Speed reload, emergency reload, slidelock reload. Whatever you want to call it, we’re talking about a reload that’s performed when a semi-auto pistol runs dry but you want to keep shooting. After a fresh mag is inserted, there is some debate over the best way to get the gun back into battery. Some people believe that no method is always “correct” and the best method to use depends on the individual and their situation. Other people are angry psychopaths and will scream at you in all caps in the comments section if you don’t do it their way.
Basically what they’re arguing about is whether the pistol should be reloaded by hitting the slide release, or by racking (or “powerstroking”) the slide. … it should come as no surprise that I’m advocating for a more tentative approach to the issue that assumes neither method is right for everyone in every situation. To know what’s right for you, it’s best to just try out both methods for yourself, but you should also be aware of the following pros and cons.
Slide Lock Lever Method
The lever that locks back the slide is also referred to as the “slide stop” or the “slide release”. Many of the arguments you’ll encounter over this issue end up getting sidetracked by even more ridiculous arguments over what to call this little lever. Ignore this distraction and instead focus on what this glorious invention allows you to do; return the slide to battery with the mere flick of a thumb. Using either the support hand thumb or firing hand thumb, the slide lock lever usually requires minimal pressure in order to drop the slide into place. Here are a few more of the merits of this method:
Requires less movement to re-establish a firing grip
Can be done with one hand
More reliably returns the slide fully into battery (no possibility of “riding” the slide forward)
Faster than racking the slide by roughly one half of a second
Of course, this method has its downsides. If it didn’t, the debate would be no fun.
For left handed shooters, only works if the pistol is equipped with an ambidextrous slide lock lever
Potentially more difficult to see or feel the lever under stress compared to grabbing the slide
Not everyone can easily reach the lever on their pistol
Some levers are too stiff for this method to work reliably
Not as reliable if using an unfamiliar pistol (somewhat dependent on muscle memory)
Possible to release slide before magazine is fully in place, leaving the chamber empty
If you’re trying out this method at home with an empty pistol, be aware that some pistols are designed so the lever is much stiffer if a magazine is not inserted. Some are even stiffer with an empty magazine versus a loaded magazine. I recommend the use of Snap Caps (dummy rounds) for practicing this.
Slide Rack Method
I’m not sure who first dubbed this method the “power stroke”, but I guess the cool kids decided that “slingshot method” didn’t sound tough enough. Despite being slightly slower than hitting the slide lock lever, the slide rack technique has a lot of proponents that appreciate how universal it is across all pistol types, among other benefits.
Works equally well for right or left-handed shooters. Not dependent on an ambidextrous slide stop lever.
Viable method for nearly any semi-auto pistol on the planet
Less dependent on hand strength or hand size than hitting the slide lock lever
Shares identical muscle motion with racking the slide for initial loading or malfunction drills
Can be performed “no handed” if necessary by pressing the rear sights against a hard surface
And for the weaknesses of the slide rack method:
Slower than hitting the slide lock lever by about half a second
Risk of catching a finger in the ejection port
Risk of “riding the slide” instead of releasing it completely, preventing the slide from returning fully into battery
Risk of unintentionally activating the safety or decocker on pistols with slide-mounted safety/decock levers
How to Choose the Best Slide Lock Reload Method?
Like I said before, you really just have to try this out for yourself and decide what works best for you and your pistol. The slide rack method is a little slower, but with practice, it can still be very fast. Hitting the slide release might seem less reliable to some, but with practice it becomes second nature.
If you’re left handed and your pistol doesn’t have an ambidextrous slide lock lever, the choice is pretty easy.
If you want to shoot competitively and every microsecond counts, then you should probably find a way to make the slide lock lever work.
If you’ve always done it one way and it works for you and it would be difficult to change techniques, then your range time is probably better spent on something more productive.
As for me, I prefer to use the slide lock lever. It’s how I was taught when I first started shooting handguns, and it’s always worked well for me. I’m right handed, I have average size hands, and fairly long fingers, so the slide lock lever is easy for me to reach on just about any pistol. The instant I feel a magazine snap into place, my thumb automatically goes for the lever. In fact, when I was filming the video above, I actually had to perform several takes for the slide rack version because I kept reflexively hitting the slide release even though I was consciously trying not to. Muscle memory is a powerful thing.
That said, I also have fairly strong muscle memory for racking the slide because that’s how I load the gun, and that’s how I practice malfunction drills (“tap, rack, bang”). On the very rare occasion the slide lock lever doesn’t immediately “go” for some reason, my support hand instantly moves to rack the slide without me having to tell it to.
But What About Fine Motor Skills?
Another aspect of this debate that you’re bound to run into is the issue of fine motor skills versus gross motor skills. In short, this is basically another red herring argument that you can mostly ignore. Todd Green has an excellent explanation for why this detail is frequently misunderstood, but the gist of it is that both methods require the use of fine motor skills. Practice and repetition is a far more important determining factor in your ability to perform the reload method of your choice under stress.
Whatever your decision, don’t let anyone convince you that either method is a “death sentence” or some equally absurd dismissal. Just make up your mind and practice it until it’s second nature and save your internet rage for something useful. Like caliber debates.
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