By Duane Liptak
There are about as many ways to reload a rifle as there are YouTube gun channels. OK, not that many, but a lot. So…why did I decide to do yet more content on it? Because sometimes, in the firearms world, there is a tendency to want to make things sexier, flashier, or cooler than really makes sense for any practical purpose. There’s nothing wrong with advancing the craft and tailoring techniques to specific applications, but the AK world in particular seems to suffer from a lot of “variations” that seem to lose sight of the utilitarian nature of the task. So…here we are. If you like your AK reloading technique, rock on with it, but here are just a few thoughts based on a decent number of years feeding lots of different rifles in lots of interesting applications.
We can discuss the whole decision/action matrix of immediate action vs reload and when, transitioning vs reloading and when, etc., but we’ll save that for another time. For now, let’s assume that we need to reload the rifle.
Situation 1: Rounds remaining in the mag in the gun. Want more rounds in the mag in the gun.
This would be what’s commonly referred to the “tactical” reload, or a “proactive” reload. We are adding ammunition to the rifle on our timeline, when we decide we want to do it, for whatever reason. Ideally, all reloads would be this way. We don’t want to end up with an empty rifle if we can avoid it.
The easiest and least complicated way is simply to remove and stow the partial mag with the non-firing hand for whichever way we are shooting at the time, then grab a fresh mag and put it in the gun. No demos really required. That’s pretty straightforward. The time you spend with only one round in the gun is really, really minimal, and this is the least complicated way to make this happen. With the AK, we don’t generally have a bolt hold open, so look or feel (if it’s dark) to make sure there is at least still one round in the magazine you are removing. Otherwise, do a chamber check or rack the charging handle after the proactive reload to be sure we are actually in condition one, and not sitting with an empty chamber. The best thing about this method is that this is exactly what we do for a reload with retention, which we will talk about later, so that little video clip will show the concept if this wasn’t clear. Same-same is good.
Yes, you can juggle mags to do it, also. In the AK, it can be difficult to do so if you have small hands, as it requires grabbing the fresh mag by the bottom half, extending the thumb and index or middle finger past the fresh mag to actuate the catch and retain the partial mag, inserting the fresh mag, and then sliding the partial mag down while the hand is extended around the fresh mag. Just be sure to grab the fresh mag low enough, and the partial mag high enough that you don’t interfere with the insertion of the fresh mag…or you have a clown show. I admit I use this method a lot when setting up drills and such, more as an admin technique. It’s an option. The first option is simpler, though, and avoids the possibility of you standing there holding two magazines and unable to get the fresh one in because the partial is held too high, then you have to drop the partial to do it, and…yes, clown show. This method, in an admin application, looks like this:
If you prefer another method, hey…cool. If that method involves dumping partially full mags on the deck, that’s not exactly smart, though. Yes, there are exceptions, but as a general rule, dropping partial mags into the (snow, mud, water, dirt, concrete, benjo ditch, etc.) is less than desirable. Clean ammunition/mags and undamaged top rounds function better, even in AKs. You may need that ammo.
Situation 2: Gun is empty. Don’t want gun to be empty.
This is commonly referred to as an “emergency” reload or a “reactive” reload. We are now reloading because we have to, as we have no more “bangs” remaining in our primary. Once again, remember that we are not discussing transitioning here, so feeding the rifle is the focus. The performance of this reload can be categorized as either needing to happen “now” (I am in a fight, but the situation is such that I can use cover and just reload expediently—I’m with friends who are still engaging, enemy is at longer range, I need to get out of view for a few seconds anyway because I’ve been exposed for too long, etc.), or “right now” (I need this gun up because of imminent threat or opportunity to engage–immediately.) All of these reloads start with a “click” and end with charging the rifle. You can do that under or over the rifle with the support hand–Dealer’s choice. I think it’s easier under the rifle, and that points the ejection port down in case you’ve got a party going on in your feedway and need to let something fall free. If you’re prone, or you’re heavy on conventional Soviet doctrine, you can charge with the firing hand. It’s OK. It’s against “common wisdom”, but it’s just generally a lot easier to do it that way when prone. Just charge the rifle and get back to getting after it.
In the first case, we have the option to reload with retention. As with partially loaded mags, this is generally desirable, as we may want the option to refill those magazines later. If you’ve ever done a really cool and slick rifle reload that involves tossing or dropping the empty while standing on snowshoes in 4 feet of snow, or in water, or when moving behind cover…you know that at the very least, that complicates our ability to keep possession of that magazine. But hey…that’s why they are class IX “consumables.” The retention reload looks something like this video when using an AK:
Yes, I’m just wearing a load bearing belt, but it works out at roughly the same speed with a chest rig or whatever. It’s not hurried, it’s not lightning fast…but remember this whole scenario assumes that we are being expedient, but not rushed. Our mag ends up safely retained for later re-use, and we are back in action pretty darned quickly, plus we’re combat effective for follow on engagements. We’re not the guy standing there with one mag left.
So what if we are empty and we need to reload “RIGHT NOW!”? Or, hey…maybe we’re stacked fat with resupply, we’re reloading in the back of a GMV, we’re not wearing a dump pouch, we’d rather get back to fighting and deal with the magazine later, etc., and we’re not worried about mag retention. “The world is my dump pouch,” is a phrase describing this prioritization, as coined by an associate who is rather familiar with the AK. Here’s where things can get funky. I like to keep it simple. I do the same thing I do when reloading with retention, except I just flip out the empty instead of stowing it:
This keeps all the motions the same, all reloads are initiated similarly, and here, you just skip the step of stowing the empty to speed things up. It’s not slow. You’re not beating your equipment, and there’s no “grab fresh mag first?/grab spent mag first?” hesitation.
Some folks like to grab a fresh mag and use it to swipe the old mag out of the gun. I was taught that as a primary method over a decade ago, it’s what lots of CONUS foreign weapons courses were teaching, and yes, there’s something uniquely “AK” about it. It works. But…you need to be careful that if you use the front spine of the fresh mag, that you don’t get the top round to “peek” ahead a bit, and end up with issues inserting it into the rifle—so you either need to either hope you’re lucky or rotate the mag bullets up, down, or back as you swipe. If you’re doing it with gusto, you’re also beating the heck out of your rifle. Yes, it’s an AK. It’s known for durability. Repeatedly hammering the mag catch and banging your magazines together for no real gain is still a bit silly to me. Ever seen the axle busted out of an AK mag catch from an overly enthusiastic employment of this method? I have. Congratulations, Ivan…you’re now using a mag well grip to hold the mag in the rifle. Just remember what the goal is if you choose to use this method for whatever reason. The rifle is your life, so don’t beat it like it owes you money unless it’s actually achieving something.
If you want to reload in a manner similar to this, you can simply grab a fresh mag like for the proactive reload above, stick out the thumb and use that to release and strip the old magazine and then insert the new. This has the benefit of keeping the magazine oriented in the proper manner to go quickly into the rifle without rotation, doesn’t beat the rifle or mags, and is faster than sweeping the catch with the mag. I won’t even show this, as there are about a billion videos of it out there, and I don’t normally use this unless I’m doing “stupid human tricks” to be fast for the sake of being fast. If I really want fast, I’ll transition. But…that’s for later.
You may notice that a lot of what I do looks very similar from one technique to the next, and that’s by design. I don’t like diagnostic stuff; I don’t like flowcharts for when I do things one way vs another. I like simple, boring stuff that works under stress. I’ve found that when things get exciting, it’s usually a good idea to save my brain power for the actual situation I’m dealing with and keep the rifle running on autopilot vs getting fancy. Reloading methods can look super slick when we set them up to practice as partial task trainers, but even when we create artificial stress on the square range during an extended problem, the diagnostic stuff falls apart. Ever see someone just staring at the gun for a long, pregnant pause when it goes dry or there’s a stoppage? We don’t want that to be us. Sure, I could also be faster by leaving the rifle in my shoulder, but it’s hard to move behind cover otherwise manhandle the rifle that way, especially for smaller people. So, I tuck it under my arm to bring it into the proverbial “workspace”. I look past/over the rifle into the target/threat area during the reload, but I glance at the rifle for the insertion, and yes…for a half second, I’m using my peripheral vision to observe for threats. Guess what? It’s an AK. There’s no protruding mag well. So, no matter where you hold the rifle, if you don’t look at the mag well a little, you’re going to miss it, or waste time fumbling. Frequently. I’ll go ahead and glance for an instant to be back in action with a quickness over standing there staring downrange and fumbling around for 3 seconds. And, I’m preferably reloading behind cover, anyway. Easy choice.
So, there’s some (rather simple) food for thought. This is the part where others will invariably opine that, “that doesn’t work in the cold”, “that’s too slow”, “that’s not what real AK guys do”, “In my experience….”, etc., etc.
To be proactive in answering those…I’ve done things this way in -10 deg F, in the rain, in the desert, in the mud, etc., and yes, under “stress”. It’s my take on feeding the AK. It’s yours if you want it.