In IDPA, all scoring is time-based, which means that doing well in IDPA is all about saving time. One of the ways you can do this is by carefully planning when you do your reloads, so that you don’t ever end up with a standing reload at some point on a stage.
Now, on Limited stages you have to do exactly what the stage briefing requires, so you don’t have much choice–you follow the WSB precisely, even if that means a standing reload. (In a standing reload, that’s literally what is happening–you are standing there reloading, with nothing else useful going on. The reload is purely adding time to the stage.)
On Unlimited stages, however, you have more choices–and a good choice to make is to reload while you are doing something else, like moving to a new position. You were going to be taking the time to move anyway, so performing a reload during that movement doesn’t add any extra time.
Since there are only two kinds of allowed reloads in IDPA (the Tactical reload and the Emergency reload), you have to think carefully about which you are going to do as part of your stage plan. Both types of reloads have their issues–tactical reloads take more time since you have to retain the magazine and can’t simply drop it and move on, while emergency reloads can only occur after you’ve run the gun completely dry.
So how do you choose what to do?
Emergency reloads require making sure you can run the gun dry at the correct moment in time. Remember, on Unlimited stages you can shoot as much as you want–so the trick is to normally add an extra shot or two at the end of an array (and yes, you have to actually be shooting AT legit targets with your extra shots) so the gun runs dry right before you leave that position and head to the next. As you start moving, you start your emergency reload.
That way you aren’t adding any extra time to your stage run–you are reloading while you are doing something else that you had to do anyway.
Sometimes, it is worth it to burn two or even three rounds, to set up an “emergency” reload when you want it to happen. More than that, though…sometimes it is faster to make the choice to perform a tactical reload instead. You have to figure that out based on your own reload skill level, and what is happening on the stage.
Tactical reloads should be used in places where you are already going to be burning significant time by moving (remember, tac loads take longer) AND where you can’t burn all the extra rounds needed to run the gun dry for an emergency reload.
If the choice is “shoot 2 then burn FIVE extra rounds then do an emergency reload as you move to the new position” versus “shoot 2 then tac reload as you move to the new position” the tactical reload choice is probably going to be faster.
Again, for any given stage, your choices are going to come down to your own personal skills on reloads, and how many rounds you need for each position. Often, burning an extra round or two then making an emergency reload is the way to go. But sometimes, the tactical reload is just going to work better.
Remember, when deciding what choices you are going to make: Make the ones that save you the most time on the stage!