I just got another letter asking about the “right” way to grasp a slide. The author said he had an instructor tell him to use the slide release lever. Some instructors tell people they should only use the overhand method. Other instructors say the slingshot method is just fine.
As a refresher, the slide stop lever is the lever on the side of your pistol that locks the slide to the rear after the last round is stripped from a magazine and fired. When the slide locks to the rear, you can drop the empty magazine, insert a loaded mag and press down on the lever to allow the slide to load the chamber.
The overhand method is when you release the slide after the insertion of a full magazine by grasping the slide (over the top of the rear portion) with all four fingers, pulling it to the rear and letting go.
The slingshot method is when you release the slide after the insertion of a full magazine by grasping the back of the slide between your thumb and forefinger, pulling it to the rear and letting go. This works best if you turn the gun 90 degrees so that the magazine well points to your strong side and the top of the slide points to your weak side.
Each of these methods has adherents who make pretty good claims as to why the method is the “only method” that should be used. I will outline the cons of each method to give you an idea of how this debate goes:
Slide Release Method: Trying to find and press down on the slide release lever is a fine motor skill that will be lost under stress. Also, some levers are small and will be even more difficult to operate if you have sweat or blood on your hands.
Overhand Method: This is unnatural. Human beings never attempt to grasp anything else in this manner. We always use our thumbs. Reaching over the top of the gun can cover the ejection port. Using the overhand method encourages you to turn the muzzle to your weak-hand side and may prompt you to point the gun in an unsafe direction.
Slingshot Method: This is also a fine motor skill, and trying to get just two digits on the rear of the slide can be difficult and may not give you enough purchase to fully retract the slide.
Will you look at that? Now we have compelling reasons never to use any of those methods. Let’s just run the slide by hooking the rear sight on our belt and be done with it.
Here is my philosophy on running the slide: Keep your gun pointed in a safe direction at all times and do what is most comfortable for you. Then train yourself to do it consistently and correctly every time. Once you’ve accomplished that, practice even more (until your preferred method is so deeply ingrained in your brain that it is almost automatic).
Truth be told, using the slide release lever is a fine motor skill, but so is pulling the trigger — and no instructor will ever tell you not to attempt that fine motor skill under stress. Another truth? Grabbing the slide with all four fingers is a recipe for “riding” the slide (i.e. keeping your hand on the slide as it goes forward). Riding the slide is a great way to ensure your pistol does not go back into battery. Pinching the slide between your thumb and forefinger is also a fine motor skill, but it is so commonly applied that most people have gotten pretty good at it. But you still need to practice.
All three will work. Don’t just practice until you get it right. Practice until you can’t get it wrong.