The Problem: The other day you were thinking about how to add another round to your concealed-carry pistol. You have been following the debate over whether or not to carry with a round in the chamber. Your initial reluctance to carry a round in the chamber is at odds with your desire to maximize capacity. What steps can you take to ensure you’re as safe as possible when carrying with a round in the chamber?
The Solution: Maximizing the amount of ammunition in a firearm carried for self-defense is an excellent idea. Consider how it is accomplished to ensure safety and that the mechanical operation of the firearm isn’t affected. There are several schools of thought regarding carrying with a round in the chamber to maximize semi-automatic-pistol capacity.
In training, where handling familiarity is built through repetition, start with the empty pistol holstered and the student facing a suitable backstop. First, have the student draw the pistol, lock the slide to the rear, perform a visual and physical check to verify the gun is empty, then release the slide and ready the pistol for holstering (decock, apply the safety, etc.), after which they holster the handgun and then apply any appropriate retention devices.
Once the pistol is secure, insert a fully loaded magazine in the gun with enough force to lock it in place. Tug on the magazine to ensure it is fully seated. Then, draw the pistol and point it toward the backstop, rack the slide to chamber a round, after which reholster as previously described.
Carrying with a round in the chamber of a pistol can be accomplished in one of several ways. The magazine seated in the pistol can be removed and replaced by a spare from your magazine pouch, or the magazine in the gun could be removed and one round can be added prior to reinserting the magazine into the pistol as earlier described. The latter is a good indicator of a round in the chamber, because it is one round short of full after retracting and releasing the slide. Logic suggests that round is therefore in the chamber.
When loading the full magazine into the pistol, there needs to be at least 1⁄8 inch of vertical movement in the ammunition column against the magazine spring to allow the magazine to seat under the closed slide. If that movement isn’t present, the magazine may not seat properly and/or the slide may be restricted, possibly causing a stoppage or malfunction. This could be an indication the magazine wasn’t loaded with the correct number of rounds, or it may have been re-assembled incorrectly after it had been taken apart for maintenance. Diagnosing and correcting these sorts of problems are best done immediately to prevent this from becoming problematic later.
Where handling repetition isn’t a concern, the pistol can be loaded by drawing, performing the visual and physical inspection, inserting a fully loaded magazine, releasing the slide forward to chamber a round and reholstering in the prescribed manner. Topping off would be the same as in the first method described.
A variant of the second method would be removing the magazine that is one round less, temporarily storing it until it can be refilled, and replacing it with a full magazine prior to reholstering, similar to the actions performed when practicing a tactical magazine exchange. The shooter wants to optimize the amount of ammunition in the pistol when an opportunity presents itself while saving any ammo still in the partially depleted magazine.
Loading and reloading procedures have a degree of variability, but maintaining the maximum amount of ammunition available to you in your carry pistol is a tactical advantage that is easily accomplished with a little practice.