Ladies CAN rack the slide on a semi-auto for CHL range qualification

As more women are joining the ranks of Texas CHLs,  I’ve seen a few variations on this concern come up.   It usually goes something like this:  A husband, boyfriend, or male relative who can easily rack the slide on his pistol with a 20-pound recoil spring hands the pistol over to a woman.  She tries to emulate exactly what he did and just doesn’t have the upper body or arm strength to do exactly what he did.   The man scratches his head and can’t understand why she can’t perform the task.  After repeating the same futile demonstration a few times, what follows next is moving from that gun to a smaller caliber pistol with a very light recoil spring.  And from there, the next stop is “why don’t you try a revolver?”   I know the routine well because long ago, I was that guy.  It took me a while to figure out that “why don’t you use a revolver?”  isn’t the only solution.

I certainly have nothing against revolvers.  However, I can also tell you that the problem is almost never that the woman lacks the ability to rack the slide.   The problem is that she is trying to emulate the way her male counterpart demonstrated.  Instead, she needs to find a technique that is compatible with her body’s strength.

As with all things firearm related, safety is always the first concern.   You can try variations on technique to find a solution that works for you.  However, it is never acceptable to use a technique that involves putting your finger inside the trigger guard,  your hand over the end of the muzzle, or pointing the muzzle of your gun at yourself or in a direction other than down range.   If you need to have the gun facing to your side to rack the slide, turn your body sideways rather than pointing the muzzle at the person next to you.

Get a firm grip on the pistol with your strong hand.  You may find it helpful to turn your wrist inward at a slight angle instead of holding the gun perfectly vertical.   Hold the pistol close to your body rather than at a full extended arm’s length.    You will get improved leverage holding the pistol lower and closer to your torso than you will if you hold the pistol up at eye level or extended out at arm’s length.  You may want to experiment a bit, but try a few positions with your hand between chest level and belly level to see what is comfortable for you.

Next, use your support hand to grasp over the top of the slide.  Grab towards the back of the slide but get as much contact between your support hand and the slide to get a firm grasp.  Don’t use just your thumb and index finger to “pinch” the slide.   Most guns have rearward cocking serrations in the right place to help you get a firm grip in the right spot.

Instead of using your weak/support side hand to pull the slide back,  use your strong hand to push the frame forward.  Your weak/support hand is responsible for holding the slide in place while you quickly and forcefully push the lower frame of the pistol forward.   Holding your support hand against your chest or belly can make this task easier.  Resist the temptation to slowly or gently ease the slide forward or backward.  A hunk of metal designed to contain high pressure combustion is not going to be harmed by rough handling in your hands.

There is no single solution that is going to work for everyone.  It is going to depend on your upper and lower body strength, your hand grip strength, the length and width of your pistol’s slide, and the amount of spring tension that you are trying to overcome.  I’ve worked with several ladies to help them experiment with these techniques.  When they stop trying to emulate the brute force and inefficient way guys use and focus on an an efficient technique that takes advantage of their strengths, they quickly master the ability.   As long as you can safely perform the maneuver with your finger off the trigger and the muzzle never pointing at any part of your body or at anyone around you, that’s what matters.  I demonstrate these options in class and will help you find a safe technique that works for you during your CHL class.

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