AR Reloading: Speed, Tactical, and How-To

Reloading an AR does not seem like a terribly complicated task. It can simply be summed up as: remove old mag, insert new mag, and fire. That’s the basic operation devoid of nuance and circumstance. We all know in the tactical world, those two conditions drive how we do almost anything. Today, we are going to walk through how to reload from the beginning to the end in a tactical environment.

Hopefully, this written and illustrated guide will get you running your reload faster. It should at least give you a primer on how to reload, and let you criticize movies and TV a little more or make you a more competent airsoft player!

Reloading is like anything else with firearms. It’s a skill. Being fast and competent at getting your rifle back into the fight is quite important. With that said, would the average home defender need to reload? It’s fairly unlikely, but knowing how to efficiently reload creates a greater level of competency with your rifle platform.

Setting Up Your Platform

Before we reload anything, we have to talk about your platform. “Platform” is the best word I have to describe the belt, chest rig, or plate carrier being used to carry your reload. Properly setting up your magazines on this platform allows you to draw the magazine and get it into your gun, with smooth unimpeded movement.

In terms of where mag pouches should go, that’s up to you. You’ll need to be able to easily reach them without losing your firing grip or having to move things around. What’s important for our article is how the magazines sit inside the mag pouch. One universal truth is that “brass goes to grass”.

bullets rearward
Bullets rearward works best when the pouch is on the 3 o’clock line.

On a battle belt, the magazines can face in either direction. Typically, if your magazines are on your 3 o’clock and further rearward (9 o’clock for lefties), then the projectiles should face rearward. If the magazines are placed more forward of the 3 o’clock (or 9) position, the projectiles should face forward. These are generalities, and it’s not a hard rule by any means.

Bullets forward
Bullets forward tend to work best when the mag pouches are north of 3 o’clock.

I prefer my projectiles to face rearward. The “beer can” grip tends to work better with rear-facing bullets, and I tend to be faster utilizing that grip.

magazines in a chest rig
The chest rig or plate carrier only loads one specific way.

On a plate carrier or chest rig, the projectiles will be pointing to your strong side. A “beer can grip” gets awkward to perform with a chest-mounted magazine.

Hand Positioning on the Reload

I mentioned the “beer can” reload, so we’ll start there. This is for belt reloads where the projectiles are facing rearwards. You’re rotating your hand so that your thumb is facing downward and your fingers grip the curve of the magazine. As you pull the magazine from the pouch, you rotate your wrist upward to put the brass sky facing. Ensure your thumb is facing upward near the spine of the magazine. This allows it to be in a position to press the bolt release as the magazine is seated.

beer can grip
The Beer Can grip is my preferred method.

For bullets facing forward or on a chest mount, you are going to have your palm meet the bottom of the magazine. Your fingers will grab the magazine with your index finger on the inward curve of the magazine. Rotate your wrist upward and insert the magazine into the gun.

Eyes Downrange

While reloading, you should split your attention between the direction of the threat and what you’re doing as much as you can. You don’t want to be taken by surprise, but it can be difficult to reload without seeing what you are doing. You have to strive to balance situational awareness with your reload. Keeping the firearm in your “workspace” can aid in this, by keeping the gun at/near eye level, allowing you to continue facing down range.

target focus on the reload
Keep a target focus while you work.

Firing Grip

When reloading, your firing grip remains consistent and the same throughout the entire process. Your finger is off the trigger until you are firing, but your shooting hand stays on the gun’s grip. Your support hand does all the work when it comes to reloading.

Where To Put the Rifle

The rifle should stay oriented toward the target while reloading. There are three basic positions for reloading.

The first is the ready position. You don’t break your aim on the target as you reload. This can be the fastest means to reload if you are a fast re-loader. This is the most effective for speed reloads. The downside of this position is that you can’t move when reloading, and depending on your rifle, it might get too heavy to maintain. You also cannot see the magwell during the reload.

Reloading the ar15
A plate carrier reload means you have a low grip on the magazine.

The second is a modified high ready. You’re just tucking the rifle up a bit and somewhat in or against your shooting arm. It’s not a proper high ready, and the firearm is still mostly facing the target. This position is supportive and deals with weight well. You can also see your mag well. It’s my preferred position for tactical reloads. The downsides are that it’s not the fastest, and you break your firing position. Plus, you are still static in this position.

modified high ready
The modified high ready allows for good visibility, and a comfortable reload.

Finally, we have the high-ready reload. You move to a completely high-ready position and conduct your reload. This position allows you to move with ease and avoid pointing your rifle in an unsafe manner. It does allow for some visual on the magwell. It tends to be slower because of having to get in and out of the high-ready position.

high ready reload
The high ready allows for movement and a safe reload.

Knowing Your Rifle and Mags

Finally, you’ll need to know how your rifle interacts with your magazines. Do your magazines drop free? If not, training to remove the magazine on your way to retrieve your next magazine must be done.

Reload Types

There are two reload types: speed and tactical. For most shooters, the speed reload is what they picture when they conduct a reload, but the tactical reload often has its place. For most civilian defensive firearm encounters, a reload is unlikely but within the realm of possibility.


The speed reload is typically used in an “oh crap” moment. You run out of ammunition in the middle of the fight, and you need to reload fast. This reload has you drop your empty magazine to the deck and rapidly retrieve and insert a new magazine into the gun.

speed reload ar 15
The speed reload has you abandon the empty magazine.

The speed reload goes like this. You’ve just run out of ammo. Press the magazine release with your trigger finger as you come to your reload position of choice. At the same time, your support hand is retrieving a magazine from your magazine pouch. A new magazine goes into the gun, the bolt is released, and the shooter reacquires the target.


Tactical reloads are reserved for those moments when the fight isn’t happening right in front of you. It’s often called a lull in the fight. In a military context, this occurs fairly often as troops break contact, pursue, and reengage. In those moments, a shooter can reload their weapon with a fresh mag while retaining the partially empty magazine. In a home defense scenario, this seems unlikely. However, it’s still worth learning.

A tactical reload can happen in one of two ways. There is the side-by-side method and the L shape.

The side-by-side has you stacking the fresh magazine next to the partially depleted magazine. The fresh magazine should be positioned a little higher than the magazine in the gun.

side by side reload
With the side-by-side reload the full mag goes a little higher than the empty one.

You can grip both with a single hand. Remove the empty, and then insert the fresh magazine.

side by side reload part 2
The full magazine then slaps into the magwell.

With the L Shape, you retrieve your magazine, and instead of just rotating the magazine upward, you rotate your wrist until the cartridges are facing forward and away from you. With the magazine rotated forward and in your hand, use the same hand to cup the magazine in your weapon. Hit the magazine release and pull the magazine from your gun. Now rotate your wrist until the fresh magazine is brass up, and insert it into your weapon.

L shaped reload
The L-shaped tactical reload looks goofy, but it works rather well.

Reloading Reloaded

That’s how you reload an AR-15. At least the basics of how you reload an AR-15. Hopefully, we’ve given you some things to think about and a few to practice at home. Remember to clear your weapons and only use dummy rounds while training. If you have any questions, ask below!

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine Gunner and a lifelong firearms enthusiast. Now that his days of working a 240B like Charlie Parker on the sax are over he's a regular guy who likes to shoot, write, and find ways to combine the two. He holds an NRA certification as a Basic Pistol Instructor and is probably most likely the world's Okayest firearm instructor. He is a simplicisist when it comes to talking about himself in the 3rd person and a self-professed tactical hipster. Hit him up on Instagram, @travis.l.pike, with story ideas.

Sign Up for Newsletter

Let us know what topics you would be interested:
© 2024 GunMag Warehouse. All Rights Reserved.
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap