Today’s “LOCK” And “LOAD”

So if “LOCK” and “LOAD” is part of only military high-power rifle range work, how did it enter the general shooter’s lexicon? I remember telling Boy Scouts to “LOCK AND LOAD, ONE ROUND OF AMMUNITION” more than two decades ago when I ran the rifle range at the Goshen Scout Reservation’s Camp Bowman, even though going back through my training materials only the command “LOAD” should have been given by the book at the time.


Now, the term has entered the military, police and shooting lexicon to mean “get ready” or “prepare for action.” I think the pervasiveness of the term, like so many aspects of our society, lies with Hollywood. There is scene when John Wayne, depicting Marine Sgt. John M. Striker in the 1949 Republic pictures film “The Sands Of Iwo Jima” says: “Get out now! We’re crossing the line of departure. Lock and load!”


Then of course, there is the 1990 movie “Lock ’n Load” and the NRA Director R. Lee Ermy’s show “Lock 'N Load” on the History, as well as a hidden camera Showtime series of the same name. There was also a Dennis O’Leary comedy standup show “Lock ’N Load” as well. The phrase has appeared prominently in more contemporary war films such as “Platoon,” Full Metal Jacket” and “Saving Private Ryan.” One website gives the term appearing as dialogue in 98 different movies or television shows. While it started on military and civilian rifle ranges, the term belongs to popular culture now, having been used as on-screen dialogue by Austin Power and Peter Griffin. It gets no more pop culture than that.


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2 Responses to Today’s “LOCK” And “LOAD”

Richard Belser wrote:
November 21, 2012

Flintlocks notwithstanding, I am delighted with your research aand references. rbbiii, usn,ret., competitive service weapon shooter

Mark 23(because, the first 22 were prototypes) wrote:
October 17, 2012

I'm surprised you stayed in the 20th century, looking for the origin of the term: "Lock and Load". If you go back to the days of military flint locks, it's quite clear how the phrase originated. In loading a flint lock, most shooters load the bore first, then pull the hammer back to half-cock and prime the pan. This is perfectly safe, when no one is shooting bullets or grape-shot at you. However, the military drill originally called for the hammer to be placed at half-cock--first, before loading the bore. This was the protocol to ensure that the hammer was not fully cocked, during the heat of battle, when priming the pan with a loaded bore. So, instead of giving a command, "Half-cock and Load," half-cock became shortened to, "Lock".