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Oh, Spare Me!–Should You Even Bother to Carry a Reload?

Oh, Spare Me!–Should You Even Bother to Carry a Reload?

Story by Tamara Keel, Photos by Dave Merrill

Let’s get this out in the open: You can count the number of private-citizen defensive gun uses in the U.S. when a rapid reload made the difference between a dead good guy and a live one without taking off both mittens.

Reloading a handgun mid-gunfight, outside of a military or law enforcement context is pretty unlikely. Although he’s talking about carbines rather than pistols, a great quote from trainer Randy Harris springs to mind: “If you empty one 30-round mag in civilian-world USA, you’re going to be on the news … if you empty two, you’re going to be in the encyclopedia …”

Another trainer, Claude Werner, studies the reports of private-citizen defensive gun uses as collected in sources like the NRA’s Armed Citizen column. Over time, he’s found the average number of rounds needed in these encounters is low. One month, May of 2017, the average round count across seven reported gunfights was only 1.43 rounds per incident. That’s not a lot. Unless you find yourself caught up in the middle of an action-movie shootout, you’re highly unlikely to need that reload.

And yet having a spare magazine along if you’re carrying a self-loading pistol is still considered best practice — for reasons that can be broken down into three basic categories. It’s worth exploring them further, as well as the best ways to carry a spare in the event one of these situations actually comes up.



The first and most obvious consideration is that every now and again, someone might be unlucky enough to be “that guy,” who gets caught up in an action-movie shootout. An active shooter-type scenario will likely require a more substantial loadout than what’s needed to convince a bad guy that he doesn’t want to die for your wallet.

[How many spares you should carry–at least according to the internet]

Sure, we said the need for a reload was just about as likely as winning the Powerball, but we’ve all seen the commercials: Somebody ends up winning that Powerball every time. And if your day has reached the point where you’ve had to pull a gun and start shooting, it’s already taken a statistically unlikely turn and is unlikely to get any more normal from that point. You don’t want to be the one to forfeit for inability to shoot back.


A more likely reason to need a spare mag than the action movie shootout is that … well, people lose their minds in stressful situations. A disconnect of dexterity can cause bad decision-making and fumbling.

The magazine is a vital component on a semi-auto handgun. Without it, the pistol is an awkward-to-operate single-shot weapon, and it’s highly unlikely you’ll have any loose rounds in your pockets to feed it.

Because reloading a pistol rapidly is important to its efficient operation, the release for most pistol magazines is placed where it can be easily reached without breaking the hand from a firing grip. In some pistols, the release is ambidextrous, so that it can be activated easily from either side of the gun.

When you think about it, this presents some downsides. While it assists in rapid mag changes, it’s also akin to a single-engine aircraft with a joystick button near your thumb which will quick-disconnect the propeller, sending you crashing without the needed thrust to keep flying. Don’t push that button at the wrong time, because it would be bad, m’kay?

Some pistols with ambidextrous releases are known to have the occasional inadvertent mag drop caused by everything from the support hand while shooting with an aggressively high grip to a seat belt buckle in the car. Similarly, left-handers have shared tales of magazine releases intended for right-handed shooters getting triggered because they faced outboard when worn by southpaws

Further, a magazine catch that’s been inadvertently jostled this way won’t necessarily immediately dump the mag from the gun when it happens. Instead, the magazine may become unlatched from its proper, locked-in feeding position, but still be retained in the gun by the mag catch. Then, when the normal-looking handgun with a mag visibly still in the well is drawn and the first shot fired, recoil may finish dislodging it. And then the bugger might land at your feet or, worse, go skittering off under the least-accessible piece of furniture or vehicle in a 5- or 6-foot radius.

That’s definitely a time when a second magazine on your person is infinitely preferable to chasing after the one that just hit the deck.


The most common reason to need a spare magazine, however, is that guns are mechanical devices that are known to pick the worst possible times to stop working.

A spare magazine is often the easiest way to fix certain pistol malfunctions. We’re sure everyone pays close attention to the condition of their magazines, numbering them, keeping track of round counts, and gauging feed lips regularly … well … at least we’re supposed to be doing all that stuff. But maybe some (most) of us don’t.

At least number your magazines, and if you notice “Mag #4” is involved in more than its share of range mishaps, toss it. (Well, maim it and then toss it, so someone doesn’t get themselves killed by fishing a defective mag out of the range trash can in the hopes of saving $25.)

Magazines get dropped, bumped, and banged around when carried in ammo cans and thrown in random drawers. Loaded magazines get stored for months and even years at a time. Magazines go bad from use. Feed lips can get damaged or simply spread wider apart than they should be from the pressure of being fully loaded.

This can contribute to the dreaded double-feed, aka the “Type III” malfunction. You don’t clear one of those with a simple “tap-rack.” There was a mnemonic we learned back in the day for clearing one of these that we can’t entirely remember. It went like “tap-rack-curse-rip-shake-put your left foot in,” or something along those lines.

In a single-stack gun, these malfunctions will tie the gun up more thoroughly than in one with a doublecolumn or staggered mag. A lot of time and effort was put into teaching how to forcefully rip the magazine from the gun. While these methods are still taught with newer guns, it’s our experience that the magazines are rarely that hard to remove. Besides, we learned a new and simpler mnemonic for this situation.

It hails from Chuck Haggard: “Unload the gun. Reload the gun.”

In other words, lock the slide to the rear and get the mag and any chambered rounds out just like every other time you unload the gun and then — here’s where that spare mag comes in handy — reload it with the fresh magazine.
[Even the most mythically reliable pistols suffer mag-related malfunctions. If the clock is running, loading a fresh mag is a statistically solid choice for remedial action since a buggered mag is just as likely the cause of the malfunction as anything else.]

Can you fix the problem by retaining the original mag and reloading with it? Yes, but there’s a lot more juggling involved, plus there’s always the chance that the magazine was the culprit in the first place. If that’s the case, putting it back in the gun isn’t much of a fix.


So, those are the three biggest reasons for “why” you should carry a spare magazine as part of your CCW, but what about the “how?”

The simplest answer is in a vertical mag carrier mounted to your belt the same way you carry your gun, just on the opposite side. This has many pragmatic benefits, not the least of which is that it puts a bit of ballast on the opposite side of your beltline from your heater, keeping your trousers from sagging all lopsidedly and uncomfortable-like

Another upside is that your holster maker likely offers simple vertical mag carriers that function the same way as the holster they sold you: IWB, tuckable, OWB with hard loops, and so on. You can probably also get a mag carrier that perfectly matches your holster, if that sort of thing makes you feel all the way dressed.

This is also the fastest and most fumble-free solution should you actually need to make use of the spare magazine in any of the circumstances we’ve just covered.
[The PHLster IWB Mag pouch offers a easy-to-hide reload.]

There are unconventional ways to carry a spare, too, if they better suit your own concealment needs. For instance, some folks have a hard enough time getting pants that fit with enough room for an IWB holster, let alone an IWB mag carrier. There are a few ways around this dilemma. The easiest solution, depending on your daily wardrobe, is a mag carrier that looks more like a multi-tool pouch or other gadget case.

Also available are horizontal carriers for spare magazines that’ll conceal under an untucked polo shirt without causing unidentified blocky objects to protrude beneath the shirt’s hem.

You can also just carry the spare magazine in a pocket, although this is probably the least effective method. They tend to tumble in the pocket and wind up oriented in the wrong direction when you need to pull them out, plus pocket debris can do undesirable things to your magazines.

You can mitigate the debris issue by keeping your pocket free of anything but the spare magazine. The orientation problem can be solved with products like the NeoMag and SnagMag. These little devices combine a pocket clip with either a magnetic bracket or a hook (as with the NeoMag and the SnagMag, respectively) to hold the magazine vertically in the pocket. From the outside, all that’s visible is the clip. There’s still some fishing and fisting involved in retrieving a reload relative to a conventional belt-mounted carrier, but you no longer look like you’re trying to dig out correct change at a tollbooth when you reload from a pocket.
[While they don’t blend in every environment, Dickies new $50 Tactical Relaxed Fit Stretch Ripstop Cargo Pants offer internal mag pouches and plenty of room to comfortably carry other gear]

However you decide to carry a spare mag, make a point of practicing accessing it under some sort of time pressure. You don’t want the very first time you do a speed load from your chosen magazine hidey-hole to be in a gas station parking lot at 3 in the morning. That’s an awfully poor setting to be trying to learn new skills.

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3 responses to “Oh, Spare Me!–Should You Even Bother to Carry a Reload?”

  1. tim ferrrell says:

    All correct, which is why maybe a revolver would work well ( i know, blasphemy!). If you are training, then you can learn to shoot better in case you are the powerball winner………just saying!

    • Ivar Ivarson says:

      . . . and, of course, there’s the “New York reload”, having a second pistol on your person . . .

  2. Deaf Smith says:

    Well to have a reload is nice.. to have ammo in the gun is nicer.. to aim strait with your first shots is the nicest.

    Hits count. Good hits count even more. Misses not only not count but endanger others.

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  • All correct, which is why maybe a revolver would work well ( i know, blasphemy!). If you are training, then you can learn to shoot better in case you are the powerball winner.........just saying!

    • . . . and, of course, there's the "New York reload", having a second pistol on your person . . .

  • Well to have a reload is nice.. to have ammo in the gun is nicer.. to aim strait with your first shots is the nicest.

    Hits count. Good hits count even more. Misses not only not count but endanger others.

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