Slide Lock Reloads

In this post, I’m going to discuss yet another area of contention in the shooting world. Namely, how to send the slide into battery after reloading your pistol with the slide locked back. I’m going to look at the pros and cons of three different methods as well as a few variations of the three. First, using the slide lock lever. Second, the overhand rack. Third, the pinch grip. Each has its own proponents, detractors, and nuances. Let’s look at what works, and why.

Many military and competition based trainers advocate and teach students to depress the slide lock lever to release the slide. Primarily, this is because it is arguably and demonstrably the quickest method to get the pistol back into the fight due to economy of motion of the hands. Let’s dispense with the fine motor skills vs. gross motor skills argument right now. Several commentators more educated than I have already addressed the issue at length. One excellent explanation can be found here. Short version is that if you have the dexterity to manipulate the trigger and magazine release, then you can hit the slide lock. Whether you use your strong hand thumb or your other strong hand thumb to release the slide lock is up to you. I’ve used both, but tend to gravitate towards using my left hand thumb to release the slide lock (I’m right handed). The benefit of using the latter is that you can maintain your strong hand firing grip on the weapon and the support hand thumb can depress the lever as the support hand comes back into place in your grip on the pistol. In addition, this method is similar to that used when reloading the AR-15, with the thumb depressing the bolt release, so it may intuitively make sense to those who are familiar with the AR. Having said that, I would practice with your dominant hand only as well in the event that you ever need to reload one handed. Obviously, this method is going to be problematic for our “sinister” left handed friends (or if you’re reloading one handed with your left hand). This of course highlights the benefits of completely ambidextrous pistol controls, such as on the Sig P320 (stay tuned for an upcoming review). Aside from the aforementioned motor skills argument, detractors complain that using the slide lock does not fully utilize the recoil spring length of travel and that the practice will accelerate wear and tear on pistol components. Regarding the first, I have yet to witness a problem with pistols that are maintained with stock weight recoil springs. Similarly, the second issue is also a matter of maintenance rather than a negative outcome. In summary, using the slide lock is a viable method that returns the pistol to a firing condition with speed and efficiency.

There are also those that advise using the slide lock in such a manner that their thumb is resting on the slide lock lever as they forcefully insert a magazine, causing the upward motion of the gun to push the slide lock lever up against the thumb as the magazine is fully seated. While this is indeed fast, I’m hesitant to rely on it as a training default, simply to avoid accidentally releasing the slide into battery before the magazine is fully seated, with an empty chamber resulting.

Next, let’s examine using the overhand rack to release the slide. This technique is performed by cupping the support hand over the top of the rear of the slide and clamping the slide between the fingers and palm. The slide is then vigorously yanked back and released. Several trainers teach this method, citing it as being nearly universal in terms of reloading and malfunction clearance. This is a valid point, however, the technique is definitely slower at a time when speed may be of paramount importance. Many will also contend that pulling the slide back fully against recoil spring tension will reduce feeding malfunctions. Again, I see this as a nonissue with a well maintained pistol. Furthermore, malfunctions can actually be induced by accidentally riding the slide forward with your hand. Also, it is possible to inadvertently place the pistol on safe when using this method on pistols with slide mounted safeties. Admittedly, the overhand rack will almost always work as long as you have the use of both hands, even if your support hand is injured. Simply recognize that it is fundamentally slower. If you are left handed and shooting a pistol without ambidextrous controls, then this is a viable default, although the final method I’m going to discuss may have more merit.

Finally, there is the slingshot or pinch grip method. In this technique, the rear of the slide is pinched between the thumb and index finger and the slide is pulled back and then released. Although a point of contention, some trainers advocate this as a preferred technique for those with poor grip strength that are unable to perform an overhand rack. Another benefit is that economy of motion is preserved as compared to the overhand rack. One other thing that I have noticed in my own experimentation is that using the pinch grip allows me to rack the slide in both reloads and malfunctions while simultaneously keeping my flashlight in hand, similar to performing a tactical reload with a flashlight in hand. I also think that the pinch grip keeps the pistol up higher during manipulations, allowing me to more easily keep my eyes on the target, as compared to the overhand rack. Ultimately, the pinch grip method allows my pistol manipulations to flow more smoothly.

Additionally, Frank Proctor teaches a somewhat different method involving a similar economy of motion in which the slide of the pistol is forced into the web of the support hand with the hand gripping the slide between the muzzle and ejection port. While this works well to release the slide from slide lock, I find it quite difficult with pistols that do not have forward cocking serrations. 

There is one other point to mention regarding slide lock reloads. Many people will find that the slide releases “automatically” when forcefully inserting a magazine. Despite errornet opinion, this is NOT a design feature! If it happens, then cool, move on. But don’t train with the expectation of it happening when you reload. If it does happen, I think it would be prudent to either preemptively rack the slide or chamber check the pistol to ensure that a round was indeed loaded.

The way I currently train is to preferentially use the slide lock when performing slide lock reloads, and if that doesn’t work (if I miss it), to immediately go to a secondary method. In my mind, this dovetails nicely with the motions involved in reducing malfunctions.

Ultimately, I think that you should be familiar with all of the above and use whichever is appropriate in the context of the scenario. By all means, keep things simple, but no simpler than they need to be! While you can certainly treat an empty pistol as a malfunction, is it not better to simply reload the gun? All of this may even be moot, if due to injury or other factors, you are reduced to manipulating the slide one handed against your belt, holster, or clothing. At the end of the day, default to your preferences and abilities, and strive to be a well-rounded gunfighter!


3 thoughts on “Slide Lock Reloads

  1. In combat, the slide might not lock to the rear. (Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong, at the worst possible time.) So, it makes sense to train to use a technique that works under both conditions, because this eliminates having to make a decision, which means you go faster. (Hick’s Law: The fewer decisions you have to make, the faster you go. The fewer options to choose from in each decision, the faster you go.) Thus, racking the slide to release it, is the better method. Cheers,
    Jon Low


    1. Jonathan,

      Thanks for the comment. I’m not John but thought I would address your comment.

      If the slide fails to lock to the rear as in your example, then it is, by definition, NOT a slide-lock reload. Indeed, in such a case the pistol operator will not know that he or she needs to reload, as the pistol’s “gas gauge”, if you will, has failed. At that point, it is treated like a malfunction, because the user, thinking the pistol still loaded, will press the trigger and get a click. Once there is a click, a tap-rack MAY lock the slide open or it may result in it going forward (if the slide stop is actually malfunctioning). If it locks open, then he or she can go with John’s technique. If it goes forward, the user will again get a “click” instead of a “bang”, in which case he or she would reload the pistol and rack the slide (overhand/pinch-grip/whatever) in order to chamber that first round off the new magazine.

      In short, the example you gave is a bit of a non-starter.

      Personally, while I recognize the utility of using one method for everything (overhand rack for racking the slide and for malfunction clearances), I am SO much quicker using my strong-hand thumb to operate the slide stop/release that I generally use that method.

      For instructor who favors one method, I can probably name another who favors a different method.



    2. Jonathan,

      Thank you for your comment. I don’t really have much to add to what Robert already wrote in his reply. As I said in the first sentence of this post, it is an area of contention! I encourage you to use and teach what makes sense to you. Hick’s law notwithstanding, I still separate reloads and malfunctions in my brain. The stimulus to act is different, and thus, the response is different. Fundamentally, if my slide fails to lock back, then my pistol has malfunctioned and I need to fix the problem as soon as I become aware of it. My suggestion to use the slide lock is predicated on recognizing that the slide is locked back and that the pistol needs to be reloaded. If I don’t recognize this, and instead move to correcting a malfunction, then the problem will eventually be resolved, albeit not as fast. Again, thank you for your comment and input.



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