In many jurisdictions, inappropriate racking can get you fined or even imprisoned for up to three days. But word has it you can get off the hook with a warning, provided you’re departing a Sunset Strip nightclub after 2 a.m.

Unfortunately for TMZ producers and folks who disable the default Google Images SafeSearch option, we’re talking about an entirely different kind of inappropriate racking.

This racking discussion focuses on racking the slide on semiautomatic pistols. For anyone not familiar with the terminology, racking the slide refers to vigorously drawing the slide all the way back in order to eject a chambered cartridge or spent casing and/or allow the slide to strip a new one from the magazine and jam it into the chamber. In plain English, racking most often completes the process of manually loading a semiautomatic pistol by moving the first round from the magazine to the chamber.

In the Seven Deadly Sins of Handgun Shooting series, we’re going to cover two types of racking offenses. The first is a simple misdemeanor infraction that doesn’t even warrant a ticket, much less a summons. The second can easily be considered a capital felony.

  1. The Needle Point
  2. The Side Slide Swipe

Today, we’ll focus on the less dangerous one: the Needle Point. This technique actually borrows from the cup and saucer grip we addressed in week one. Simply put, it relies on a dainty pinching motion on the back of the slide by the support hand thumb and index finger. It’s a lot like the way Sir Elton John might hold a teacup. The shooter then attempts to pull the slide backward using only the abductor pollicis brevis muscle to control the thumb. Or maybe it’s the opponens pollicis. I always get those two muscle groups mixed up as they all look the same to me. Clearly, as we all know, the lumbrical muscle gets involved to help out the index finger pressure.

The point of all this grey anatomy is that some really delicate, small, and comparatively weak muscles are used to do some seriously heavy work. Think about it. You use the same muscles to thread a needle and that only requires .00732 nano-pounds of pressure. Seriously, that’s a fact because I saw someone post that figure in the comments on a YouTube “Needlepointing for Dummies” video. On the other hand (Ha! Get it?) racking a pistol slide can require more than 20 pounds of force when you consider the resistance of the recoil and main (or firing pin) springs.

The result of this technique is a bunch of frustrated people who find they have difficulty racking the slide on a pistol that they might otherwise like. And far too often, people choose to buy and use an entirely different pistol because they can’t, or at least have difficulty, racking the slide.

Fortunately, and thanks to Bill Nye the Science Guy, some basic knowledge of physics can help. There’s a really easy way to use really big muscles to rack the slide. And nearly every person, with the obvious exception of New York runway models, has muscles more powerful than those pistol springs. I have yet to see this method fail.

Proper way to rack the slide - setup
With the gun held close to your body, jab yourself in the gut with your support hand thumb like this.

Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Take a firm firing grip with your shooting hand, making sure that you diligently obey Rule 1–keeping your finger off the trigger!
  2. Bring your shooting hand (with the gun attached of course) straight back towards your body. Just move your elbow backwards so the gun grip ends up almost touching you, with the muzzle still pointed straight downrange.
  3. Now take your support hand and flatten it, keeping your fingers straight. Think about how you naturally make a “down boy” or “calm down” motion with your hand. Your palm should be facing the ground.
  4. Extend your support hand thumb straight out, away from your palm and at a 90 degree angle to your fingers. Now rotate your arm so you jab yourself right in the gut with that thumb. Ouch! Your palm should still be facing the ground by the way.
  5. Move your still-flat support hand over the back half of the slide of your gun.
  6. Close your support hand fingers 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!
  7. Keeping your support arm in the same place, push the bottom half (frame) of the gun forward like you’re going to jab the target with the muzzle.
  8. See what we did there? Rather than pulling the slide backwards, we tricked you into you into pushing the whole gun forward with your big arm and body muscles.
  9. 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 and wild enthusiasm. If you try to be gentle and allow the slide to close slowly and gently, you’re just asking for a malfunction. And those are embarrassing, to say the least.

How did that work out for you?

So if you, or someone you know, is struggling with racking slides, have them try this method. Even though the Needle Point is only a misdemeanor, you still don’t want it on your record.

This article is the fifth part in a series on the Seven Deadly Sins of Handgun Shooting. To learn more about how not to shoot, check out last week’s article on the crossed-thumb grip here.

Images by Tom McHale

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27 thoughts on “The Seven Deadly Sins of Handgun Shooting: Inappropriate Racking

  1. Teaching people to rack the slide properly is one of the hardest things to do. Many get used to using the “sling shot” method in casual target practice at the range. For defensive shooting this method will not work at all.

  2. Thanks for the humorous delivery of the rack. Is is a pun to say, “Nice Rack”, When it is done correctly? I remember Rosey Greer, the great football player and the man who grabbed Sirhan Sirhan just after he shot Robert Kennedy. Anyway, he did needle point to relax before a game. With fingers like sausages, he could be gentle enough to sew the designs.

    1. If I may offer one thought. It’s more about the gun than the caliber. For instance, the Glock 17 is rather difficult to rack. The Sig P226 is rather easy to rack. But both shoot 9mm. If your .45 is too hard to rack, you might try another gun, same caliber. But please find one that you are truly comfortable with. It could be a matter of life or death some day.

      1. north: How right you are!! I’m most comfortable with my “hogleg” — Dan Wesson .44 mag with a 8-3/8″ magna-port barrel. Can you see a short, fat, old woman trying to find a IWB holster for that?!? It is to laugh!! The .45 I can hide, and my IWB holster works very well. I’m considering a S&W .38, but will rent one at the range before making a decision. So much fun when ammo is as scarce as “hen’s teeth! LOL. Keep me in your prayers;I’m just a gun-lovin’, old, Harley-ridin’ woman! DenverKitty

    2. You may find that when trying to rack the slide of a 1911, if you first cock the hammer, you will find that the power required to move the slide will be reduced. When the slide first starts to move rearward it encounters the hammer. It then has to overcome the steep angle and the spring of the hammer And the striction of the barrel and pressure of the slide spring.(Striction is a real word, the initial resistance to motion of two surfaces in close contact.) Hope the cocking tip helps!

    3. If you would like, I will GLADLY discuss, in as much “nauseating detail” as you wish, “how-to”. “How-to” pick one you like. How to operate it. Carry options. Ammo selection… Etc… And I won’t “talk down” to you, about it. I have several family, friends, acquaintances, “my troops” (back “in the day”)… That I have helped learn from various levels of experience… Or inexperience. I would offer to help in person, but I’m in W. KY… And that’s a bit of a drive. 🙂

      1. eis…thanks for the offer! The only 2 real problems that I have are: 1) putting ammo into the magazine. It’s such a tight fit that I cannot get it filled; and 2) getting the gun’s slide back. I don’t know if my hands aren’t strong enough anymore or if the slide needs a professional to loosen its tightness. I’m considering looking for a gunsmith. Opinions, please. Kitty

      2. Is there some way, that we can discuss this privately? Not that I’m hiding anything, or going to pull any “shady crap”, but “gun talk” might get a bit detailed and “long-winded”…

      3. There are tools that you can buy, even online, to make magazine loading easier… As a matter of fact, we ran into that this weekend, with my buddy’s lady, and her brand new pistol. She is COMPLETELY new, to pistol shooting, and I had to show her several of the “hacks” that I have learned over the years… As for the slide: you DON’T want to do “too much”, to make the slide “easier to rack”. The recoil spring that you’re pushing against, is designed to handle the recoil of the cartridge that the pistol is designed for. Unless you feed that pistol specially made “light recoil” loads, you will run into a lot of problems. Those “light loads” are also less effective for self defense.
        If you want… I will share my email address, and we can go into “nauseating detail”… And I will sincerely do my best, to actually be helpful.

      4. VERY much my pleasure! Shooting, except for “(anti-)social situations”, is supposed to be enjoyable. If I can help make that more possible, I’m glad to help.

  3. I have a custom 45 acp that used to be extremely difficult to rack I took it to a gunsmith and asked him to look at it. When I got it back it worked much more easily. He said it was slightly misaligned or some such. Anyway he fixed it.

  4. You failed to mention NOT TO COVER the Ejection port with your hand. in case “lightning strikes” and the gun fires. espically if you are racking the slide to eject a live round. friend did this for years to catch the round and and one day BOOM! $11,000.00 dollars later for surgery his hand was better

  5. I have had Rotator Cuff surgery on my left shoulder recently & need it on my right arm. I can tell you that the method endorsed by the Author is NOT a good idea. For one reason the gun barrel ends up pointing toward your side where any accidental discharge (which should not but is possible to happen), could end up hitting an unintended target. This method also requires more arm strength.

    The Sir Elton John pinky approach is absurd but is closer to the best technique. Simple close your fist of the supporting hand over the slide with the thumb on one side & the rest of the on the other, then pull while pointing the gun forward. This allows you to push forward with your shooting hand & pull backwards, at the same time, with your supporting hand. This means that both arms are working & neither is doing all of the work thus minimizing the muscle use in each arm.

    As one who is NOW acutely aware of his arm muscles, I can swear to the fact that this is the easiest & safest way to rack your handgun!

  6. I actually carry a PX4 Storm Subcompact .40. The needle point technique is out of the question. Enjoyed the post, though. Love this weapon…

  7. For some reason when it comes to firearms, we don’t admit often enough that there is more than one acceptable way to perform a task or function.

  8. And of course if you have trouble racking the slide you can buy a slide grip similar to the ones found on ARs that mounts on the end of the slide…even ones that are just a finger loop so there isn’t extra width or for people with weaker grips.

  9. I took a class taught by an ex army ranger. The guy didn’t discourage the thumb-to-sternum technique but he did demonstrated where it falls down. When you punch out with the gun using this technique, your support hand is going to be roughly where the elbow of your gun arm is at the moment the gun becomes hot, and your hand will need to travel much farther and turn significantly more in order to get into support position.

    What he recommended instead was putting your hand over the top of the gun, with your thumb pointed away from you, similar to the pinch maneuver that this article describes, but instead of just using your thumb and index finger, you have a grip on it similar to what you would have on the railing in a stairwell. What this does is allow you to keep your support hand near the gun during the entire process (aiding in controlling the gun if you are drawing in melee) and requires your support hand to commit less motion to get in place.
    It feels weird and unnatural at first, but once you get in the habit, it feels totally natural and is definitely faster..

  10. My only issue with the “hand over” technique is it is difficult to watch/see the round enter the barrel. Slingshot technique allows you to see the round, keep your hand away from the barrel, puts the weapon out in front of you and you don’t muzzle the guy next to you while racking (I see this all the time). That being said, in defensive shooting, I always do the hand over while in the retention position during reload: it forces you to get in the habit of “racking” instead of using the slide stop to charge the weapon and keeps you in a “safer” position while reloading. However, on the range, clearing a jam or safety checking the weapon I slingshot.

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