This is the second part of a series about training when ammunition is scarce. You can find the first part here: Training When Ammo is Scarce (Part 1): How to Find Ammunition
Table of Contents
Hopefully you read the first part of this series already and you know why there is an ammunition shortage. You also know that it is very likely that it will continue through most of 2021, and possibly beyond. Hopefully you have also been able to acquire enough ammunition to, at a minimum, be able to defend yourself if necessary.
So now we will tackle the most important way to train your skills, outside of actual range time. There are a lot of drills and techniques, but in general, practicing your shooting skills without using live ammunition is broadly called “Dry Fire” training. Like most of our articles, the focus will be on handguns. So let’s go!
First and foremost we will talk about safety. Everything we do with our firearms needs to be done safely and responsibility, and training is no exception.
It is extremely important that you make sure you remove all live ammunition from your firearm and your magazines that you intend to train with. Place all of your live ammunition in another room or far away from you. The vast majority of negligent discharges occur when people don’t think their firearm is loaded. Don’t risk it, put all of your live ammunition out of reach every time you dry fire train.
Even though we now know that there is no live ammunition anywhere nearby, we still need to follow a few more fundamental rules.
Be aware of your target and what’s beyond it. If somehow live ammunition found it’s way into your firearm and did fire, what would it hit? What is beyond what you are using for your aim point? As much as possible, make sure hard material like brick or stone is behind your target. Or use aim points on the ground if the drill allows it.
Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot. Even though we are training without live ammunition, it’s a good habit to get into to train your finger to stay off the trigger until you are actually ready for the trigger pull portion of your drill. If you have someone with you, explain the drill to them and then ask them to watch your trigger finger while you are training. Have them remind you to take your finger off the trigger whenever you aren’t “shooting”.
What is Dry Fire Training?
Very simply, dry fire training is training with your firearm with live ammunition. Dry firing allows you to practice your skills, reinforce your knowledge, and train your muscle memory, all without firing an actual shot.
Most modern handguns can be safely fired without ammunition and it will not harm the gun. The one exception is rimfire pistols, i.e. .22 caliber handguns. If you want to dry fire train with a rimfire pistol, you need to get some snap caps to protect the firing pin. See the section on Training Aids below.
As always, your gun owners manual will have additional information on the capabilities of your firearm should you need it.
Why Should You Dry Fire Train?
Dry firing saves ammunition
This is probably the most likely reason that you are reading this article. While live ammunition training at the range is irreplaceable, there are times when ammunition itself becomes nearly irreplaceable. When you can’t find ammunition on the shelves, or when it becomes prohibitively expensive, or simply when the sale of ammunition is restricted by our government then our available ammunition becomes irreplaceable. When ammunition becomes irreplaceable, we have to adjust our training methods.
Dry firing saves money
This is a pretty obvious follow on to the first reason. You can save money on ammunition, targets, and range fees. Of course you might then spend that money on dry fire training aids.
Practice in own home
Dry fire training allows you to practice at home in your underwear while you are watching TV. Most ranges frown on that so here is your chance!
There are hundreds of dry firing drills you can run including concealed carry drills, competition drills, and fundamentals. The drills in this article will focus exclusively on the fundamentals.
Dry Fire Exercises
So here they are, the first five dry fire drills that everyone should know. All of these drills focus on the fundamentals of shooting.
Slide Lock Drill
Often missed when thinking about dry fire drills, basic pistol familiarization shouldn’t be overlooked. This drill is specific to semi-automatic pistols and is particularly useful to become familiar with a new gun, if you are left handed but using a right handed slide lock, or if you need to strengthen your hand.
For revolvers, similar drills can be created to focus on getting familiar with the mechanics.
The drill is simple: pull the slide completely back, push up on the slide lock, and release the slide so that it is locked back. Once the slide has locked back, pull back once more releasing the slide lock and let the slide go forward. It’s that simple.
There are a couple different variations to this drill. If you aren’t yet familiar enough with your pistol or if you are still developing hand strength, you can usually use an unloaded magazine for assistance. With the slide forward, insert an empty magazine into the pistol and pull back on the slide. The magazine will engage the slide lock and lock the slide back for you. While this is true of most modern pistols, there are some pistols that an empty magazine will not lock the slide to the rear, most notably the Ruger LCP.
You can also practice this with both your right and left hand, regardless of which side the slide lock is on or which hand is your primary shooting hand. It’s a good skill to know!
Sight Picture Drill
This drill focuses exclusively on sight alignment, sight picture, and yes, focus! Start out slowly with this one and make sure you have everything in place before you speed up. Follow the steps below slowly and deliberately. Close your non dominant eye to force your dominant eye to get used to the sights and strengthen it’s ability to quickly and instinctively take focus. As you get used to this drill, you can start running through these drills with both eyes open but when you do slow it down again to make sure the correct eye is taking focus first! Okay, here’s the drill:
- Start with your pistol down either on your lap if you are sitting or by your side if standing.
- Identify the target that you will be taking aim at and when you’re ready, bring your pistol up and take aim at the target
- Sight Alignment: Make sure you have proper sight alignment every time! Remember “equal height, equal light” for the relationship between the front and rear sights.
- Sight Picture: Again, make sure the top of the front sight is immediately underneath where you would want the round to impact.
- Focus: The front sight of your pistol needs to be in focus. This will make your rear site and the target slightly out of focus, but not so much that you can’t achieve a good sight picture and sight alignment
- Bring your pistol back down.
You can run this drill with two hands or a single hand. You can train with just your primary shooting hand or with your opposite hand. Just remember, whenever you change something slow the drill back down. Reinforce your dominant eye every time.
Trigger Reset & Follow-Through Drill
Focus: Trigger Control, Follow-Through, Familiarity
This is a simple drill that helps train your trigger control, follow-through after the gun has “fired”, and familiarity with the trigger reset point on your pistol.
For this drill we will be focusing on the trigger squeeze and follow-through, so breathing, aiming, and hold control are less important for this one, but you can always add them to create a more well rounded drill. Start by pulling the slide back and letting it go (i.e. cock the gun) and insert an empty magazine. Then follow these steps:
- using your primary shooting hand, pull the trigger back in a slow, smooth action until the pistol “fires” (you will hear an audible click). Hold the trigger back after you hear the click.
- Continue to hold the trigger back and use your supporting hand to pull the slide back just enough to reset the action, typically less than an inch on most semi-automatic firearms. Let the slide go forward again.
- Slowly release the trigger in a controlled manner until you hear the a second, quieter click, then stop. This click is the trigger fully resetting with the action. Your pistol is now ready to “fire” again. Do not release the trigger any further than this point.
- Repeat these steps, starting with step 1.
Focus: Aiming, Breath Control, Hold Control, Trigger Control, Follow-Through
This is exactly what it says, going through a dry fire process focusing on every step of the fundamentals of shooting. Take it step by step, in the order presented below. Use this as a guide if needed and slowly work it into your memory. Once all of the fundamentals are memorized and you can run this drill without referencing the steps, they will start to become instinctual.
- Hold Control: Make sure you have a good grip on your pistol, minimizing the space between your hand and the grips while maximizing the amount of your firearm that your hand is in contact with. Keep your finger off the trigger.
- Aiming: We covered a lot of this in the Site Picture Drill so I won’t repeat myself here. But make sure that you have all the elements of aiming before moving on
- Breath Control: Hopefully you have been breathing normally up until now! When you are ready, take a partial breath out until you are comfortable and hold that breath until after your trigger pull.
- Trigger Squeeze: Slow and smooth, pull the trigger back until the pistol “fires”. You will hear an audible click.
- Follow-Through: Your not done yet! Make conscious actions all the way to the end. Slowly release the trigger until it is fully released.
- Pull the slide back and release it to reset the action and trigger and repeat!
If you find that there are areas where you aren’t as strong, find one of the drills in this section that focus on that area and isolate that part of the motion as much as possible.
Dime Washer Drill
Focus: Trigger Pull, grip
This is a military classic! Also called the coin drill, quarter drill, or balance drill. The concept is simple: maintain a proper grip on your firearm and squeeze the trigger until you hear the click, all while balancing a coin on the front site of your handgun. Let’s break it down a bit more.
- Get a good grip on your pistol with your shooting hand
- With your gun up and the sites parallel to the ground, balance a coin on the front site of your gun
- Keeping the coin balanced on the front site post, place your support hand in it’s normal position on the firearm
- Extend the firearm out fully for 10 seconds. If you have a proper grip on the firearm, you should be able to keep the coin balanced for this time
- Slowly and smoothly squeeze the trigger until the pistol fires (you will hear an audible click). Once again, with the proper grip and trigger squeeze, the coin will not fall off of the front site.
If this drill starts to get too easy, you can find fun new things to balance on your front site! Try it with different coins, I personally find quarters to be the easiest and dimes to be the hardest to balance. Another favorite is using an empty shell or a snap cap (see the Training Aids section).
I wanted to add a quick (but far from complete) section on training aids because I mentioned using some in the drills above depending on your firearm. I will do a more thorough article on training aids in a later article but for this article I wanted to focus on a single training aid: Snap Caps.
Snap caps are innert, reusable aids that are the general shape of live ammunition. They are designed to be placed in magazines and loaded into the chamber of your pistol. They are typically made of plastic and have a reusable primer that the pistols firing pin or striker can hit, protecting pistols like rimfire pistols or revolvers that are not designed to be fired dry.
Snap caps are available in almost any caliber you can imagine and it is strongly recommended that you have a set of snap caps for your favorite caliber of handgun.
Beyond simple drills and protecting your pistol, snap caps can be used in more advanced drills and malfunctions training like reloading drills and misfire drills.
Thanks for reading! I promise one day I will write a shorter article! This article is really intended for reference though so please book mark it and come back to it whenever you need some guidance on dry fire training.
These drills are endlessly customizable and are only limited by your imagination! If there is an awesome modification you have tried and liked, add it in the comments below so that others can benefit from your knowledge!
There are hundreds of dry fire drills that you can do, for whatever your intent with your firearm is. You can even make up your own because only you know the specific situations that you will need your firearm!
Finally and most importantly, stay safe! Follow safe practices, never dry fire train with live ammunition anywhere nearby, preferably not in the same room. I can’t say this enough! We want you and your family to be safe at all times. Safety is an incredibly important aspect of a gun owners responsibility!
Thanks for reading and keep on training!