Press, Chamber, or Status Check: What? When? How?

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Over-the-Top FRONT Serrations Method
Over-the-Top FRONT Serrations Method
Press, Chamber, or Status Check: What? When? How?
Press, Chamber, or Status Check: What? When? How?

I gained some insight into “Press Checks” and want to share some related ideas. There are various terms for this process, including Press Check, Chamber Check, or Status Check. Press Check does not mean verifyng that the dry cleaners have put a straight line down the front of my pants, nor checking the credentials of the media reporters. Basically, it means seeing if there is a round in the chamber of my handgun. Sounds simple enough, but shouldn’t I know if I have a chambered round. Some believe that there should always be a round in the chamber and that there is no point in carrying any other way, so a press check is NOT necessary. They mention why carry an unloaded gun? Some point out the differences between checking for a LOADED chamber and checking for an UNLOADED chamber by dropping the mag, locking the slide back, and verifying an empty gun. A good press check should be a staple for pistols and revolvers, according to some. Others say that they are pointless and will increase your risk of the gun malfunctioning. Still others say that there is a best way to perform them and certain methods can be dangerous for you and even bad for your handgun. Several comment that a Press Check is NOT meant to be a SAFETY check. So WHAT are the various methods of doing a Press Check or Chamber Check? And WHEN do you do one and should you even do one at all? After all, a lot of handguns have Loaded Chamber Indicators. Which check method is best and HOW do you do it? There are several factors to consider here and several ways of doing these checks.

Traditionally, a press-check is done with a 1911 handgun, but can be done with other guns. Some of us have observed a lot of these Press or Chamber Checks done in military and law enforcement scenarios, as well as in movies and television and, thankfully, most were done correctly or at least safely. Do you remember in the movie Heat when Al Paccino’s character did a check on his Commander-sized Colt 1911 pistol right before he and another cop were ready to confront the bad guys? Or when Steven Seagal performed them in several of his movies with his Sigs, or in the Miami Vice or various cop television series. Some were correct examples of how to do them and others were not. Let’s explore this.

WHAT? A press check is performed by pulling the slide back just far enough to see if there is a round in the chamber, but not far enough to eject a chambered round or to cause a new round to chamber. The latter can happen quite easily and could possibly cause a malfunction, stoppage, or failure to go into battery.

WHEN?  If you find yourself imminently confronting a bad guy, going into a dangerous situation, or a threatening neighborhood, it may be wise to verify the status of your gun prior to movement and action, especially if it has been a long time since you last loaded or checked your handgun. If the handgun is out of your control, or much time has elapsed from your previous use, then do the chamber check. A press or status check is simply a process to make sure you have a round in the chamber, the magazine is seated (if a pistol), and that your handgun is ready to fire. To me, it is a way to quickly check to see if you have a round chambered or not for immediate use, rather than a verification or substitution for determining if the gun is safe. However, some believe that since you pulled the slide out of battery and perhaps pulled the round back out of the chamber a little, it may be unseated and there may be a malfunction. This is especially possible if the barrel is fouled. It can be caused by built-up copper from copper-jacketed ammo that was not properly cleaned out of the chamber, by excessive unburned powder, by brass shaved off the shell casings, etc.  A lot to consider and YOUR call.

HOW? It is easing the slide back a 1/4 inch or so to witness a bit of brass case. There are a variety of safe and unsafe methods for doing this. Some include pinching the recoil spring end and the thumb together. Others use a finger to touch the round (effective in low-no light), and some include dropping the mag and pressing on the round at the top of the mag to guage approximately how full the mag is. There is a possible safety risk with some guns in half-cock after a Press Check. Some Berettas bring the hammer to a half-cock position after a safety check, so you must decock the hammer to return it to the original condition. So remember to thumb the decocker after the check. Various methods of performing chamber checks are presented below.

Loaded Chamber Indicators (LCIs)

Loaded Chamber Indicators
Loaded Chamber Indicators

Some guns now come with an indicator to tell you if a round is in the chamber with out moving it out of battery, e.g. Rugers, Sigs, Springfields, CZs, newer Glocks, Walthers. This is a Loaded Chamber Indicator (LCI.) It is usually an extractor with a “bump” on it that sticks out in some direction. If the bump is out or up, the chamber is loaded. Some are colored flags to make it easier to visually check.

Some do not like LCIs because they could support a potentially-dangerous sense of complacency among some gun owners. Given that the devices are mechanical, they can and do fail sometimes..Some also say that LCIs have been known to stick when the gun’s dirty, thus giving a “false positive”. There is a probability of a Failure to Fire. So, they focus on “witnessing the brass.”

Others believe that LCIs are an unnecessary part of your gun so should be ignored, contributing to bad safety and operator habits. Recall the safety rule that guns are always loaded. If you are relying on a LCI to tell you when your gun is safe, they say that you are ignoring that safety rule? And what are you doing with the gun when the red flag is not up that you shouldn’t be? So from a safety perspective, some don’t see the LCI adding any value and think it can actually lead to a false sense of “safety” which in turn could lead to bad habits. They say never rely on the little red LCI flag, but instead always perform a proper status or press check to verify a loaded chamber.  LCI’s are quick visual indicators if a round has loaded, like if you want to make sure the gun picked up the next round from the magazine during competition shoots, for safety purposes, do the physical chamber check.

But, if your handgun has a loaded chamber indicator, make sure you keep it clean because it may affect reliable functioning.

HOW – Methods of Performing the Chamber Check

SAFETY FIRST! If you choose to do a Chamber or Press Check and when you are performing it, remember to keep your fingers away from muzzle; keep your finger off the trigger; maintain a solid grip and control of the handgun, and remember the safety rule that ALL GUNS ARE ALWAYS LOADED. I also recommend doing both a physical AND visual check of the chamber. Under low-no light conditions, you may feel the round. Bring the slide back ONLY about one-fourth of an inch when using any of these methods. Here are some methods:

1. Pinch Method

To do a “Pinch Press Check” on a pistol like some of the “oldtimers” or military were trained, hold the gun in your strong hand. Using your support hand, put your support thumb INSIDE the trigger guard, and your support index finger on the front of the pistol covering the recoil spring plug or end, below the barrel. Then squeeze them together with your support hand. The act of squeezing will move the slide open enough to let you see whether or not a round is chambered. Most, including myself, do NOT recommend doing a chamber check this way, since it does involve placing your thumb inside the trigger guard near the trigger, as well as having your index finger near the muzzle of the front of the pistol. This method can be dangerous, if done incorrectly or hurriedly. Also, if your gun has a full-length guide rod, it is difficult for some to expand their grip far enough. A key for this method and ALL methods is to NOT cycle the slide back far enough to eject the round in the chamber.

2. Support-Hand Under FRONT Serrations Method

Support-Hand Under FRONT Serrations Method
Support-Hand Under FRONT Serrations Method

One of the “modern” press check methods is preformed by cupping your support hand and bringing it from underneath the frame, in front of the trigger guard by the dust cover, and grasping the front serrations of the bottom of the slide. Then you move the slide rearward until you can verify “brass” and touch with your trigger finger to see if a round is in the chamber. The advantage of grasping the slide at the front by the front serrations is that it overcomes the possibility of pulling the slide a little too vigorously and ejecting a live round, as well as not sweeping your support fingers in front of the gun. Some handguns, however, may not have front serrations on the slide or it can be difficult to grasp it and move it back or get leverage.

3. Over-the-Top FRONT Serrations Method

Over-the-Top FRONT Serrations Method
Over-the-Top FRONT Serrations Method

You can go over the top of the pistol and use your support-hand fingers to grab hold of the top of the front slide serrations and pull the slide back. Then you can use your trigger finger to physically and visually check inside the chamber for a round.

4. Over-the-Top REAR Serrations Method

Over-the-Top REAR Serrations Method
Over-the-Top REAR Serrations Method

You can use the same procedure as in number 3 method, but instead grab the slide by the top serrations at the REAR with your support-hand with ONLY 2 fingers and the thumb and bring the slide back a little (ONLY about 1/4 inch) to check the chamber with your trigger finger. When doing this, you can also use your support-hand pinky finger to check and feel the inside of the chamber. Some say this is awkward.

5. Strong-Hand ONLY Method

Strong-Hand ONLY Method
Strong-Hand ONLY Method

Another method used by a few military folks is to use ONLY the strong hand and index finger with NO use of the support hand, in case your support hand is disabled or injured. You pull the slide back with strong hand and check with trigger finger without any involvement of your support hand or fingers. Without proper training and regular practice, to me this method is dangerous, since you could drop your handgun. Some say it looks cool, but there are other more practical and safety considerations to me. It could be a backup check method for some perhaps, but does rely on the strength of your gun hand.

6. Support-Hand UNDER Beavertail Method

Support-Hand UNDER Beavertail Method
Support-Hand UNDER Beavertail Method

This method involves lowering your strong hand down about an inch or two below the bottom of the beavertail and putting your support hand thumb directly under the beavertailfor leverage and using your support-hand fingers to grasp the rear serrations. Then use your index finger to touch and check the inside of the chamber.

7. Over-the-Top REAR Serrations Method

With this method, you grasp the REAR serrations on top of the gun using all support-hand fingers (using either the Sling-Shot or Over-the-Top technique) and pull back the slide about one-fourth of an inch to check. You can even insert your support-hand pinky finger to check if using Over-the-Top. From my delimited experiences, this method seems to be preferred by many shooters. In fact, I cautiously use this method, so I don’t bring the slide too far back and eject a round. This Over-the-Top Rear Method is simple, can be accomplished in complete darkness by using pinky finger verification, and you have total control over the direction in which your muzzle is pointing. But, carefully PRACTICE.

Conclusion

So, it is your decision about whether to even use Press or Status Checks of the chamber, as well as how best to perform them. While some say they are of limited usefulness and not necessary, others believe it is a good “Just-in-Case Verification” when you have a doubt that there is a round in the chamber for imminent threat situations, especially if you have not handled your handgun for awhile. After all, your life may depend on it and it is cheap insurance, but do them safely and correctly. Of course, you can always do a status check and throw away a round that’s in the chamber by merely racking the slide and chambering a new round that you know is seated correctly, IF you have the situational opportunity. You then know the extractor has properly engaged the rim of the round and the round is being extracted from the chamber properly. To give you peace of mind, you can observe after the Press Check that the back of the slide is flush with top of the back strap and frame and ready for action. Remember, the presscheck is intended to verify that the chamber is loaded and should not be relied upon to verify a clear or SAFE weapon. Consider what is your purpose and always put safety first.

Continued success!

* This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only and the author strongly recommends that you seek counsel from an attorney for legal advice and your own personal certified weapons trainer for proper guidance about shooting & using YOUR firearms, self-defense and concealed carry in your state. It should not be relied upon as accurate for all shooters & the author assumes no responsibility for anyone’s use of the information and shall not be liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information or any damages or injuries incurred whatsoever. 

© 2013 Col Benjamin Findley. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in whole or in part by mechanical means, photocopying, electronic reproduction, scanning, or any other means without prior written permission. For copyright information, contact Col Ben Findley at [email protected]