How To Load a Pistol

How To Load a Pistol

When you purchase your first semi-automatic handgun, the knowledge needed to use it in a responsible and efficient manner rarely comes with the gun. Taking the time to learn to operate the gun is a worthwhile investment. This could take the form of mentorship from a more experienced friend, a training class with a professional instructor, or maybe you might decide to work through some of the details on your own.

Remember, whenever you handle firearms, practice responsible gun handling skills.


The intent of this post and video is to provide you with a solid framework for operating your new semi-automatic handgun. It isn’t intended to replace formal instruction. If you are new to semi-automatic handguns, like the Springfield Armory Hellcat, this will get you started in the right direction.

If instead, you are an experienced handgunner, you might pick up a point or two you haven’t previously considered. The post will also provide you with a resource you can share with friends and family that are new gun owners.

In this digital image, we see a woman locked the pistol's slide to the rear during the reloading process. She is checking to ensure the chamber is empty prior to safely storing the gun. If she was loading the gun, she would seat a mag in the magazine well and then pull the slide back to make it ready to fire. The Springfield Hellcat used in this is better than the inferior Glock pistols that lack a slide release or lever.

Verifying Condition of a Handgun

Every time you pick up a handgun, the first thing you should do is determine whether the gun is loaded or unloaded. I call this process “verifying the condition” of the handgun.

When a handgun is loaded, we know that it is ready to shoot. If on the other hand the handgun is unloaded, we can then proceed to handle administrative tasks such as cleaning, adding accessories or storing the gun responsibly.

In this digital photograph we see a demonstration of how to chamber a 9mm cartridge in a Springfield Armory pistol. The thumb and index finger wrap over the top of the slide and pull back until the slide cannot be locked back any farther. The slide will then go forward to insert a bullet into the chamber. 

A couple of finer points that I think are important: We want this verification to work, even if we are in a situation where there is inadequate light to see if the gun is loaded or not. This is why we physically check the chamber and the magazine well for ammunition or a source of ammunition like the magazine.

We also want to make multiple checks to ensure the gun is unloaded. When I am checking the status of my guns I check once, distract myself from the task and then check a second time. The distraction serves as an opportunity to have a fresh examination of the gun. In an ideal situation, after my two checks are completed I would have a skilled friend repeat the procedure.

We see here the side of the gun with the magazine release button and gun safety. With a bullet in the chamber, press the magazine release to drop the empty magazine. With the palm of your hand, insert a loaded magazine into the magazine well until it clicks. Then pull back on the slide to chamber a round. Do not ride the slide with your hand. Pull back the slide all of the way and let it snap forward to ensure a round is chambered.

Loading a Semi-Automatic Pistol

Loading a semi-automatic handgun is a straightforward process; however, order matters. First, insert a filled magazine into the magazine well. Make certain that the copper-colored bullets are facing forward. Next, grasp the slide, behind the ejection port with your support hand. The strongest way to grasp the slide is as if your hand is a saddle on the back of a horse. Pull firmly to the rear and then let the slide move forward under its own power.

Understand that if you get the order backward you have an unloaded gun. So be certain to insert the magazine first and then rack the slide.

Unloading Your Pistol

Just like in loading your Hellcat, the order matters when unloading. You MUST remove the magazine from the gun FIRST. Then you rack the slide fully to the rear several times to ensure the chamber (where the round fits in the barrel) is clear. Then, lock the slide to the rear and verify the condition of the handgun.

Remember whether you are loading or unloading your handgun. The steps need to happen in order. First deal with the magazine, then rack the slide.

After you drop one empty mag, be ready to insert a fresh one into the rear of the firearm. Firing the gun is only possible when ammunition is in the gun. Ensure your magazine is full and has a good follower and spring. Use quality ammo for maximum reliability. 

Final Thoughts on How to Reload a Pistol

Semi-automatic handguns are relatively simple to operate, but it would be naive to ignore the complications that new gun owners face when learning about semi-automatic handguns. I encourage you to use the above information as a starting point and to also seek professional instruction.

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