Firearms
Press Check [FIREARMS]

Press Check [FIREARMS]

What is a press check?

A press check is the act retracting the slide or bolt far enough to confirm that a round is in the chamber. 
 
I used to think it was a “brass check”.
 

Disclaimer

This blog post and other posts DO NOT constitute or form an instructor-student relationship between the author (me) and the reader (you). Online education can only supplement in-person formal instruction, it cannot replace it. It is your responsibility to understand the firearm laws in your area and to follow the Firearms Safety Rules.

Press Check
Example of a press check on a Glock loaded with a dummy round.

Objections to Press Checking

The most common objections I hear to conducting a press check are as follows:
 
  1. Failure to feed is uncommon.
  2. Your slide may remain out of battery after conducting the press check.
 
I agree that failure to feed is uncommon in most modern firearms, but I like to stop Murphy in his tracks. Do yourself a favor and perform a press-check.
 
Reason #2 is valid as well. Dirty weapons or cold climates change the viscosity of lubricant. This change in viscosity can cause the slide/bolt to not function smoothly, resulting in the slide sticking out of battery.
 
There is an easy fix for this. For pistols, bump the rear of the slide with your closed fist after the press-check. For Mil-Spec Armalites (AR’s), tap the forward assist.
 
A final mitigation to this is to become familiar with your firearm. Know what wrong looks like so you can identify when the slide/bolt is out of battery. Some may say that this familiarity prevents you from even needing to do a press check because of the unique sound it makes when a round is chambered. However, I like to rely on habitual systems, especially when it could be the difference between a click and a bang. 

Why conduct a press check?

Failure to feed is when the bolt/slide fails to strip a cartridge from the magazine and fed it into the chamber. This can occur due to the following:
 
  1. You failed to insert a magazine (user error).
  2. After inserting the magazine, you forgot to rack the slide/bolt (user error).  
  3. You did not fully insert the magazine (user error)
  4. You short stroked the slide/bolt (user error).
  5. A bad magazine follower or firearm malfunction (equipment error).
  6. The round you just fired did not cycle the slide fully. This could result in an empty casing being in the chamber (equipment error).
 
Not having a round chamber while on the flat range is nothing more than an inconvenience. To remedy, slap the bottom of the magazine, cycle (rack) the slide/bolt, and attempt to fire (slap, rack, bang). Slapping the bottom of the magazine helps to fully seat it in the magwell. 
 
Although, if this were to happen during a deadly force encounter, it could be a bad day. Thus, conducting a press check is a critical step for ensuring a round is in the chamber.  
 

When to do a press check

A press check can be performed any time to confirm a round is chambered. Although, there are more preferable times than others. The following are times when you should perform a press check.
 
  1. After first loading your weapon. Loading your CCW weapon, your duty weapon before shift, or your weapon before training. 
  2. Before reholster your handgun. The situation will dictate whether this is tactically acceptable
  3. After engaging a threat/target and time allows. Think of conducting a press check like conducting a tactical reload.

How to perform a press check

Handgun

Rear of Slide

Some shooters like to pull the rear of the slide when conducting a press check. They do this using their support (weak) hand with fingers and thumb pinching the rear of the slide, or by taking the weapon (strong) hand and wrapping the fingers over top of the slide. 
 
I do not prefer either of these methods because: 
 
  1. Manipulating the rear of the slide is great for gross motor movements (loading and clearing malfunctions). However, slow and controlled manipulation is difficult to do in this way.
  2. I am not a fan of removing my weapon hand from the pistol grip (fire control).
 
These two methods may have their application, but there are better alternatives. If you use this method, remember to bump the rear of the slide afterwards to ensure it is back in battery. 
 
Press Check
Pinch method
Press Check
C-clamp method
Single Handed Press Check
Weapon hand method

Front of Slide

Manipulating the front of the pistol slide affords much more control and dexterity. To do this, place the top of the slide in the webbing between your thumb and index finger. Then, wrap your thumb and fingers around the top of the slide or around the bottom of the frame. Remember to bump the rear of the slide afterwards to ensure it is back in battery. 
 
The added control is due to your hand being in contact with both the slide and the frame. This provides more awareness and control of the slide’s position relative to the frame.
 
***ENSURE NO PART OF YOUR BODY IS IN FRONT OF THE MUZZLE***
Press Check
Slide in webbing of hand.
Press Check
Fingers and thumb wrapped around slide and frame.
Press Check
Slowly retract slide rearward.

Chamber Indicator

Modern handguns typically have a chamber indicator that will let the user know if the chamber has a cartridge loaded, sans Glock. These indicators are either in the form of a physical indicator that sticks out or a small opening to allow you to view the brass casing
 
While these are very useful, I do not prefer to rely on them for reasons I will discuss later.

Armalite (AR) Platform

Weapon Hand

To conduct a press check of an AR with the weapon hand (strong hand), wrap your hand around the buffer tube and hook your thumb over the charging handle. Next, pull the charging handle (CH) rearward with your thumb. 
 
Inspect the bolt carrier group (BCG) as it retracts. A brass casing should be attached to the bolt face. Remember to bump the Forward Assist afterwards to ensure the Bolt Carrier Group is back in battery. 
 
Once again, I do not like taking my weapon hand off fire control and do not prefer this method for most applications

Support Hand

With your index finger of your support hand curled, hook the edge of your finger on the charging handle and place your thumb on the other side. Then, slowly begin to manipulate the charging handle rearward until you can see the round attached to the front of the bolt face

Additional Considerations

Brass + Bullet

The common method for conducting a press-check is to retract the slide/bolt far enough to view the brass casing. I had performed a press-check in this manner for years until realizing one day that this doesn’t paint the whole picture.
 
Depending on the malfunction, there is a chance for there to be a brass casing in the chamber without a bullet. This can occur due to one of the following:
 
  1. Firing a pistol during a close combat physical altercation and the slide did not cycle fully after firing a shot. This could be due to a contact shot or another interference with the slide. (Hopefully if this happens, you’ll just tap and rack)
  2. The slide did not cycle fully due to a low power round, or a dirty/cold weapon.
  3. The spent casing was not extracted due to a broken extractor, ejector, and/or casing rim.
 
Regardless of the cause, a standard press-check or chamber indicator will not tell you that an empty casing is in the chamber, rather than a live round. Thus, I started conducting press-checks such that I could see the casing and the bullet. If Case 3 occurred, it would be very obvious something was wrong.
 

Challenges

 
The challenge with this method is that it requires you to be comfortable performing a regular press-check. The difficulty is to retract the slide/bolt far enough to view part of the bullet while not accidentally extracting the round . Mechanically, it is very possible to do this, and I do it all the time. Maybe there is someone with more experience than me who has valid reasons why this method is a bad idea, but it has worked for me for years.

Low Light Press Check

Low light conditions may inhibit your ability to visually confirm that a round chambered. To conduct a press check during low light conditions, you will need to use your other hand’s index finger to confirm a round chambered. To do this, retract the slide/bolt as usual. Then, reach up with the index finger of your other hand to physically confirm a round is in place.
 
Conducting the brass+bullet press check would be much more difficult to do in this manner. Largely due to the extra distance you would need to retract the round to physically touch the bullet. It would also be more likely that you might extract the live round or induce a malfunction. This method is also relatively difficult to do with gloves.

Do Not Use To Clear Your Weapon

Do not use a press-check to confirm your firearm is unloadedTo ensure your firearm is unloaded and clear of ammunition, you should remove the magazine (First!), lock the slide/bolt to the rear, visually and physically inspect the chamber, then SLOWLY ride the slide/bolt home while visually inspecting the chamber. All of this should occur while orienting your firearm in a safe direction. 
 

Safety Fail Safes

 
I also recommend cycling the slide three or more times to ensure it is clear. It is not because I think a round is going to magically appear should you perform a step out of sequence, but due to the safeguard it provides. 
 
For instance, if you cycle the slide/bolt before removing the mag), it should be obvious something is wrong when bullets start extracting. The inconvenience of cycling the slide/bolt a few extra times pales in comparison to the inconvenience of a negligent discharge.
 
Building habits such as this as well as press-checking are important for mitigating mistakes when you’re tired, stressed, or rushed. These, as well as many other firearm manipulation tasks should be ingrained on a subconscious level

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