The What & the Why – Rack It – Methods of Closing the Slide

What is the best way to chamber a round and close the slide on a pistol when it has been locked to the rear in the open position? This topic generates a lot of heated discussion at times because so many people believe that the way they do it is the best and that everyone should do it their way. I’ve witnessed arguments between very experienced people, both instructors and competitors, advocating a certain way to close the slide. But no one ever wins the argument because there is no one right way to do it.

For this article, we will consider three ways of closing the slide. We will call them the Sling Shot, Slide Release, and Thumb To The Rear methods. A close relative to closing the slide from the slide lock position is racking the slide which is a term used to describe cycling the slide by hand from the closed or forward position. Racking the slide is useful when loading a gun or clearing a malfunction.

Most, but not all, semi-automatic handguns have a slide catch or release. On this 1911, it is the lever just above the trigger. Some people call it a catch and others a release, but on most guns, it locks the slide to the rear after the last round is fired and the magazine is empty. (Doug Larson photo)

For those who are not familiar with the three methods, it will be clear as you read that the Slide Release method does not work for racking the slide. That’s because the slide must start from the open position for that technique to be used. But the other two methods, Sling Shot and Thumb To The Rear can be used to either close or rack a slide.

Some general observations first. To close a slide from the locked open position, the slide catch must be disengaged. This can be done by pulling the catch down or by retracting the slide and letting it go. Either the front or rear serrations can be used to pull the slide to the rear. And it should be obvious that if the gun does not have an external slide catch, the Slide Release method cannot be used. Also, keep in mind that the slide on some guns may not lock open after the last round is fired. In that case, the magazine must be replaced with a loaded one and the slide cycled from the closed position.

Some semi-automatic handguns have ridges or serrations on the side of the slide. They are meant to provide more friction for the hand when pulling the slide to the rear. Some guns have the serrations only at the rear of the slide, while others have them at the front and the rear like this Springfield Armory XDM. (Doug Larson photo)

And there are some variations. For example, the Slide Release can be activated with either the right shooting hand thumb – if that thumb is long enough to reach the release – or the left weak hand thumb. If the shooter is left-handed and the slide release is on the left side of the gun, the shooter may have to reach under and around the gun to pull the release down with the middle finger of the right hand. But then some guns have ambidextrous slide catches making all this unnecessary.

A variation of the Sling Shot method is, instead of gripping the rear of the slide with the thumb and index finger of the weak hand, the slide is grasped at the web between the thumb and index finger. The hand forms a V over the top of the slide.

One way, but not the only way, to release the slide when it is locked to the rear is to pull the slide back and let it go using the V Variation method. Some people grasp the slide using the rear serrations as shown here, but others use front slide serrations. (Doug Larson photo)

Different schools and instructors teach different methods. All of these methods work – sometimes. But a shooter might be injured making it impossible to use one or another method, so it might be a good idea to know all of them and how to operate the gun with only one hand.

Speed is only one consideration. If you spend your shooting time on the competition range competing for prizes or a title, you may want to use the technique which is the fastest for you. If you are training for a real life and death fight, a different technique might be a better choice. While speed is very important in a fight, other factors like reliability, ease of execution, and the likelihood of something going wrong need to be considered.

My editor had a good suggestion. That was to time each technique to determine which is the fastest. But I concentrate on one technique, so am fastest with it. Gunsandtactics.com though produced a video comparing the speed of the three techniques. The tester was experienced using them all, so those results yield a better comparison than mine would, and he was about .5 or .6 seconds faster using the Slide Release technique. Again, speed may not be your only criteria, but if it is, your results might be different. It’s your decision, not that of someone else.

Whatever technique you choose, it’s probably best to use it all the time. Doing so reduces the chance that under stress, you will fumble while deciding which method to use.

SLING SHOT

The rear of the slide is held between the thumb and index finger, in a way similar to the pouch of a sling shot, and the slide is pulled to the rear. A variation is the V method described above. Whatever variation is used, some people with weak grips or less upper body strength cannot perform this technique.

Here is the Sling Shot method  The slide is pinched between the thumb and the index finger, pulled slightly to the rear to disengage the slide catch, then the slide is released so the recoil spring can drive the slide forward and push a fresh round into the chamber. (Doug Larson photo)

Some people advocate this method because they say it is more natural to grasp or pick up something with the thumb pointing away from the body. And some people use the front slide serrations while others grip the rear. Of course some guns don’t have front serrations.

If the front of the slide is used, be very careful not to cover the ejection port with your hand. Partially chambered rounds sometimes ignite when the gun is not in battery, and if your hand is over the ejection port when this happens, you could be badly injured by hot gas or shards of casing. Also, if you are attempting to clear a round, it might hit your hand and bounce back into the ejection port causing a malfunction.

SLIDE RELEASE

An argument often used against the Slide Release method is that it requires fine motor skills, not gross motor skills, to push or pull the release down. Fine motor skills are much harder to execute under stress. But this argument may not hold water because trigger control and operating the magazine release are both fine motor skills, yet can be developed well enough to be used in a gunfight. What do you think?

In the Slide Release method, the slide release (arrow) on this 1911 is pushed down to allow the slide to go forward. If the shooter holds the gun in the right hand, the left-hand thumb can be used. If the thumb is long enough or if the shooter shifts his grip, the thumb of the right hand can be used. (Doug Larson photo)

Gun fights can be extremely messy. You may get wet with water, find yourself fighting in the mud or wounded and covered in blood. Water, mud, or blood can make the slide release so slippery that you may not be able to activate it. And, of course, the gun must have a slide release for this method to work. Some don’t. The Walther PPK is an example.

Not all semi-automatic handguns have an external slide catch or release. The slide on this Walther PPK locks to the rear after the last round in the magazine is fired, but there is no external catch. So, to close the slide, the slide must be pulled to the rear and released. (Doug Larson photo)

Another argument often made against using the Slide Release method is that the recoil spring is not fully compressed when the slide starts its forward movement. But the Sling Shot or Thumb To The Rear method where the slide is pulled to the rear and then released, compresses the recoil spring slightly more thus providing full force to the forward motion of the slide. This supposedly helps to efficiently strip a round from the magazine and drive it into the chamber. But you should decide if the extra force from that small fraction of an inch is important to you, and then test the method on the gun you use.

Some will tell you that it is not a good idea to use the Slide Release method because doing so causes undue friction between the slide and the release which could cause the slide notch where the release catches the slide to become rounded to the point that the slide will not lock to the rear. I suppose it is possible, but I’ve never seen it.

If the slide catch is located only on the left side of the gun, but the shooter holds the gun in his left hand, the middle finger of the right hand can be used to pull the slide catch down (arrow). Just reach underneath the gun. (Doug Larson photo)

Some slide releases are built to be easier to disengage. One example is the aftermarket Bullet Forward Slide Release. If you use the Slide Release technique, it might pay to shop around to find a more suitable slide release to fit your gun.

THUMB TO THE REAR

A distinct negative to this technique, at least for the tester in the Gunsandtactics video mentioned above, is that it is the slowest of the three techniques. On the other hand, it is usually easier to use for people with a weak grip or reduced upper body strength. While it may not work for everyone, often a person who cannot grasp the slide with enough strength to rack it from the closed position using the Sling Shot method can rack the slide with the Thumb To The Rear method.

Another method of closing the slide is to grab the slide at the rear with the offhand, pull it back and then let it go. This Thumb To the Rear method generally provides a better grip on the slide and is also a good method to use for cycling the slide from the closed position. Care must be taken, as with all methods, to keep the hand clear of the ejection port. (Doug Larson photo)

For one thing, grasping the top rear of the slide just behind the ejection port with the thumb to the rear and squeezing the slide between the meaty part of the hand just below the thumb and all four fingers provides better contact with the slide. And a person can usually squeeze the slide harder using this technique.

A useful tip when using the Thumb To The Rear method, especially if racking the slide, is to forcefully push the gun forward with the hand on the grip while at the same time jerking the slide to the rear. The slide is then literally ripped out of the hand grasping it. This technique often helps a weaker person rack the slide.

As with the V variation of the Sling Shot method described above, do not get your hand over the ejection port. And bear in mind that the slide must be large enough to get a good grip. Some aren’t and, in that is the case, the only alternatives are the Sling Shot or Slide Release method.

If a gun is small, there may not be much room to grasp the slide. In that case, the Sling Shot method may be the best alternative, especially if the slide catch is very small like the one on this Ruger LCP. (Doug Larson photo)

Also keep in mind that if Thumb To The Rear method is used for closing as well as racking the slide and the shooter is right-handed, it is much easier to roll the gun to the right so that gravity helps pull a loose round or debris out of the action. Rolling the gun to the right with the other methods is either impossible or awkward for a right-handed person. The only exception to this is a gun that has the ejection port opening on the left side, like the old Walther P5.

THE TAKEAWAY

Each individual shooter should consider what technique is best for themselves. Don’t adopt a technique just because the best shooter in your club uses it and looks cool doing it. Instead, try each method before deciding which one to use.

If you are taking a class – getting good professional instruction from a world-class school like Gunsite or a champion like Rob Leatham is highly recommended – and just one technique is taught, use that technique during the class. Do your best to develop skill with it and then compare it to other techniques. Weigh the pros and cons of each, and then decide which one is best for you.

And here is a general caution – if using an over the top method, like Sling Shot or Thumb To The Rear, and the gun has a slide mounted safety, be careful to check the safety to make sure it was not accidentally engaged when racking the slide. Get good instruction and learn how to manipulate the safety, or get another gun.

If the gun has a safety mounted on the slide, like this Beretta Model 92, be careful that the safety is not accidentally engaged when using the Sling Shot or Thumb To the Rear method. (Doug Larson photo)

Remember, the mission is the primary consideration in deciding what equipment and what techniques to use. What is best for one situation, may not be the best for all situations.

And know what it is that you are trying to accomplish. Is it to win a competition? Is it to defend yourself? Both are legitimate. If your goal is self-defense, consider that what you practice and do most in training, is what you are most likely to do in a real life stressful gunfight. So, you might want to select one method and use it all the time. This reduces the chance that you will be confused about what technique to use in a gunfight.

If your goal is to win matches, then drive on. However, consider that what might cut times and be the best technique for winning a match, may not be the best choice for a real world gunfight. And remember, even if winning matches is not your primary goal, you can still use competition to hone the skills you might need in a gunfight. You may not win the match, but you can compete against yourself and try to improve each time you compete.

Above all, get competent training. There is no substitute for learning from a good instructor who can see and correct errors on the spot.

SIDEBAR

THE WHAT & THE WHY

I’ve been writing for quite a while now and am getting along in years. When I first got into this business, I realized there was an awful lot I did not know but thought I knew. I was the typical American male who thinks he is born knowing all about guns and how to use them. But I soon realized that I didn’t know much, so I decided to fix that and searched for the best firearms schools.

I’ve taken hundreds of hours of instruction from some of the best gun fighting schools and instructors in the world. These instructors and schools teach tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) to elite law enforcement and top tier military personnel, and many of those students have successfully applied those TTPs in real life gun fights.

The things I pass along here are not things I made up. They are TTP and knowledge developed over the years by people who have learned from doing. Those instructors have analyzed what works and what doesn’t work in the real world and then developed and refined TTPs to keep people alive.

Some of the things that will appear in this series, The What & The Why, will be about guns in general while other things will be about those TTPs. I hope you enjoy reading these articles and that they stimulate your thinking and desire to get instruction.

And remember, there is no substitute for good training from competent instructors. Search for the best, sign up, and pay the money to improve yourself. You can learn facts from reading or watching a video, but you can’t learn to perform TTPs under stress. So don’t think reading these articles can substitute for quality instruction.

Good luck.

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About the author: Doug Larson is a former Contributing and Field Editor for Guns & Ammo magazine, Doug Larson’s articles have appeared in many top firearm publications. He has completed hundreds of hours of firearm and self-defense training provided by some of the finest world class gun fighting instructors and schools. He has experience with handguns, rifles, shotguns, submachine guns, machine guns and other crew served weapons. He reports on the tactics, techniques and procedures developed by real life gunfighters and taught at the best martial arts schools. This information is passed on to the reader to stimulate thought and a desire to get the best training possible.

{ 20 comments… add one }
  • techs August 22, 2020, 11:20 pm

    Good overview. I find that a mix of methods works well for me with 1911 variants and double-stack M&Ps:
    • release the slide using the lock lever with my weak-hand thumb — after it is done placing the magazine and on its way to reform a firing grip. Speed and certainty.
    • slingshot to clear the pistol and to work malfunctions — hang on with the weak hand, and punch forward with the strong hand. Even if I roll the gun it remains on line for safety or reengagement, and it’s quick to reassemble a firing grip if necessary.
    • thumb-to-rear pinch between fingers and thumb to lock the slide back, basically administrative activity — and only because it engages my chest & shoulder muscles when I need to roll my strong hand out of a grip position to engage the lock.

    I find more strength and control with my thumb print than trying to pinch with the base of my thumb, at least until arthritis in my thumb is too painful. Making this a strong grip compared to other options requires me to move stance or gun off line, compromising time, safety, or both. Either way, my guns rip skin with all thumb-to-rear grips in fast or forceful manipulation — I could stand that in a survival fight, but I won’t practice or compete that way so why bother when there are better options.

    I don’t see a flaw in different grips for different purposes as long as your practice is consistent enough that your subconscious knows what you are up to at all times.

  • J V August 14, 2020, 1:16 pm

    Unless the Manufacturer recommends a method based on the mechanics of their design (example: Kahr recommends using the slide release due in part to the design and angle of their feed ramp and robust recoil springs) the Thumb to the Rear method is generally best (basically a Sling Shot method with a more reliable grip / grasp of the slide, especially is rain / sweat / blood may degrade your grasp).

    Reasons: it most closely approximates the mechanics of the device reloading itself after a fired round, and is used for the most common Malfunction / Failure Drills.

  • Jeffrey Hunt August 12, 2020, 5:39 am

    Nice article! I own quite a few Kahr pistols and they recommend using the slide release exclusively. Their recoil springs are very strong and this method works well for these pistols. As a backup I have practiced the over-the-slide rear thumb release. With practice and a very sharp pull I have no problems racking the slide on any of my Kahr firearms.

  • Roy Sleeper August 11, 2020, 9:50 pm

    I have a Ruger Security 9 , the slide release would not release the slide with my thumb?
    So I called Ruger and they said that I had to rack it back to release the slide.
    It’s the only auto Handgun I own with a slide release that I can’t release the slide with my thumb?
    I have since sold the gun and bought a Sig!

  • Brock Auten August 11, 2020, 3:33 pm

    Great Article! Learning all the ways is important. Like you said there could be a situation that you are forced to use a different technique.

  • RAYMOND BUCHHOLZ August 10, 2020, 7:25 pm

    THANKS FOR A GREAT AND WELL WRITTEN ARTICLE—

    REALLY REFRESHING FOR A CHANGE TO HEAR SOME COMMON SENSE REASONS APPLIED TO FIREARMS TRAINING—

    KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK………………….

  • Will Drider August 10, 2020, 6:03 pm

    While the amount of slide/slide lock contact area wear with routine use, would be extremely minor; it still occurs but normally never gets to the point needing repair. Some of you have probably encountered pistols that will release the slide when mags are slammed hard into the frame. Hmmm…

    The bigger problem with using the slide lock as a slide release is operation under situational stress. One hand is feeding the mag as the other is “waiting/preping/indexing/putting tactile pressure on the Lever and the need for speed when miliseconds could mean the difference between life and death.

    We train to flow smoothly and quickly transitioning from step to step. If you execute slide lock release early and out of sequence you will end up dropping the hammer on a empty chamber when you expect a bang! We “receive” tactile cues as we flow through procedures but we can also outrun ourselves.

  • John Criswell August 10, 2020, 5:35 pm

    Prominently displayed in all Glock literature (and taught to us in Armorer school) NEVER slam the slide closed.. For those who cannot understand long sentences. That would seem to end the “disagreement”
    DO NOT slam shut the slide on any Glock.

    • LMFAO August 12, 2020, 4:37 pm

      Who magically slides in and shuts it’s softly after every round you fire.lol

  • MGySgt August 10, 2020, 2:33 pm

    As a lefty with the 1911, it is much quicker to use my index finger on my left hand to hit the magazine Release and slide Release. No shifting of my hand to reach both controls

    • Minute-man August 10, 2020, 7:36 pm

      I fully agree MGySgt…. As a lefty myself, it sure seems ‘natural’ to me. I installed a Wilson Combat extended’ slide release on my S-A Lightweight Operator to ‘ease the push’ a wee bit,.. making it even easier to accomplish. I think it may be the fastest slide release of all, -in as much as my shooting hand never leaves the grip and the trigger finger is never further than maybe a 1/2″ from the trigger wqhile inserting a fresh magazine. I use my center ‘long’ finger to operate the left protruding mag release to make that happen fast as well. So simple -and ‘natural’ to me. After all; its right under that finger on my left hand. What’s not to like ?

      • Tony McSwain August 14, 2020, 11:44 am

        I am with you. In left hand I use the index finger but have the extended release to release with my right thumb. Never been a huge fn of ambi slide release as they never seem to work the way I want them, too flimsy. My Combat elite has a ambi mag release as well and i release with index finger on it. Found it to be more comfortable and less deistracting. I have the reales for two other 1911 .45’s but not installed yet. They are relatively expensive and requires a good gunsmith with good equipment and prefereably somone who ahs done the work before.

  • IPDAILY August 10, 2020, 9:53 am

    Who cares how you rack the slide as long as it chambers a round properly. I don’t care if you can do it with one hand tied behind your back. As long as it goes bang when you squeeze the trigger that is all that matters.

  • TOM BROLLINI August 10, 2020, 9:53 am

    Like the man says; what ever works for you!

  • Anthony B August 10, 2020, 9:08 am

    There is no slide release, it is a slide stop. It will cause wear to your slide engagement notch if repetitively done over a period time.

  • Big Al 45 August 10, 2020, 9:02 am

    There are more “experts” in firearms than in any other endeavor, so I make my own decisions.
    OOH, does that make ME an expert?

  • Bob V August 10, 2020, 8:13 am

    Good article. I guess I’ve used all three without realizing it. Really depends on the particular pistol and grip strength of the person. I may eventually switch to a revolver as age and arthritis catch up with me!

  • Sgt. Pop August 10, 2020, 8:09 am

    Doug, you have covered this about as well as it can be covered. In the end, see what works best for you! I have worked with people that had trouble “racking” or “depressing” a slide release on any that they tried due mostly to strength, usually to arthritis of some degree. Hence to a revolver we go. Also have a friend that is missing the two middle fingers of the “racking” hand, therefore he has to use the “pinch” method…..Thanks for such for such a good one……

  • Mark N. August 9, 2020, 7:24 pm

    I cannot telly you how many times I have heard “Don’t use the slide stop. It is a stop, not a release. You’ll destroy your slide.” I’ve heard it on line and in gun stores. I even heard if from someone showing a Kahr, in which the only method that works is the slide release, and which method is specifically called for in the owner’s manual.

    • LMFAO August 10, 2020, 8:46 am

      I’ve heard some people argue about this to.lol It doesn’t matter how you close it long as it gets closed.

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