The concept of dry-fire (or for those purists out there, we can use the term dry-practice) is often dismissed by many but also inversely and unfortunately overused by others. (For example: Due to some law-enforcement (LE) agencies’ ammunition budget constraints, dry practice is often the big replacement for live fire.) In a perfect, money-is-no-object world, dry-fire should compliment as much live fire as time and funds allow.
Dry-practice should also be a fairly significant and useful portion of your training package—especially when learning a new technique or focusing on specific principals like the four below.
Let’s start with the basic safety rules for dry-firing:
- CONDUCT with your full concentration—no distractions.
- ENSURE the gun is unloaded—no magazine inserted.
- VISUAL & TACTILE CHECK - With the slide (or bolt) locked back—via the ejection port—inspect the chamber end of the barrel and down through the grip toward the magazine well to confirm the firearm is unloaded and no magazine is inserted. Many like to use a finger to ensure nothing is in the chamber.
- DOUBLE CHECK that all magazines are unloaded—no live ammo.
- REMOVE all ammunition from the dry-fire area.
- PLACE targets to use as specific aiming points.
- CHOOSE a suitable backstop / direction, so that if a round was to discharge, your backstop stops the bullet and causes no injury and minimal physical damage.
- Before doing that first trigger press - CHECK AGAIN that the gun is unloaded.
Once you've gone through the safety checklist, you're ready to start your dry-fire practice.
1. TRIGGER PRESS DRILL
This is a great exercise that focuses on keeping the gun as still as possible while learning to manipulate the trigger quickly:
- Rack slide to set the trigger.
- With the gun in your two-handed firing grip at full presentation, bring the gun back to your “natural handclap position” while maintaining grip pressure and hand positions. (I got this description from Ron Avery many years ago—thanks Ron!)
- Focus your attention downward, where you are essentially looking over the top of the gun—you are primarily seeing the top of the slide.
- Press the trigger as you so deem necessary—imagine the type of shot you are trying to replicate, i.e., shooting a group at 15 yards.
- As you work the trigger up to the point the firing pin is released, pay specific attention to how much left or right movement there is while looking at the top of the slide.
- Most new shooters will see movement to the left or right and/or down or up. This is typically caused by movement in the hands or by the trigger finger. No movement at all means you’ve done a perfect trigger press!
- Repeat starting at Step 1. Once you are able to hold the gun still, increase your trigger press speed. Focus on the consistency and stillness of the hand/grip pressure as you increase the speed of your trigger press .
Work up to the point where you are working the trigger quickly—one-eighth-of-a-second from start to finish of press. Minimal movement to none is the goal.
Bonus: DRY-FIRE FRIEND
If a training partner is present, have him or her perform Step 1 as soon as the trigger breaks. Someone working the slide both mimics recoil and resets the trigger mechanism quickly. This assistance allows you to continue with your series of dry presses without breaking your grip. Additionally, you can attempt to reset your trigger finger during the simulated reset/recoil process.
2. START POSITION VARIATIONS
At a match you will, and in real life you might, be drawing from positions other than standing, gun loaded and holstered, with both feet stable on even ground. Practicing varied positions can be extremely beneficial.
Vary your dry-fire start position:
- Holding an item in your hands
- Standing behind a wall
- Facing “uprange”
You can also vary the gun’s start position:
- Gun on a table
- Gun in a box
- Gun in a drawer
3. MASTER MOVEMENT
Once you’ve practiced some of the different start “positions” above, incorporate movement during your draw or after retrieving your firearm. Movement changes everything.
Earlier this summer, I shot a one-day, 10-stage LE pistol match in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Hats off to the Utah LE group for putting on a great event.) All stages required some type of movement prior to engaging the first target. And although dry-fire movement practice is not the same as moving while shooting a loaded gun, I do find the dry practice beneficial.
4. BEDTIME ROUTINE
At night, do you keep your firearm on a nightstand, in a drawer or in a bed-mounted holster? If so, when was the last time you dry-practiced getting out of bed to retrieve your firearm from its location?
And in what condition is your firearm? If you keep your firearm “cruiser ready” or “condition 3” (magazine inserted and seated with the chamber empty), have you practiced racking your slide or bolt under duress?
In this situation, dummy or inert training rounds are invaluable! Never use live ammo at home to practice quickly loading your gun. Safety first—always.
When using training rounds, go through your safety checks very deliberately—again, remove all live rounds from the training area and check and then check again that all rounds are inert.
Practice these dry-fire drills regularly, and stay tuned for my next segment on target transitions and non-threat targets.