Would You Hit It — Slide Release or Slingshot?

If you spend any time at all on the range with pistols, you’re going to have to make a choice for when you need to drop the slide to chamber a round: You’ll either activate the slide release of your pistol to return the slide to battery (chambering a round), or you will grab the slide, pull it to the rear, and release it (also referred to as the Slingshot). I’m not aware of any other way to accomplish this task other than the social media “air rack” (which is hardly something we should be practicing as part of our defensive regimen).

Racking the slide (Slingshot), Glock 19X.
The slingshot method.

Why is it a big deal? Why bother debating it? And gosh, why do people get so pissy about firearms debates?

I think it’s because, when we’ve decided on the “Right” way to do a given task, we reassure ourselves that it is the very best way to do it, everyone else is wrong, and that doing it that way will guarantee our success. We’ll be better looking, have a fuller head of hair, and by golly, we’ll even be better in bed if we just accomplish certain tasks using the “Right” or “Best” method!

And so we watch training videos, obsess over YouTube, and maybe attend some training classes or schools. If we’re lucky, our agency will send us to trainings and actually PAY us to expend copious amounts of ammunition while learning the new “Right” methods. In the past, my agency did just that, and I can tell you that getting paid to learn and shoot lots of ammo was pretty damn fun most of the time.

Another way we can develop our “Best” methods is to “See The Elephant.” What does that mean? It’s an old phrase that essentially means one has seen action or combat. Personal experience gives people unique insights that the training arena does not provide. The Real World tends to leave quite an impression on us.

Origins Of The Debate

A couple of schools of thought exist on why one method or the other is better. One claims that using the slide release is economy of motion and faster. The other says that under combat conditions, the effects of adrenaline will make it very difficult to perform the fine motor skill task of activating that slide release very difficult.

Which one is right?

Author grabs the slide in the Slingshot method.
When the adrenaline flows, gross motor skills are likely to be accessible, whereas fine motor skills are not. Photo: Sue Davis

At the risk of jumping ahead, it’s important to understand how adrenaline influences us during life and death struggles. Time may appear to slow down. Memory loss is very common. Being seriously injured and not realizing it, feeling no pain, is often experienced. We may experience Auditory Exclusion, during which sounds might seem far away and muted, or sometimes we don’t hear at all.

For our purposes here, loss of dexterity is the most prominent issue, for obvious reasons; we may be trying to use our digits to press a small button while our fingers are acting more like flippers. This occurs, at least partially, because our blood pulls into our core rather than our extremities. If an extremity is injured, there is less bleeding. Dexterity suffers tremendously.

Pushing the slide release on the Glock 19X.
Pushing that tiny release during a life and death encounter might be a challenge. Are you up to it?

Not All Slide Releases Are Created Equally

Slide releases vary greatly between manufacturers. Two extremes come to mind immediately: Glock and H&K. The factory Glock slide release is a relatively small, squarish, button. Personally, I love Glocks, but their slide release is a half-assed affair at best, and not at all my favorite part of their pistol series.

Slide release, Glock 19X.
Glock’s slide release button is seen here on the 19X. The releases are not very large on Glocks.

The H&K variety, on the other hand, dedicates an entire lever to the slide release. It’s not a button, but a long lever typically, and in my opinion, the best on the market for the intended purpose. The models that come to my mind are the USP and the P30 series—those levers are a couple of inches long! In the usual H&K fashion, they completely overdid it, and are to be applauded for doing so.

Slide release, H&K USP Compact.
H&K typically uses a longer lever for their slide releases, and they are to be applauded for this! Photo: HK-USA.

The slide release on my Smith & Wesson CSX is similar to the classic H&K shape, except it’s a bit smaller. Still, it is a lever that’s about 1 1/16 inches long, which gives a pretty nice landing zone for the shooter’s thumb to hit (and they put one on both sides of the CSX), making it ambidextrous. All in all, the CSX gets good marks. However, S&W’s M&P series and the Shield series have very small slide releases.

Slide release, S&W CSX.
Slide release on the Smith & Wesson CSX is a substantial lever that works wonderfully!

Springfield Armory’s slide releases seem to go the general route that Glock took; small.

Springfield Armory Hellcat, mechanix gloves, and federal 9mm luger ammo
The Springfield Armory Hellcat uses a small slide release.
Springfield Armory XD-E.
We see another small slide release on the Springfield Armory XD-E 9mm.
Slide release, Springfield Armory Ronin 1911.
The Springfield Armory Ronin 9mm version of the venerable M1911 frame pistol uses a longer slide release.
Glock 19X with Fenix weaponlight and S&W CSX.
A comparison between the Glock 19X and the S&W CSX 9mm pistols. The differences in the slide releases are quite obvious.

Slingshot Advantages

It’s ambidextrous and the slide release might not be.

“Well, I’m not left-handed,” you say, “I don’t have to be concerned about that.” Maybe so. But you DO practice shooting from both sides, right? Most refer to it as Strong Side/Weak Side. So yes, you should be shooting from your weak side, so using an ambidextrous technique is definitely a plus.

It works with the Tap/Rack/Bang (TRB) Drill.

Say you have a malfunction and have to perform a Tap Rack Bang, you’ll be grabbing the slide and pulling back to get the pistol back up and running. If you reflexively use the Slingshot method, it will be more natural for you during one of the most stressful events you will ever face: getting a handgun functioning again during a potentially lethal encounter. Such events are not the time to explore new techniques, or “wing it.” Using the same techniques saves time and helps prevent fumbling at crucial times.

Tapping the magazine, Glock 19X.
The Tap/Rack/Bang Drill is one that should be practiced on both sides. Because it is clearing a stoppage, the slide release cannot be used. Those who regularly practice the Slingshot method naturally do it when it is needed. Here we see the magazine being tapped.
Racking the slide (Slingshot), Glock 19X.
Rack! Step Two of the Tap/Rack/Bang Drill.
Bang! Firing the Glock 19X.
Bang! The final step.

Dexterity

It’s far more practical to use the entire hand to go over the top of the slide, grasp it, and pull it back while we are under the effects of adrenaline. Gross motor skills (using the entire hand) are more practical than fine motor skills (using the fingers) under adrenaline. This is not an opinion, it is a fact. I’ve done minute tasks under deadly force situations and experienced it. That said, it is not necessarily impossible to utilize fine motor skills for some people, but rather difficult. It has certainly been done in the past.

It requires less hand strength.

Shooters with smaller hands can often perform the slingshot easier than using the slide release. Also, those with smaller hands usually have to shift their grip on the pistol in order to reach the slide release. Racking the slide by hand eliminates that grip shifting. Personally, I have carpal tunnel in my right thumb, so it doesn’t have full strength, and using my thumb to activate the slide release is difficult.

Slingshot Disadvantages

It can be slightly slower than using the slide release.

The slingshot method requires more movement and once performed, the firing grip has to be reacquired.

Another method of the Slingshot, Glock 19X.
Using this particular method, the thumb and the first finger need to be strong enough to be able to pull the slide back. And it takes two hands.

It requires two hands.

So, if one hand is out of commission or otherwise occupied (maybe carrying a child to safety, for example), the Slingshot Method may be nigh on impossible.

Slide Release Advantages

Economy of Motion

The shooter merely moves his thumb, there’s simply less motion.

Pushing the slide release, Glock 19X.
Economy of Motion. One finger is all it takes to send the slide home.

It’s faster.

Because of that economy of motion, it’s just faster.

Only uses one hand.

This method only requires the shooting hand, which leaves the other hand free to perform other tasks.

Slide Release Disadvantages

May not be ambidextrous.

This varies, depending on the model of pistol used. Some pistols are equipped with a slide release on both sides.

Pushing the slide release, CSX.
S&W’s CSX has slide releases on both sides, so it’s ambidextrous. So does the Glock 19X.

Potentially difficult under an adrenaline dump.

Depending on the size of the slide release, they can be difficult to locate during stress, especially when adrenaline is thrown into the mix.

Requires Strength

Small hands or hands with strength issues may experience difficulty.

Which method is best???

Can you guess which one I’m in favor of? Yeah, it’s going over the top and grabbing the slide, I.e., the Slingshot.

Am I 100% right and others are wrong? Not at all! I base my decision on a lot of research and practical experience. For me, it’s the most practical, especially given the weakness in my right thumb. My practical experience working under adrenal stress incidents has been a driving force in my decision to choose the method that utilizes gross motor skills. Many people who live “normal” lives do not experience constant adrenal rushes, and therefore have little experience in that realm.

Slingshot method, Glock 19X.
Using the entire hand to rack the slide utilizes gross motor skills, which is important when the adrenaline is flowing.

Do I ever use the slide release? Yes. Despite being partial to the Slingshot, I do sometimes use the slide release. Does that make me a hypocrite?

I don’t think so because I believe we should train some in the opposite method that we normally use. As mentioned, maybe my non-dominant hand will be occupied or out of commission, in which case, I’m going to need to use that thumb to hit the slide release. And who knows what other circumstances might pop up that require flexibility?

Pushing the slide release, Glock 19X.
Remain flexible—at all times! Being able to use either method is the goal.

One of my former coworkers, who was former Special Forces and a Ranger Instructor, used to repeat a mantra while we were working: “Remain flexible. At all times!” We joked about it, and I got to the point where I’d finish his sentences with these little training axioms that he’d incessantly repeat (I enjoyed it all the time). But these things have always stuck with me. We really should remain flexible—at all times!

If things go to crap (and if we need to draw our pistol to solve a problem, things have, indeed, gone to crap in a big way), count on things going wrong. Mr. Murphy, of Murphy’s Law, will make an appearance, and he will throw a monkey wrench into our best-laid plans. When that happens, we’d best be ready to flow with things.

The important thing is to take it all into consideration, do your research, and decide which might be best for you—the slide release or slingshot. I do believe we should pick a method and train as extensively as we can, but we should be able to do both.

Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities.

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