How to create your own ‘load and make ready’ checklist (VIDEO)

What is the universal standard operating procedure for loading a firearm? Is there a universal standard? The whole concept seems like a pretty straightforward process, but how many times have we seen folks step up to the shooting line and get a “click” when they were expecting a “BANG”? Or maybe they go to shoot their first round and the mag falls out of the gun onto the ground. It happens more often than people would like to admit.

Now, I fully understand that there is more than one right way to skin the preverbial cat. Please don’t take my preferred thoughts and methods on this topic as “the only way.” This is merely to generate discussion and thought. Also, hopefully to help some people find their own loading checklist.

There are a lot of firearms out there and each type has its own uniqueness. I am going to specifically cover a modern semi-auto handgun and AR-15, but these loading methods could be applied to many other platforms as well. Again, the idea is to create an automatic checklist in your head so that when you are loading your own firearm it is easy to spot an anomaly and create automatic repeatability.

These modern firearms are very easy to load but you can really make a mess of things if it’s done improperly. There are two major actions that need to take place to load a gun: inserting a magazine and charging the weapon. What other actions and redundancies you add are entirely up to you. I like to add some other checks and balances to these two main actions as well before I’m ready and we will cover all that next.

My checklist

As I stated in the beginning, this is my personal loading procedure. This is what I do every time to make sure my firearm is ready to go. Whether I am at the range or before I leave the house in the morning. It’s repetitive and monotonous but that’s the point.

I pick up my magazine and make sure I have the desired number of rounds in it. I do this by looking at the numbered holes on the back of the mag or by pressing down on the top round to make sure there isn’t room for more rounds. I typically load my firearm on a closed bolt and slide. This means I need to make sure that magazines get inserted firmly. I then tug on the magazine to make sure it is locked in there and then sometimes I pull on it again for good measure.

If you do not want to press check your AR-15 then make a mental note of which side the top round is on in your magazine before loading. After chambering a round pull the mag back out and visually confirm that the top round is on a different side. (Photo: Ben Brown/

During the press check you can touch the round to confirm that it is there if visibility is low. (Photo: Ben Brown/

Next I charge the gun. I like to do this in a fast aggressive manner to ensure that the bolt and slide have all the inertia its needs to strip a round off the top of the mag. I have seen a lot of folks slowly “walk” or “ride” the slide/charging handle forward. This can cause the gun to be out or battery. Your gun will not fire when it is out of battery or worse it will set off an un-chambered round.

Now comes the controversial press check. I do not think this needs to be a disputed action though. A press check is simply a double check. This action gives me a positive ID of a round in the chamber. If you are in a low-light situation you can physically feel for a round in the chamber when performing a press check as well. What about loaded chambered indicators? I flat out don’t trust them and not all firearms have them. So I don’t rely on chamber indicators to be part of my checklist.

The forward assist ensures that my bolt is back in battery. (Photo: Ben Brown/

Closing the dust cover is the last step in my AR15 loading checklist. (Photo: Ben Brown/

Since I press checked, I am going to make sure the gun is back in battery. I will give three good taps to the back of the slide or forward assist on an AR-15. With an AR-15 I will then close the dust cover. I am not closing the dust cover because I really think that I am going to prevent some sort of dirt or debris from getting in the chamber although it is possible. I close it because it is a touch point. A way to tell my brain subliminally that I have completed my loading checklist.

The last part has nothing to do with loading but it is a part of my procedure. I will look at my sight picture. Is my red dot on? Are my optics adjusted to the correct magnification and parallax? Are my handgun sights still attached to the gun? Yes… I presented my handgun one time and the front sight was gone.

Ready to Rock

The idea here is to make sure that your firearm is ready to go, when it needs to be ready. It is easy to get complacent and careless with such a rudimentary task but if we can create a repeatable process then we can eliminate some issues. Your load and make ready checklist can be used when you put your concealed carry on, step on the range, or begin a course of fire. Just make sure the process works for you.

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