Flag #3

By Jack Clark

Dry fire practice is an enormously important part of effective firearms training. Many quality firearms instructors encourage a 70-30 dry fire regimen: spend 70% of your training time dry firing and 30% shooting. Recently, I was out of town conducting a tactics and medical class for a group of physicians who volunteer as SWAT medics for the departments in their area. As always, on the first day, I made a point of telling them to make sure they spend time dry firing. That evening after dinner I wandered down to the communal area and found three of my students settled in on a couch, watching a ball game, occasionally clicking their unloaded pistols at the television between grabs at the pretzel basket . . .

Incredulous, I ask them what they were doing. “Dry firing,” they answered as if they would be getting bonus points for doing work outside of class. I made a command decision at that point to revise my dry fire speech to cover – in more detail  – exactly what effective dry fire practice is all about.

Whether your goal is to improve your target or defensive shooting, dry fire must be practiced using as close to the same motions and techniques as will be used during live fire. In our the professional courses I teach, we often have well-trained military and police units spend large segments of their training time drilling dry in the shoot-house, vehicles or assault course.

Here are some tips that will make your dry fire sessions safe and effective.

1.     Be safe. Safety is paramount with any firearms activity. Simply checking to make sure your weapon is clear leaves too much to chance. A distraction or error could be disastrous. An easy trick to ensure your dry fire is safe is to make a muzzle flag. Commercial flags and dry fire barrels are available but can cost as much as an extra magazine. We use a cheap and easily available method to make a muzzle flag for our dry fire practice using a plastic zip tie and a piece of brightly colored duct tape or electrical tape. Wrap a small strip of tape around the top of the tie and “poof” — instant muzzle flag, indicating your weapon is clear and safe. The zip tie is dropped into the muzzle with the flag left sticking out of the chamber. It is easy to identify that the gun is flagged and impossible for a round to be inadvertently chambered.

Flag #1

 

 Flag #2

2.     Practice makes perfect. The idea of dry fire is to develop muscle memory through repetition. Practice as often as you can using your weapon as you would when it is hot. Be sure to practice using the weapon you actually will be carrying and using. Repeatedly practice-drawing a 1911 from your low-ride tac holster in order to improve working a Glock 26 from an inside the waistband setup is like using a piano to practice for an accordion concert. If shooting for defensive purposes, conceal the weapon the way you would on the street. If shooting for IDPA, wear your belt with accessories. If you are in law enforcement or in the military, go ahead and put on your undervest or kit.

3.     Make it real. A gunfight is more about the draw, presentation, rapid sight acquisition, target discrimination and effective use of cover/concealment than the click-bang. Concentrate on these steps equally rather than just getting a sight picture and squeezing the trigger. Use whatever environment you are in as a practical range and work out the problems that walls, doorways, halls and obstructions create. Make sure to announce what you are doing and clear people from in front of your weapon. Don’t skimp on any of the fundamentals. As soon as they start getting sloppy or you feel yourself getting complacent, put your gear away and be done for the day.

4.     Pick distinct points of aim. If you have time, set up targets. Unless you plan to be the world’s best lane shooter, set up varying distances and angles as well as places you will have to move in order to acquire your target. If time or different targets are not available, use whatever you have on hand: the light switch on the far wall, a lamp, etc. Making a man-sized silhouette is as easy as grabbing a shirt or jacket out of the closet and hanging it on whatever is available. This is far more effective than pointing and clicking at the back wall.

5.     Visualize.  This may sound like Tony Robbins BS, but too many psychologists have said it works to ignore it. Imagine a scenario in your mind that that may cause you to feel a need to use your weapon. As much as your grown-up reality-trodden imagination will allow, place yourself in that situation. See in your mind the surroundings, what the threat looks like, how it presents itself and what it does and says. Address the threat and follow it down. For the IDPA guys, see the dream course and the Midway USA pro rep ready to sponsor you post-victory.

6.     Mix it up. Create shoot/no shoot scenarios for yourself. Practice reloading and clearing malfunctions. Use a shot timer to practice speed. The television can also offer a great target acquisition and discrimination tool. Set a standard to create a threat/shoot situation. For instance, each time you see a certain color shirt, set up the shot.

7.     Run the spectrum. If there is a position or place you ever plan to shoot from, run it. Run turns, off line attacks, forward, backward and side movement. Kneel, drop to a knee, work barricades. Shoot both hands, strong hand, off hand. Work off balance, standing up, sitting down and yes even on the couch.

Dry fire is a shooter’s best friend. Don’t neglect it. It’s cheap since you’re not using up any ammo and it will make your live fire sessions more productive, effective and efficient. Practice makes perfect!

 

Jack Clark spent sixteen years at a US Federal Agency thirteen of which were with a special mission unit. He is currently a senior instructor at Asymmetric Solutions in eastern Missouri and a director of a Virginia-based security consulting firm.   

 

 

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49 Responses to Seven Suggestions for Effective Dry Fire Practice

  1. Not to knock safety suggestions, but how exactly does one dry “fire” with one’s handgun out of battery due to Step 1 (as in the first pic)? Am I missing something? You could do the “draw, presentation, rapid sight acquisition, target discrimination and effective use of cover/concealment” a-OK, but the whole “firing” part would seem to go out the practice window.

    • I use smaller zip ties. It will allow a Glock, 1911, and AR platform to close off and function property while still blocking the chamber and creating a visual flag. Evidently my photog skills are lacking because they were switched by editorial staff.

  2. Another suggestion for apartment dwellers with nosy neighbors-time your sessions when they’re out or otherwise occupied w/TV .

    You wouldnt want a knock on the door by a constabulary summoned by said neighbor ,scared by the repetitive sounds of a slide being racked,stomping feet with the sound of mags hitting the floor and muffled yells of “STOP OR I’LL SHOOT”. Definitely don’t practice your 12 gauge reloading skills unless you know your building super wouldn’t jam you up for it.

  3. As a big fan of TTAG, I sincerely mean no disrespect. But the capacity for this website to get worse, and worse, and worse with each successive format change leaves me depressed.

    Where does this end? This website is a disaster. Please stop.

      • +1 for Korvis…
        “Well that escalated quickly.”

        I’ll just also repeat that if this were a finely polished and tuned site I’d pay to read.

    • I have to admit that I have had similar thoughts. I work in a small technology company and I go to great lengths to test something and know that it works before I deploy it. I don’t get the same vibe from TTAG.

      I recommend that TTAG start a test site and select beta testers. Some people really like being beta testers and they would help you screen out most snags before your general audience sees them.

  4. While there are some great points made in the article, I believe there are better ways to set up dryfire. There was also one glaring omission in my opinion. I have been told to make sure your loaded magazines are put away, and that there is no live ammunition anwhere near you when you dryfire. Snapcaps are a great way to practice dryfire. They allow you to cycle your firearm as you normally would, practice reloads, and set up malfunctions to clear. Setting aside a magazine or two and using brightly colored tape can be a great way to differentiate dryfire magazines.

  5. Not that I would want to spend the money on it but does anyone know why Glocks training pistols are sold to law enforcement only? Im not talking about the blue ones that shoot paint but the red ones that are inert and allow trigger reset.

  6. I just use the orange practice bullets & put them in the magazine. They make the firearm function just like having real bullets in them and you can also practice clearing stove pipe jambs along with other scenarios.

  7. “2. Practice makes perfect.”

    When my wife took piano lessons as a kid, her instructor told her that “Practice does not make perfect, practice makes permanent.”

    Her point was that whatever you practice will stick, so make sure what you are practicing is correct.

  8. I do a LOT of shooting from my couch while I’m watching tv, so I make sure to always practice dry-firing while “America’s Kidz got Singing’s” is on.

    I’m actually ranked in the USPSA “couch-potato” class.

  9. The term “Practice Makes Perfect” is possibly misleading, shouldn’t it be “PERFECT Practice Makes Perfect” ? And, do muscles REALLY have a memory, I’ll believe that a brain may retain memory, but not that muscles do.

      • Well heck Paul T. McCain, I’ll do my best to be “be more annoyingly off point with irrelevant distinctions” in the future if that’ll please you.

      • Seriously, you’re going to argue that? The term “muscle memory” means more than just your muscles retain knowledge. The notion of “muscle memory” is that your brain deeply stores the motive control signals necessary to repeat the action you have learned, and your muscles have taken on the necessary structure to optimize for the action. Just as repeatedly lifting weights can increase your muscle build (so that you muscles take on the necessary structure to optimize for the action of lifting), repeatedly practicing a motion for your muscles to perform can help them optimize their structure for that action.

        Why say all that when we can just say: muscle memory. The details are not that important. The concept is, and it is accurate.

  10. A decent article although I would make a couple of changes. First, I was always taught to never use something already existing in your practice area as your target. There is too much chance of walking by that lamp or TV and, without thinking, fire at it (for practice) when you are not in dry practice mode. Boom and there goes that nice TV.

    Use post it notes to aim at and, when you are done, remove them from the walls so there isn’t that chance you might put a round through something negligently.

    Secondly, secure all your ammo, preferably in a different room, before beginning dry fire practice. Safety, safety, safety.

    • If you’re unable to differentiate 100% of the time between ‘training’ mode and ‘operating mode’ immediately unload and dispose of all firearms in your possession. If there is even a remote chance that at some later time after dry fire practice that you may take up a loaded weapon and discharge it into. . . anything really, you’re lacking the mental capacity to ever be safe with a fire arm as it will be impossible for you to train the skills need to use it safely without inadvertently setting up the habit that you sometimes discharge the weapon. . .something inherently unsafe unless you can ALWAYS discriminate between when you should and shouldn’t.

      • +1
        If you make an operator error that resembles “I was walking around my house and then BLAM BLAM! I whipped out my piece and shot my TV! Pure reflex. I don’t know what got into me.” then you also need psychiatric help to curb your impulsive behavior.

  11. I like what Massad Ayood says in his books. Which I’ll sorta write here (and I’m sure misquote, and leave stuff out but it’s what I think):
    1: Dry fire requires a mindset that says we’re practicing, we’re not doing anything else, and we acknowledge the start/end of practice.
    2: Live ammunition must NEVER be in the practice area. Safety check/unload and move to practice area.
    3: Weapons kill people ALWAYS. Always assume a loaded weapon. That means even for dry fire. Never ever point it at anything you don’t want to shoot. And even your practice target should have a backstop.
    4: Practice like you would live. That means draw/fire in holster, etc.

    Needless to say I agree with some of what was said, but some of the comments WILL lead to a ND eventually. This ‘stuff’ I mention is all around a framework that minimizes that possibility.

    I’ve tried those things, and they just get in the way (I tried the commercial ones). I’ve gotten to using a laser insert that shows where I’m pointing, and how much I ‘bounce’ during aiming. They can be bought fairly cheaply on Amazon. This also, btw, with the bright red light, reminds me I’m unloaded. I also use snapcaps and older magazine for tap/rack practice as well. Eventually I want to buy one of those laser target gizmos for more direct feedback…

    YMMV but maybe there’s a useful thought here or 2…

  12. Make it real. With a zip tie. How about………… I’ve been dry fire practicing a long time, and I check the gun I’m going to use, three times, slowly, and never have any live ammo anywhere near. I don’t use a zip tie when I’m actually shooting live ammo, so…………. Plus, I use the four rules. I like the authors bona fides, but I’ve also been led into ambushes by professionals, rattle snaked by politicians, mishandled by doctors, you get the idea. Good ideas, to be sure, but I’d leave out the zip ties, AND the flags. Kind of like you have to depend on yourself to do something right, with out anyone watching or supervising. Yes indeed, you can f-it up, but good, and wreck your life, for good. Along with the lives of others. But you are either a responsible, clear headed, and careful gun owner, or not. I’ve been concealed carrying for a long time now, had to pull Roscoe twice, and nothing makes one more confident than training. But if you’re serious, the training wheels should come off. Train like you live, and have to live.

  13. Buy an airsoft version of your gun with moving components. A functional practice tool can cost about $20-$60 on the lower end, so its a pretty good investment. Of course, some things will be off like weight, etc but all in all a good substitute for dry fire.

  14. DRY FIRE PRACTICE SESSION
    This session will take 10-15 minutes. Avoid becoming fatigued and ingraining bad habits.

    Dry fire practice can be extremely dangerous if proper safety procedures are not followed.
    Always observe the Four Rules of Safe Gunhandling

    Four Rules of Safe Gunhandling
    • All guns are always loaded
    • Never point a gun at anything you are not prepared to destroy
    • Keep your finger out of the trigger guard until you are ready to fire
    • Know your target and what is beyond it

    Dry Fire Safety Procedures
    • Dry fire ONLY when you are alert and focused
    • Unload your pistol in an area other than the practice area – do not take any ammunition with you to the practice area
    • Go to your practice area where there is NO LIVE AMMUNITION
    • Check your pistol again to ensure that there is no ammunition in the pistol or any magazines you will use for practice
    • Dry fire practice only on a specific dry fire target which is used only for dry fire practice. Do NOT dry fire at TVs, light switches, or other such general targets; doing so is a dangerous practice that can lead to damage, injury, or death of someone else.
    • Place your dry fire target against a bullet resistant wall, e.g., brick or concrete block
    • If a bullet resistant wall is not available the target should be backed by a body armor panel capable of containing a bullet from your pistol
    • Do not allow yourself to be disturbed during dry fire practice
    • Wear eye protection when dry firing in case of a Negligent Discharge
    • If you use dummy ammunition during dry fire, use ONLY commercially manufactured, easily identifiable dummies. Homemade dummies are unsafe because they are not readily distinguishable from live ammunition. Homemade dummies can result in death or serious injury.
    • When you are finished practicing, put your target and pistol away immediately and do some other action that will remove dry fire from your thoughts. Do NOT immediately reload your pistol.
    • Failure to follow these procedures EXACTLY can result in legal liability, property damage, serious injury, or DEATH.

    Basic Dry Fire Practice Session –
    • Trigger Press Practice on the spot – Freestyle, 5 repetitions.
    • Presentation from Low Ready – Freestyle, 5 repetitions.
    • Draw from Open Holster – Freestyle, 5 repetitions.
    • Draw from Concealed Holster – Freestyle, 5 repetitions.
    • Trigger Press Practice on the spot – Strong Hand Only, 5 repetitions.
    • Draw from Open Holster – Strong Hand Only, 5 repetitions.
    • Trigger Press Practice on the spot – Weak Hand Only, 5 repetitions.
    • Presentation from Low Ready – Weak Hand Only, 5 repetitions.
    • Draw from Concealed Holster – Strong Hand Only, 5 repetitions.
    • Trigger Press Practice on the spot – Freestyle, 5 repetitions.

    • Thank you, Claude. You beat me to the punch (or keyboard, as it were).

      Readers of these comments would be very wise to carefully heed Claude’s advice. They’re very well thought out and as an accomplished competitive shooter and professional trainer the man knows of that which he speaks.

      http://www.examiner.com/article/dryfire-practice-improves-marksmanship-skills

      If I could add one thing it would be to avoid ending a dry fire session, thinking about it some more and then trying to get in that “one more rep.” When the session is over, it’s over.

  15. Many commenters seem set on not having ammo anywhere in the practice area and for groups this makes sense as it makes supervision and communication safer and easier. Alone; I have never had ammunition fly off a table and into my gun. Now loaded mags in the belt carrier might be a problem if you’re drilling mag swaps, but off body I just don’t see how the ammo’s resting place matters, it seems like safety theater more than an effective strategy.

    I imagine that it’s because each person senses that they are writing for others with unknown concentration and skill levels, but it seems to me that there is a common thread of attempting to insert multiple unnecessary safety routines into something that is really simple.

    I think the whole drill could be stated as unload the gun and visually/manually ensure it is empty, don’t point it at people, practice the skill you’re working on, reload and holster/put away the weapon.

    In years of gun handling and dry fire training I’ve never had an ND resulting from these, without any further precaution. Perhaps I’m lucky or unique, but it seems to me that many people are greatly overthinking the problem and creating unnecessary complications and impediments to training.

  16. The idea of the zip tie is that it functions as a backstop when a backstop is not available in places like a hotel room. We also use them on the range when demonstrating techniques dry. This was originally a Paul Howe idea but he used a small survey flag and the wire poked me a handful of times so I went to the zip tie/duct tape.

    I like the idea of using America’s got talent. My article post suggested using MSNBC but was victim to cooler heads in the edit room.

  17. I practice dry fire in my home whenever I want to. I unload my Glock 17 including removing the mag. I use a leg drop Serpa holster. I don’t show everyone in my house that my weapon is unloaded because I don’t care. They know that I am intelligent enough that they don’t have to hold my hand and guide me through safety procedures.
    I turn on the television to a program like a football game or a movie and I select a character as my target.
    Every time that character appears on the screen, I draw my weapon, acquire a point of aim and dry fire, then re-holster the weapon. After an hour of this I put it all away. I don’t put flags or other obstructions onto or into the weapon because I know it is unloaded because I unloaded it myself.
    Train like you’ll fight, or as close to it as you can get. If you need to limit yourself in training to the intelligence level of a complete idiot, because “Safety First”, then it’s probably best that you don’t even own a weapon. I realize there are some people out there that aren’t too bright, but unless you are standing in a room with them, training with them, limit your training to your own intelligence level.
    There will be responses to this about times people thought their weapon was unloaded and they put a round through the roof. No shit. Intelligence level.

  18. I’m going way out of the box here and I’m going to publicly agree with and promote Pat McNamara’s ideas of institutional inbreeding passing on weak advice. The gun is not always loaded – that’s a great rule in general, especially if it is your first day with a gun and you are six. But you don’t need to be paranoid, you just need to be in control. Did you empty the weapon and check it? Then it is empty.

    After I check, I even practice with a full mag in to simulate the weight when practicing drawing and attaining a sight picture only. No, it’s not dangerous – don’t parrot what you’ve been told over and over. I follow that other rule about keeping my finger off the trigger. That is a habit from actual shooting and training. The chamber is empty and I am aiming at an object that can stop a bullet. I also know that if I want to load my weapon I can rack the slide – I don’t all of a sudden forget where and who I am and what I am doing. Finally, beforehand I define exactly the type of training I will do in this session so racking the slide isn’t an option.

    Don’t be paranoid, just be in control of your weapon.

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