During practice most shooters, especially competitive shooters, are constantly working on improving their empty reloads. For defensive applications, especially using a weapon with a large magazine capacity, the chances of having to clear a malfunction are more likely than needing to perform an empty reload.
The number of shots fired in an average defensive situation is around 3-4 rounds. If you shoot accurately, placing hits in the proper locations of the threat's body, high capacity pistols have many more rounds than you'll need. An AR - with twenty-five rounds in a thirty round mag - has much more ammo than one should ever require. Although there are always exceptions, chances are you're not going to run empty. With more ammo than you'll need, your focus on practice should be on clearing malfunctions, a greater probability than needing to perform an empty reload.
Malfunctions occur for a variety of reasons. The majority are due to operator error, for example a failure to seat the magazine. Seat the magazine aggressively, like your life depends on it, ensuring it locks in place. With an AR tug on the mag to be sure it's locked in. The last step of loading or checking the status of your weapon – administrative actions – should be confirming there is a round in the chamber.
A faulty round of ammo will cause a stoppage. Inspect every round prior to feeding it into a mag. This will help, but something like a faulty primer won't show up until you get a "click" instead of a "bang." Running quality magazines goes a long way to making sure your weapon functions reliably. Then, sometimes you can do everything right but Murphy's Law kicks in and bad things happen.
Dry practice, using dummy ammo, is the best way to get the repetitions necessary to learn malfunction clearances. To create malfunctions at unexpected times during live fire practice mix in a few dummy rounds with the live ammo in your mags. You press the trigger and get a "click." The weapon is "talking" to you. Immediately you clear the stoppage, getting the weapon functioning and back into the fight.
Once you've cleared the stoppage take time to make sure your next shot is a good hit. A common tendency is to rush or hurry the shot, trying to make up for lost time. You can't make up lost time. Slow down, get the hit. If your weapon is the source of the trouble that one shot may be the only one you get before having to clear another malfunction.
Most people don't like to practice malfunctions. It's not entertaining, unless you make it so. You tend to make mistakes. This is part of the learning process. But, there is no denying that practice is required to learn, and these are skills that if needed must be performed immediately and efficiently.
Knowing how to operate your weapon includes manipulations. Manipulations include the administrative actions – loading, unloading, and a system or status check of the weapon – and combative or functional manipulations - empty reloads and malfunctions. The type weapon you have determines what techniques you need to focus on. With a revolver, a single stack pistol, such as a 1911 or compact .380, empty reloads are a little more important. With a high cap weapon, i.e. double stack pistols and high capacity carbines, knowing how to clear malfunctions is critical, and probably more important than reloading. Think about what is likely to happen, and practice accordingly.
Tiger McKee is director of Shootrite Firearms Academy, located in northern Alabama. He is the author of "The Book of Two Guns," writes for several firearms/tactical publications, and is featured on GunTalk's DVD, "Fighting With The 1911 - http://shootrite.org/dvd/dvd.html Website: www.shootrite.org