Learning how to rack the slide on a gun is an important skill for every shooter to learn, because many modern auto loading handguns operate on this principle. Therefore, I’ll explain different methods for racking the slide for different pistol setups. Whether you struggle with racking the slide due to strength, or because you run an optic on your slide here are tips, tricks, and techniques to help you rack the slide easily.

Why Do You Rack The Slide On A Gun?

Next, let’s talk about why you rack the slide on a gun. The two primary reasons why you rack the slide on a gun are to chamber a round from a freshly inserted magazine, or to clear a malfunction. 

After all, when inserting a new magazine into an empty gun, there is no round in the chamber. Therefore, racking the slide loads the chamber with a fresh cartridge. Alternatively, if the action is open with the slide stop engaged, racking the slide puts the handgun back into battery and performs the same duty as disengaging the slide stop. 

Alternatively, you may encounter a malfunction while shooting. In that case, racking the slide extracts and ejects the spent case or unspent cartridge from the chamber. Additionally, it loads the next viable round from the magazine and resets the hammer or striker. Thereby allowing you to continue shooting.

How To Rack The Slide With An Overhand Grip

There are several ways to rack the slide on a handgun. However, the traditional method utilizes an overhand grip. Oftentimes, this is the first method taught to new shooters and is generally considered the safest way to rack the slide.

Step 1: Grip The Gun With Your Shooting Hand

establish a proper grip to rack the slide

First, grip the pistol high on the backstrap with your finger off the trigger and outside the trigger guard. Additionally, grasp the pistol firmly and keep your wrist locked inline with your forearm to allow for maximum leverage.

Step 2: Establish An Overhand Grip

overhand grip top and side views to rack the slide

Next, place the lower part of your non-shooting hand palm against the rear of the slide and wrap your other fingers over the top of the slide. Thus establishing the “overhand” grip. Additionally, apply pressure through your fingertips to create a vise with your fingers and palm.

Furthermore, ensure that no portion of your hand covers the cutout on the slide. Failure to clear the area of the chamber could result in skin from your hand becoming pinched when racking the slide.

Step 3: Retract the Slide

rack the slide with an overhand grip

Afterwards, use your non-shooting hand to pull back on the slide while simultaneously pushing forward with your shooting hand. Additionally, ensure the slide travels backwards the full distance to allow a cartridge to load into the chamber. Maintain a tight grasp on the slide with your non-shooting hand. Using the push-pull technique will help you overcome any strength deficiencies.

Step 4: Release The Slide

Finally, release your grip with the non-shooting hand allowing the slide to travel forward placing the gun in battery. Do not ride the slide! Riding the slide means slowly allowing the slide to travel forward, which can lead to feed problems and other malfunctions.

What Is Thumb Racking The Slide

how to thumb rack the slide on a handgun

Of course, there are other ways to rack the slide on your pistol. If you lack grip strength or have other problems with the overhand grip technique, try thumb racking.

Granted, there are many similarities between the thumb rack and overhand techniques. Similar to the overhand method, a firm grip is required. However, to thumb rack the slide pinch the rear section of your slide between the side of your index finger and the thumb on your non-shooting hand and pull back.

Additionally, tilting the gun sideways can provide better leverage and feel more comfortable. Finally, release the slide and allow momentum to pull the slide back into battery.

Another method is to grip the slide serrations near the muzzle end of the handgun. However, the proximity to the muzzle makes this a more dangerous method to rack the slide.

Racking The Slide With An Optic

Now, you may wonder if you can use the above methods when you have a red dot installed on your pistol. Yes, you can use either the overhand or thumb rack techniques to rack a slide with an optic.

However, if you are unable to grip the rear of the slide because of an optic, you can modify the thumb rack technique. To rack the slide on a pistol with and optic, pinch the serrations on the front of the slide near the muzzle and pull back. But, do not let any part of your hand go in front of the muzzle.

Because of the proximity to the front of the barrel, thumb racking using the front serrations is the most dangerous technique for racking a pistol.

How To Rack The Slide With One Hand

how to rack the slide with one hand

To rack a pistol with only one hand, you’ll need another way to apply leverage to the slide. Therefore, you can utilize part of your attire. In order to rack a pistol with one hand, wedge the rear sight or your optic against your pants pocket or belt. After the sight is firmly seated push straight down with your shooting hand until the slide fully retracts. Finally, quickly release tension and the recoil spring returns the gun to battery.

Next, here are some tips for racking the slide with one hand. First, either a sturdy pair of pants or a concealed carry belt will make one handed racking easier. Additionally, taller iron sights like those offered from TruGlo make one handed racking easier.

Racking The Slide FAQ’s

Is Racking A Gun And Cocking A Gun The Same Thing?

No, cocking the gun and racking the gun are not the same, but racking a gun typically results in cocking the hammer or striker. Racking the slide completes several steps in the cycle of operation. Contrarily, cocking the hammer or striker is a single step in the cycle.

Is It Bad To Rack The Slide On An Empty Chamber?

No, most firearms are engineered so that racking the slide on an empty chamber is not bad. However, some people claim that racking the slide on an empty chamber with certain handgun models can prematurely wear out components and cause problems.

What Happens When You Rack The Slide Twice?

If you rack the slide twice, the gun completes 2 cycles of operation with each cycle ejecting an unspent cartridge and loading a new round. Additionally, many firearm enthusiasts eject the magazine and rack the slide twice to ensure the chamber is empty and no cartridge was loaded after the first cycle.

Will A Gun Fire If There Is One In The Chamber And You Pull The Slide Back?

No, pulling the slide back on a gun with a round in the chamber will not cause the gun to fire. Instead it will eject the un-fired cartridge and load the next cartridge from the magazine into the chamber. If a gun is in good working order, the only thing that will cause a gun to fire is pressing the trigger.

Parting Shots

In conclusion, how to rack the slide on a gun comes down to personal preference. Additionally, your level of risk and comfort with the gun you are shooting can dictate the method you choose. Hopefully you’ve found this how-to article helpful and all your questions have been answered. If you have learned something or want to share your thoughts with others, please consider leaving a comment to help me out. Also, please consider joining the Facebook page or subscribing on YouTube. As always, thanks for stopping by and carry on!