Slide release or rack the slide?

28-Feb-08 – 07:36 by ToddG

A perennial question that is so appropriate for Learn To Reload Month here at pistol-training.com:

When performing a slidelock reload, do you use the slide release lever or do you pull the slide back and release it?

Short answer: Both ways work.

Long answer:

The main benefit of using the slide release lever is that it is substantially faster. In a fight, if your gun is empty and you need to reload that means you’ve already fired a number of shots and it wasn’t enough. So it goes without saying, time is of the essence. Faster is good.

The main benefit of racking the slide is that it’s nearly universal. Whether you’re right-handed or left-handed, whether you’re using a 1911 or Glock or Kel-Tec, pulling the slide back and releasing it is going to work.

You will often hear that racking the slide is also “more reliable” under stress. This is a myth. As soon as you hear someone starting to talk about gross motor skills and fine motor skills, you are officially justified in tuning out. Both racking the slide and hitting the slide release are fine motor skills.

Fine and gross motor skills are terms from child development and child psychology. They are pretty clearly defined.

A gross motor skill is one that uses only major muscle groups, like arms, legs, & trunk. Walking is a gross motor skill.

A fine motor skill is any movement that requires smaller or more precise muscles. Pointing, grabbing, even squeezing with your hands are all fine motor skills. Basically, anything that uses your fingers is a fine motor skill.

So:

  • Hitting slide release lever = fine motor skill
  • Overhand racking slide = fine motor skill
  • Slingshotting slide = fine motor skill
  • Banging head against wall after hearing this debate the 1,000th time = gross motor skill

Sources:

What it boils down to is this: if you have enough “motor control” under stress to press the trigger properly and press the mag release button properly, then you are equally capable of hitting the slide release lever if the lever is properly sized and located.

So the long answer is: If you can reach the slide release lever comfortably without a major shift in your grip, it is faster and less fumble-prone than racking the slide manually. If you cannot hit the lever reliably, then racking the slide is a better option.

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

  1. 24 Responses to “Slide release or rack the slide?”

  2. With my M&P 40, typically I can go to full battery by applying enough force on the magazine at reload. I’ve heard this is actually a design feature of the Glock. One instructor I had was concerned that my gun was mal-functioning, and after contacting Smith and Wesson they wanted to see my gun. The owners manual warns that this can happen.

    Personally, I like this feature, however I must emphasize that it’s not 100% with the M&P. If it goes to full battery, that’s great, but I am aware that a slide release of some flavor may be needed. For me that usually means racking the slide during a drill, but while standing flat foot at the range, I’ll flip the slide lock lever. I should probably choose and stick with a ‘standard-response’ to this.

    I hope that this may spark some discussion with other M&P owners….

    By joeb on Feb 28, 2008

  3. Joeb, you hit it on the head with this “I should probably choose and stick with a ’standard-response’ to this.” That is the most important thing about training. Find a way that works for you and practice it over and over.

    Of course, you should also be aware of other options and at least try them in case your way doesn’t work when it counts.

    By DanM on Feb 29, 2008

  4. There is still the issue of commonality of movement. I use the overhand slide rack for every magazine manipulation. I don’t use the slide release lever at all. Less things to think of.

    By Jani on Feb 29, 2008

  5. The overhand slide rack seems to work for me in a pressure situation. The group I shoot with stresses the ‘tap, rack, & bang’ method when it comes to clearing mis-feeds.

    As DanM mentions, plan b, as well as plan c are good things to have worked out in advance of the situation. Our club shoots revolve around problem solving in addition to defensive tactics. So if something goes wrong during an exercise or drill, you’ll get a ‘FIX IT!’ from the gallery…

    By joeb on Feb 29, 2008

  6. joeb — What you’re describing in your first comment is often called “auto-forward,” and it’s not designed into the gun (or any handgun). However, just about any handgun will do it if you insert the magazine hard enough at the right angle.

    The “commonality of movement” argument also falls flat in my experience. Just like the “gross vs. fine motor skill” thing, people take the idea of conditional branching too far. A malfunction clearance is a different task than a reload, and requires you to do different things. Believing that one common step is going to benefit because you do it the same way for both skills is simply untrue.

    Your ability to perform a malfunction clearance is going to depend on how often you practice, and under what conditions. The way you reload your pistol from slidelock has nothing to do with it.

    By ToddG on Feb 29, 2008

  7. My hope came true; an analytical discussion of various perspectives. This is exactly why I have pistol-training bookmarked.

    ToddG, I now see the very big difference between a clearance and reload, and that the two are exclusive. As you so often say…. Train Hard!

    By joeb on Feb 29, 2008

  8. After seeing this video I may try and work more using my slide release. My problem is I don’t have the strength in my fingers to press it so I normally slingshot. Maybe a trip to the smith to polish that release is in order.

    Good write up..

    By RandyH on Feb 29, 2008

  9. RandyH — I’ll repeat the last line of the article: If you cannot hit the lever reliably, then racking the slide is a better option. While you can certainly try to modify the gun to work the way you want, please don’t feel like the slingshot or overhand racking methods are somehow wrong. They’re not as fast, but they still work. Using the technique that works best for you is what matters most.

    By ToddG on Mar 1, 2008

  10. I love this “discussion” and have had it sooooooo many times with people who’ve watched one video, or attended one shooting course. I am sure Todd will remember the fateful day I made the post on Berettaforum, stating that my slide went forward EVERY time I inserted a mag with the slide locked back. I believe he then tsk tsked me in some way, and a few days later, at an IPSC match, I screwed up and went to slide lock. Bang! in goes the new mag, and the slide stays back, it just sat there. So I hit the mag again. Nothing. Hit it again, still nothing. I finally thought about it, analyzed the problem, and pressed down on the slide lock lever. somewhere around 5 or 6 seconds passed during this.
    Do not rely on your slide to go forward, make a point of training to use the lever OR the rack and go method. While it’s nice to have the slide go forward automatically, the one time you want it to, it won’t.
    With my new Tanfoglio Stock II, it never happens (hah now watch it will), unless I use Baby Eagle mags. the factory mags stop on the mag catch and don’t actually hit the bottom of the frame when inserted, which I surmise, is part of what helps get the slide to jump.

    By rob on Mar 3, 2008

  11. @Todd

    Understood that:) I doubt I will ever use a slide release. Sometimes its good to try another technique. This past week I confirmed that for me no matter what is done to the gun, the racking “easier”, may not be faster but easier.

    By RandyH on Mar 5, 2008

  12. Again, a well thought out topic for intelligent discussion. I see what I expected to see from the title, which is a variety of responses, most well reasoned and thought out. I even got more documentation supporting the “auto-forward” flawed mentality.

    Which also drives me to a point that I feel has been missed. Anytime you have to “think” about re-loading, whether it is slide release activation, sling shotting, or using the ill-advised auto-forward technique, you are spending too much time thinking. Manipulation of the weapon system should be without thought, it should be automatic….some might call it muscle memory.

    Shooting is an art. As Bruce Lee said “One must transcend the techniques so that the art becomes an art-less art, flowing out of the unconscious.”

    The only way to make this happen is to train, train, train, and train. When you get tired of that, or think you are too good to train on the basics, train some more………

    By Sean on Mar 6, 2008

  13. They train law enforcement to rack the slide, because if you flick the slide lock it can round out the metal edge, and your slide won’t lock back eventually, which can ruin your day.

    By Gun man on Jun 14, 2008

  14. Gun man — Some teach LE to rack the slide. Some teach them to hit the release. I teach people — LE or otherwise — to use the slide release if they can reach it properly, and to rack the slide if they cannot. If a pistol’s slide release notch wears or the release itself wears from normal use, that’s a defect … not a reason to use a sub-par technique.

    By ToddG on Jun 14, 2008

  15. I know about two Cops that shoot enough to ever wear out a slide stop. If all the shooting that’s done is the required quals every year, the slide stop or the slide stop notch will never wear out. Shoot 50,000 rounds a year, maybe you will, but few shooters, much less Cops, do that.

    By Haji on Aug 17, 2009

  16. Just a point of information as the methods apply to ME:

    -1- I was having trouble with the first JHP round of an 8-round magazine ‘nosediving’ when I used the …. “slide locked back, insert full mag, slightly move slide reward via rear slide serrations, fully release grip”.

    Slide would move forward approx. 3/8ths of an inch and the round would ‘nosedive’ — magazine after magazine.

    -2- Same situation as far as slide locked back and inserting full mag. DIFFERNECE was thumbing the “slide LOCK / RELEASE”. When I used the “LOCK / RELEASE”, the slide would vault forward, strip the top round WITHOUT NOSEDIVE and fully enter battery.

    I reperate this with 10 mags of various manufacture. I even switched ammo from Remington Golden Saber 185gr to Speer Gold Dot 185gr — and each time the round was stripped and chambered properly.

    -3- SLIDE FULLY FORWARD — GUN EMPTY — INSERT FULL MAG: Then grasp rear slide serraations, pull slide fully reward and let go of slide. Then the slide would move forward, strip the top round , NO NOSEDIVE and fully chamber / enter battery.

    CONFUSION:
    QUESTION “A”: WHY would the round strip when releasing the slide with the SLIDE RELEASE, but NOSEDIVE when manually pulling the slide reward and releasing??

    QUESTION “B”: WHY would the round strip, chamber and slide fully enter battery when the slide was fully foward when the full mag was inserted and the slide manually moved reward??

    It’s got me puzzled, but NOW any and all JHP’s fully function ….. strip top round, chamber, slide into battery. Why? I can’t figure it out!

    ANYONE??? It sure will be appreciated!

    Tom (Please forgive typos & spelling issues! I’m moving too fast!)

    By Tom Henderson on Jan 4, 2010

  17. First I will disclose that I am of the “rack the slide” school of thought. Discount any biases you may perceive me to have.

    The reason I rack the slide instead of hit the slide release lever is because in this method the slide will only close IF the magazine is loaded and fully inserted; whereas hitting the slide release lever will close the slide regardless of the magazine condition and you may be in for an unpleasant surprise.

    So, in my opinion, if you want to play it safe, rack the slide.

    By Mach K on Feb 3, 2010

  18. This past weekend another student demonstrated why I prefer the slide release. Someone with years of experience, when put under a little stress, was repeatedly failing to grasp the slide properly and thus failed to chamber a round during many of his reloads. The idea that racking the slide is “more reliable” just doesn’t hold up, in my experience.

    By ToddG on Feb 3, 2010

  19. I recently took an advanced pistol class. I’ve been shooting for +30 years, but wanted to update my skills and work on a pulling issue I’ve recently developed. The instructors went bananas when I used the “slide lock” and told the class it was abusive to the fire arm and would eventually cause a failure of the slide lock. I’ve seen the “rack vs release” arguments before, but never with the wear & tear position.

    I can sort of see the point, but it’s the release is so engrained in me that I would probably still use it under stress…besides, as others have said, it’s faster. And I’m an old fart. I need all the speed I can get.

    By Dewey on Mar 6, 2010

  20. Dewey — “Abusive to the firearm” is one of those made up excuses that instructors pull out of their butts to justify their insistence on a technique that is demonstrably slower. “Your way may be faster, but it causes nose hair cancer!”

    By ToddG on Mar 7, 2010

  21. Several worthy issues on this topic. The FMC vs GMC debate presented here is not conclusive because it makes the hidden assumption that all motor coordination actions fall into one or the other category *AND* that loss of FMC is an all-or-nothing event. Neither assumption is true.

    On the preference for one or the other it tends to depend on the breadth of the training time available. IFF you train exclusively on one kind of firearm finding the slide release becomes a non-issue. But if you train on many different firearms, then each time you reach for the lever you need tactile verification that you actually found it — that takes time. It also means that the release requires a bit more cognition than grabbing the slide.

    Now it is certainly possible to train enough to make every weapon familiar enough that you automatically find the release when you need it. But is that the best investment of your training time? For me it is not.

    The benefit of “universal” techniques like grabbing the slide instead of finding the lever does not have anything to do with (initial) training. It has everything to do with RE-training. Stipulated that the slide rack is slower than a well honed release. But it works everywhere. So I can learn one technique really well and thus make it lickety split, or I can learn many and decide under pressure which to apply, which might turn out to be slower than the brute force method! The choice appears to me to be a false one.

    On the issue of wearing out a slide release, I would be interested in a documented case of that kind of failure.

    Why should you believe anything I say? Because I carry a P7 for which the issue is moot. There is no slide release lever on a P7 because there is no need for one. You cannot fail to find the slide release mechanism on a P7. It finds your hand when you prepare to fire.

    I do shoot other firearms. My favorite alternative is an loosey-goosey 1911 that you can rack by slapping the top of the slide (or cheat by getting some contact with the rear sights). That offers a 4th variant. 5th if you count magazine ramming, which I’m not willing to do because the extra effort slows me down. I like minimal effort techniques that can be very highly polished. Mag ramming is not minimal effort.

    The worst alternative is found on the race guns that you can rack by shoving the frame forward. In reality these are toys, but some people consider them to be weapons, so they need to be included in the overall manual of arms. With such a mechanism it appears to me that it is best to leave the slide locked back until you have a target you want to perforate at which time you snap into your isoceles (teach your spell checker to spell please) stance and the slide will close on its own. The reason to leave the slide locked back is that any energetic activity, such as running, is likely to partially reciprocate the slide which may involve interesting conflicts between the chambered round and the on-deck round.

    Gristle for thought.

    By Lee Winter on Apr 16, 2010

  22. Lee — The blog doesn’t have a spell check function, your web browser does. The reason it was telling you “isoceles” was incorrectly spelled is because the word is actually spelled isosceles.

    By Tom on Apr 16, 2010

  23. Any thoughts on using the support side thumb to work the slide lock, similar to a carbine? I’ve got small hands, so I shift my grip to reach the slide lock on some pistols. Using my support thumb on the slide lock lets me return to my firing grip earlier, though it’s probably a little slower than using my firing thumb. I’ll try some back-to-back drills next range session to see if the time lost using support thumb is gained in firing grip acquisition or vice versa.

    BTW, anyone that thinks racking the slide is truly “universal” doesn’t shoot Berettas very much…

    BTW, great site, Todd. Look forward to training with you soon.

    By joechen on Apr 16, 2010

  24. I am a beginner, and have a Glock model 19. It is very hard for me to rack the slide AND have my thumb reach the lock button, without the gun going off course…any suggestions????

    By Linda Brinkman on Jun 29, 2010

  25. Linda — In terms of dropping the slide, you only need to do one or the other. If you’re having trouble locking the slide back (requiring you to pull the slide back and raise the slide release lever simultaneously), there are two approaches:

    Easiest way is to put an empty magazine in the gun and rack the slide; it should lock back automatically.

    Alternatively, position your hand on the slide in such a way that when you’ve got the slide pulled back, the thumb of the hand grasping the slide can reach down and “pull” the slide release lever up into a locked position.

    By ToddG on Jun 29, 2010

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