Managing Your Ammo and Magazines

Do you ever feel like a juggling clown while trying to paw magazines out of your plate carrier or chest rig? We have a couple of little tricks that will make the process flow better and maybe even make sense.

Your Rig

There are a ton of different rigs out there on the market. I personally use two from Blackhawk Industries. They’re not the latest pieces of gear, but they get the job done and do what I need them to. There are large rigs and small ones, even micro-rigs; chest rigs, plate carriers, and all sorts of fashionable nylon. Some are minimalist, others are extravagant.

Blackhawk plate carrier with 8 magazines
The Blackhawk Plate Carrier holds eight AR-15 magazines and is versatile.

Just to mix things up, there are many various pouches and such that we can add to our rigs or belts. The “Taco” magazine carrier adds a ton of versatility, as you can add them to almost any place on your gear, making it truly customizable. Through trial and error, you’ve likely settled on a place to put one or more that works best for you.

We’ll briefly look at two basic reloads for the purpose of this article.

Tactical Reload

This can be done with a pistol, rifle, or shotgun. A tactical reload occurs during a lull in the action when you can choose to replenish your gun with a full magazine. Let’s say I just engaged a zombie, who is now down. I check all around for threats and find none. Considering that the threat has apparently been neutralized, I decide to get a fresh magazine into my weapon.

I access a magazine and grab the partially spent magazine as I insert the fresh magazine. I grab that fresh magazine from all the way over on the right side of my rig, as that is the slowest place for me to access ammo from. But that’s okay for the tactical reload because it is not an emergency. I can afford to take a bit longer because I still have that partial magazine in my gun until I do the exchange. My weapon is now recharged. What to do with the partial magazine? Stay tuned, we’ll discuss that in a bit.

Doing a tactical reload wearing a plate carrier with several magazines
For a tactical reload, there is time to reach all the way across your rig, given that you have the time to spare.

Speed/Emergency Reload

This reload is different, in that I have expended my weapon’s ammo supply. It is now an emergency to get it back up and running, or else transition to a 2nd weapon. I jettison my expended magazine, insert a new one, and get a round chambered. Hopefully, I can do this from behind cover.  I’m not concerned at the moment with the empty magazine. I’ll get it later on.

Speed reload.
A speed/emergency reload from the HSG Taco pouch. Going from the side to the rifle offers a straight line of movement. A straight line is the best bet for speed.

The Devil Is in the Details

Okay, back to that tactical reload. Where do you shove that magazine that’s partially expended? If you have room in a magazine pouch on your gear, that magazine will go as far away from your reloading hand as possible. Why did I word it that way? Because, for rifles, we typically reload with our non-dominant hand (for me, that would be with my left hand).

As such, I will try to place that partial magazine as far to the right on my gear as I’m able, for two reasons. First, I don’t want to reach for that magazine again unless I’m extremely low on ammunition and would need it that badly, as a last resort. Next, if I keep it on the left side of my gear, there’s a chance that I will grab it for an emergency reload at some point, which would not be optimal.

Speed comes from moving in as straight a line as possible. For that reason, my fastest reloads will come from the left side of my gear because that’s where my reloading hand is located. And that will be the straightest line from my gear to my rifle.


As I expend magazines from my gear from engaging targets, I want to adjust my ammunition supply so that when I need magazines in a hurry, they are easily accessible. Empties go in a dump pouch to take them out of circulation on my gear. And I’ll move full magazines from the right side of my rig to the left side so that I can grab the magazines faster, rather than reaching all the way across my gear to the right side while trying to hurry. I consolidate my ammunition supply as I go.

The magazines from the center of my rig to the left side are the fastest draws that I have, so those are prime spots for storing magazines.

Accessing magazines on a plate carrier
Prime magazine locations for me are from the center of the rig to the far left.

The Blackhawk plate carrier that I use holds eight magazines for my AR-15. It’s not difficult to shift magazines over to the left side gradually as they are expended. As I said, I consolidate my ammo as I go through tactical evolutions.

Ace in the Hole

I’ve seen a number of shooters doing a practice that I’ve adopted myself. That is to place a Taco magazine carrier onto the left side of my belt for my rifle. It’s the fastest way that I have to draw a rifle magazine in an emergency.

Because it is the fastest spot I have to draw from, this position is reserved for emergency reloads. I wouldn’t do a tactical reload from this position because speed is not of the essence in a tactical reload. The exception to this would be if my Taco pouch was the only spare ammunition that I have on my person.

By the same token, if I do happen to have to use that side Taco pouch in an emergency, that’s the first one I want to replenish when I get a chance. I always want that side pouch there as my go-to choice.

Alternative Placement of the Taco Carrier

A bit more about that side Taco carrier. If you don’t happen to have a chest rig or plate carrier handy, that Taco carrier will give you a spare 30 rounds for your AR-15. Truth be told, quite a few problems can be solved if you have a spare rifle magazine by your side. Certainly, most home defense situations would be sufficiently solved with the rifle’s onboard ammo supply and a spare magazine. This is why having your main go-to as the Taco pouch is a good idea; you might not have your chest rig on. But if you have that Taco pouch there, you’ll reflexively go to it.

Tactical taco on a plate carrier with 9 magazines
The tactical taco from High Speed Gear allows us to mount a pouch on our belt or anywhere on our rig. Having a spare rifle magazine can be a real game-changer. You could even mount the taco pouch in the center, high chest of your plate carrier if you wanted. They’re so versatile that they can go anywhere that you’re comfortable with.

In the absence of the Taco pouch, you can always throw that spare magazine into a pocket, it will be the next best way to carry it on your person.


Normally, we’re not going to be carrying eight spare magazines for our pistol. A spare magazine or two is likely the norm for most of us. If you ever watch pistol competitors, though, you’ll often see up to eight spare magazines in pouches on their belts—especially in action pistol shooting. As they go through the various stages, you’ll see them shifting those magazines toward the front of their pistol belts to make them more easily accessible during speed stages. It’s somewhat similar to how we’d shift our ammo on a chest rig as the supply is depleted.

There You Have It

Hopefully, these few tips and tricks have given you food for thought as to how to manage your ammo supply in whatever rig you use. Be proactive and constantly consolidate your ammunition supply. Keep the prime spots for when you need speed and the more cumbersome positions for when speed is not paramount.

How about you? Do you have any tips for managing ammo supply? 

Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities.

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