This is the way to hold a loaded magazine -- toe of the floor plate in the palm of your hand, thumb and fingers along the lower part of the magazine and the index finger along the front edge to guide it into the receiver.
Last week we discussed the basics of manipulating the semi-auto pistol. Now, we're going to launch into the details, starting with the Administrative manipulations. This category includes loading, unloading or verifying the status of the pistol - is it loaded or unloaded.
The Admin manipulations are performed in a "Low-Ready" position. The hands, arms and pistol are extended out in front of the body with the muzzle pointing in a downward position. This keeps the pistol pointing in a safe direction. The Admin actions always start with the magazine and end by checking the chamber.
With these actions, and almost everything else, it's the small details that make a big difference. Consistency is the key; all your manipulations are done the same way every time, which ensures efficiency and safety.
For example, every time you pick up a magazine it should be positioned in your hand with the first finger running up the front of the mag and actually touching the top round. This tells you the mag is loaded, and the top round isn't sticking partially out of the mag, which prevents it from being inserted into the pistol. The thumb and fingers are down low on the mag with the base-pad or bottom of the magazine in contact with the heel of the hand.
Loading starts by "indexing" the mag. You bring the mag up at an angle – top of the mag tilting forward - and index the back of the magazine with the back of the magwell. This is a positive index that's easy to feel, as opposed to trying to stick it straight in. After hitting this index you align the mag with the magwell and start pushing it in. At this point you open up the thumb and fingers, seating the mag aggressively using the heel of the hand.
When you're manipulating the firearm use aggressive actions, applying more force than should be necessary to ensure positive results. Then if you're a little distracted by the guy that's trying to kill you and you use less force than you normally do it, will still be enough to get the job done.
Perform these actions with head and eyes up, learning how to manipulate the pistol without having to see it. This is especially important when involved in a confrontation. There are more important things to look at than your weapon. If it's dark you won't be able to see it anyway. The only time you should need to look at it is when visually checking the chamber.
Next, chamber a round by cycling the slide. We teach using a "C" clamp grip on the slide, clamping it between the heel of the hand and the fingers. (This is where all your gripping strength is.) Make sure your fingers or hand are not blocking or covering the ejection port, which obviously will cause problems. Cycle the slide one time, again aggressively.
You've gone through all the actions to load, but the last step of all Admin actions is checking the chamber. This can be a visual check – pulling the slide slightly back to see the round – or a physical check – pull the slide rearward and use a finger to physically feel for the round. Checking the chamber is cheap insurance. Now you know when you press the trigger it will go "bang."
Unloading starts with the magazine. Remove it and place it in the pinky finger of the firing hand, clamping it against the bottom of the pistol grip for more retention. (You keep the mag at hand for reasons that will be clear when we discuss Functional manipulations.) Cycle the slide three times. Three is the magic number, for anything except loading. Sometimes once won't get it done, and again you'll see these same actions for malfunctions.
Unloading ends by checking the chamber. Visually check it. You cycled the slide three times, but if your extractor is having a problem there could still be a round in the chamber.
Verifying the status of the pistol – is it loaded or unloaded – starts with the mag and ends by checking the chamber. To confirm the pistol is unloaded stick your fingers of the support hand into the magwell. This gives you a physical confirmation that regardless of what type pistol it is there's no mag in it. Cycle the slide three times. You end by visually checking the chamber for clear.
To confirm the weapon is loaded remove the magazine. Make sure it's loaded, then insert and seat it in the pistol. Check the chamber to confirm it's loaded.
Knowing how to manipulate your pistol starts with learning how to load and unload. The key is consistency, manipulating the weapon the same way every time regardless of the circumstances. This ensures safety and efficiency. At the same time you're developing one set of skills that will apply to all your manipulations, which we'll be discussing next. In the mean time practice the loading and unloading skills. You'll be surprised at how much you can learn by spending quality time with your firearm.
Tiger McKee is director of Shootrite Firearms Academy, located in northern Alabama. He is the author of "The Book of Two Guns" - http://shootrite.org/book/book.html writes for several firearms/tactical publications, and is featured on GunTalk's DVD, "Fighting With The 1911 - http://shootrite.org/dvd/dvd.html McKee's new book, AR-15 Skills and Drills, is available off Shootrite's website: