How Dry-Fire Practice Can Make You a Better Shooter

How Dry-Fire Practice Can Make You a Better Shooter

Mention "dry-fire" as a must-do part of any defensive firearms training and you can almost hear a listener's brain turning off and his eyes glazing over. If pushed to explain this lack of enthusiasm, sooner or later they'll say, "It's boring." Well, yes, there's definitely no sizzle to clicking an empty pistol at an improvised target or blank wall. Also, there aren't any of the things that make live fire enjoyable: no loud noise, no recoil, no downrange results with which to congratulate (or criticize) yourself. No shooting the breeze with fellow handgunners about the great merits of your choice of gun and caliber. No discussion of shooting tips, nor any help in rationalizing your poor performance. Dull.

Two of the reasons offered for not dry-firing are that it can damage the gun (in particular, the firing pin/striker could break) and without live fire you don't learn to control the recoil of the firearm. While there's some truth to firing pin damage, with modern firearms this is only a remote possibility. One top shooter I know dry-fired his Glock about 80,000 times before the firing pin started to wear down. (It didn't "break," however.)

It's true you don't learn how to control the arm in live fire. But recoil control should supplement dry-fire. After all, if you can't hit anything due to lack of trigger control, there's little reason to shoot.

On the positive side, the strongest argument offered for dry-firing is cost savings. I'm not talking just about ammo here, although with today's supply and demand situation that's certainly a big one. There's also the time and money spent for travel to and from the range, along with costs associated with using the range.


While most everyone agrees that dry-firing is the best way to learn trigger control, "boring" appears to trump everything. I've done both live- and dry-fire but, early on, most of my practice was live fire thanks to the U.S. Army and as a special agent with the U.S. Secret Service—along with a lot of free GI .45 ACP ammo. By adding reloading to 10,000 rounds of hardball, I spent my practice time at a range. I got better, but I also ingrained some bad habits that were masked by live-fire and bedevil me even now, some four decades later.


Dry-fire practice is invaluable in that you can focus on one thing at a time without the distractions of live fire. If you're concerned about damaging your handgun—although, as mentioned earlier, most modern handguns will stand up to more dry-firing than most any of us will ever do—buy a dozen or so snap caps. These are inert, visibly marked dummy cartridges to cushion the firing pin strike. You want to buy at least a dozen, because more is always better, and you will certainly lose or misplace some. They're great not just for dry-firing but also for gun manipulation drills such as malfunction clearing and mag changes.


As to where to start dry-fire practice, some basic questions arise, but the first order of business is safety; dry-fire does not also include "dumb-fire." All of you know the "unloaded" handgun may well be the most dangerous gun. I have a general impression that accidental discharges happen more with "empty" rather than loaded guns. How many times have we all read or heard, "I didn't think it was loaded," right after the "bang"?

Anecdotally, I think that "dumb-fire" mostly destroys wall light switches, TV sets and full-length mirrors. (Mirrors get it when practicing draw-and-fire drills.) And yes, there have been fatalities.

So you must begin with a verified safe and empty handgun, ammo separate from the gun and preferably put in another room. Next, you need a location where you will not be interrupted by anyone. Once established, most of your "downrange" area must be able to stop an accidental live round.


Finally, have firm time limits that are not exceeded for any reason. If you then want to load up, do it in the location of your ammo—not in the dry-fire area. Wall switches, TV sets and full-length mirrors are most often nailed after formal practice, usually a case of "just one more."

Begin with the most basic method, which requires only a safe and empty handgun and a wall for the Wall Drill, which means using a wall that is light-colored and is a backstop more than capable of stopping a bullet from penetrating or ricocheting. There is no target; the drill is simply to bring the gun up, align the sights and press the trigger, while observing the action of the sights as the sear releases. (George Harris, formerly of SIG Academy, is the one who dubbed this the Wall Drill.)

Here you learn trigger control, which is 90 percent of effective firearms shooting. You can see how your trigger press affects sight alignment, along with how you must maintain your sighting even after the sear releases. Jerk the trigger and the front sight dives or snaps to the side and down, out of the rear sight notch. Boring? Yes. Worse still, you have no good excuse for this, although blaming a too-heavy or rough trigger pull is common.


There are no simple tricks. Problem is, there's no way to excuse what you see your sights do when you jerk rather than pull the trigger. Sure, you can rationalize and claim you really need the ubiquitous "trigger job," but this excuse lasts only until get the work done and find your front sight still disappears when you pull (read: jerk/yank) the trigger.

You can have a change of pace by modifying the drill with an eraser-tipped lead pencil and a sheet of paper for the "pencil drill" or design your own. Hang your target such that your gun muzzle is almost touching it. When the pencil is launched, its tip will dimple or mark, forming a pattern of your efforts. WARNING: Do not fire the pencil at anyone or anything! Depending on the gun's firing system, the pencil point will break skin.

Dry-fire a dozen or so times while paying attention to only one thing at a time. If you try to correct multiple errors, you can't know which correction worked on a particular error. Start with observing how your trigger press affects sight alignment. By the way, if you're not seeing this, you're closing your eyes just as the sear releases.

Dry-fire practice is the foundation on which you build shooting skills. Did I say dry-fire is boring? Add this: It is also indispensable.

Recommended for You

The SIG SAUER P365 (model # 365-9-BXR3) may just be the subcompact 9mm against which all others will be judged. Compact

SIG P365 Review

James Tarr - October 31, 2018

The SIG SAUER P365 (model # 365-9-BXR3) may just be the subcompact 9mm against which all...

Available in .38 Super, 9mm and .45 ACP, the Ed Brown 1911 Executive Commander offers a terrific balance of weight, power and shootability. 1911

Ed Brown 1911 Executive Commander 9mm Review

J. Scott Rupp - May 08, 2019

Available in .38 Super, 9mm and .45 ACP, the Ed Brown 1911 Executive Commander offers a...

The number of accessories and aftermarket upgrades for the SIG P320 is only going to increase. Accessories

SIG P320 Accessories and Upgrades

James Tarr - December 14, 2017

The number of accessories and aftermarket upgrades for the SIG P320 is only going to increase.

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Teaching New Shooters

Teaching New Shooters

Julie Golob of Team Smith & Wesson guest stars, joining Jim and Scott for a discussion of how best to introduce new shooters to the sport.

The New Speer Gold Dot G2 Duty Handgun Load

The New Speer Gold Dot G2 Duty Handgun Load

Speer's Jared Hinton shows OSG's Lynn Burkhead the new Speer Gold Dot G2 Duty Handgun load.

All About Handgun Ammo

All About Handgun Ammo

Rich and Jim get into the nitty gritty of the FBI ammo protocol, firing into various barriers to illustrate what can happen to a bullet.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

I don't have a distinct recollection of the first time I reloaded a cartridge – it's been a long Ammo

To Cast a Good Bullet

Bart Skelton - June 28, 2012

I don't have a distinct recollection of the first time I reloaded a cartridge – it's been a...

As you will learn in this detailed review, the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield EZ 380 (manufacturer SKU # 180023) is an easy-racking, soft-shooting pistol. Compact

Smith & Wesson M&P Shield EZ 380 Review

James Tarr - November 06, 2018

As you will learn in this detailed review, the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield EZ 380 (manufacturer...

Guns are fun, and cheap guns are even more fun. Spend less on the firearm and more on ammo with these 10 low-priced pistols. Compact

10 Cheap Guns Under $250

Evan Brune - September 24, 2015

Guns are fun, and cheap guns are even more fun. Spend less on the firearm and more on ammo...

See More Stories

More Personal Defense

The genesis of this article resulted from numerous online blogs and forums relating to defensive Personal Defense

7 Most Common Defensive Shooting Myths

David Kenik - December 08, 2014

The genesis of this article resulted from numerous online blogs and forums relating to...

 A fistful of drills to enhance your pistol skills.

There's nothing wrong with shooting drills for Personal Defense

Five Drills To Enhance Your Pistol Skills

Richard Nance - May 09, 2018

A fistful of drills to enhance your pistol skills. There's nothing wrong with shooting...

There's something in the DNA of some gun guys, a genetic compulsion that they cannot resist: They Personal Defense

7 'Innovative' Handgun Cartridges that Failed

Patrick Sweeney - August 01, 2013

There's something in the DNA of some gun guys, a genetic compulsion that they cannot resist:...

See More Personal Defense

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.