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A Carbine Reload Drill to Get Back in the Fight

Reloading a carbine smoothly is a skill that takes time and practice to master. It’s a journey that I’m still on, and one of the most challenging reloads for me to learn was on the AR-15 platform. My pistols and pistol caliber carbine with massive, flared mag wells were a breeze to reload, but the AR-15 presented a unique challenge. Depending on the shooting sport, the stage instructions, and how much running is involved, you may end up reloading from a horizontal magazine pouch or one set up vertically. Working in a carbine reload drill can elevate your training.

Carbine Reload Drill

Equipment Needed

(Photo by Kelly Zachary)
  • Rifle/Pistol Caliber Carbine
  • Two Magazines minimum 
  • KORE or Safariland ELS belt
  • Magazine pouches set up vertically and horizontally
  • Shot timer (optional)
  • Target (optional)

The Set Up

Before starting the actual drill, make sure your belt, magazine pouches, and magazines are set up and orientated in the correct position. Most AR-15 platform reloads will come from a vertical magazine pouch. The key to success is ensuring the bullets in your magazine are facing rearward when you set it in the pouch. If they are facing forward and toward your belt buckle, you will have a very awkward reloading experience.

For pistol caliber carbines, especially in IDPA or USPSA shooting sports, I recommend setting up a horizontal magazine pouch in the front of your waistline. Most PCC magazines are long, with 33 rounds or more, so setting these up vertically would be uncomfortable and impractical. Seat the magazine in your pouch so the bullets point toward the ground. You can also set up a spare AR-15 magazine pouch horizontally on your belt if you’re shooting IPSC or a standard stage in a USPSA multigun competition where you might be required to reload and don’t have to run on a stage. These reloads can be quick and save time rather than reaching to the side of your body.

Pro tip: Make sure you order PCC-length magazine pouches and not regular pistol-length pouches, as these will not hold the weight of fully loaded 33-57-round magazines on your belt.

Let the magazine drop free when reloading quickly.
(Photo by Kelly Zachary)

The Drill

Since most people have never considered reloading from a horizontal pouch on the belt, I want to focus on that in this drill. You can choose to use a timer or not, as we are working on a fundamental skill in this drill. Have your carbine shouldered and aimed at a target with both hands on the gun as if you were still shooting. When you’re ready, use your trigger finger to hit the magazine release.

At the same time as you’re releasing the spent magazine, your support hand should come off the carbine and go to grab your spare magazine. The thumb is the most important placement when working on the horizontal reload. It should rest on top of the magazine and, if it helps, slightly on top of the pouch, so you have an index or reference point of where your hand is. The rest of your hand should naturally grip around the magazine while your thumb stays pointed. Pull the magazine straight out from the pouch, and with your eyes looking at your mag well, insert the fresh magazine into your gun.

Target showing rounds impacted during carbine reload drill.
(Photo by Kelly Zachary)


For those of you tracking time, you’ll need to set up a target to shoot at and stay disciplined in working on your aim. Be sure to set your timer to random start with a delay of at least half a second or more so you can get back into the start position of both hands on the gun. On the beep, perform your reload, and once you’ve got your sights back on target, fire one shot.

After you perform this drill a few times, you should start to see a pattern in the time it takes to reload and fire a shot. Consider setting a par time to beat that could be a tenth or two-tenths of a second faster than what you’ve been able to accomplish. Now that you have this par time set, you can go home and dry fire practice this drill so you’ll be ready to shoot even sooner during your next live-fire range session.

The goal is consistency for this drill, not to see how fast you can perform this drill one time. If you consistently hit the same times eight times out of 10, you’re well on your way to mastering the reload.

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