September 18, 2019
By Richard Nance
It’s quite satisfying to press the trigger on your handgun and have the bullet impact precisely where you were aiming. In fact, this feeling is what keeps most shooters returning to the range. The problem is most of us don’t get to the range nearly as often as we would like. As a result, our skills can stagnate or even deteriorate over time.
If the only time we work on our shooting skills is at the range, we may not be much more proficient now than we were a year ago. Next year, we may be only marginally better than we are today. To make matters worse, for safety and liability purposes, many ranges don’t allow shooters to draw from the holster, shoot more than one round per second, shoot while moving, etc. When, where, and how are shooters supposed to practice these critically important skills?
Fortunately, there’s a way to significantly improve our shooting skills without actually shooting: dry fire. It’s training without live ammunition, conducted in a designated area where an unintended discharge would not result in injury, with a gun that’s been visually and physically inspected to confirm it is not loaded.
Of course, the notion of dry fire evokes boredom in many shooters because there’s no “bang” when you press the trigger. There’s no recoil. And of course, there’s no feeling of satisfaction when your bullet hits the target.
While dry fire training may not be exciting, it definitely can make you a better shooter and that is exciting. dry fire is convenient, and since you aren’t actually driving to the range, paying range fees, or expending ammunition, it’s free. The only investment is a few minutes of your time.
If your dry fire session is focused solely on trigger work, all you need is an unloaded gun. This is what most people think of when they think of dry firing: pressing the trigger on an empty pistol ad nauseam. This is undeniably beneficial, but admittedly, it’s only slightly more entertaining than watching paint dry.
dry fire training doesn’t have to be confined to trigger presses. Sure, controlling the trigger is hugely important but so is drawing, reloading and clearing malfunctions.
In order to really make the most of your dry fire sessions, you’ll need a few dummy rounds—inert training rounds that allow you to load and unload your pistol as though it were loaded with live ammunition. Another excellent tool is a shot timer or a shot timer app on your phone.
You may be wondering what good a shot timer is when you aren’t actually firing a shot. While most of us think of a shot timer as giving us a start signal and recording how fast we fire each shot in a particular string of fire, the par time feature is what is beneficial for dry fire.
Let’s say you’re working on slide-lock reloads. Maybe you start with a par time of two seconds. At the beep, you eject the empty magazine, insert one that’s loaded with dummy rounds and send the slide forward. Did you beat the buzzer? If so, try it again to make sure it wasn’t a fluke. When you can consistently make the par time, decrease it to challenge yourself.
Maybe you’re interested in improving the speed of your draws from concealment. Again, set a reasonable par time and try to be on target with a proper sight picture and trigger press before the buzzer. The same methodology can be used to practice malfunction clearing. Stage the malfunction with dummy rounds and see how quickly you can clear it. A shot timer is a way to spice up dry fire work and to track your progress.
Like anything else, you get out of dry fire practice what you put into it. Focus on quality repetitions, not just beating the par time on your shot timer.
Incorporate some slow-motion reps, focusing on getting every detail right before seeing how fast you can go. With some quality dry fire sessions under your belt, I bet you’ll see marked improvement the next time you’re at the range.
Safety Is Paramount
Just remember, when conducting dry fire training, safety is paramount. To recap, make sure your gun is unloaded. First, ensure there is no magazine in the gun. Then look into the chamber and insert a finger into the chamber to confirm it’s empty.
It’s advisable to designate a particular area to conduct dry fire training. Make sure your muzzle is pointed in a safe direction at all times. For obvious reasons, do not keep any live ammunition in the training area. If you are called away from practice or become distracted, repeat the above safety procedures. Don’t get lax about safety because your gun is “unloaded.”
dry fire may not be as exciting as live fire training—and it can’t replicate the sights, sounds and recoil associated with live-fire—but it shouldn’t be neglected. It’s a great way to focus on shooting fundamentals without being distracted by where your bullet holes appear on the target. Sure, to be a good shooter, you actually have to shoot, but dry fire is a great way to hone your skills and stay sharp between range days.