Effective Dry Fire Practice

It is extremely important you check that your gun is unloaded before practicing dry fire drills.
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It is extremely important you check that your gun is unloaded before practicing dry fire drills.

“Dry firing” or “dry practice” consists of practicing firearms manipulations without the presence of any live ammunition.

There are a couple of excellent reasons for engaging in this practice. For one thing, the rising cost of ammunition and the time burden of traveling to and from a live fire range often limits the amount of practice we can get. More practice equals more skill. Dry work can be accomplished in your own home and with no expenditure of ammunition, so there is zero cost.

Second, dry work is actually a better way to ingrain many skills. Without live fire, the shooter does not have the noise of a weapon’s discharge, the noise of other shooters’ guns firing, flying brass, reciprocating slides, and the myriad other distractions on a typical firing range. Quiet, mentally focused dry work is an excellent way to learn the feel of your trigger, for instance, or to perfect your presentation from the holster.

 

Dry practice should only be conducted in one designated, established area, and nowhere else in your home.

 

During the 1970s, the old apartheid government of South Africa was under a U.N. arms embargo and could not import ammunition. Their domestic production could not keep up with demand. As an experiment, the S.A. Army had one group of new recruits go through the normal handgun training program, while another group went through doing only dry practice.

The “dry” group did not fire a single shot until qualification day. When the scores were tallied, the dry group slightly outperformed the group which had done all the usual live fire practice. In my view, you go to training to learn new skills, but you perfect and ingrain those skills through thousands of correct repetitions. It is easier and quicker to amass 5,000 repetitions if you engage in dry work between range sessions.

Since you will be handling a real gun in your home there are certain precautions you will need to observe. Here is a checklist for you. Make a ritual out of going down this checklist every time, and before long these will be habits.

Dry practice should only be conducted in one designated, established area, and nowhere else in your home. That area should have a safe wall, that is a wall that will actually stop bullets in the event of an unintended discharge. A brick exterior wall or a stone fireplace can work, or you can use a body-armor vest as a backstop. Do not dry fire toward an interior drywall.

When you enter the dry fire area, clear the gun and remove all live ammunition from the area. This includes loaded magazines or speedloaders, rounds in your pocket, or rounds in the desk drawer. Take all live ammunition to another room, then come back and clear your gun again.

You will need a target, which is simply an object to aim at while you dry fire. You can use an actual commercial target, a hand drawn reduced scale target, or something similar. Don’t use an expensive or important item or the house pet! Remember to place the target on the safe wall or body armor backstop.

Work on your holster presentation. It should be practiced until it becomes second nature.

Work on your holster presentation. It should be practiced until it becomes second nature.

A session of mentally focused practice should probably not last more than ten to fifteen minutes. If you try to stretch the session out, you will tend to get bored and sloppy. Sloppy practice is worse than no practice. Remember, our goal is to rack up a huge number of correct repetitions over time, to build reflexive skills. Muscle memory, kinesthetic programming, conditioned reflexive responses, and habit all actually mean the same thing. All are born of consistent repetition.

If you get interrupted during the session by a phone call or other distraction, start all over again, back at step 1. Failure to do this is an invitation to disaster—unintentionally using a loaded gun for dry work.

There are two points in this process where there is actually a danger of an unintended discharge. Those two points are the very beginning and the very end of the session. Failure to clear the gun, move all ammunition out of the room, and then clear the gun again can result in an unwanted discharge.

The most common error seems to be finishing the session, loading the gun, and then saying, “Just one more rep.” When the session is over, say out loud to yourself, “This session is over. No more practice.” Leave the dry fire area for a while. Later, go back, load the gun, and say out loud to yourself, “This gun is now loaded.” At that point, it can be safely put back in the holster or wherever you keep it.

There are certain skills that lend themselves well to dry practice. Here are some that I suggest you practice frequently. By the way, these should be practiced dressed exactly as you are when going armed, including using a cover garment for concealment.

Work on your presentation from the holster. In the real world, whether you wind up drawing to ready to challenge someone, or draw to shoot, you will have to produce your pistol before you can do anything else with it. Both options should be practiced until they are second nature.

Dummy rounds, like these snap caps, are helpful in dry fire practice.

Dummy rounds, like these snap caps, are helpful in dry fire practice.

Work on trigger control. In dry practice you can more easily feel the slack take up, the trigger break, and reset. If you press the trigger and the gun goes “click” with the sights still sitting on your point of aim, then that would be a hit in live fire. If the sights move off the point of aim as the gun goes “click,” that would be a miss. Keep working.

Empty gun reloads can be easily practiced with a couple of dummy rounds (again, no live ammunition). Start with the gun in hand, with the slide locked open, and an empty magazine in the gun. Have a spare magazine with one or two dummy rounds in it. Punch out the empty magazine, insert the magazine with dummies, and close the slide. Get your hands back on the gun and get a sight picture. The dummy rounds allow the slide to go forward, simulating an actual reloading sequence.

Those are some of the obvious skills you can polish in dry work. Use your imagination as your skills progress. Recoil recovery and building a tolerance to the noise and concussion of gunfire are really about the only skills we cannot improve by dry practice, so get to work!

 

[ Tom Givens is the owner of Rangemaster in Memphis, TN. For over 30 years Tom’s duties have included firearms instruction. He is certified as an expert witness on firearms and firearms training, giving testimony in both state and federal courts. He serves as an adjunct instructor at the Memphis Police Department Training Academy, the largest in the state. Tom’s training resume includes certification from the FBI Police Firearms Instructor School, NRA Law Enforcement Instructor Development School, NRA Law Enforcement Tactical Shooting Instructor School, Gunsite 499 under Jeff Cooper, and more. ]


25 Comments (Add Yours)

  1. I’ve found the Laserlyte practice system to be very beneficial.

  2. When I first started shooting at age 10 in 1942, I was told dry fire would damage the firing pin. Are the metals better now, or was that wrong in first place ?

    1. Keith, Most gun designs have changed with different hammers and larger stronger firing pins or they are striker fired which makes it less damaging when dry firing your handgun. Back in the 40s it was not a good idea to dry fire as it would break firing pins. If you have reservations about dry fire practice snap caps are inexpensive and will do the trick for you. Peace brother. Shoot straight, shoot often and have fun with your gun… Gunnr

  3. I superglued an orange disk onto a plastic dowel which I insert into the barrel of my SIG when i am dry firing. If I don’t see orange, I don’t shoot. I cut off the top so it doesn’t block the sight picture.

  4. When you provide knowledge to your grandchildren Always express that no matter what the circumstance the Gun is Loaded!

  5. what is the laserlyte system ?

    1. laserlyte is a company that makes laser sights for hand guns and they have an indoor practice target that is activated by a small laser that fits in the barrel of your handgun and when the firing pin hits the light it flashes it onto the electronic target which lights at the point of impact if you where shooting a bullet and lets you know how good a shot you are. The target can be reset and you can practice untill you are bored or the batteries run dead. Its a nice little system although it costs a few bucks. But it works great non the less. Go to laserlyte.com and check them out.

  6. When i was a Primary Marksmen Trainer in the USMC we called these exercises “snapping im” it always precluded live fire. Invaluable !!!! Still do it today with everything from long distance shooting to concealed carry. ” a little sweat in traing will save a lot of blood in combat”. Or self defence. Great article. I even train with differemt scenerios like carrying grocery bags, and using a public bathroom.

    1. Excellent idea. I will have to include that in the families training days.

  7. Where can I purchase dummy rounds for my Rugar 357 revolver and my Sig Sauer Mosquito?

    1. They sell snap caps @ cabelas and bass pro. You local gunstore / range should have them as well.

  8. Tom, very good article and I don’t think anyone can over-stress the importance of dry fire practice.
    Do you know where I can get dry fire practice rounds for 22LR. I have found some 22lr dummies designed for practice loading and unloading but not suitable using for dry fire?
    Thanks in advance, the Lord’s peace Bro.

  9. I, out of ignorance, use to shoot with the crease of my Index finger in steed of the pad of my index finger. All my shots were going just to the leIf of my actual “Bulls Eye”. I learned compensate… however. In taking my Enhanced Concealed Carry Course in Mississippi, my gun instructor pointed this out and helped me learn another way to shoot correctly and have a controlled, strong, consistent trigger pull. I carry a Glock which has a trigger pull of 5.5 pounds… so I bought a “VARIGRIP” designed for individual finger strengthening (they make various weight sizes, as I use a 9 LBS, because I sometimes shoot my HK P30 and it has about an 11 double action first round trigger pull). I have taken a piece of white coat hanger and attached it to “VARIGRIP” to make sure when I pull the index finger back, it stays lined up. This has helped me a lot and I think adds to the “Dry Fire Discussion” and to people with similar issues. I do of course dry fire practice with with my pistols, correctly and when I am on the range I shoot much better, without compensation.

  10. I dry fire my S/W 617 .22 cal using spent cases. I save all my fired rounds and use the empties 5 times. It really helps and no damage to the gun.

  11. another method is to cut a piece of rubber 1/8′ thick like from the drain board pad your wife uses under the dish rack when you wash the dishes for her. and put a small hole in it and place it over and around the firing pin and the hammer will strike the rubber making minimum contact with the firing pin.

  12. I recently bought a Laserlite LT-9 training cartridge and have found it excellent for dry firing, point and shoot practice. If you have a pistol that allows multiple strikes, you can get great double-action trigger control practice.

  13. After removing the clip and triple checking the weapon to make sure it is unloaded. I take my S/W 40 and place a hollow-point round on the outside top of the barrrel. Aim at a target and dry fire the weapon. If the bullet falls off I am moving the weapon off the target. It has work out great for me when I get a new weapon to get the feel of the trigger pull and the blance.

  14. Try these videos from the US Army Reserve Shooting Team concerning dry fire training
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0AxXT_VgAh0
    and
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FfARgCqWCvQ

  15. Just curious I engaged in a conversation with one who claims to be a former sniper and active LEO, he promotes the idea that DryFire practice is okay with a 3 month old next to him, his following sees no problem with this? I have years attending and teaching firearm training and safety courses, I see a great deal wrong with this, as it presents a distraction and could possibly endanger he and the child. Practicing with an instructor or qualified partner in a controlled environment is what I have been taught and understand to be an acceptable practice, but with an infant in the room??

  16. My Taurus 800 Series manual say’s that dry fire [i]will[/i] damage the pistol. The problem is that it also gives no alternative method for practice. I’ll study up on some of the other posts offering ideas to cushion the hammer. Ah, yeah, mine has a hammer. I’m old school. I like SA/DA and a hammer.

  17. My Taurus slim states that also. I done it a little anyway but will get some snap caps.

  18. with little ammo available the laserlyte system works well for me and really smothes out the trigger pull. I also use green laser on the gun as it does not effect the target.

  19. Here’s a good youtube video for beginners: http://bit.ly/11eT6FJ

  20. For dry firing my Smith and Wesson 617 .22 I use
    #8×3/4″ dry wall anchors about 10 cents apiece at
    ACE Hardware.

  21. I have a Taurus 38 revolver. I have also been told dry firing will cause damage to my gun. Any suggestions for a lady wanting to practice without spending a lot of money?

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