Racking the Slide and Loading the Pistol: Efficiency Tips


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!

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