equipment for the trip home after the range.

While we try to avoid decision points as much as possible (due to Hick's law), when I'm shooting scenarios, my lizard brain has no problems deciding what to do. Sometimes I retain, sometimes I don't. It just depends on the availability of time and cover.

For teaching and discussion purposes, it might be clearer to differentiate between those situations by defining two terms for reloading when the slide is locked to the rear: slide-lock reload and emergency reload. Slide-lock reload means that we have time and/or cover, thus retaining the magazine. Emergency reload means we have an emergency situation on our hands, and need to get back into the fight RIGHT NOW!, thus making the conscious decision to discard the mag rather than stowing it, or better yet: we draw our other gun (New York reload), and get back to work. If the distance is close enough, we may forego the reload altogether, and go hands-on before drawing our other gun, or move the non-functioning gun to our support hand for use as an impact weapon and go to knife with our shooting hand. It all depends on the situation, and the more we practice, the better we train our lizard brain, and the better our decisions will be under pressure. 

NY reload Alex small
I demonstrate a New York reload while moving during the same CRG-2 class.

Come to a CRG-2 class near you, and we will show you how all of this works in practice.


Alex Nieuwland - Suarez International Staff Instructor for South Carolina. 

Find out more about training with Alex Nieuwland here.