When do we perform a magazine change with our carbines? I think the answer should be when we want to, or when we have to. But if we’re doing it when we have to, we are probably not very “switched on.” It shows a lack of situational awareness.

Many people believe that it is OK to allow a loaded carbine to remain on “fire” when it is not in action, such as when it’s just being held or slung. I am not one of those people. I’ve received pushback from Internet weenies on my opinion that the carbine’s safety should be intuitively switched to “safe,” or that it should be a subconsciously driven task. I explain during my courses that almost all gunfighting tasks should be performed intuitively—all the mechanics, for example. That’s because in a gunfight, consciously driven tasks include planning, predicting and forecasting. We must perform certain tasks intuitively because we as human beings are not multitaskers! But we can “task switch,” “task stack” and perform certain tasks intuitively.

Mag Change Drill Time

I run a drill where I instruct my students to load their rifle magazines with just three rounds each. I explain mag change techniques and express my opinion that speed reloads on an empty gun are a little gimmicky but necessary in terms of learning the mechanics. This drill is shot up close at 7 yards. The drill requires that the shooters dictate their speed and fire all of their shots into the A-zone of an IPSC target. They may go as fast as they want so long as all shots are in the “A.” The drill also requires that the shooter fire three of these three-round magazines. They then reload and do it again. And again.

Prior to the drill, I explain that five things should happen simultaneously when you swap out an AR’s magazine. The shooter should throw the gun on “safe,” break his grip, drop his mag, perform a centerline sweep and do a focal shift from the sights to the fight.

“Should we throw it on ‘safe’?” I ask. Some say “yes,” some say “no.” When I hear “no,” I hear the shooter saying: “I am freaking lazy. I do not want to perform the appropriate number of meaningful repetitions until throwing it on ‘safe’ becomes an intuitive or subconsciously driven task.”

Then I’ll have one of these naysayers come forward and put them in a hypothetical situation. I say, “Suppose you and I are in a midrange fight behind your vehicle. I have to go behind cover, perform a mag change and then move behind you. Do you want my rifle to be on ‘safe’?” Every time the answer comes back as “yes.”

“Then let’s practice it up close.” Because we should learn to engage the safety automatically. If we perform the appropriate number of meaningful repetitions, engaging the safety during a mag change will never be a disabler. We can only be an enabler.

The “Scrambler”

I allow my students to do what they think is best. I run a timed exercise toward the end of my course called the “Scrambler.” It’s vague by design and riddled with ambiguity. The shooter has nine rounds distributed among three magazines. One mag holds two rounds, a second holds three rounds, and the last holds four rounds. I tell the students that they’ll come to the line and make their rifle “hot” with one of those magazines, and that at the beep, they must approach one of two barricades that are 5 feet apart and engage an array of steel targets downrange from 50 to 75 yards.

The array has three targets close together and another that is separate. Two are painted black and two are painted white. I explain that the three that are close together must be engaged one time each, and the one off by itself must be engaged four times. This equals seven total hits. Each shooter has nine rounds to complete this. The rules of engagement state that the white-painted targets must be engaged from one barricade, while the black-painted targets are shot from the other barricade.

It is an interesting course of fire to watch. I’ve run and scored it thousands of times and have seen it run well and have also seen soup sandwiches, football bats, chicken wire canoes and hockey cleats.

I explain that the shooters are a “no go” if they don’t get their hits, breaks the rules of engagement, do not maximize their use of available cover or put their gun on “safe” while reloading or moving.

Too often, the ones who don’t engaging their rifles’ safety during the three-mag drill will finish the course of fire with a loaded rifle hanging on their body with the selector switch on “fire.” If you think that this is acceptable, you are a danger to yourself and to others, and you should not be on a range with loaded firearms.

Everyone’s a Critic

There are those who will say, “You don’t put your Glock on ‘safe’ during a mag change.” Hey Einstein, first off, a Glock doesn’t have a manual safety, and second, such a gun will never hang free on your body, nor will you ever have to sling it!

Speed reloads up close at 10 yards and closer are gimmicky. I still do them because they reinforce good mechanics, and because shit happens and we may have to. We should be performing magazine changes when we want to and from behind cover. If you are one of those who believe that engaging the safety during a mag change is ridiculous, you are also the same person who finds it acceptable to have a “hot” rifle hanging off your body while the safety is on “fire.” If this is you, stay the hell off of my range, rookie!

This article is from the spring 2019 issue of Ballistic Magazine, on sale Jan. 1, 2019. Grab your physical copy at For digital version, head over to Amazon.

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