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Discovering What Pistol Manipulation Techniques Work for You

Discovering What Pistol Manipulation Techniques Work for You
There are a couple different ways to work the slide on a pistol during a reload. Don’t just accept one or the other. Experiment and practice.

Why do you reload your pistol the way you do? Is it because that’s the way you were taught? That’s a pretty good reason, but who’s to say the way you were taught is the most efficient method? Unless you’re brand new to shooting, you should give some critical thought as to why you reload the way you do, and this applies to how you perform any other handgun manipulation.

While it’s certainly true there’s more than one way to skin a cat, it’s also true that some ways make a whole lot more sense than others. As an example, I was first taught to reload with my arm fully extended. Although I often struggled to smoothly insert a magazine into the pistol with it held so far away from my body, I stuck with it because that was all I knew to do.

Then I was taught another way to reload—bringing the gun closer to my body, with the muzzle oriented upward at an approximate 45-degree angle to my non-dominant side. This made it much easier to cleanly insert a fresh magazine because, with the gun closer to my body, I had more dexterity.

That’s not debatable. However, the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if it was really necessary to take the muzzle so far off target to reload. After all, the farther you move the muzzle from the target, the farther you have to move the muzzle to reacquire the target after the reload. Hmmm.

Finally, I settled on bringing the gun in and indexing the elbow of my shooting arm to my body with the muzzle oriented at about a 45-degree angle in the direction of the threat. With the gun close, you maintain dexterity; bringing your elbow to your torso serves as a physical reference point for consistency.

Having the muzzle pointed in the general direction of the threat means that after reloading you have to move the muzzle less to get on target after the reload. Not everyone agrees this is the best way to reload a pistol, but it works for me, and it’s based on sound logic as opposed to simply conducting the reload the way someone else said I should.

I was also taught to take a knee when reloading, which makes you a smaller target. This tactic sometimes makes sense. At distance, presenting a smaller target to your adversary would be advantageous. But up close, kneeling is ill-advised because being so low to the ground places you in an inferior position from which to fight should your adversary rush you. It also robs you of mobility, which is crucial to thriving in close-quarters armed conflict.

In other words, while taking a knee to reload may be an appropriate tactic, it could also leave you vulnerable. The right way to reload, like many other things related to defensive handgunning, depends on the situation.

Sticking with the reloading theme, people disagree on the best way to send the slide forward after inserting a fully loaded magazine. Many insist reaching over the slide with your off-hand and grasping the slide with your thumb facing you is the way to go. This allows you to forcefully pull the slide rearward and guarantee it moves forward under full spring tension.

However, not everyone is a fan of this method because it forces you to grip your pistol primarily between your little finger and the palm of your hand, which is less natural than gripping with your thumb and index finger—as is the case when you cant the pistol inboard as opposed to leaving it positioned vertically. Either can work. But have you considered the pros and cons of each and come to a decision based on critical thought as opposed to merely parroting what you were taught?

What about using your thumb to press the slide stop? It’s potentially much faster, but it’s also more of a fine motor skill and can be difficult to accomplish under duress without considerable practice. In addition, since you’re not pulling the slide completely back when using the slide stop, you have less force driving the slide forward, which could cause a feeding issue depending on your pistol and the ammunition (hollowpoints tend have a harder time feeding than full metal jackets).

While there’s no absolute correct way to manipulate a pistol, your technique of choice should be based on careful consideration and practice with various methods. Only through the trial and error that comes with diligent practice will you realize what works best for you.


Using a particular technique merely because it’s what someone told you or because it’s the way you were taught is a cop-out. If you own a pistol for personal defense, you need to think for yourself instead of blindly accepting someone’s doctrine.

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