The Handheld Side Saddle – A New Way To Reload

I recently found a video from a YouTube channel called Modern Tactical Shooting. The owner and host is a former Green Beret named Jeff Gurwitch, and he does a number of different types of videos. I’ve never watched his channel before, but his History of Shotguns in U.S. Special Forces during GWOT captured my attention. There are lots of lessons learned from the M4 and the GWOT, but there isn’t much info on the GWOT shotgun. The video is great, and I won’t cover the whole thing. However, I will cover an interesting way to reload the shotgun via a handheld side saddle.

You didn’t read that wrong, and I didn’t type it wrong. A handheld side saddle is what I meant to say. Do you know those uber-popular side-saddle shotgun cards? They are held to the gun via velcro and are quite popular these days. Jeff didn’t have those. He cut up a cheap bandolier, folded a portion over, and attached a loop of 550 cord. These fit into M4 mag pouches and allowed Jeff to retrieve them and quickly reload via what I’m calling a handheld side saddle.

It’s an interesting field expedient method to reload, but I wanted to see if it’s a viable option. I didn’t make my own shotgun cards. Instead, I turned to the Esstac shotgun cards. They already have a loop attached and fit perfectly in AR mag pouches.

The Handheld Side Saddle Reload

The idea behind this reload is simple. Use your nondominant hand to retrieve the side saddle. I use my thumb to grab the loop and pull the side saddle from the magazine. The firing hand can keep the gun oriented downrange and or in a workspace high-ready type position. My support hand is bringing the side saddle to my firing hand.

I use the loop to drop the handheld side saddle onto my firing hand thumb. My firing hand thumb can pin the side saddle down and keep it from flopping around. I still have a good firing grip on my gun, and the handheld side saddle is pinned to the gun. I can then use my support hand to retrieve shotgun shells from the loops and load the gun.

It was surprising how quick and easy it was to take rounds from the handheld side saddle and load the magazine tube. This method of reloading was efficient and effective. It was most effective in loading the tube. When it came time to conduct an emergency port reload, the length from the rear of the gun to the port made things a little slow, but not terribly so.

The Handheld Side Saddle Application

What’s the point of the handheld side saddle in 2023? Jeff Gurwitch didn’t have access to the modern side saddle designs from Aridus and Esstac. He made his own, and it made sense back then. Does it still make sense now? For a military member carrying a shotgun, then yeah, it still makes a lot of sense.

It’s unlikely your issued shotgun has a side saddle, and the military tends to frown on doing your own modifications, especially if you are using adhesives or removing bolts from the receiver. Shotgun-specific gear is also rare, so these allow you to make the most use of your stock M4 mag pouches.

The same could be said for some police forces. They may not allow side saddles, or due to how the shotguns are stored, the side saddles may not fit in racks or other storage options. Police forces might also not appreciate officers adding side saddles to their guns. Even if the guns do have side saddles, they might not be detachable or replaceable.

Finally, what about the average Joe? You can add any side saddle you want for your shotgun, so why not? It seems a little less needed in that situation, plus it’s unlikely the average Joe will empty their shotgun in a defensive encounter and be forced to reload. If they are forced to reload, will they have to reload beyond their side saddle? If they do, are they going to be wearing their load-bearing gear?

Reloading On the Go

The handheld side saddle technique isn’t necessarily super useful for the average Joe, but it’s still an effective technique and another tool you can put in the box. I did find it to be really useful for reloading pistol grip-only firearms like the Shockwave, so there is that.

Give it a try, and check out Modern Tactical Shooting. I am in the middle of the MP5 video, and it’s also fantastic. It’s a lot of great GWOT knowledge and first-hand experiences worth listening to.

Travis Pike
Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and teaches concealed carry classes.