Competitive Shooting

Racking the Slide and Loading the Pistol: Efficiency Tips

man racking slide on pistol

The proper sequence and technique used in loading a pistol has an effect on reliability.

As an example, the seven-round magazine of a 1911 pistol is straightforward to load.

The Kel-Tec CP33 magazine requires several steps to load properly. Most pistols are somewhere in between.

Racking a slide seems simple enough, but some shooters have difficulty with slide manipulation.

Let’s look at the steps necessary to ensure reliability and to load the pistol without strain and difficulty.

Loading Magazines

Most pistol magazines are easily detachable. Press the magazine release and remove the magazine. Lock the slide to the rear using the slide lock.

Anytime you handle a firearm, don’t neglect to check the chamber and be certain the pistol is unloaded. Always use muzzle discipline when loading.

Keep your finger off the trigger and do not let your finger touch the trigger. Let’s look at the proper way to load a magazine.

loading magazine into beretta APX subcompact
Be certain to angle the magazine in properly.

When loading a pistol magazine, take the magazine in one hand and use the opposite hand to load cartridges.

As a rule, the weak-side hand loads the cartridges.

Press the cartridge between the feed lips as you guide it under the freed lips and then downward. The follower is depressed as you load cartridges.

The follower is the sheet metal or polymer part sometimes referred to as the cartridge lifter.

The magazine follower is pressed upward by the magazine spring.

As you press cartridges into the magazine, spring pressure becomes stronger as the magazine spring is depressed.

After you load a few rounds, tap the magazine against a boot heel or wooden tap.

Tap the rear of the magazine in order to fully seat the cartridges to the rear. This ensures proper seating of the cartridges.

This is most important with high-capacity magazines, such as the Beretta 92, GLOCK 17 and SIG P226.

A good program is to load three, tap the rear of the magazine to properly seat the cartridges, load three and repeat until the magazine is fully loaded.

This ensures the pistol will feed properly. When I insert the magazine in the magazine well, I angle the magazine in a bit.

This makes for more certain feeding and is an aid in speed loads.

I angle the base of the magazine to the rear and quickly insert the magazine, slapping it home, making certain it seats and the magazine catch engages.

To properly load the pistol, the slide lock is released and the slide runs forward, loading a cartridge into the chamber.

This is the proper way to load a pistol. Loading a magazine and racking the slide is far less sure.

When you rack the slide, you may not rack the slide properly.

If you do not rack the slide with enough force, then you will not load the pistol fully into battery.

There are some pistols that do not fully reset the action unless the slide is fully racked to the rear and released.

The Kahr double-action-only pistol is one example. Never load the magazine and then rack the slide with the Kahr.

Lock the slide to the rear using the slide lock, and after the magazine is inserted, drop the slide forward to load the pistol.

I use this technique with every pistol to ensure reliability.

loading magazine into beretta APX subcompact
Slap the magazine home before dropping the slide to load the chamber.

Topping Off

A question may be topping the magazine off after loading.

If I use the eight-round Wilson Combat magazine in the 1911 — and this is the most proven and preferred magazine — I load eight rounds in the magazine simply to ensure reliability.

With the 15, 16 and 17-round high-capacity 9mm pistols, I load them to full capacity and then drop the slide.

If you like to load to full capacity, simply drop the magazine after loading the chamber and top the magazine off.

Be careful with muzzle discipline and trigger safety as you do so.

man tapping magazine on wood table to seat cartridges
Properly loading the magazine adds a lot to reliability.

Racking the Slide

While I prefer locking the slide to the rear and dropping the slide to load the pistol, there are times when the slide must be racked in administrative handling.

Making the slide ready for loading by locking it to the rear is one example. Some pistols present more difficulty than others.

As an example, the CZ 75 pistol features a slide that rides low in the frame.

This results in a low bore axis and less felt recoil. It makes handling the slide more difficult, however.

A short slide with a heavy recoil spring is also difficult.

Some shooters try to hold the pistol straight out in front and rack the slide to the rear. This is the most difficult position with little leverage.

Holding the pistol at about belt level is often seen.

As a point for safety, using the muzzle-toward-the-berm technique should always be used for the safety of those around you.

If you lower the pistol to belt level, it is a simple matter to angle the body toward the berm on the firing range and keep loading safe.

Lowering the pistol to belt level makes for greater leverage.

Keep a firm grip on the handgun, grasp the pistol’s cocking serration and press firmly to the rear to the slide-lock open position.

man racking slide and reloading pistol
Angling the magazine in just a bit as it is slammed home is a good technique.

If there is an empty magazine in the pistol the slide will lock open on the follower as the magazine follower rises and contacts the slide lock.

If there is no magazine in the pistol, use your thumb to raise the slide lock into position, locking into the slide cut out.

Lowering the pistol to the front of the body is sufficient for most drills.

If the slide is particularly difficult to rack, another technique that works well is to bring the pistol to middle chest level.

Be careful with muzzle discipline! Keep the pistol centered without an angle to rob the force you exhibit against the frame.

Grasp the slide serrations and press the slide straight to the rear.

It is most important to keep the pistol stabilized, but some shooters press the frame forward as they are racking the slide to the rear.

Do not let the muzzle wander to the right or left, this robs your momentum. Keep the grip firm on both the slide and the frame.

Do you have any other tips for racking the slide or loading your pistol? Let us know in the comments below!

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (8)

  1. Glad to see photos of Beretta APXCarry, a small underrated pistol (different from other pistols in APX line). I own and carry one, but with small pistols like this you have to open the bottom fingers of the grip hand to let the mag fall out and to reinsert a mag.

  2. The novice or beginner shooter should seek sound advice from a few trusted sources and manipulate the weapon in a safe manner that is best for them. Additionally, mindset and options lend to survivability when it counts most.

    Slingshot is not a bad term. It makes sense and understandable to many. Just like weak hand isn’t really what it is implied … it’s your support hand. Mindset and options! Be safe 1*

  3. OLDPROF49… I can definitely see how the slide lock & the notch in the frame will not be getting any wear when releasing it this way. Pressing the release will definitely wear over time.

  4. I find it easier for shooters with less arm strength to hold the frame out in front of them, arm locked with the strong hand, grasp the slide with the weak hand, arm locked, and rotate their shoulders/back to pull the slide back, that is, strong arm forward, weak arm back pivoting on the spine. Back muscles are much stronger than arm muscles for them. With this technique, even blowback operated handguns that can be difficult to rack can be done by them.

  5. Good observations, MIL-SPEC. That’s why I won’t own a pistol with forward cocking serrations. Putting parts of my body in such close proximity to the fireworks has never made any sense to me.

    Slingshotting may have been a poor word choice on my part. I was referring to pulling back slightly on the locked open slide to disengage the slide lock and let the slide slam forward into battery, chambering a round, instead of directly disengaging the slide lock. This is how I was taught by several instructors, both LEO and former military.

  6. #1——I cringe when I see this.—Grabbing the end of the slide, hand in front of the muzzle, to rack the slide!!! I’ve seen so many people do this. If I say something about it, they refer me to the fancy front slide serrations, LOL.. and I know one who put a 45 Auto FMJ round right through his hand with an “empty” 1911….
    Point the muzzle in a guaranteed safe direction to monkey with the slide, safety, hammer, trigger, magazine release,,,, or ANY pistol controls. It should always be pointed in a safe direction, but if you’re going to manipulate ANYTHING on that gun—-Definitely have it pointed somewhere safe, and certainly not at your own hand.

  7. Good tips, thanks. I slingshot the slide to load the chamber, unless the slide is already locked back on an empty magazine, then there’s no point and I just pull back the slide back to release it, or swipe the slide stop if in competition. Also, I think there must be a typo, as I’ve never see a person load a mag with their weak-side hand. (“As a rule, the weak-side hand loads the cartridges.”) Most folks I’ve shot with for the past 50 years hold the mag with their weak hand and load the rounds with their strong-side thumb. I just got some 10 round .45 ACP mags for a G30 that take every bit of my strong hand strength to get that last round in. Thank goodness for an Uplula loader.

  8. As a long time (20+ years) Kahr owner, I object to the comment about never racking the slide on a Kahr pistol. I’ve been doing it successfully for many years. Yes, their recoil springs are stiff, especially when new, and especially with the PM and MK models. However, I have performed hundreds of tap-rack drills with my K9, P9, MK9 and PM9 without any problems. Also, I was taught to slingshot a locked slide instead of using the slide release. Again, no problems.

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