Unloading a Handgun

This is one of the most important skills for anyone using handguns. The steps are different for a revolver and a semi-automatic.

Unloading a Revolver

Here are the steps for unloading most double action revolvers. There are some revolvers that work differently. We advise you to consult your owner’s manual before handling any gun at all and certainly before unloading it :

  • Point the gun in a safe direction.
  • Hold the gun in your shooting hand. .
  • Put your non-shooting hand under the gun.
  • Open the cylinder of the revolver with the middle fingers of the non-shooting hand; the revolver is now being held in the non-shooting hand.
Opening the cylinder of a revolver using the non-shooting hand

Opening the cylinder of a revolver using the non-shooting hand

  • Look into the rear of the cylinder. The holes there are called “chambers.” If the gun is unloaded, all of the chambers should be empty—nothing in them at all. It is good practice to feel the back of the chambers—this gets one used to verifying that a gun is unloaded even if it is dark.
  • If the cylinders are not completely empty, continue to hold the gun in your non shooting hand with the cylinder pushed out, move the muzzle so that it is pointing straight-up, keeping the gun pointed in a safe direction during that movement. At this point, gravity may make some or all of the ammunition fall out.
  • With the muzzle pointed up, strike the ejector rod with the palm of your shooting hand sharply 2-3 times. This should push all of the contents of the chambers out.
  • Reposition the revolver (still in the non-shooting hand) so that you can see the back of the cylinder, keeping the muzzle pointed in a safe direction during that movement. If the chambers are still not empty, you must manually remove all cartridges from the chambers with your shooting hand.
  • Once all chambers are empty, the gun is unloaded.

Two important notes:

  • Position the cylinder to make sure you can see ALL of the chambers. Sometimes, the cylinder is not completely out or the body of the gun obscures a chamber. In that case, you can miss a loaded chamber.
  • If you see a casing in the cylinder, you do not know whether it is an intact cartridge or just a casing left over from a discharged round. You must assume it is an intact cartridge. If you see anything at all in any of the chambers, treat the gun as if it were loaded.

Unloading a Semi-Automatic

Here are the steps to unload most semi-automatics. There are some semi-automatics that work differently. We advise you to consult your owner’s manual before handling a gun at all and certainly before unloading it:

  • Point the gun in a safe direction.
  • Pick the gun up in a proper grip with your shooting hand.
  • If the gun has a safety, make sure it is engaged.
  • Press the magazine release and let the magazine drop out. If you are holding the magazine, put it down before you proceed with the following steps.
  • Holding the gun so the grip is pointing down and the muzzle pointing in a safe direction, rack the slide of the gun so that the ejection port is open. A cartridge may eject when you do this; let it fall to the ground. If there is a slide lock, use it to keep the slide open.
  • Keeping the gun pointed in a safe direction, look into the chamber of the gun. If the chamber is an empty hole, proceed to the next step. If it is not empty, the gun is loaded. Try racking the slide a few times. If the cartridge in the chamber does not eject, you will have to manually remove the cartridge from the chamber.
The chamber of this semi-automatic is empty

The chamber of this semi-automatic is empty

  • Now, keeping the gun pointed in a safe direction, look down the hole from which the magazine was removed. You should see air and no cartridges. If you see a cartridge, the gun is not unloaded. Try racking the slide a few times to see if you can get the cartridge out. Then check visually to see it is gone. If you see nothing, proceed to the next step.
  • Keeping the gun pointed in a safe direction with the grip pointed down, rack the slide a few times. If anything comes out, repeat steps five through eight.
  • Now, put the gun down, pick up the magazine, and remove all ammunition from the magazine. The gun is unloaded.