If I had a dollar for every time I heard, “I can’t rack the slide. It’s too hard,” I’d probably have a condo in the Keys. In fact, when I started shooting, I thought I wasn’t able to operate all semi-automatic handguns either. Believe me, ladies; I understand your slide intimidation. However, have no fear! Regardless of what you may think, it is not your strength or lack thereof that enables you to rack a slide properly—it’s learning the correct technique.
Racking the slide allows the gun to “grab” the first round from the magazine and load it into the chamber. I love semi-automatic handguns and hate to see a woman give up on them simply because they think they can’t operate one. So, how do I rack a slide you ask? Follow these six steps and with a little bit of practice, you’ll be racking slides all day long!
Step 1: Place the gun in your dominant hand (the one with your trigger finger) in a good, solid grip. If you need help with your grip, read “Handgun Basics 101: Get a Good Grip.”
Step 2: Bring the gun close in towards your body. I prefer to bring my gun up close to my chest rather than my belly or middle. I find I get more leverage this way. Remember always keep your muzzle pointed in a safe direction. Do not sweep the people in the shooting bay next to you with your barrel.
Step 3: Take your non-dominant hand and place the meaty part of your palm on the top, left side of the slide. Lefties will place your palm on the right side. Always keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
Step 4: Wrap all four fingers around the top of the gun, avoiding the ejection port. Grasp the slide serrations with the tops of your fingers—from the first joint to your fingertips. You might find you get a firmer grip with the tips of your fingers using your index finger as leverage and pressing into the gun with your thumb. However, longer nails might impede how firmly you can keep a hold of the gun when using this method.
Step 5: With as much force as you can muster, PUSH the gun forward with your dominant hand, keeping a firm grip on the top of the slide. You want this motion to be as smooth as possible.
Step 6: When the slide reaches as far back as it will go, completely let go with your non-dominant hand, letting the slide thrust forward.
- You may pull with the non-dominant hand in a push pull motion to rack the slide, applying an equal amount of force with both hands. However, do not depend solely on the pull—this is what made the operation difficult for you in the first place.
- Practice with a full-sized, unloaded .22 Long Rifle first to get a hang of the motion.
A properly oiled firearm makes all the difference in the world. Keep a bottle of lubricant, like Shooter’s Choice FP-10 in your range bag.
- Always keep fingers away from the ejection port. If you are covering it with either hand then reposition. It’s fine if your pinkie has to come off the gun to clear the ejection port. There isn’t much power in your pinkie anyway.
- Don’t extend your arms far out from your body. Bring the gun close in to utilize all your arm and pectoral muscles to push.
- Do not treat the gun gently. This was the second most important lesson I learned in semi-automatic pistol shooting. Let go of the slide completely and let force do its job. Helping the slide along—also called “riding the slide”—causes malfunctions.
Another intimidating thing about semi-auto pistols is the perceived recoil. Have you tried changing how you stand? Now that you have perfected racking the slide, perfect how you stand. Read “Managing Recoil with the Correct Stance” to learn how.