“But I can’t rack the slide,” or its close relative “I can’t lock the slide back” are two remarks I often hear from new shooters, especially women, though there are a handful of men who’ve uttered the second comment as well. It’s not that these new shooters can’t. For most, it’s that they don’t know a couple simple techniques for slide manipulation that work on thousands of handguns. What’s equally important is, these techniques can contribute to the awareness, speed, and performance under pressure to win or escape from criminal violence.
Still, there are a few who insist that their own slide needs to be easier to rack. While a sample size of thousands of students, male and female, have proven to me that determination, not strength, is much more important for success in shooting and in many ways, in survival, there is a time to look for tools that make the job easier, especially where frequent or long practice sessions are concerned.
The lesson I’ve laid out here include the same skills students build in some of my live classes, so they can leave the range confident in their ability to handle the slide.
I also provide an overview of some assistive devices for slide manipulation, along with some honest commentary. Then we’ll take a look at three carry-friendly handguns I’ve personally used and can attest to having an easy-racking slide as well as otherwise being reliable and useful.
Why is slide manipulation such a big deal? Responsible gun ownership and handling means being able to check the load condition of the handgun, load it, unload it, and clear any malfunctions.
These four functions involve slide manipulation, with the possible exception of checking load condition, which can be done to a fair degree of certainty if the gun is equipped with a loaded chamber indicator, but we aware, some indicators require light to view into the chamber, so they aren’t totally reliable in all conditions.
Just about any person, females included, can effectively aim and fire a handgun with sufficient accuracy to be effective in the close ranges in which typical self defense situations usually play out—scenarios like an armed robbery, carjacking, or home invasion. But the difference between being able to shoot the gun versus handle the gun is what stacks the odds in your favor.
Survival value aside, competence in gun handling makes for a safer world for gun owners and bystanders. And there’s no denying that operating all aspects of one’s own firearm with skill just feels good!
At least half of my students are women. Often, they or a loved one seek me out for instruction because I’m a woman—and no small number seem to think I’ll somehow understand that they “can’t” manipulate a slide. It’s a joy to see them stand a little taller when, instead, when they prove to themselves that they could do it all along, with the right method.
Put yourself in the right place in space.
In a well-intentioned effort to be safe, many shooters put the gun at arm’s length when they aren’t shooting, so that they’re bent over and the gun’s muzzle faces the ground.
While that may be “safe” in terms of muzzle discipline, it has two major flaws.
First, this position makes it really easy for you to fall over, or more importantly, to be knocked down.
Second, it limits your field of focus and may prevent you from seeing additional threats.
Say in a mugging situation you address the perceived threat, the mugger, with your drawn handgun. The mugger runs off and you lower your gun. Now you’re in this stooped-over, ground-focused position, making it very easy for the other mugger you didn’t notice off to the side to knock you down and finish robbing you.
Stand UP and don’t be afraid to bend those elbows!
Remember, in practicing to defend yourself, you should maintain both your peripheral vision and the capability to escape.
Put the Gun in the Right Place in Space
With upper arms against your body, bend your elbows and bring the gun into an approximate 12-inch imaginary box in front of your face. Bringing your arms closer to your body exploits the natural strength of your core. You’re going to find out that arm and hand strength aren’t necessary to rack a slide.
Grab The Slide in a Way That Works Every Time
With the firearm facing downrange and in a correct firing grip, grab the slide with your palm facing the ground. You’ll grip it behind the ejection port, which needs to stay clear for several reasons, not the least of which being you can get a nasty pinch if you make a mistake grabbing it in the middle, or a much worse injury if you grab the front of the slide and don’t have finger discipline. There is no chance of injury grabbing it behind the ejection port!
Push The Gun Through Your Slide-Grabbing Hand
Rotate the dominant (primary gun hand) side of your torso forward with some force, holding the firearm with the barrel parallel to your forearm and still pointing downrange. Push the gun forward as if it were a runaway train going down the track. This, combined with Step 3, will have the effect of that runaway train hitting a tunnel (your other hand) that’s too low. The result—racking the slide.
Work Smarter, Not Harder
When your “grab” hand feels the slide reach full extension, keep pushing the “train” forward and just let go! Unless there’s an empty magazine in the gun, the slide will snap solidly into place.
This is actually where most people mess up, and it’s because they’re working too hard. The slide doesn’t need your help to go back to its normal position. In fact, you can cause a malfunction by following it home with your “grab” hand. The slide does its job best when it’s allowed to slam into place.
It may feel like you’re being rough, especially if your gun is new or borrowed. You’re not. If “babying” the slide is causing problems with loading, you might even try to hit your own gun-side shoulder with your “grab” hand as the imaginary train exits the tunnel of your hand.
Be assertive and perhaps pretend you’re angry if you tend to handle the slide too gently, until you get the hang of it. It usually only takes 5-7 correct reps for most shooters to master this.
Right, Wrong, or Indifferent: Do What Works
Lots of people have other ways to use their hands on the slide. Many men grab it between a thumb and forefinger, rack it, and never think twice. As long as the technique is safe, there’s nothing wrong with it.
The method described here, however, will almost always work, especially if a shooter is fatigued or under severe stress, whereas methods that employ fine motor skills may not work in those situations. If you try this method, you’ll see there’s virtually no pulling on the slide with your support-side hand—and therefore very little arm and finger strength required.
There are primarily two products on the market to aid in slide use, the Handi-Racker and Slide Pull charging handle. For folks whose physical challenges prevent them from using the technique described above, one of these might be the ticket.
The Handi-Racker is the shape of a deck of playing cards with a groove cut down the middle. It’s also approximately card-deck size in the rendition that’s made for compact handguns. The Handi-Racker for full-size guns has about the same thickness, but a larger horizontal footprint.
Using a Handi-Racker entails sliding the device onto the muzzle end of the slide, then pressing the same end into a table or other hard, flat surface. With bodyweight pushing on the recoil spring, the Handi-Racker offers a lot of leverage. It makes it quite easy to rack the slide or do other tasks like lock it rearward or manage disassembly buttons or levers.
The downsides to the Handi-Racker are that it’s a veritable invitation to violate the safe muzzle rule for inexperienced or sloppy handlers. It should be installed from above, not by flagging one’s own limb. It’s also a little bulky. It’s perfectly suitable for methodical practice, but carrying it and using it in a fast-paced course, match, or gunfight isn’t a realistic proposition.
The Handi-Racker is available via online order for $27.49 including shipping.
Want something a little more carry-friendly? The Slide Pull, made by Brass Stacker, is more compact and stays with the pistol—no carrying a separate device.
This ring-shaped gadget has two prongs that attach using screws, without modifications, to Glocks or Springfield XDs. It attaches at the rear of the slide, and thus the pistol can still be holstered.
Slide Pull use is simple and intuitive. Slide a digit through the pull ring, and pull. Though strength is required, people with certain injuries or conditions may find it the only way to comfortably rack the slide.
Brass Stackers sells the Slide Pull for $53 plus shipping.
HK VP9 “Ears”
At least one handgun, the HK VP series, has slide features purported to assist with racking. For VP models, polymer inserts included with purchase can be slid into machined channels on either side of the slide toward the rear.
These “ears,” as they’re often called, provide a grip only about the size of two pencil leads bundled together. In this shooter’s estimation, this feature offers little benefit.
Three Easy-Racking Handguns
There’s something to be said for starting with equipment that’s easy in the first place. Here are three handguns I have personally tested and found to be dependable, of great quality, and small enough for some to carry concealed. In no particular order, they are:
For those who love a 1911 but whose hands suffer from .45 ACP recoil, meet your new best friend. The Black Label Medallion Pro has the most dressed-up finish of Browning’s 1911-380 series, and is the one I have tested, but any in this product line should be great little pistols.
With the exception of having a magazine disconnect, operation of the 1911-380 is the same as a standard 1911, but easier. Its overall footprint is 85 percent of a standard, full-size 1911. It’s made of 7075 aluminum and has a composite trigger guard, making it a very light 16 ounces unloaded. It has adjustable tritium sights in the rear and front. Capacity is 8+1. In case the name doesn’t make it obvious, it shoots .380 ACP. It’s the only pistol on this list without a rail.
Well-defined cocking serrations and a very light spring make this pistol very easy to rack. For close- to medium-range shooting, this is also perhaps the most accurate of the three presented here. Browning also offers a handful of finish packages to present either an understated or eye-catching, but always classy appearance. MSRP: $799.99.
Walter PPQ SC
The whole PPQ series, which includes compact and full-size pistols, have lightweight recoil springs and mechanics that favor the racking-challenged. The SC, or subcompact model is the most packable and comparable to the others in the three guns featured here. It’s the only one with modular grip options.
This 9mm pistol can be ordered with various sight options. The three-dot tritiums I tested are highly visible in all conditions and quite satisfactory. With a 3.5-inch barrel and 4.4 inches tall, it has the smallest overall footprint of the guns mentioned here, but at 1.3 inches wide, it’s quite chunky. It comes with two 10- and one 15-round magazine.
At 21 ounces, the PPQ SC is on the light side compared to other 9mm subcompacts. In addition to being easy to rack, this is one of the few all-ambi, all the time handguns around. An intelligently molded grip helps prevent unintended magazine releases from the outside. MSRP: expect prices in the high $600 range.
Smith & Wesson M&P .380 Shield EZ
This compact .380 may bear the Shield name, but it’s far from being a clone of its larger-caliber counterparts. Slide manipulation and managing the slide lock and mag release are substantially easier on the .380, for starters. It has a large grip safety on the backstrap, large enough to avoid the failures to fire than can occur with hollow hands or a weak grip on some grip safeties.
The biggest difference between the .380 Shield and others by the same name is function. It’s an internal hammer-fired gun, not a striker model. It’s highly controllable and easy to shoot. The larger profile of the EZ makes it more challenging to conceal. It has a 3.7-inch barrel and weighs 18.5 ounces. The magazine release is reversible.
A local male student carries this pistol in a belly band on his daily runs and says it’s comfortable for him. While I don’t own one, I’ve seen it cycle with total reliability on two occasions, with a mixture of hollow point an FMJ ammunition. MSRP: $399.99.
Takeaway: Equipment + Attitude = Performance
The determination to rack a slide correctly, combined with good technique, can overcome most difficulties. But having a device to help with racking can reduce fatigue and allow for longer range sessions. The downside of such devices is the additional time and bulk associated with their use, especially in a concealed carry situation. Some shooters may opt for a gun that’s designed for easy racking, like one of the three mentioned here, to make the whole works easier.
A best-case scenario is that a new shooter learns an effective technique and is invited to try the three options mentioned here, to make an informed decision about which equipment (s)he feels most confident using.
Information presented here assumes anyone following the instruction provided understands that:
1. Every gun is considered loaded. 2. The muzzle of an unholstered firearm must never be pointed, intentionally or unintentionally, at anything the user is not willing to destroy. 3. No finger goes on the trigger or even touches the trigger guard until the sights are on target and the handler has decided to fire. _4. It is the gun handler’s responsibility to visually confirm the target as well as the backdrop and surrounding area before firing. _
Range365 and the author bear no responsibility for negligent, unintended, or accidental discharges of any firearm handled by our readers. If you understand and are willing to follow the safety rules above, please read on.