Rack [rak] verb
Rack_the_slide1. to torture; distress acutely; torment: (His body was racked with pain.)
2. to strain by physical force or violence.
3. to strain beyond what is normal or usual.
In the shooting realm, rack has a different meaning (although the classic definitions of torture, strain and torment still apply for some people). For shooters, rak simply means to cycle the slide of a semi-auto handgun manually. Sounds simple doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, racking the slide is a source of pain, angst and frustration for many new shooters. Far too often, it causes people to make buying decisions that compromise what the really wanted for a model with an easier slide racking motion.
What if I were to tell you that anyone can easily rack most any slide using the right technique? Alright, that’s a pretty bold statement, and I realize there will always be some exceptions. Heck, right now I’m battling a shoulder injury that has me reduced to a whimpering puddle of whine and complain. But for the vast majority of folks, technique, body mechanics and simple physics make all the difference when it comes to successful racking.
First, let’s clarify racking, so we’re all on the same page. Racking the slide refers to the procedure of smartly (that’s a power word, isn’t it?) pulling the slide back in order to eject an empty cartridge case (if present) from the chamber. The passive part of racking refers to releasing the slide, allowing it to sling back into position, picking up and loading a new cartridge on the way. As you can tell by the description, racking applies to semi-automatic pistols, not revolvers.
If you use a semi-automatic pistol, effortless racking is a critical skill. Sure, it’s required to load the first round in the chamber. Just as importantly, it’s used to empty the gun after the magazine is removed. Racking is often required to clear a malfunction, and if you compete, it’s how you show the range safety officer that your gun is clear after completing a stage.
So why does racking the slide give so many people grief?
I think it’s a result of the curse of opposable thumbs.
Since we have them (opposable thumbs), we want to use them and pinch things between our opposable thumb and index finger – like babies noses, hors d’oeuvres and pennies. Unfortunately, we also want to pinch things like the back of pistol slides to draw them away from the frame. It’s only natural.
Here’s the problem. Thumb and index finger muscles are tiny and weak, at least compared to other muscles in the body.
Keeping that in mind, let’s walk through a simple way to use bigger muscles, the mass of your body and motion to rack even the most difficult slide. After all, we’re much stronger than recoil springs, so it’s just a matter of technique.
First, take a firing grip with your strong hand, making sure that your finger is off the trigger.
Bring it close to your body as shown in the photo. Make sure that the gun is pointed safely downrange throughout this whole procedure. The motions we’re going to do feel natural when the gun is pointed to the support hand side, so blade your body away from your backstop so that the gun points safely downrange.
Next, flatten your support hand and turn it so your palm is facing the ground. I know, this sounds a little weird, just stick with me. While it may seem like we’re embarking on a technique to use the power of the Force, we’re not.
OK, I’m exagerating a bit to show how to grasp the slide with your whole hand, not just a pinch.
Move your whole flat support hand over the back half of the slide of your gun.
Close it so that your palm is on one side of the slide and fingers on the other. Now you’re grasping that slide with large hand and arm muscles instead of thumb and finger mini-muscles. Squeeze! Imagine you’re squeezing water out of a sponge without using your thumb.
I’m using my whole hand to get a good grip on the slide.
Keeping your support arm in the same place, right up against your body, push the bottom half (frame) of the gun forward like you’re going to jab the target with the muzzle. The most important part of this motion is to make sure that the gun remains close to your body until you start to push the frame forward.
It seems that it’s a natural tendency for people to hold the gun away from their body while operating the slide. Keeping it close gives you room and leverage to use your shoulder and arm muscles to overcome the resistance of the slide.
You’ll notice that my support hand didn’t move, so I didn’t pull back the slide. I pushed the frame forward, holding the slide still.
Now, see what we did there? Rather than pulling the slide backwards, as with the default thumb and finger pinch, we tricked you into pushing the whole gun forward. It makes all the difference in leverage.
When you have pushed the gun as far forward as the slide will allow it to go, quickly release the slide with your support hand. Let the springs snap the slide closed. Don’t ever try to ease the slide back gently as the gun was designed to work properly when the springs do their job with gusto. If you try to be gentle and allow the slide to close slowly and gently, you’re just asking for a malfunction.
Just remember to orient your body correctly so the gun remains pointed downrange through the whole racking process. Given the simple geometry of us human folk, we generally have hands and arms mounted on the sides while the eyes face forward. So, if you do this while facing the target, your gun will be pointed sideways. Turning your body a bit solves this.
How did that work out?