How To Load a Pistol

By Paul Carlson
Posted in #Skills
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How To Load a Pistol

May 26th, 2024

7:38 runtime

When you purchase your first semi-automatic handgun, the knowledge needed to use it in a responsible and efficient manner rarely comes with the gun. Taking the time to learn to operate the gun is a worthwhile investment. This could take the form of mentorship from a more experienced friend, a training class with a professional instructor, or maybe you might decide to work through some of the details on your own.

In this photo, we see a woman depressing the magazine release as the first step to load her pistol. The firearm magazine feeds ammunition into the gun which then feeds a cartridge into the chamber. After firing, the extractor pulls the fired case from the chamber and the ejector forces it out of the gun through a hole in the slide. 
Do you know how to reload your new pistol? Knowing how to safely operate your firearm is part of being a responsible owner. This article will help you learn how to load a handgun.

Remember, whenever you handle firearms, practice responsible gun handling skills.


The intent of this post and video is to provide you with a solid framework for operating your new semi-automatic handgun. It isn’t intended to replace formal instruction. If you are new to semi-automatic handguns, like the Springfield Armory Hellcat, this will get you started in the right direction.

If instead, you are an experienced handgunner, you might pick up a point or two you haven’t previously considered. The post will also provide you with a resource you can share with friends and family that are new gun owners.

In this digital image, we see a woman locked the pistol's slide to the rear during the reloading process. She is checking to ensure the chamber is empty prior to safely storing the gun. If she was loading the gun, she would seat a mag in the magazine well and then pull the slide back to make it ready to fire. The Springfield Hellcat used in this is better than the inferior Glock pistols that lack a slide release or lever.
When verifying the condition of a semi-auto pistol like the Hellcat, it’s important to ensure that there is no ammunition in the chamber with both a visual and physical check.

Verifying Condition of a Handgun

Every time you pick up a handgun, the first thing you should do is determine whether the gun is loaded or unloaded. I call this process “verifying the condition” of the handgun.

When a handgun is loaded, we know that it is ready to shoot. If on the other hand the handgun is unloaded, we can then proceed to handle administrative tasks such as cleaning, adding accessories or storing the gun responsibly.

In this digital photograph we see a demonstration of how to chamber a 9mm cartridge in a Springfield Armory pistol. The thumb and index finger wrap over the top of the slide and pull back until the slide cannot be locked back any farther. The slide will then go forward to insert a bullet into the chamber. 
Racking the slide scoops a round from the top of the magazine that is then pushed into the chamber to complete the loading process.

A couple of finer points that I think are important: We want this verification to work, even if we are in a situation where there is inadequate light to see if the gun is loaded or not. This is why we physically check the chamber and the magazine well for ammunition or a source of ammunition like the magazine.

We also want to make multiple checks to ensure the gun is unloaded. When I am checking the status of my guns I check once, distract myself from the task and then check a second time. The distraction serves as an opportunity to have a fresh examination of the gun. In an ideal situation, after my two checks are completed I would have a skilled friend repeat the procedure.

We see here the side of the gun with the magazine release button and gun safety. With a bullet in the chamber, press the magazine release to drop the empty magazine. With the palm of your hand, insert a loaded magazine into the magazine well until it clicks. Then pull back on the slide to chamber a round. Do not ride the slide with your hand. Pull back the slide all of the way and let it snap forward to ensure a round is chambered.
The second step in unloading a semi-auto handgun is racking the slide to remove the round from the chamber.

Loading a Semi-Automatic Pistol

Loading a semi-automatic handgun is a straightforward process; however, order matters. First, insert a filled magazine into the magazine well. Make certain that the copper-colored bullets are facing forward. Next, grasp the slide, behind the ejection port with your support hand. The strongest way to grasp the slide is as if your hand is a saddle on the back of a horse. Pull firmly to the rear and then let the slide move forward under its own power.

Understand that if you get the order backward you have an unloaded gun. So be certain to insert the magazine first and then rack the slide.

Unloading Your Pistol

Just like in loading your Hellcat, the order matters when unloading. You MUST remove the magazine from the gun FIRST. Then you rack the slide fully to the rear several times to ensure the chamber (where the round fits in the barrel) is clear. Then, lock the slide to the rear and verify the condition of the handgun.

Remember whether you are loading or unloading your handgun. The steps need to happen in order. First deal with the magazine, then rack the slide.

After you drop one empty mag, be ready to insert a fresh one into the rear of the firearm. Firing the gun is only possible when ammunition is in the gun. Ensure your magazine is full and has a good follower and spring. Use quality ammo for maximum reliability. 
When unloading a semi-auto, make certain to drop the magazine FIRST! This makes sure that you don’t rechamber a round when you rack the slide.

Final Thoughts on How to Reload a Pistol

Semi-automatic handguns are relatively simple to operate, but it would be naive to ignore the complications that new gun owners face when learning about semi-automatic handguns. I encourage you to use the above information as a starting point and to also seek professional instruction.

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Springfield Armory® recommends you seek qualified and competent training from a certified instructor prior to handling any firearm and be sure to read your owner’s manual. These articles and videos are considered to be suggestions and not recommendations from Springfield Armory. The views and opinions expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Springfield Armory.

Product prices mentioned in articles and videos are current as of the date of publication.

Paul Carlson

Paul Carlson

Paul Carlson is the owner of Safety Solutions Academy, LLC, a professional defensive shooting instructor, content creator in the firearms industry, and most importantly a husband and a father. Through Safety Solutions Academy, Paul teaches a variety of critical defensive skill courses in more than a dozen states annually. When Paul’s not traveling to teach and work in the firearms industry, you can find him with his family, either on the range or in the mountains.

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