Here’s an excerpt from our newest book, releasing June 15, 2013 – The Insanely Practical Guide to Guns and Shooting. Like The Insanely Practical Guide to Gun Holsters, now available at Amazon.com, it’s a direct, practical and amusing way to learn. We hope you find a useful tip or two about improving your shooting skills by dry firing your handgun!
Some Shooting Tips About Dry Firing Your Handgun
You have to admit, “dry firing” sounds just a little bit dirty. Like something that might happen in a nightclub of ill repute. When it comes to shooting, dry firing is a great thing. Like the other less-desirable implication, it’s safe, but is far more respectable.
Dry firing a gun simply means practicing the shooting motions without actually discharging a projectile.
We’ll talk about the instructions on how to dry fire in a minute, but first I would like to make a money-back guarantee. If you properly (and safely) practice dry firing on a regular basis, your shooting skills will improve by 312%. Or maybe 31%. Or 19.3%. But they will improve. You can bank on that.
I like to think that dry fire practice and teeth flossing fall into the same general category. Neither activity is fun or sexy, but both make a huge difference over time. So if you want to have teeth like Tom Cruise or Julia Roberts, then commit to dry firing on a regular basis.
Let’s talk about how to do it, without harming yourself, your family or your new love seat from Haverty’s.
The most important consideration is safety. You have to develop your own method that insures that you will never, ever, ever have bullets anywhere near your gun when you dry fire. This is because you will be pulling the trigger on your actual firearm when not at the range. All of the safety rules we discussed earlier still apply. You’ll treat the gun like it’s loaded. You’ll keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to fire. You won’t point your gun at anything you’re not willing to destroy – except perhaps that Haverty’s love seat. And you’ll be sure of your target, and what’s behind it. We’re going to follow all of these rules because if all the stars align just wrong, even for a second, and a live round is in your gun, you won’t hurt anything except your pride and maybe an ottoman.
The first step is to remove all ammunition from your gun. Remove it all from your revolver’s cylinder or the magazine in your semi-automatic. If you have a semi-automatic pistol, clear the round from the chamber. Stick your finger in there to make sure the chamber is empty. Now look at it. Now look through the magazine well and make sure you see nothing but air. Now do that again.
Those bullets you just removed from your gun? Take them into another room and set them somewhere you can see. Now count them. Are there as many there as were in your gun? Next take any full spare magazines you have and place those next to the bullets in the other room.
The end result of all this activity is that you have taken every round of live ammunition from your gun and anywhere else OUT of the room where you will be dry-firing.
While all this may sound excessive, just trust me and do it. Life has far too many distractions and interruptions to be anything less than obscenely safe. If if all of your ammo is in a different room, preferably where you can see it from your dry fire practice area, there is simply not a chance that you will absent mindedly fire a live cartridge.
A Dry Firing Target Tip!
I faithfully do all of the steps outlined above, but with a slight twist. You’ll notice I recommended to place the live rounds in another room where you can see them. I do this to use them near my dry fire target. I do this so that every time I pull the trigger on my gun while dry fire practicing, I am looking at the cartridges that were in my gun, but now in another room. When I dry fire practice in my office, I place the rounds on a dresser in the hallway. This dresser is visible from my office through a large doorway. So now, I’m using those live rounds near my target when I dry fire. If I am aiming a dresser when I pull the trigger, and I see the rounds on top, they can’t be in my gun can they? Of course the dresser backs up to a stairwell and three walls. There is nothing behind it, so I also have a safe backstop. One other additional trick is to line up the cartridges from the magazine right next to each other. Then I take the cartridge from the chamber and place that an inch or so away from the others. So I have a visual cue of the 7 rounds that fit in the magazine of my gun, plus the round that was in the chamber. In a sense, I’m looking at a representation of the full capacity of my gun. The rounds in the magazine and the extra that was in the chamber.
How to actually practice with dry firing
Now that we’ve covered the safety aspects of dry fire practice, what do you do? Let’s start simple and add practice exercises.
Basic dry firing simply allows you to practice pulling the trigger pull on your gun without all that distracting flash and bang. All kidding aside, it’s a way to train your eyes, body and trigger finger to pull the trigger smoothly, without moving the sights off target. The real benefit is that you can do all this without that instinctive flinch when the gun normally goes bang. By conditioning yourself to a smooth trigger pull, without a flinch reaction, you’ll eventually find that you do the same with a real gun when it does go bang.
After you’ve completed the safety procedures outlined above, just follow these steps according to what type of gun you have.
First a note about .22 handguns!
If you shoot a .22 pistol, you’re better off NOT dry firing that gun. Most .22’s do not react well to dry firing due to how the firing pin is placed. Repeated dry firing of most .22 guns will cause damage to the firing mechanism. Most center fire guns are perfectly safe to dry fire. Always check your owners manual to see what the manufacturer recommends.
Select your target. Get a comfortable stance. Find your natural point of aim by aiming at the target, then closing your eyes. When you open your eyes, are the sights still on target? If not, shift your stance and body position accordingly.
Here’s a great place to pause and remember to focus on your front sight only. Remember, your eyes physically cannot have the rear sight, front sight and target all in sharp focus at the same time, so you have to pick one. Pick the front sight. The rear sight and the target should both be a little blurry. That’s OK, you’ll still hit the target.
Now, slowly PRESS the trigger as smoothly as possible. The goal is to complete the full trigger press until the gun’s action releases – without moving the sights off target at all.
As the hammer (external, internal or striker) releases, see where the sights are aimed. That’s where your shot would have hit had you been firing a live cartridge. Think of this last step as follow through. Train your eyes to see the sight alignment just after the gun “fires.” Eventually, you’ll know where your shot hit without looking at the target. You’ll be “calling your shot.” That’s a really impressive gun term that simply says you know exactly where the shot impacted because, during your follow through, you were watching your sights relative to the target.
After your first shot, things will vary a bit depending on the type of gun you have, so let’s take a quick look at the steps for each major handgun type.
Revolver (Double Action)
Revolvers are the easiest dry fire gun. After you complete the first dry fire “shot” you don’t have to do anything to prepare the gun for the next shot. Simply get your body, grip and sight alignment back in place, aim at your target, and pull the trigger again.
Whether or not your revolver has a hammer, always practice it in double action mode. That is, pull the trigger without first cocking the hammer. That’s how you would want to use the revolver in a defensive application anyway, so you might as well get used to it in practice. When you master dry firing a double action revolver without moving the sights off your target, you’ll be a better shot than Ben Cartwright.
Semi-Automatic Pistols (Double / Single-Action)
With a double-action you can configure your dry fire practice depending on what you want to accomplish. Like a double-action revolver, you can always just pull the trigger to simulate a full, double-action firing sequence. However, in real life, after that first double-action trigger pull, your handgun will cock itself so the second shot is a light trigger pull single-action motion. When you’re dry firing, you’ll have to pull back the hammer manually to prepare the gun for a single-action shot. So it’s up to you if you want to simulate a first double-action shot, followed by a series of single-action shots or some other scenario. Do practice double-action shots, immediately followed by single-action shots though. The transition from heavier to lighter trigger takes some getting used to.
Single-Action Pistols and Revolvers
If you shoot a 1911 style handgun or a single-action revolver, dry fire practice is pretty straightforward. You’re going to have to cock the hammer manually between each dry fire shot. With a single-action revolver, you want to make the hammer cock part of your dry fire sequence as you’ll have to do that in real life. With a single-action pistol, you don’t want to build a habit of cocking the hammer each time you pull the trigger. When you shoot live ammunition, the gun will cock itself after each shot so you don’t have to. To help overcome building “bad muscle memory” when dry firing a single-action pistol, I like to fire the first shot, aim at a different target and simulate a trigger pull and repeat that a few times. After a few “shots” I bring the gun back from firing position, cock the hammer and repeat the exercise.
If you shoot a plastic fantastic pistol that’s striker-fired, you have to cock the gun after each shot also. To do this with most striker-fired pistols, you have to rack the slide, as there is no hammer. Fortunately, you don’t have to do a complete slide rack. With most pistols, you can pull the slide back ¼” or so and the striker mechanism will reset. Experiment with your gun to see how little of a partial slide rack you can get away with. Like the single-action pistol mentioned above, you don’t want to build a habit of racking the slide after every shot, so vary your firing sequence accordingly.
Add some complexity!
Hey, now that you’ve advanced beyond the simple certificate of participation for dry firing, you can add some steps to build your skills.
- Draw from your holster! You’ve got an unloaded gun, in safe conditions. What better time to practice your draw? Practice drawing your gun, keeping your finger our of the trigger and evaluating potential targets. Mix in some more complex sequences where you draw your gun and and dry fire one or more times. Be creative!
- Practice magazine changes. How about dry firing your gun and pretending that was the last shot in your magazine? Practice dropping that magazine, pulling a new one and reloading your gun? Be extra careful that ALL magazines you use are empty!
- Practice malfunction drills. When you dry fire, pretend your gun didn’t go bang. What do you do? Practice the clearing drill depending on your particular gun. If it’s a revolver, pull the trigger again. If it’s a semi-automatic pistol, smack the bottom of the magazine to be sure it’s seated, rack the slide, then re-evaluate the situation.
A dry firing tip…
Don’t rush your dry firing. That’s bad form and will help you develop rotten habits. Your brain is an amazing thing that will build memory of your actions regardless of the speed at which you complete them. Focus on completing your dry fire sequence slowly and perfectly each and every time. If you do that, speed will happen all on its own – perfectly.
Another dry firing tip…
After you’re practiced a bit, balance a dime on top of your front sight. If you can complete a full trigger press without the dime falling off the front sight, you’re getting good!