The tactical reload, so the theory goes, argues for temporarily taking out of action a revolver that is ready to fire in order to partially empty the cylinder, scrounge out unfired rounds, then fully reloading the cylinder before returning to the fight because you may need the additional rounds sometime in the near future.
Setting aside for a moment the merits of a tactical reload lets consider the actual function of a weapon reload. The self-defense shooter should be aware that self-defense handguns are reloaded in one of two ways. The first is the combat reload. This reloaded is preformed when the revolver is empty – repeat – empty and the fight is continuing around you. In this case your single greatest priority is to get the snub loaded (note – not “fully” loaded – but “loaded”) and ready for action quickly. The second type is a tactical reload. This is preformed when you are reasonably certain that the fighting has ended, ammunition resupply is at a premium and you will have to make do until rescue arrives. Does this definition exclude the possible of a break in a fight? Yes, because by definition there is no such thing as a “safe break” in a real fight. If you suspect the fighting might flare up again before rescue arrives, then fight smart. Eject everything in the snub and re-load with the live spare ammo you know you have. If you survive the fight the police crime-scene technicians will cheerfully scourer the area and pick up both your spent and live round leavings.
Who then if anyone could need a tactical reloading skill? Generally it will be one of three types of handgunners.
The first type is the deep woods hiker or camper. Following a self-defense encounter such a shooter could not rely on the swift arrival of any lawful self-defense reinforcements. For such an individual a tactical reload skill mated with retention of a few unfired rounds might prove of value. If could also be argued that such a shooter could be just a well served by carrying an additional set of speedloaders.
The second type of shooter who might benefit from tactical reloading skills is the urban gun owner. If his ammunition access is disrupted through social or natural social upheaval then individual rounds obtain disproportional value. As in the situation noted above, this shooter could also be better served with minimal pre-planning along with a small stored of reserve ammunition. In both situations each shooters long term survival is better served through proper pre-planning than the frantic collection of some number of loose live rounds.
The third type of handgunner would be a shooter who requires a tactical reload skill to placate a rule requirement used in one of the various practical shooting games.
Where does that leave us regarding the tactical reload? Task One – Reload the snub with ammunition. Task Two – Recover and retain any available live rounds for future use but only if doing so in no way impedes or imperials Task One.
Of the six common tactical reload methods two include pressing up on the ejector rod while either covering or not covering the base of the seated rounds still in the charge holes with either one palm or the other. These lifting the ejector rod methods are based on the hope that the freshly fired rounds will stay elevated while the live rounds fall back into the cylinder after the ejector rod is released making picking out spend rounds easier. It is my experience that this method rarely works. At least one revolver armed officer on record attempted a not dissimilar tactical reloading technique in the middle of a gun fight. When the rounds fell back into the cylinder’s charge-hole at least one round also fell under the star ejector rendering the gun inoperable. The officer was then unable to clear the malfunction before he was subsequently murdered. You may or may not want consider this and test this technique yourself on a safe and static range before relying on it for self-defense.
On an aside, there is one revolver malfunction clearing tip that may be of value to you is you practice tactical reloads. Had the above mentioned officer known of it he may have been able to clear his malfunction and found time to shoot himself back to the land of the living. With some revolvers, notably the Smith and Wesson revolver, you invert the weapon muzzle up and press down on the ejector rod to lower the star ejector. If you keep your hand or finger on the tip of the ejector rod while it is depresses you can continue to retract the star ejector with the fingers of your other hand. By gently pulling down on the star ejector you can create nearly double the available space to access rounds caught under the star ejector.
Returning to the tactical reload, of the several method of practicing a tactical reload the one I am least resistance to involves manipulating the snub and emptying all the rounds in the cylinder, live and spend, into you hand and pocketing the lot of them. After all the available material has been pocketed, then reposition the snub to your preferred reloading position and reload the cylinder. If and when it becomes safe to do so, live rounds can be distinguished from the spent rounds by feel alone and while still in the pocket. Empty shells can be discarded to the ground.
Excluding either deep wood travel plans, or natural and/or social upheavals that will prevent you from reaching ammunition resupply, only game playing requires tactical reloading manipulations. Like too many artificial exercises, tactical reloading offers only poor self-defense condition. It is far better to discard the nearly empty contents of your cylinder onto the ground and swiftly reload with an additional speedloader. If this violates the tactical sensitivity of a game referee then maybe you need to reflect on why you are playing “let’s pretend” games with a live and loaded handgun in your hand. Better to spend the time and resources on possible more practical shooting skills.