Effective, Affordable Shooting Improvement: Dry Fire Practice at Home

If there’s one thing that any concealed carry training regimen should include, it’s dry firing practice. And plenty of it. Some might even argue that it’s the most important training a concealed carrier can do.

Dry firing is the surest way to master trigger control and tame recoil anticipation. Just about anyone who’s considered an expert with a gun – competitors, hunters or real life operators – will tell you that they include plenty of dry firing as a regular part of their training.

Trigger Control: Arguably More Important Than Sighting

For all the attention paid to sights and sighting techniques (rear sight alignment, front sight press) trigger control and mastery is arguably more important. All the sighting in the world isn’t going to matter much if your trigger pull haphazardly pulls your pistol off target.

Think about the most common causes of shooting poor groups. People who don’t use enough finger (using just the fingertip to actuate the trigger) usually wind up pulling shots right. Those who use too much digit wind up pushing shots left. Those who pull the trigger, rather than squeezing it will also lose their point of aim as the shot breaks.

One of the best ways to cure trigger these ills is by dry firing. Once you’ve learned a good dry firing exercise, a shooter can improve their trigger technique drastically with practice. Once having acquired good trigger technique, you can keep those skills sharp with regular dry fire reps.

Another common cause of poor shooting is recoil anticipation, which has two common cures. One is more time behind the gun. The other…wait for it…dry firing. And when you’re dry firing practice the “surprised break” trigger technique.

The surprised break is a technique wherein the shooter begins to squeeze the trigger, focusing on the squeeze and keeping the sights on target until the trigger breaks. Concentrate on an even, smooth pull, and let the break of the trigger “surprise” you, without anticipating it.

The “compressed surprise break” taught by Jeff Cooper and Gunsite is more or less the same thing – it’s just done in more rapidly rather than in the slow, controlled fashion of the traditional surprised break exercise.

How are these methods taught to students? They all start by dry firing

By learning to concentrate on the sight alignment and the trigger squeeze rather than anything else, the shooter can get themselves out of flinching, jerking and otherwise fouling shots due to recoil anticipation.

Do a bit of reading on the various recognized authorities on guns and shooting over the past century and you’ll be hard-pressed to find one of them who didn’t see some utility in dry firing. As mentioned, Jeff Cooper certainly did. He was known to dry fire his rifle while watching television and his pistols just about any time.

CCW instructors nationwide use dry firing as an exercise with their students to hone trigger control. Competitive shooters? Same thing. Rob Leatham and Jerry Miculek both use it as part of their regular training and teach it to others.

W.D.M. “Karamojo” Bell, an ivory hunter from the early 20th century, was famous for mastering a brain shot on elephants from an oblique angle behind the animal (still called the “Bell shot” to this day) using only a 7x57mm Mauser, often making single-shot kills. Bell, who was known for wingshooting cormorants with a .318 Westley-Richards offhand (and with iron sights, no less) advocated dry firing as the most important practice a shooter can engage in.

He often dry-fired at distant targets while on the march. He probably got a lot of practice in, too, as he was known to wear out a dozen pairs of boots per year.

In fact one of the few things Jack O’Connor and Elmer Keith agreed on was the benefits of dry firing.

But enough examples. The point is that the experts advocate it for good reason. It’s easy, inexpensive and wonderfully effective. And that’s why it should be part of every shooter’s regular training regimen.

 

Sam Hoober is a contributing editor at Alien Gear Holsters and Bigfoot Gun Belts. He also contributes regularly to Ammoland, Daily Caller and USA Carry.

 

comments

  1. avatar Gordon in MO says:

    Marine Corps boot camp spent a lot of time dry firing before we ever loaded a round.
    Changed me from a good shot to high expert shooter.

  2. The only problem I have with “Dry Fire Practice” is there’s NO Recoil Simulation (i.e. Feed Back) upon pulling the Trigger. Something like the VirTra Tetherless Recoil Simulator will give you the Sense of Firing a Firearm without actually firing a bullet…

    1. avatar Napresto says:

      I agree. I’ve never found the two practice methods (dry fire vs live rounds) to be very comparable. Dry firing trains some good basic skills, and I’ve benefitted from doing it, but I prefer doing mixed loads of live and snap cap ammo. That practice method really helped me notice and correct flinches and other bad habits, even when my dry fire technique seemed to be spot on.

    2. avatar uncommon_sense says:

      UlnarNerve,

      I see another problem with dry-firing exercises: you might inadvertently train yourself to always shoot once and only once no matter what — especially if you are practicing with a semi-automatic firearm that requires cycling the action before you can squeeze the trigger again. Instilling “muscle memory” to always shoot once and once could be really bad if your attacker does not immediately crumple with one gunshot wound (or worse a complete miss!) or if you are facing multiple attackers.

      This coming from someone who loves and encourages everyone to practice dry-firing their firearm platform.

      In other words dry-fire practice has its place. Make sure you spend nearly equal amounts of time with real fire practice that also involves shooting multiple times.

  3. avatar Cooter E Lee says:

    Laserlyte targets or generic laser cartridges make dry firing a lot more fun and productive. I’ve got the steel targets and a bullseye.

    On a day like today when I’m busy working during daylight hours and it’s dreary and frigid outside anyhow, I can still practice.

    And it allows me to do things I would never do with a loaded firearm because safety and bullets cost money. You can also tell if you are pulling shots and sight in pistol caliber carbines using them.

    1. avatar grumpster says:

      I agree on the LaserLyte. I just use the 9MM laser training cartridge, that are usually $69 at Amazon, and shoot at targets or whatever getting instant feedback. I have unfinished basement and can go as far back as 15 yards. Also great for holster practice including point shooting, etc.

      I don’t quite agree with first video on trigger finger position. While I generally have my trigger finger on the pad around the middle with my Glock 19 and Walther PPS I use my first finger joint because of the shorter trigger reach and that works perfect for me and easy to remember.

  4. avatar GS650G says:

    Revolvers and DA semi autos have triggers that demand dry fire practice. Striker fired pistols are a lot easier. I mastered my ruger superredhawk trigger in DA for hunting deer. I found deer would hear and react to the hammer cocking back. In DA they don’t have time to move.

  5. avatar strych9 says:

    Every time there’s a story on TTAG about some old biddy who pops a bad guy in the middle of the night with her late husband’s gun that she hasn’t even looked at in 10 years, or a teenager who picks up dad’s gun and offs a couple home invaders, I wonder in the back of my head how much absolutely-required-for-even-a-1%-chance-of-survival-tactical-force-on-force-dry-fire-high-speed-low-drag training they’ve had.

    I mean shit, some 85 year old lady probably has arthritis that impedes a flawlessly smooth trigger pull. She must spend hours a day dry firing that gun she hasn’t looked at in a decade just to overcome her obvious disadvantage.

    1. Or maybe Double Action! In the 1967 movie “El Dorado”, Robert Mitchum’s arthritis was so bad, that the Revolver he used was a Colt DA Model 1917 Revolver. And the Movie was suppose to be set in 1892…

    2. avatar JD says:

      You can’t make the conclusion that one will just perform without any training. Of course there are exceptions, but there are also different situations. How would the old lady perform if she was on the street and someone mugged her? Do you think she would be victorious? Doubtful, she has an advantage of being in her house.
      The idea that one will just perform on demand without having any practice routine is absolute stupidity.

      1. avatar Ing says:

        And yet people routinely do succeed without all that practice. The idea that failure to incessantly practice equals failure itself is stupid.

        Good practice gives you a better chance to achieve good results. It improves your odds, yes — but it guarantees nothing.

        1. avatar JD says:

          No shit, there are no guarantees in life. However if the chance happens that I get into a life or death situation, I’m going in with the best odds I can, that means getting off your ass and practice. However most on here would rather stuff another Twinkie down their throats and sit in front of their computers and mentally masturbate about how their gelatinous ass will perform on demand in a life or death situation. HAHAHAHAHAHA yeah good luck with that.

      2. avatar Specialist38 says:

        Spoken like someone who trains people for a living.

        Know gun safety, know how it works, be mentally prepared to pull the trigger if needed.

        The old time gun fighters knew that accuracy was somewhat important but resolve to shoot was paramount.

      3. avatar strych9 says:

        Here’s my point:

        We play into the anti’s hands with this incessant talk about how necessary training is.

        Antis constantly say two things that cannot be true at the same time. Namely that a gun is so complicated that one needs a high level of training to operate but at the same time that a gun “makes murder easy”. They use the former argument in an attempt to codify training into law as a barrier to exercising of rights while using the latter as an argument for bans.

        On the pro-gun side we do the same thing. We say that a gun is easy to use, which is why it’s the best self-defense tool available, especially for the elderly, infirm weak or those of small stature. Then we turn around and advocate for high-level training or consistent training.

        Effectively we’re ceding that ground to the antis with this set of arguments. If training is so good and so necessary then why shouldn’t it be mandatory? If you want to own an AR why shouldn’t the government require you to take $10,000 worth of tactical classes? If dry-fire practice is such a good thing, and basically required to maintain proficiency then why don’t we have a gun license that requires practice and qualifications to ensure that you are practicing as necessary?

        We end up talking out both sides of our mouths on this and giving the antis, pardon the pun, ammo to come after us. That’s silly. The argument we should be making is that a gun is simple and easy to use, therefore a great tool for self-defense but that if one wants to get into more advanced aspects of firearms then training is available and recommended to attain and hone these more advanced skill sets. Treat it like a car or diving. Entry level is easy but more advanced classes for those who wish to pursue them, are available. There’s nothing wrong with taking a cave diving class or an aggressive driving course but it’s not required for basic diving or basic motor vehicle operation.

        1. avatar JD says:

          Man, you need to get out from behind the computer more. If you think any of this is “ammo” for the antis to want to ban guns, you really need to come to reality. The antis need nothing from us. They want to ban guns, period. They have their own agendas and their own fake media to spread their bullshit. I think some on here just need to remove the tin foil hats and practice more, so when the time does come, you will actually be able to do something about it.

    3. avatar Craig in IA says:

      Said “old biddy” probably only had to stick the muzzle literally into the cretin’s ribs before making the shot as well. Move off even 2 paces and results would likely be different. Why anyone with any credibility (???) would ridicule others from training themselves to be better at anything they might aspire to do isn’t even a mystery- it’s ludicrous.

      1. avatar Specialist38 says:

        Not knocking anyone for training.

        Also not saying you need lots of training to carry a gun and defend yourself.

        You can talk about how it’d be different if “X” happens, but the FACT is that she was effective in stopping an attack.

        Kudos to her. Don’t be a dick because she had no tacticool training. Chuck Yeager wasn’t there to show her how it should be done.

        1. avatar Craig in IA says:

          WOW! I was responding to an absolutely hypothetical situation here that never happened.

          How in the hell does one jump from that to “Kudos to her”?

          The OP concerns the benefits of dry fire practice and it would be senseless to say there are none or that such practice is worthless or detrimental.

          I sometimes wonder if people can even read, comprehend and think for themselves any longer… It’s embarrassing.

      2. avatar JD says:

        @craig exactly right!

  6. avatar possum says:

    I’ve worn out a lot of “snap caps”. I use a small piece of leather to cushion the blow of the hammer. Something not possible with striker fired.

  7. avatar former water walker says:

    Yeah I practice dry firing some. Not having a controlled explosion limits it’s effectiveness. But if you concentrate on squeezing the trigger you get better. For obvious reasons I’m not getting a laser trainer(no muzzle rise,no real explosive energy).

  8. avatar Specialist38 says:

    Dry firing is great practice for trigger control, regardless of recoil impulse.

    If you can’t keep your pistol still and sights on target in dry fire, you have no chnace in live fire.

    Live fire only will let you see if you are effective, but makes it difficult to improve.

    I dry fire all my guns. No snap caps. If they can’t stand dry firing, I don’t need them.

    1. avatar Craig in IA says:

      Yes- what we’re concerned with is that instant that the sear “breaks”. How we react to the physics that follow is an entirely different matter.

      I know for me, the first round I shoot out of my Freedom Arms .454 Casull usually lands exactly where it was intended, and they do so with more and more irregularity for about 15 rounds. Then it really starts to hurt and my mind starts thinking more “self preservation”. The trigger guard against my middle finger especially. But that first shot…

  9. avatar Robroyb says:

    I practice weekly, and can always tell by my shooting accuracy whether or not I did my dry firing during the week prior. It has helped me tremendously.

    But, bad fundamentals practiced in dry fire will only translate to continued poor shooting on the range. Master proper fundamentals first, and allow the dry firing to ingrain the skill into muscle memory for better shooting live fire.

    Dry firing builds so much toward a stronger skill set, but its boring, so I understand why people don’t do it.

  10. avatar Widdler says:

    I really should be practicing more.

  11. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    An important note:

    Do not dry fire rimfire guns. You will peen out the face of the firing pin, and sooner or later, you’ll be seeing a gunsmith to replace it.

    Also, I would not dry fire any revolver that has the firing pin on the hammer without a snap cap.

    Some shotguns need snap caps for dry firing as well.

    I’m a huge advocate of dry-firing practice. Just understand that some guns can tolerate it better than others.

    1. avatar former water walker says:

      I don’t generally dry fire without snapcaps. And I don’t care what anyone else does. They don’t pay my bills!

    2. avatar TommyJay says:

      Yeah, I dry fired a new Buckmark once, when I pulled out of the box. Then I read the manual. DON’T DRY FIRE, it said. It’s now got a tiny dent on the breech face, but it works fine.

      Question for the DGS: Do you worry or prep internal hammer guns like a Buckmark or 10/22 for storage? That is, dry fire with a strike pad or empty casing, so as to unload the hammer spring? Or just replace the spring over time?

      1. avatar GS650G says:

        It’s common to load an empty in these guns and drop the firing pin on them. I do it on my rim fires.
        Of course someone will be along in a minute to rant how stupid and dangerous it is.

        1. avatar TommyJay says:

          Thanks. Not an obvious trick for the uninitiated, but it did occur to me eventually that an empty casing would be just the ticket.

      2. avatar Anymouse says:

        It depends on the manufacturer. A Ruger Mk or 10/22 has a firing pin stop that makes it safe to dry fire. You should inspect them when you do a cleaning to make sure they’re still in good shape. There are also center fires that shouldn’t be dry fires, so read your manual. A hollow wall anchor can serve as a .22 snap cap for those who are concerned.

  12. avatar TommyJay says:

    “People who don’t use enough finger (using just the fingertip to actuate the trigger) usually wind up pulling shots right. Those who use too much digit wind up pushing shots left.”

    You got it backwards. Swap “too much trigger finger” with “too little trigger finger.”

  13. avatar TommyJay says:

    I forgot to write “If the shooter is right handed.”

  14. avatar L says:

    Totally agree with dry firing, I practice it often. Personally I get the absolute best groups at the range when I’m 110% in the mindset of “just pull slowly and let the gun do its thing.” Zero recoil anticipation with that, and dry firing has helped remove that anticipation. With a proper grip it won’t move much anyway so readjust the sights and repeat.

  15. avatar 22winmag says:

    Forget dry fire.

    Dry functioning and cycling!

    Speedy mag changes and single feeds in all kinds of firearms- with normal weight dummy ammunition. Speed clearing of dry jams in all kinds of firearms- with the aforementioned dummy rounds, and so on.

    That’s what I do. Dry firing by itself never did much for me and it’s weird when the gun is light by a few ounces of lead.

    1. avatar L says:

      You should be dry firing with a loaded magazine and an empty chamber (assuming semi auto).

      1. avatar 22winmag says:

        Sure, but standard weight dummy ammunition is surely ALWAYS SAFER and allows you to realistically simulate so many more situations and steps in addition to pulling the trigger… at no added cost.

  16. avatar Mad says:

    Is it safe to dry fire a Glock 21 45acp

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