When Pistols Are Like Pickles

By Paul Carlson
Posted in #Skills
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When Pistols Are Like Pickles

August 9th, 2020

3:32 runtime

In order to load, unload and verify the condition of your Springfield Hellcat (or any other semi-automatic handgun), you have to be able to rack the slide. But what about those who aren’t strong enough to do that? Isn’t it impossible if your hands are too weak? I’m going to throw out a bit of a radical notion here: We always hear it’s a strength issue, but I think it has more to do with a little bit of uncertainty matched up with poor technique.

Can you run your gun effectively? If not, want to learn a trick to master it?

Don’t believe me? Check out my video above and my article below to find three tips that I’ve found help virtually every student I’ve ever taught to be able to rack the slide more effectively.

Too Close for Comfort?

When we are shooting a handgun, we usually fire it at full extension, with it pushed far away from our body and face. This helps us to manage recoil, use the sights and see our surroundings. For shooting, this makes sense. For dealing with administrative tasks like loading, unloading and verifying the condition of the gun, full extension isn’t the best position.

Ever try to open a pickle jar? You can use that same approach with your pistol.

Operating the slide of the gun does take some strength and dexterity. However, the location we place things to exert strength and dexterity isn’t a long way away from our bodies. Instead, it’s in close proximity to our chest. Here we can easily see what we are working on and we can exert maximum power and dexterity.

If you aren’t sure the place I’m talking about, imagine for a moment that you are dealing with a stuck lid on a pickle jar. Now, think of you holding a pistol rather than that jar of pickles. Racking the slide in a location that lets you use the strength and dexterity you have to its full potential is a game-changer for many folks.


There are lots of different ways to grasp the slide on a semi-auto handgun. In my opinion, there are two keys to your grasp that can make racking the slide much easier. The first is to grasp behind the hole in the top of the slide. You know, behind the ejection port. This gives your hand maximum purchase while keeping it out of the way of moving parts. No one wants to pinch their hand when racking the slide.

Creating a “saddle” with your hand is just one of the tricks for mastering your pistol.

Second, the manner in which we grab the slide matters. I once heard the well-known gun trainer Dave Spaulding describe this method of grasping the slide as being like putting a saddle on a horse. It describes it well. The top of the slide is the back of the horse and your hand is the saddle. Pretty straightforward.

When you put the saddle on the horse, do it tightly. Trap the slide firmly between the tips of your fingers and the meaty part of the palm of your hand. Having the gun in close helps to increase your grip strength and it also helps with my third tip.

Can you do two things at once? If so, it will make it a lot easier for you to cycle your pistol’s slide.


Most people think of racking the slide as a process that is accomplished by pulling the slide to the rear with the support hand. I get it. The slide moves to the rear, so one might think that you should hold the gun still and pull the slide to the rear. The problem is, that cuts your power in half.

Instead of pulling alone, push and pull simultaneously. Yes, pull back with the support hand but also forcefully push the gun away from your body. You should push so hard and fast that you rip the slide from your support hand.

Having the skills to keep your gun running is a must for anyone serious about self-defense and shooting.

Final Thoughts

Of course, there are plenty of nuances when it comes to racking the slide on a semi-auto pistol. Some guns have characteristics that might motivate you to change the way you operate the gun. As always, you need to evaluate the tips I shared to determine if they will work well for you and your specific circumstances.

Over the years I have found these suggestions to be some of the most important keys in helping people to rack the slide more easily. Give them a try and see if they work for you!

Editor’s Note: Please be sure to check out The Armory Life Forum, where you can comment about our daily articles, as well as just talk guns and gear. Click the “Go To Forum Thread” link below to jump in and discuss this article and much more!

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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.

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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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