You Can Rack A Slide. It’s Technique, not Strength.

By CTD Suzanne published on in Safety and Training

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.

Picture shows a woman holding a Glock safely, finger off the trigger close into her body at the bottom of her chest.

Bring the gun close in towards your body.

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.

Picture shows a close up of a woman holding a Glock handgun against the meaty part of her palm.

After bringing the gun close in to your body, place the meaty part of your palm on the slide.

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.

Close up of a woman holding a Glock handgun demonstrating how to wrap one's fingers around the slide in order to rack it.

Wrap all four fingers around the top of the gun. Grasp the slide serrations with the tops of your fingers.

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.

Close up of a woman racking the slide on a Glock semi-automatic handgun.

With as much force as you can muster, PUSH the gun forward with your dominant hand.

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.

Close up of a woman letting go of the slide on a Glock handgun.

When the slide reaches as far back as it will go, completely let go with your non-dominant hand.

Tips:

  • 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.
Woman holding the top of the slide of a GLOCK handgun

Alternatively, you can grip with the tips of your fingers using your index finger as leverage and pressing into the gun with your thumb.

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.

Ladies, have you mastered racking the slide on a semi-auto? If so, share your tips and tricks with us in the comment section.

SLRule

Introduced to shooting at young age by her older brother, Suzanne Wiley took to the shooting sports and developed a deep love for it over the years. Today, she enjoys plinking with her S&W M&P 15-22, loves revolvers, the 1911, short-barreled AR-15s, and shooting full auto when she gets the chance. Suzanne specializes in writing for the female shooter, beginner shooter, and the modern-day prepper. Suzanne is a staff writer for Cheaper Than Dirt!

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Comments (17)

  • Range Report: The 9mm SIG Sauer P938

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    […] sure I could do it with two fingers if I had to. Knowing that many women feel they have issues with racking a slide on a semi-auto, the slide on the SIG P938 is by far one of the easiest I’ve experienced in this […]

    Reply

  • Linda

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    Thank you so much for this helpful article. Since females usually have less hand strength, I’ve heard of this problem from friends. I had never been able to rack my husband’s Glock until now although I could handle smaller 380s or 22s for target practice. It never occurred to me to push the body forward instead of pulling the slide back. It made a huge difference.

    Reply

  • Predator

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    Another option for people without a lot of arm strength is to use their whole upper body It is often times much easier than trying to use just arms.
    1 Grasp the weapon in the dominant hand
    2 Extend the weapon out to arms length
    3 Rotate weapon so it lays on its side with the top of the slide towards your other hand(the weapon should be sideways)
    4 Grasp the back of the slide with the weak hand as far up as possible keeping fingers out of the ejection port
    5 rotate shoulders and push with dominant hand while pulling with weak hand
    This will allow you to use your shoulder muscles, and upper body much more.
    Of course alway try different methods and see which ones work best for you !!

    Reply

  • Daddio7

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    As a farmer I spent years tossing around 100 lb sacks of potatoes. I could snap the action back on my Glock like a cap gun. I got a 9mm FNS and my non dominant hand just slips off before I get the slide halfway back. My grip has weakened from carpel tunnel nerve damage but the FNS has a firm spring and a slender slide with shallow grip grooves. I reverse hands and cock it with my right hand than swap hands again. I also have to switch hands if I want to take the safety off. For home defense I would have to leave it with a round chambered and the safety off so I just keep my revolve next to it so for a quick response I will just grab it.

    Reply

  • John Shalamskas

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    Accurized 1911 pistols (like Les Baer) are intentionally built a little too tight, and you are expected to blast through a few hundred rounds to break it in, so the parts perfectly bed into each other. When new, the lock-up is so tight that it is very difficult for even burly, experienced semiauto shooters to cycle the action. I end up using the same mechanics as in this article even though I am a 6 foot 1, 225 pound male. Keeping the muzzle pointed downrange, I rotate my stance so I am facing right. I bring the weapon in close to my chest, at armpit level. Careful to avoid sweeping my hand in front of the muzzle, I grab the top of the slide with my left hand (palm and 4 fingers), and then push forward briskly with the right. (I am a right-handed shooter.) Sometimes it works better when gripping the front part of the slide, especially if there are serrations on the front of the slide. I’ve found that rear sights with sharp corners can take a bite out of my left hand, so it’s nice to have a little extra space to avoid that.

    Reply

  • Dave L

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    First off, I am not a body builder. But I have never found a semi-auto handgun that I even had a remote problem operating the slide. That said, I appreciate this advice, because since I have no problem doing the way I do it, that was the only way I trained others (especially women) how to do it. I have a neighbor and my wife that I have assisted in their introduction to firearms and shooting, and they are going to be shown this as soon as possible. Thanks!!

    Reply

  • RPK

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    Funny how I gave this same advice to my wife in a local Academy when she was trying to rack the slide on a Bersa .380 Combat Model and could not do it. She became so upset citing that I embarassed her in front of the gun bar employees, we ended up leaving without the handgun which was meant to be for her self-defense. I guess when a female gives this advice there is solidarity and when a man, especially the husband does it, you’re just being an insensitive *sshole. Anyway, it was a good article.

    Reply

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