Friendly and Certified Firearms Training for Women Since 2011

Loading to Capacity

Semiautomatic handguns come in a wide range of single and double-stack magazine capacities. Subcompact single-stack semiautomatics like the GLOCK 43 have a total of 6+1, while the compact double-stack Walther PDP-F Series has a capacity of 15+1. The magazines hold a maximum of either 6 or 15 rounds, leaving the new gun owner a bit perplexed about this magical +1 round. The total capacity of the handgun is equal to the maximum amount of rounds capable of being loaded into the firearm with the factory-provided mags. The capacity of the gun is the total magazine capacity plus the one additional round that can be in the chamber. 

Loading to capacity, also called “topping off the gun,” is used in competition and defensive techniques. The purpose is to begin the match or leave the house carrying concealed with the most loaded firearm possible. That additional round can be a game changer for those choosing a limited capacity gun! 

To load to capacity requires performing two consecutive tasks at your initial Load & Make Ready procedure; an administrative reload and a tactical reload, also referred to as a magazine exchange.

Administrative load is the initial loading or final unloading of the handgun to prepare it for range shooting activities, concealed carry, or home defense. 

Tactical reloads/Magazine Exchanges begin with a loaded handgun and replace a partially spent magazine with a full one. The goal is to preserve the round in the chamber, insert a full magazine below it, and retain the partial magazine throughout the process, keeping it available and not letting it hit the ground. 



  • Confirm handgun is empty 
  • With the magazine fully loaded, insert/seat/lock into the magazine well
  • Send slide forward to chamber the top round either by racking the slide or releasing the slide lever
  • WATCH the top round chamber, and confirm the slide is completely forward (in battery)
  • If your firearm has a mechanical safety or decocker engage now 
  • Note: Some firearms will allow the mechanical safety to remain in the SAFE position before/during/and after the loading process, while others do not. Familiarize yourself with how your firearm operates by referring to the owner’s manual or seeking out qualified instruction.


  • Remove the partial magazine from gun and place on the shooting bench or insert into mag pouch
  • Retrieve the second fully loaded magazine
  • Insert/seat/lock full magazine
  • Holster firearm or rest at chosen range ready position 
  • For concealed carry: load one more round into the now partial spare magazine to top it off.


  • Retrieve the second fully loaded magazine 
  • Tuck magazine between pointer and middle finger
  • Thumb and pointer finger pinch the now partial magazine out of the gun
  • Insert/seat/lock full magazine
  • Stow partial magazine in mag pouch or place on the shooting bench
  • Holster firearm or rest at chosen range ready position 
  • For concealed carry: load one more round into the now partial spare magazine to top it off.

It is essential to clarify the difference between the Tactical Reload and a Magazine Exchange. The critical difference lies in time and context. Magazine Exchanges are performed under no-stress conditions, at a methodical and slow rate, and are simply swapping magazines at the firearm as a primary loading task. Tactical Reloads are performed under higher stress conditions with a sense of urgency. The need to top off the gun is imminent to ensure it is loaded to capacity going into the next shooting engagement. Both types of reloads can occur in range and self-defensive environments. It is up to the shooter to determine the most appropriate method and select one based on personal and technical safety priorities.

SAFETY NOTE: Following muzzle control and trigger finger discipline during firearm manipulations is non-negotiable. While learning to combine multiple procedures, take it slow and methodical, checking in with your muzzle and trigger finger placement often.