(Re)loading from empty

Another nice video from Clint Smith of Thunder Ranch. This time talking about (re)loading an empty semi-automatic handgun (from slide-lock, because you’ve run the gun dry).

There are some subtitles of his technique to pay attention to:

  • Leave the muzzle between you and the threat. This keeps your eyes on the threat, the gun will be in your peripheral vision which is all you need. If you bring the gun in to your face to reload your eyes will focus on the gun and who knows what that threat is going to be doing and how fast they can do it in (see Tueller Drill). 
  • When he pulls out the new magazine, note it’s already positioned properly for the reload… no need to flip it around to get it positioned right. Ensure your spare magazines are stowed in such a manner. This then allows that index finger to index the first round of the magazine which will facilitate your brain and gross motor skills to guide the magazine into the magazine well.
  • When he racks the slide, he grabs the slide with an overhand grip. I’ll discuss this more in a moment.
  • Clint emphasizes being smooth, not fast. This is important! Yes you need to be fast, but not so fast that you fail to reload on the first attempt — that will ultimately lead to a slower reload. You must be smooth: slow is smooth, smooth is fast. When you practice these reloads, focus on being correct and smooth first, then gradually add speed but never go so fast as to let your smoothness and correctness degrade.

I wanted to talk a little more about the rack technique. Generally you see two techniques: the over the top grip like Clint used, or the “slingshot”  method. In the slingshot method you use your thumb and index finger (or maybe index and middle, or the side of the 2nd knuckle of the index finger) to “pinch” the rear of the slide and rack it like you would if you were pulling back a loaded slingshot. I prefer the over the top method because it provides a few advantages:

  • It’s a gross motor skill. If adrenaline is pumping, fine motor skills degrade.
  • It involves more muscles, thus is easier to rack the slide. If you’re not that strong (e.g. women, elderly), you’ll have more success, maintain a better grip on the slide, and be able to successfully rack the slide. Furthermore, if you’re using a gun you’re unfamiliar with, who knows… maybe the recoil spring on this one is a lot stronger than you’re used to; sure on the range you’d get to try racking again, but in a fight for your life you might only get one chance to rack it: give yourself every advantage to ensure your success.
  • On that same token, some of us might have one hand’s grip stronger than the other. What if you have to use your weak hand to rack because your strong hand is disabled? Over the top works with any hand.
  • And on that token, what if you lose use of your thumb? You can still rack over the top, even if some digits are disabled.

To perform the over-the-top technique, do it just like Clint demonstrates in the video, with the meat/palm-heel of your hand resting on one side of the rear of the slide and your fingers coming over the top and the pads of your fingers gripping the other side of the rear of the slide. Grip firmly, ensuring your hand/fingers do not cover the ejection port. Then pull the slide back in one smooth and fast motion (it’s easier if you move fast than slow). Your hand should travel all the way back to your shoulder, which means, when the slide reaches the end of its travel it should come out of your hand and the recoil springs slam it forward and your hand comes off and continues back towards your shoulder. Do not ride the slide forward, let the recoil springs slam it forward.

As well, as Clint said, don’t just drop the slide. Rack it, always rack it. Let your muscle memory work to always rack it. The gun that saves your life may be unfamiliar to you, so learn and practice techniques that work regardless of the hardware in your hands.

3 thoughts on “(Re)loading from empty

  1. The reason I use the slingshot is that I’ve had situations where using the slide stop didn’t have enough juice to to return to battery, but using the slingshot did. Of course I replaced the recoil spring, but that could certainly still happen at the wrong moment.

    I personally think I could operate the slide stop in a gun fight, but I hope to never find out.

    • Anything could happen at the wrong moment. 🙂

      I’d rather not find out if I could operate the slide stop in a gunfight. But if I’m going to train, I’ll train for a single gross motor skill that will work regardless. As Clint Smith makes the point in that video, who says you’re going to be fighting with a familiar gun? Maybe you’ll have the muscle memory to work your 1911, but will that transfer to whatever pistol you might be forced to use? Who says you’ll have a usable thumb to operate that slide stop? Again, keeping it simple… train with a single gross motor skill that works and covers all the bases.

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