Regular practice plays the crucial role in creating and maintaining life-saving proficiency with a deadly weapon. Especially when you train without bullets. “Dry firing” your gun can help you achieve many of the life-saving goals of marksmanship and safe gun handling you need at no cost at all. In fact, I’m down with the oft-stated calculation that dry firing should account for more than 50 percent of one’s practice time. Here’s what I do…

Safety

I suspect more negligent discharges have occurred during “dry” practice than any other time. With guns that the owners knew were empty. So rules number one, two and three of dry fire practice are all the same: unload the gun and put the ammo somewhere else. Far away. Put it in another room if possible.

Safety check your weapon before every exercise. As nothing is idiot proof, always dry fire while pointed at something which could catch a bullet if you screw up and light one off. I use my basement wall.

Presentation

I dry fire two or three times per week in the basement. First, I practice presentations and dry firing at a targe. I focus on smoothness, perfect trigger pull and reset. I start very, very slowly and increase speed incrementally. When I achieve subconscious fluidity and reasonable speed, I move on to the next exercise (i.e. I repeat the process until I get bored with it).

Tik-Tok 

Then I practice presenting the pistol toward various points of the clock.  To do this, I keep pointing at the same target, but turn my body slowly in a circle, practicing drawing toward the target on my right front (1-2 o’clock), Right side (3:00), right posterior (4-5 o’clock), then the same thing around to the left. Again, I do it until it gets boring.

Figure 8

Then I practice moving in circle/figure 8 while keeping the gun pointed directly at the target. This requires transitioning from one handed to two handed grip and back again. I practice this with each hand.

Point and Shoot, Sights

Then I practice presentation from contact distance all the way out to aimed fire two handed distance. This allows me to practice presenting the gun to a retention position all the way out to fully extended, sighted fire. The greater the distance to the target, the farther the gun extends from from my body. Beyond 5-7 yards, I am on the sights. Short of that it’s point and shoot.

Speed Drills

Then (and only then) I practice at “hyper” (ludicrous?) speed. I pretend I’m scared, under immediate threat and have to draw as fast as possible while running away. Interesting things come up when I do this. Sometimes my grip isn’t perfect. Sometimes I even drop the gun. That’s not all bad because then I get to practice not catching it. Recently, I found that the nice little clip-on knife I got for Christmas hooked the bottom of my cover garment and I couldn’t clear it. It was nice to find something like that out before it really matters.

Get a Grip

I also practice holding the gun, transferring it back and forth between the hands, pointing on target one handed from either side, familiarizing myself with a left sided two handed grip. I don’t practice reloading or mag changes as much as I should. Honestly, I don’t see myself ever needing a mag change in a self defense situation and I don’t usually carry an extra mag. I’m not recommending you do this, but that is the choice I have made.

Travis Bickle Be Damned

Then I finish up with a few smooth, slow draws with perfect dry fires and resets. If you dry fire, once you are done, then be done. Reload, re-holster and resist the temptation to continue to mess around with your heater. If you’re interrupted in the middle of dry fire, be done at that point.

Extra Credit

I can do my whole routine in about 10-20 minutes. At bedtime, before I stow the gun in the safe, I unload my gun and practice 10 or so presentations to sights plus or minus some “marksmanship” style dry firing. This takes all of two minutes; it’s a good daily “refresher.”

How You Get to Carnegie Hall

In the end, it doesn’t really matter too much how you practice. The point is: practice! Take the time to get familiar with your firearm. It’s just a tool. You can’t get good with any tool without practice. Period.

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11 Responses to Self-Defense Tip: Dry Fire Practice

  1. You did not say anything about snap caps. I know that some makers explicitly state that dry firing is safe, and will not damage the firing pin and related assemblies, but others strongly recommend snap caps for repeated dry firing.

    What is your stance on snap caps?

    • Snap Caps:

      Some companies: Kel Tec for instance, recommend them for your gun. Ask yourself if you really want to rely on a gun for self defense that can’t withstand dry firing.

      I see no downside to using snap caps, so why not. They are a bit of a hassle with a striker fired gun that requires resetting the slide to fire again.

      I think I will ask Nick to comment on this.

  2. Both of my handguns are semi-autos with DA/SA triggers and no safety levers. I carry them with a round in the chamber, but in Double Action mode. Do you have any drills (do any exist) that incorporate the DA/SA capabilities of most semi-auto pistols? In other words, after the first shot (Double Action) from my pistols, the rest are in Single Action mode.

    So it looks like dry firing exercises with my guns will always be in DA mode, because that is the mode I carry in. I have decided based on the above, that the only way I can do realistic exercises of double-tap, triple-tap, etc. with my guns is on a range with live ammo. Does anyone know of any other options?

      • I’ll chime in since I used to be a DA/SA guy and did the majority of my initial training courses with a DA/SA gun… the best way to practice DA to SA transition is really to only practice DA. Most – and I mean the overwhelming majority (95%+) – of new/unseasoned shooters with DA/SA guns throw or “push” the first round low because they’re using all their grip muscles to squeeze the longer and heavier DA trigger (as opposed to using just their trigger finger). The same tendancy can be observed with DA revolver shooters too. Combine this with the tendency of 99% of shooters to anticipate recoil, and the first shot is usually at torso/hip level (I see it in competition all the time). Since very few people actually need help with SA shots, just work with DA during dry-fire exercises. When I used to compete in Production Class with a SIG P226, I never (ever!) did dry fire practice in SA mode. You will instinctually “get” the SA trigger since it is the one you’ll likely live-fire practice with 95% of the time anyways. Use “dry fire time” to practice holstering, unholstering, target acquisition, target transition, target ID, etc. By practicing with DA-only, you’ll develop stronger “grip” muscles, have a better “first shot”, and generally be more accurate in SA mode.

        • Thanks, Patrick. That’s what I was thinking.

          I now see (because you stated it very well and clearly) that there is still a great amount of value in dry-fire practice, even though the second shot of your carry DA/SA pistol can’t be simulated during dry-fire. I do need more practice on all those things you mentioned, and a dry-fire routine similar to the original post would be a perfect way to do that practice.

  3. Eric, I purchased a replica BB gun of my Sig Pro 2022. It is basically the same gun in weight and size as the real thing, and fits all of my holsters for the Sig. It also has a magazine that holds the Co2 and the BB’s (which makes it real like). I built two standing targets out of 1 by 4’s for the frame and legs and used cardboard for the fronts and rubber backed carpet squares for the backs. I also drilled holes in the bottom supports to retrieve the shot BB’s. I can go out in the garage anytime I like (weather permitting) and shoot as much as I want without worrying about the neighbors or anyone for that matter knowing what I am doing. It helps with drawing, multiple targets, shoot no shoot scenarios, just about anything I can come up with all without having to go to a range. And yes I know it doesn’t give the real world experiences as real shooting (recoil or lack of), but it comes a lot closer than dry firing. And it seems more and more BB or pellet guns are being produced to match their real world counterparts, so finding one to match what you carry should be getting easier. The only thing I wish my BB gun did, was have a working slide (blowback) during firing.

    • That is a great point. I use an Umarex “Glock” looking airsoft gun for similar practice and it is way fun. Very helpful if there is a replica to your usual carry piece.

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