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The Beginner’s Guide to Ammunition Management

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When I started writing up my primer on magazine pouches, I mentioned the concept of of magazine management. Originally, I was going to include the basics of building such a plan in that article, but it ended up becoming long enough that I realized it deserved it’s own separate piece. In this post, we’re diving into managing the ammunition on your equipment.

You might just think I’m talking about reloads, but I’m not. Reloading might be the most immediate need when your ammunition management plan goes into effect, there is more to it than that.

I break this down into three tasks:

  • Reload sequence
  • Ammunition administration
  • Managing empties

You probably aren’t going to face all three of these during an average range trip or at a match. In a situation like Scenario-X, especially if you actively end up in a fight, all three of these things matter.

Reload Sequence

The first task to consider is the order in which you feed from your magazine pouches. The way that you manage this depends a lot on what kind of load bearing equipment you’re wearing, and how you have your pouches configured. I’ve got examples for each as we go.

The hard-and-fast rule most people follow is that you should feed from whatever is quickest for your support hand to get to. However, I do think there is room for nuance depending on the circumstances of your reload.

For example,  a happy mag (i.e. a magazine positioned in an open-top Type I pouch) positioned to the front of your support side, is GREAT for that “OH CRAP I NEED TO RELOAD RIGHT NOW” moment. But if it’s not that kind of moment, then you might reload from pouch further along in the sequence and save your happy mag for when you need it.

Keep in mind I am not a seasoned gunfighter by any means, so I’m not going to give you advice on when or how to perform in-battery (i.e. “tactical”) reloads. There’s plenty of controversy and disagreement about it, even among professionals. So with that, I’m just focusing on a basic reload sequence.

Reloading from the Belt

How you think about this depends on how you’ve configured your equipment. For our purposes today, let’s assume you have more than one magazine on your belt. If you only have one mag, well then you don’t have much choice about how to go about this.

The Battle Belt

When we’re talking about a battle belt, we are thinking something somewhat minimal. In the configurations I suggest, you’re looking at one or two magazines positioned on the support side. I’m right handed, so I’ll talk about this as moving from my center line along my left side.

The instinctual movement should be to reload from center to the outside. Start with the pouch closest to the center line. When you need to reload again, continue to the left until you hit the next one. I say instinctual because you want to ingrain this as your go-to movement under stress.

Rifle reload #1

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Rifle reload #2 (if present)

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Pistol reload #1

3 of 4

Pistol reload #2

4 of 4

Belt or LBE with Happy Mag

I can’t remember where I first came across the term “happy mag,” but I like it. In principle, it is a single magazine positioned for a high speed reload under stress. The rest of your ammunition comes from Type II or Type III pouches that provide better security for your magazines.

If you recall from my mag pouch primer, I averaged a 1.8 second reload from an open top Type I pouch, and a 2.9 second reload from a flapped Type II double-mag pouch. I can’t speak for how often that one second makes a difference in a non-competition environment, but it’s there.

As Jeff Gurwitch once put it to me, “The real world is open division.” Train accordingly.

Rifle emergency reload for RIGHT NOW!

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Rifle reloads for non-emergency reloading

2 of 3

Rifle reserve magazines for administratively refilling the support side magazine pouches

3 of 3

The sequence here is essentially the same as with a battle belt. Working from the center outwards, you start with the happy mag then work your way out to the larger magazine pouch. In my case, that usually looks like additional Type II or Type III pouch.

On my harnesses, I also like keep one or two mag pouches on my strong side. This helps with balancing the harness. While I could certainly load from these in an emergency, I consider the strong side mag pouches to be last resorts for actual reloading. Most of the time, I remove magazines from strong side to replace the magazines in the support side pouches.

Again, I’m not teaching a tactical reload here- but I do see an argument for skipping the happy mag for a reload if you’re not under stress or an emergency. That reserves the happy mag for when you really need it in an emergency.

If you don’t have a happy mag at all, then the sequence doesn’t change. You still start with the pouch closest to your center line on the support side, and work your way outward. If you run out, then start taking mags from the strong side.

Chest Rigs and Plate Carriers

With chest-mounted magazines, we reverse the order. Your happy mag is the one furthest to the support side. For me, being right handed, that is the magazine all the way to the left. This is the first reload, and then I work from left to right.

Rifle mag #1

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Rifle mag #2

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Rifle mag #3

3 of 4

Rifle mag #4

4 of 4

When combined with a battle belt, plan to load from the belt first. When the belt is empty, start loading from the chest rig/plate carrier.

Need More Magazines?

Most of my equipment carries 5-7 magazines. I’m of the opinion, unqualified as it might be, that 4-6 magazines is probably more than enough for anyone to need immediately accessible in Scenario-X. We’re not military LRRP folks operating deep behind enemy lines without resupply.

That said, just because they don’t need to be immediately accessible doesn’t mean there is never reason to carry more ammo. For that, I suggest keeping more mags in or on your ruck or assault pack. Either external pouches or in a bandolier inside the pack. Use these to replenish your main pouches on your fighting equipment.

What Did I Miss?

This information might be very basic to you, as it’s something passed down from person to person as you get into serious training and competition. But for people just getting their gear set up, I think it’s important to grasp how this works. It influences where you place your magazines and how you think about training with your gear.

So, did I miss anything? Do you have a different SOP for managing your ammunition supply? Let me know!

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Matt is the primary author and owner of The Everyday Marksman. He's a former military officer turned professional tech sector trainer. He's a lifelong learner, passionate outdoorsman, and steadfast supporter of firearms culture.

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Good basic info Matt. Never having been ‘under fire’ myself I see nothing wrong with your suggestions. I would emphasize something our friend Brent0331 recently said on a live streamed event – not quoting but he said something to the effect that being shot at in combat is not like a 3-gun match! He was referring to how too many inexperienced people underestimate their real reactions like ‘hitting the dirt’ and running for cover when the bullets start flying! Things to consider for where and how you carry your gear. I know you’ve taken some realistic ‘in field’ training and… Read more »


Your content is great, and the quality of the pictures is pretty awesome too. Also like the Hold Fast Pine Tree, I’ll have to order some stickers soon.


Good info! Thanks for sharing!


Hey Matt, love your gear philosophy. Your articles are especially helpful for beginners.
I was strangely excited about the “managing empties” section…your third task. You touched on it in your mag pouch article but I didn’t see it here…?

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