One thing that any experienced firearms person will tell you is that if you want to improve your skills, the only way to do it is to practice. Now, if you have unlimited money and time, live fire ammunition is the right approach. For those on a budget, if you have a .22 pistol you can get 500 rounds of ammo for about $25 easy peasy lemon squeasy. That said, there is a world of difference between firing a .22 and any kind of larger bore gun such as a 9 mm, a .40 or, .45. Not to mention that larger bore ammo costs a lot more. In my area, I can find aluminum case 9 mm ammo for about $11 for 50 rounds, which translates to $110 for 500 rounds.
A good alternative to live fire ammo is dry firing which has four big disadvantages. First of all, there’s a significant difference between pulling the trigger on an empty chamber and pulling it on a loaded one. That said, if you have done everything right in terms of acquiring the sight picture and slowly squeezing the trigger such that you are vaguely surprised when the gun actually goes off, there shouldn’t be much difference in the trajectory of your “virtual” bullet and a real one.
The second issue, which is particularly annoying for owners of 1911′s, Glocks, and other single action (SA) guns is that without a live bullet to drive the slide back, you have to manually rack the slide between each shot. Granted, this gives you a lot of practice with tap and reloading drills but it can certainly get tedious pretty quickly. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for this – you either live with it or get a pistol with Double Action (DA) capability that you can repeatedly pull the trigger on.
The third issue is somewhat related to the first problem. Assume for the moment that you think that you are doing everything right with your grip, trigger pull, etc. The problem is that a minute twist of the wrist or flick of a trigger finger is difficult to see unless you can see where an actual bullet hit the target. Did you really manage to squeeze the trigger smoothly or did you jerk it at the last minute? The only way to know for sure if you’ve been training yourself correctly is to see where your bullets land on your next trip to the range.
The final issue is one of the biggest, at least for me. Frankly, dry firing is boring as hell. Pulling the trigger with no bang gets old. Fast.
There is, however, help for these latter two issues (and by some extension our first issue) – a laser training system. Basically, laser trainer consists of a laser emitter that either goes down the barrel or into the breech of the gun and using some technology to determine when the gun fires, flashes a brief laser pulse at the same time. The benefit of this system is that you can see where your bullet likely would have landed had you fired for real. The feedback also helps to relieve the boredom of repeatedly aiming and pulling the trigger in near silence.
Laserlyte has taken this technique one step further with their Laserlyte Training system. This system consists of two parts – the laser unit that goes into the gun and a laser sensitive target.
To use the system, you simply load the laser module into your gun, aim it at the target and go to town. Your shots don’t automatically appear on the screen. In order (I assume) to save on battery life, the target registers your shots but does not display them. After you finish your string (I suggest between 5 and 10 rounds), you fire a precision shot at the lower left laser-sensitive circle marked “Display” This activates the illumination of your shots on the target and you can see where they went. You then fire another precision shot into the right laser-sensitive circle marked “Reset” and the target is cleared and ready to accept your next string. Rather than trying to do a precision shot, I generally keep one of my laser sights with me and use that to activate the Display and Reset areas. One note here: Cheapo laser pointers don’t seem to work for this as they (presumably) don’t have the power necessary to trigger the sensors in the target.
The various laser emitters (like all those cool action figures when we were growing up) are sold separately. Laserlyte has three major types. The LTS Universal, the LTS Pro, and the Training Cartridge. I would probably not bother with the Universal unless you absolutely need it. The Universal model reminds me of one of my bore sighters – a very long tube that protrudes from your pistol barrel. The problem with this is twofold; first of all, you can forget about performing any holster drills as the tube protrudes several inches and might be difficult to get to clear the holster on your draw unless you pull quite a bit straight up before pivoting the gun forward. Secondly, the extended length of the emitter is almost certainly going to result in the laser dot projecting off axis from the gun barrel to some small degree. This means that the further you are from your target, the farther away the laser dot will hit from where an actual bullet would have. The two main advantages of the LTS Universal are the fact that it is the cheapest model and that with included adapters that go up to .50, it will fit just about any handgun or rifle including .410 shotguns.
The next step up is the LTS Pro. This one goes almost completely into the barrel, protruding about 1/4 of an inch. This enables you to practice drawing from a holster and with the emitter so close to the end of the barrel, the difference between the laser dot projection and where an actual bullet would have hit is minimized. The LTS Pro shares the same advantage as the Universal in that it includes adapters to allow it to fit most typical calibers. The main disadvantage of the LTS Pro is that you need to take it apart and remove the batteries after each training session otherwise the batteries will drain in a couple of days. It is also a bit more more costly than the LTS Universal. With both the Pro and the Universal, the use of separate snap caps is recommended to protect the striker pin.
The final leg up is the dedicated cartridge. This is a miniature laser system built into the body of a bullet in the caliber that you wish to use. At present, Laserlyte offers .380, 9 mm, .40, and .45 calibers. These cartridges carry the same MSRP as the Laserlyte Pro, but as they are limited to one specific caliber, they can be the more expensive option if you have multiple calibers in your gun collection. These cartridges do incorporate a built-in snap cap so you don’t need to use a separate one like you do with the other variations. The only other real issue that I have with this system is that there seems to be some variability as to how long the cartridges last before starting to have problems. While my .40 and .45 seem to be holding up well, my 9 mm now only fires the laser intermittently as it seems the snap cap which triggers the laser is getting a bit flaky. Go online and you will see similar criticisms of the cartridge system from some people. More R&D is necessary before I can render a final verdict, but at the moment, I can’t recommend the 9mm cartridge.
Overall, the system is pretty good and has made my dry fire practice more interesting. Check out the company’s website for videos and other information about the product.