A speedloader is a device used to reduce the time and effort needed to reload a firearm. Speedloaders come in a variety of forms for reloading revolvers, or the magazines used with other types of firearms.
Generally, speedloaders are used for loading multiple chambers of a revolver simultaneously. Such speedloaders are used for revolvers having either swing-out cylinders or top-break cylinders. Revolvers having fixed cylinders must be unloaded and loaded one chamber at a time. Speedloaders of different designs are used for loading the fixed tubular magazines of shotguns and rifles. Other speedloader designs are used to load the magazines (fixed or detachable) of semi-automatic firearms.
The modern revolver circular speedloader holds a full cylinder complement of cartridges in a secure fashion, spaced in a circular configuration so as to allow the cartridges to drop simultaneously into the cylinder easily (although non-circular types such as half-moon clips are very common as well). A mechanism is provided that allows the cartridges to be released from the speedloader when loaded, so that when it is removed, the cartridges remain in the cylinder. The most common type of speedloader uses a rotating latch. Another type slides the cartridges out an open side; and a third type has a latch that releases when pressed.
Revolver speedloaders make the process of reloading an appropriately matched revolver much faster than reloading one round at a time (provided that ready-loaded speedloaders are available). Swing-out and top-break revolvers are designed to eject all cartridges with one movement, and speedloaders allow loading with but a single additional step. They also provide a convenient way to carry ammunition for a revolver. Speedloaders do not, however, allow revolvers to be reloaded as fast as semiautomatic handguns without considerably more practice.
Prior to the introduction of speedloaders for revolvers, reloading of revolvers was always accomplished by manually loading each cartridge into each chamber from cartridge loops on a belt or bandolier, a cartridge pouch, or other cartridge holder, such as a pocket. In fact, hand-loading is still the most common way of loading a revolver, speedloaders being mostly restricted to competition shooters and those who feel that they need more firepower for their personal defense revolver, since although speedloaders are useful for carrying one or several reloads at ready, one must load the speedloaders themselves prior to using.
Prior to the introduction of modern metallic cartridges, circa 1861-1873, certain models of older black powder cap and ball revolvers could be used with multiple replaceable cylinders functioning as "speedloaders". It was however generally easier to simply buy a second revolver than to locate a cylinder alone, not to mention faster than swapping cylinders. As the reloading process for a cap and ball revolver was lengthy and time-consuming, carrying already-loaded cylinders with percussion caps placed on cylinder nipples was a considerable improvement in reloading time, although this is primarily a "trick" used by modern shooters who are used to having numerous shots available in short time with little work. When "spare cylinders" were carried, this practice was primarily done on Remington revolvers, as their cylinders were easily removable and were held by a cylinder pin, unlike the early Colt revolvers, which were held together by a wedge that went through the cylinder pin.
The first revolver speedloader patented was that of William H. Bell in 1879.
Moon clips and half-moon clips are special speedloaders for use with revolvers that chamber rimless cartridges, such as 9×19mm Parabellum or .45 ACP. Double-action revolvers are designed to use rimmed cartridges, and the extractors are incapable of removing rimless cartridges. Because of this fact, a different method of extraction must be used. Moon clips are a full circle, and hold a full cylinder of cartridges, while half-moon clips are semicircles that hold half a cylinder full of cartridges.
Another variation of the speedloader for revolvers is the Speed Strip introduced by Bianchi International. Intended as an alternative to loose rounds in a pocket or dump pouch, it holds six cartridges in a re-usable Neoprene plastic strip. The strip operates by placing the cartridges one or two at a time into their respective chambers, and "breaking" the rounds off the strip into the chamber.
Loading a firearm magazine, particularly one with a large capacity and a corresponding high spring pressure pushing the rounds to the top of the magazine, can be quite difficult. A number of devices are available to make this task simpler, which are sometimes called speedloaders but are more commonly known as magazine loaders, stripper clips, spoons, or stripper clip guides. The simplest are inexpensive devices that depress the top round in the magazine, allowing the next round to be partially inserted with no pressure on it. These are also called "thumb savers", and address ease of loading more than speed of loading. There are also devices available for certain popular firearms, such as the Ruger 10/22, that accept loose ammunition and will load a round into the magazine with a simple push of a button or turn of a crank. These are more complex and expensive (US$25 to US$50), but are more truly a speedloader since they do greatly reduce the time required to load a magazine.
A stripper clip is a device that holds a number of rounds, usually from 5 to 10 rounds, and allows them to be inserted into a magazine (fixed or detachable) by attaching the clip to a special bracket and pressing the rounds into place. Military ammunition is often packaged in stripper clips, which, in older bolt action rifles, could be loaded directly into the rifle's fixed magazine using a bracket machined into the rifle's action, or in modern rifles by the use of an adapter or guide that attaches the stripper clip to a detachable magazine.
While much less common than revolver speedloaders, speedloaders for tubular magazines, called quickloaders, have been around for many years and offer many of the same quick reloading ability benefits. The simplest quickloader of this type is the one used for rimfire rifles with front loading tubular magazines. In this case, the quickloader is simply a tube that contains a magazine-capacity number of cartridges, with a seal at one end and a gate at the other. To load the magazine, the follower is removed, the rifle is pointed upwards, the tube is placed over the end of the magazine, and the gate is opened. Gravity then pulls the cartridges from the quickloader into the magazine, the quickloader is set aside, and the follower is replaced. Any length of tubing or pipe of the right diameter can be used in this way, with a simple pin through the middle serving as a gate. Commercial rimfire quickloaders often have multiple tubes joined together in parallel, with a single rotating gate. This allows multiple reloads to be carried, with reloading accomplished by simply rotating the gate in line with the next full tube of ammunition.
Shotgun speedloaders are slightly more complex, since shotgun magazines load from the breech. Shotgun speedloaders generally require a special bracket be mounted near the magazine loading port of the gun; many models mount by replacing existing pins that hold the trigger group in the receiver, and so can be installed easily without permanent modification of the gun. This bracket serves to hold the end of the speedloader tube in the correct position to feed the rounds out of the speedloader and into the magazine. The speedloaders themselves consist of a plastic tube containing a slot cut in it, and a plunger that rides in the slot and that forces the rounds into the magazine. Capacity is usually four or five rounds of 2-inch (70 mm) length shells. Gravity is not suitable for operating these, as the rounds must be forced into the magazine against the pressure of the magazine spring. Shotgun speedloaders are most commonly encountered in action shooting sports like International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) shotgun competitions.
Speed Beez type speedloaders loaded with .357 Magnum cartridges.