Learning to use any type of firearm may be overwhelming. Guns have different parts and the jargon used to describe them that can be intimidating to a beginner. When working with pistols, some new shooters even shy away from semi-automatic handguns because these firearms have more moving parts than revolvers do. Being new to handguns doesn’t mean you should automatically resort to the simpler version. It does mean, however, that you have to be willing to learn what makes that pistol work, and how to safely and properly load, chamber and unload it. Knowing how to clear any malfunctions, such as double feeds or stove pipes, is a must. The main key in all of that is knowing how to work the slide on your semi-auto. Working the slide properly is a mandatory function for operation.
The slide performs 3 main functions:
1. When a shot is fired, the slide moves completely to the rear, the extractor is engaged, which ejects the now-empty casing out of the ejection port.
2. Also, while the slide is to the rear, it cocks the gun’s hammer for you, in order to be ready for the next shot to be fired.
3. When the slide returns forward to its original position, if there is a cartridge in the magazine, it will push the fresh cartridge into the chamber, where it waits to be fired when you pull the trigger again.
Those are some important functions, so it is imperative when using a semi-automatic that you know how to properly manipulate your slide and even learn to lock it rearward using the slide stop. This tactic enables you to inspect the chamber or clear any malfunctions.
Many people have expressed to me countless times that they just don’t have the grip strength to work the slide back and forth on its rails. I’ve heard many reasons for weakness in working this apparatus on a semi-auto. Whether it’s arthritis or injury causing the hang-up, some people have convinced themselves they cannot rack their slides. Some default to using only a revolver. Other shooters rely on muscle strength to do the work, but when using the proper technique, there are very few healthy men and women who cannot perform this function.
Working the slide is not about strength; it is about technique.
How to rack the slide
STEP 1. Pick the UNLOADED pistol up with your strong shooting hand, index/trigger finger on the frame of the gun, well above the trigger guard, keeping the muzzle pointed in a safe direction at all times.
STEP 2. Still keeping the muzzle aimed in a safe direction, hold the gun around waist height and close to your body, and use your support hand to grab the rear slide serrations. Go over the top of the slide to place your hand on the gun. In the example of a right-handed shooter, the palm of your left hand should rest on the left side serrations while your fingers cup over the top of the pistol. All 4 fingertips of your left hand should be placed on the right side serrations. The thumb of your support hand (left hand) does not grasp the slide. (Note where the thumb lies in the photos below.) This grip will allow you to use all fingers and palm for added strength and power.
STEP 3. Push the frame of the pistol forward in the direction of your target or safe direction using the shooting hand. The support hand may also assist in pulling the slide rearward toward your body, but the focus should be on PUSHING the gun FORWARD.
STEP 4. Once the slide is fully rearward, you must let go of the slide with the support (non-shooting) hand with a snap, letting it travel forward on its own momentum. Do not ease it, baby it, or “ride the slide” forward with your support hand. The slide needs to be able to move quickly forward under its own recoil spring tension to load properly. Easing the slide forward can lead to malfunctions.
You’ll also want to learn how to manually engage the slide stop to lock your slide in the rearward position. This can be a challenge at first, but can be quickly learned. Perform STEPS 1-3 listed above. While holding the UNLOADED pistol’s muzzle in a safe direction and the slide rearward, use the thumb of your strong shooting hand to push up on the slide stop lever. You may need to adjust the grip of your shooting hand to the left in order to reach. This may feel a bit awkward at first, but don’t be discouraged. Practice makes perfect!
Jennifer Blake is a Shoot Like A Girl Firearms Instructor, NRA Counselor and owner of Ohio Firearms Training. Jennifer also teaches basic and instructor courses in Basic Pistol, Basic Rifle, Personal Protection Inside the Home, Personal Protection Inside the Home, Refuse To Be A Victim, and Range Safety Officer. To find out more about Jennifer’s classes in the Ohio area go to www.BearArms.US