Many people think they are not strong enough to lock the slide back. Many others tell people who struggle with locking the slide back that it is a strength issue. While strength can help you lock the slide back, it is not the base component; the proper technique is. It also helps to hold the gun in the proper location and position in relation to your body.
In this article, we will discuss the most efficient way to lock the slide back in a personal defense context. But keep in mind that it works just as well for those who are sport shooters (IDPA, USPSA, IPSC, GSSF) or target shooters.
REASONS FOR LOCKING THE SLIDE BACK
First let’s cover the traditional method that is taught for locking the slide to the rear on the pistol. For the purposes of this article, we are not going to cover why you are locking the slide back, but we will concede it is for one of the following reasons:
- During a malfunction clearance and you are at the point where a tap rack has not worked, a reload has not worked, and you need to rip/lock or remove the magazine.
- You are clearing the gun at the end of a training session or for other administrative reasons and need to lock it open to inspect the chamber to make sure it is empty. This can include:
- You are going to dry fire and once you have defined an area where it is safe to do so, you want to make sure the handgun is clear before starting your dry-fire session.
o Before storing the gun and/or making it inaccessible to unauthorized persons.
o Casing the gun for transportation reasons, e.g., leaving the range and heading home.
o You have a gun whose trigger needs to be pulled to do a basic field strip to clean it. Before you pull the trigger, check and make sure it is empty and clear of objects or ammunition. Also make sure it is pointed in a safe direction.
The traditional method of locking the slide back or at least the way it is often taught is where the issues begin. Most of the time the instructor has you bring the gun back close to your body, if it isn’t already, then instructs you to grip the top of the slide with your support hand and pull the slide all the way to the rear and then push up with your strong-hand thumb on the slide-stop button. After that, they tell you to release or ride the slide forward with the support hand until the slide locks to the rear.
There are numerous issues with this approach. Those 200 students who have come to our courses with this method in mind have submitted that they will not, or cannot, lock the slide back. Unfortunately many instructors, or significant others, after seeing a student struggle, take the handgun and lock it to the rear for them. This does not help because now the student does not have the opportunity to build or develop the required skill. Let’s quickly cover the issues with this approach:
- It is not consistent with how we should be teaching, or as practitioners, interacting with the gun when we think about consistency, i.e., loading, unloading, and clearing malfunctions.
- This method does require more strength and muscle endurance because we have to hold the slide to the rear or at least back far enough that we can find and then activate the slide stop so it locks the slide to the rear.
- When loading, unloading, and clearing malfunctions, we should not be racking the slide to the rear and maintaining the grip on the slide once it stops (riding the slide). We should be pulling/racking the slide to the rear and, once the slide stops moving to the rear, we should let go and let the recoil spring do its job.
What is the correct way to lock the slide to the rear? Let’s briefly recap the grip and the location in which we should be working on the gun, and then we will give a step-by-step approach to locking the slide to the rear.
- The web of the shooting hand should be as high as it can be on the back strap of the gun without interfering with the operation of the handgun (i.e., slide reciprocating to the rear).
- The trigger finger should be straight and along the frame of the handgun, not on or in the trigger guard and not on the slide.
- The middle-finger knuckle should have contact with the bottom of the trigger guard and all other strong-hand fingers should be wrapped around the grip with no space between the fingers. (In other words, you shouldn’t have your fingers splayed.)
- The bore line/slide line should be in line with the forearm.
- The strong-side thumb should be straight and tight along the frame of the gun, again as high as it can be without putting pressure on the slide. It should be high on the frame and on the opposite side of the gun as the trigger finger.
**Since this article is focusing on locking the slide, we are only covering the strong-hand grip, since the support hand will not be on the gun. (For a full two-handed grip, you can read other articles or watch videos here on Personal Defense Network to learn or acquire those techniques and skills.)
HIGH COMPRESSED READY POSITION
In my opinion, this is where you should be working on the gun. What does working on the gun mean? It means loading, unloading, and/or clearing malfunctions. It is also a default position you should be in when out of the holster but not shooting, and while scanning or processing information in your environment.
- In front of the chest
- Above the area that the gun would come up and out of the holster during a presentation
- Close to the chest
- Elbows in close to the body for strength and retention reasons
- Gun is parallel to the line of sight
CORRECT METHOD OF LOCKING THE SLIDE TO THE REAR
Now that we have recapped the grip and high compressed ready position, let’s dive into the correct method of locking the slide to the rear.
First, the gun should be in the high compressed ready position. Next, take the thumb on your strong hand and locate the slide stop on your firearm. Once you have located it, push up on the slide-stop lever until it cannot go any farther up. Remember, your gun should be parallel with the ground you are standing on. Now that you have upward pressure on the slide-stop lever, you can take your support hand up and over the slide, behind the ejection port and grip onto the slide. Most pistols have serrations here for you to grip onto.
Now push with your strong hand forward away from your body while simultaneously pulling or racking the slide to the rear with your support hand. Once you feel the slide stop, let go of the slide. If you still have upward pressure on the slide-stop lever when the slide is released and it moves forward, it will lock to the rear on its own without further interaction. If you think about what happens when you shoot the last round out of a semi-auto pistol, the slide automatically locks to the rear. The difference here is that you are pushing up on the slide stop rather than the magazine follower. Again there is no need to ride the slide forward until it catches. When done properly, it will lock to the rear just by having that upward pressure on the slide stop. Obviously you have to pull the slide far enough back so the slide stop can be engaged in the slide indentation, and also have the slide stop pushed upward all the way to the top so it is making contact with the slide so it will fall into that indentation.
LEFT HANDERS WITH A RIGHT-HANDED GUN
If you are left handed and using a gun with a slide stop on the left side of the gun or a gun made for right handers, the only difference in the above steps is that you want to use your trigger finger to activate the slide stop by keeping it straight and along the frame and dragging it up until the slide stop moves all the way to its highest position.
WHY IS THIS THE BETTER AND EASIER OPTION?
For one, you don’t have to sit there holding the slide back to the rear while you find the slide-stop button, which can be difficult for those with less hand strength. It is consistent with loading the pistol because you are pulling the slide back and letting it go, which, by the way, is also how you should be unloading the pistol.
By using these steps and with practice, we hope you can now more reliably and efficiently lock the slide back on your semi-automatic handgun. If you are still having issues, seek out professional instruction and/or comment below for more feedback and discussion.
Common issues for those who still struggle with the above steps include: having a handgun that does not fit them (i.e., they cannot manipulate the buttons and levers on their handguns without breaking or manipulating their grip, which is not desirable in a personal defense handgun), and not having enough dexterity in their fingers to activate levers like the slide stop. With continual and proper practice, you will build dexterity and also strength, which will aid in mastering skills like locking the slide to the rear with ease.
To date, out of the more than 200 students who have come to our training courses and struggled with locking the slide back due to incorrect techniques, all of them have been able to lock the slide back when using this method. For those teaching friends and family, remember, it’s not about strength, it’s about the technique. Be patient and give them clear and concise instructions. Don’t take the gun from them and do it for them. Let them learn and develop the skills necessary to handle the handgun with confidence and competence.
By Evan Carson