Breaking Down the Speed Strip Reload

In my previous speed strip post I talked about different techniques used to reload with a speed strip, and the concept of partial loads. Unlock its semi auto cousin, it is possible to only load one or two rounds on a revolver, as opposed to stuff a whole magazine in the gun. This post will focus on partial loads and breakdown some of the numbers.

First, let us set a baseline. A reload with a speedloader out of a pocket takes about 5 seconds on average. A little faster if everything goes right, a little longer if it doesn’t. I mentioned before that the reason for speed strips is that they are easier to carry, so part of this analysis is understanding what is given up by opting for the easier to carry speed strip.

To have an apples to apples comparison, or at least close to it, we will start by loading six rounds off a speed strip and seeing how long it takes.

On average, it took me 8.94 seconds to load 6 rounds and then fire four rounds. My average time to the first shot fired was 8.25 seconds, with my fastest at 7.89 and my slowest at 8.87. We are looking at about a 3-4 second increase in time.

Changing Perspective

This is where I have to change my thought process a little. I come from a semi-auto world. I learned how to shoot on a Glock, still shoot a Glock, and even though I have dabbled with revolvers in the past, my thought process has often been that reloading is an all or nothing affair. After all, that is the mag fed pistol world. The gun is either loaded, or it isn’t. There is not really a middle ground. When I break away from the mag fed world to the revolver, where I can load one round, or up to eight or nine depending on the revolver, that equation changes. The gun is technically loaded with a single round in the cylinder, or completely full. If there is a need to short cut a reload, it can be done.

So let us take a step back and see where my break even point is on the revolver reload with speed strips vs. the revolver reload with a speedloader. The common practice with a revolver is to load two rounds off the speed strip simultaneously, so that is where I will start, load two and fire one, while retaining the speed strip because it will still have live ammunition on it that can be used later. 

On average this technique took 5.10 seconds to get a single round on target. The fasted was a 4.49, and the slowest was a 5.52.  Getting back to our comparison, on average, this technique is only five hundreths of a second slower than a speedloader reload. I was impressed, at least with the time to a single shot.

I bumped it up to a load two fire two next. The average turned out to be 6.45 seconds to load two rounds and get those two rounds off. This was in large part due to having to advance through several chambers to get both rounds fired. Claude Werner teaches on his reloads to close the gun onto the cylinder, and not to close the cylinder into the gun like I have a habit of doing. Closing the gun the way Claude teaches is supposed to put the loaded chambers in the correct location to be fired with the first one or two trigger presses. I have not mastered this, I tend to get one round on the first trigger press and then have to rotate the cylinder all the way back around to get the second one. All that to say, I think the load two, fire two, could be done quicker if I were a little better.

What happens though if I load two rounds and end up needing more than that. Pretty simple actually, just load more rounds after firing the first two. The question becomes, how long does that take? To load two, fire those two, and then load and fire two more, on average took me 11.72 seconds. That is a substantial amount of time for just four rounds.

Heeding the Wisemen and the Four Round Reload

So what are the other options other than the two round reload? Claude Werner is a fan of the four round reload on J-frames, and so is Michael de Bethencourt. This makes me think there is some viability there, even for a six round gun, so it is where I went next. On average, when loading four rounds it took 6.70 seconds to get the first round off, and 7.07 seconds for two rounds. So for about a half second difference, I can have an additional two rounds in the gun if needed vs. the load two, fire two method. If I needed to fire all four rounds, it would took on average 7.63 seconds to load four rounds and fire four rounds. Only one second longer than loading two and firing two, and just a hair over four seconds faster if only loading and firing two at a time. That to me, seems to be a significant gain for not much cost in time.

When using the load four method I also used a strip only loaded with four rounds. I noted that handling of the strip was more positive and less fumble prone, just as  Claude Werner suggests. Go figure, it is as if the guy knows what he is talking about. Knowing that I was only going to put four rounds in the gun it also made it easier to load the second set of two rounds off the strip because I did not have to worry as much about getting two rounds in the charge holes immediately adjacent to the first two that were loaded. After loading the first two rounds, I still had four charge holes available to load, and it didn’t really matter which two ended up being loaded.

I also toyed with having a six round strip, but only loading four of the six and retaining the strip for the additional two rounds if needed.

It worked well enough, but retaining the strip for the extra two rounds costs a little time and having all six rounds loaded on the strip makes it a little less of a sure proposition than with only four loaded on it. 


After a couple hours and a couple hundred rounds of ammo, I feel like I have a much better handle on the speed strip reload. Loading just two rounds and getting off one round, a speed strip is pretty much just as fast as a speedloader, which I guess might be expected. Where the speed strip falls off is when we need more then just one round. 

The balance point seems to be defaulting to the four round reload. It puts enough live rounds in the gun to get some good work done, and while it takes longer than just loading two rounds, only marginally. I was also able to see first hand some of the handling benefits to just having four rounds on the speed strip. 

At the end of it all, if loading more than two rounds, the speed strip will be slower than a speedloader, probably at least about a second. Is that second a fair trade off to have a loading method that is easier to conceal? I guess that depends on you. 

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Wheel Gun Wednesday

How to clean a S&W revolver. I found out this was important a couple weeks ago 🙂

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Running the Strip

In the concealed carry revolver world, speed strips are probably more commonly carried than an actual speedloader. Speedloaders are bulky, being the same diameter as the widest part of the revolver, the cylinder. The fix to this problem has always been the speed strip. Speed strips, just being a piece of rubber that holds the ammunition, can lay flat in the pocket. So not only are they easier to carry, but often times allow more spare ammunition to be carried because it is easier.

It is nothing to put two speed strips in a pocket, giving me twelve rounds of spare ammunition. Two speedloaders though would be a different story. The downside of course, is speed. I can pull off a reload with a speedloader in 3-4 seconds. A speed strip will take me about twice as long to completely load the revolver. As with many things in life, there is a compromise to be made. A little harder to carry, but twice as fast on the reload, or easy to carry and twice as long to put 6 more rounds into the gun.

There is an important question to ask, what constitutes a loaded revolver? Michael de Bethencourt is the first I saw bring this up in a blog post about using speed strips, and Justin over at recently brought up a similar question in a post reference the Newhall Shooting. According to Michael, a revolver with a single round in the cylinder, is still a loaded revolver, and can be fired. Claude Werner also discusses partially loading a revolver if that is all that time will permit. With a speedloader, it is kind of an all or nothing affair. With speed strips, we have options. We can load as few as 1, although usually 2 is better and cost us nothing, or as many as 6. This leads to some instructors and spun up revolver guys recommending or carrying speed strips with only four rounds loaded on them. Claude Werner and Michael de Bethencourt fall into that camp. To the best of my knowledge, it is an accepted practice. The logic is that the speed strip is easier to load from with only four rounds loaded onto it in the 1, 2, and 4, 5 positions. Having the extra space on the speed strip helps to handle and load from the speed strip, and the time that it would take to load a 5th or 6th rounds often times is not worth it under time pressure anyway.

Mas Ayoob teaches to use a scalpel style grip with only 5 rounds on the strip, leaving the #6 spot open, even if the reload is for a 6 round revolver. The logic for downloading by one round is to allow more purchase on the speed strip itself, improving the handling of the strip as it is loaded.

I have been playing around with the speed strip reload for the past couple of weeks, working the different methods and trying to settle on what I like most. The speed strip reload has to meet the same set of criteria as any other reload, as previously noted.

  • The technique has to be reliable and as fumble free as possible.
  • Ability to incorporate the flashlight into the reload.
  • Facilitates the one handed reload with equipment positioning.
  • Is as universal as possible to have commonality of technique from one revolver to the next.

I wanted a reload as similar to my speedloader reload as possible, which puts the gun in a different hand than what Werner and Ayoob teach, which I think mitigates some of the handling issues associated with a speed strip. I have not had any issues running a speed strip with 6 rounds loaded onto it, and I use a speed strip grip similar to what Ayoob uses except that I choke up on the strip, and use the same hand to run the strip and rotate the cylinder, rolling the next two rounds into the charge holes as they become available. In dry fire, I have been running a 2 round reload, a 4 round reload, and a 6 round reload against a 4 second PAR. I chose 4 seconds because that is a comfortable dry fire reload with a speedloader and serves as a point of comparison between the speedloader and speed strip. The video below has one of each reload edited together.

The method I use for retaining the speed strip after the partial loads is just something I came up with on my own. I noted on Justin’s post at that he uses a different technique for retaining the speed strip. As I get more exposure to partial reloads, I may re-evaluate exactly how I accomplish that part of the reload, but it seems to work fairly well for now.

Using the pinkie finger to secure and retain the speed strip.

It should also be noted that in dry fire I am not pressing the trigger until I hit a live round on the partial reloads. This will obviously add time to the reload since I do not index the cylinder as I close it, so I would likely have to press the trigger at least a few times before I hit the live round, and this would add some time to the reload.

That gets to the next phase of this experiment. The plan is to hit the range and run it all in live fire, record the times, and then post the results. The timer does not tell lies, and we will end up with a much better idea of which technique is faster, and by how much.

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Anatomy of a Reload

Taking a break from the revolver on this one and breaking down the reload on the semi-auto this time. There are is a key concept built into my reload technique, that having index points to consistently place the firearm in space is important. My technique is pretty much built around that idea. I owe a lot to the late Todd Green for the development of my reloads. I was never able to take one of his classes, but he often commented on my old blog with tips on for my technique, and I followed his blog almost religiously. Dude was good at what he did. 

Step one is to immediately start moving the support hand towards the reload source as soon as the slide locks back to the rear. The gun is pulled back towards the body at the same time, the shooting hand thumb hitting the magazine release, and the the gun being maintained in the vertical position until the magazine drops free. I have found, especially with Glocks, that if the mag well is canted too soon, the magazine will stick in the mag well. 


My key index points on the reload are the inside of my shooting side arm against my torso, and the front sight at eye level on the eye-target line. Keeping the front sight up helps to keep my vision up and maintain as much awareness as possible. Having the close to the body and in a stable position also facilitates movement while performing the reload. As long as I keep the gun center line of my body and use those two index points I am able to very consistently place the handgun in space. As long as I match that consistency with the placement of my spare magazine, I get a very consistent path from the mag pouch to the mag well of the handgun.

After the magazine has dropped free, the mag well is rotated towards the source of ammunition, and the shooting hand thumb is place on the slide release and held rigid. As the magazine is inserted into the handgun, the pressure from seating the magazine will push the handgun into the shooting hand thumb and initiate the slide release.  (Note the placement of the trigger finger well outside of the trigger guard)

Once the magazine is seated and the slide is returning to battery the muzzle is rotated back towards the target and the support hand rotates back into the grip. 

Since the front sight is maintained at the eye level throughout the reload process, it is possible to get back onto the sights very early in the process of representing the gun to the target in a straight line. 


As soon as the sights allow and the trigger can be appropriately managed based on the needs of the target, shooting can restart. 


Three FAST runs from ToddG. While my reload is not the exact same as his, you can definitely see how his input influenced my technique. 



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Training Update

I used up all of my .38 special ammo allowance over the past couple weeks. I am teaching a class towards the end of the March, and taking a class the first week of April, so what I have left is already allocated. That means more dry fire for me. I have refocused on reloads, trying to get closer to that 3 second goal I set a while back. I have also started playing around with speed strips and the various reload methods specific to speed strips. Interesting stuff there that I will expound upon later. For now, here are some of my dry fire reloads. Timer is set for a 3 second par.

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Return on Investment

img_9322The firearms industry is a gear driven industry. To argue otherwise, just a few months after SHOT show, would be ludicrous. If it weren’t, SHOT show would be about training, and not about the latest and greatest gadgets in the industry. At its heart, I think that is okay, I like cool gear just as much as the next guy. Where I think we get lost a little is in trying to buy incremental performance increases at considerable expense. There is nothing wrong with buying performance, I am a performance driven shooter, I like to shoot straighter and go faster. If there is something out there that can help me do that, I am all about it, maybe. We have to understand the concept of return on investment. A lot of products are introduced that promise to make us faster, aid in our ability to be more accurate, etc. The question that needs to be asked though is not what does a certain gadget do, but how much does it do it. I think that more often than not, this question doesn’t get asked. If I put a comp on my gun, we all know what a comp is supposed to do, and we will say that it actually does that and makes the gun shoot flatter, but how does that translate to my shooting performance? Are my splits shorter while maintaining the same accuracy standard, if they are, how much? How much is what often times I think is missing. Without quantifying the performance gain, we can’t really say if the resources I have invested in this new whizzbang gadget is really giving me a good return.

This whole thought process has been swirling around in my head for a long time with regard to training, and using performance tracking to evaluate the efficiency of my training and the associated resource input. Getting more for less is always better because it either saves me resources I can allocate somewhere else, or it allows there to be greater growth for the same resource input. It was not a stretch to apply that same thought process to performance oriented accessories. Take for example the ATEi Roland Special (which is what started this whole thing anyway). It cost $2,300 from ATEi. I would be willing to bet that most anyone who picks up a RS style handgun with a good MRDS, a comp, stippling, and some trigger work, will see a bump in performance. But that is not what we are talking about, we want to answer the how much question. In order to answer that question, we have to quantify the performance gain. Once that is done, we have to measure that performance gain against other uses for those resources. In the case of the Roland Special, ammunition cost. How much ammunition can $2,300 get, and how much performance can I gain by using that ammunition in well designed and focused practiced?


We can apply this same concept to training, meaning courses that we go and take with an instructor. In the initial journey of building skill, training is important. We cannot properly practice that which we do not understand, or cannot execute correctly. Training with a good instructor should give us the foundation we need. However, there comes a point where practice becomes more important than training. We have to start building something on that foundation. I can spend another $1,000 on a course fee, ammo, and travel, or I can spend $1,000 on just ammunition and hit the range for some good practice. Which one will get me further? I will be honest, I have been to classes that afterwards I thought had a poor ROI. I could have accomplished more by using the resources I used in the class to hit the range solo and really put in some quality practice. Notice I am not saying going out to the range and burning through mags of ammo running senseless drills. That sort of practice is just as much a waste, and is not what quality practice is. Quality practice includes very precise attention to detail both in regard to quality of reps, and drill choices. It requires pre-planning, execution of the plan, and a “debrief” phase afterwards evaluating the practice session and where to go next.

All of that to say this. Assuming we are all working with finite resources, we need to understand what something actually cost, and then measure that cost against other options to know if it is really worthwhile. In a gear driven industry, or even a training driven industry, that can be difficult to do and in my experience is rarely communicated to the consumer.


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Testing the Carry Load

A couple weeks ago I posted about choosing a carry load and some of the criteria that I like for a carry load to have. A couple things Inlisted were shootability, and accuracy. I have set standards I want a carry load to meet with some of those criteria. 

For accuracy I am looking for the ability to put 10 rounds in a USPSA C-zone at 50yd, and preferably everything in the A-zone. Since I am shooting a revolver,I trimmed the round requirement down to 5 rounds, just made life easier. This is as much a test of the shooter/ammo/gun combo asjust the ammo, but the ammo will make a difference here. 

Five rounds shot standing, unsupported at 50yd in DA.

The other category I mention is shootability. This is also as much about the shooter/ammo/gun, and is subjective based on personal performance standards. If someone is carry a round that is too stout,or has too much muzzle blast at night, etc. then those are problems. In semiautos it usually a function of caliber. There won’t be a huge disparity in felt recoil between good carry loads in a semiauto. In a revolver however, it can run the gammut from super low recoil full wadcutters to full house .357 Magnum. The size of the gun can go from super lightwieght in a j-frame, to quite a bit of heft in a L-frame or Ruger GP100. I am generally not willing to give up too much performance on the shootability side. The Hornady .357 Magnum Critical Duty I have been using definitely slows me down. That is something I am going to have to fix in relatively short order, or may e consider a different round. 

Whatever standards you decide to settle on as the minimum standard in these areas, make sure you test your carry ammo, in your carry gun, from whatever holster you plan to actually carry. If your combo of skill, gun, and ammo isn’t meeting those standards, then time to maybe consider a change somewhere. 

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