Handgun Shooting: Five No-Ammo Training Drills

We all wish we had more time to go to the range, but as Teddy Roosevelt advised, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” That’s my favorite quote, and following his advice means you can practice your shooting technique when you’re at home.

With the obvious exception of live fire, nearly everything I do on the range can be practiced at home. In fact, there are many aspects of shooting that are actually better “dry-practiced,” with no live fire and no live ammunition. That’s because live fire and its results—holes in paper, moving reactive targets, pings of steel—are distracting, and decrease the shooter’s ability to concentrate on whatever element of shooting or gun handling he or she is trying to improve.

The following are five dry-practice exercises are my favorites. Before you begin, make sure you observe the four rules of gun safety and check and recheck to be sure your firearm is unloaded.

1. Get, and keep, a grip.

One of the most important things you must do to shoot well—whether you're practicing for a defensive encounter, a competition, or just to shoot for fun—is to have a proper grip on your firearm. To learn how to find a grip that fits you, go here. There are several schools of thought on how to grip a handgun, and different techniques are often prescribed for pistols and revolvers, or even single-actions and double-actions. If you haven't done so already, find a professional instructor to give you a good foundation, or do some research, and see what grip works for your firearm and body mechanics. Then practice it.

It’s imperative to get a proper grip on your handgun as soon as you access it. You don’t want to need to adjust your grip as you come to target, and you don’t want to have a loose grip that will compromise your shot.

One of the easiest ways to achieve a good grip is to force yourself to grip the firearm properly whenever you touch it. If this sounds obvious, check yourself. Most people do not take the time to acquire a proper grip when they’re simply picking up—as opposed to getting ready to fire—their weapons. They wait until they’re ready to shoot to hold it properly. Don’t do that. Get a proper grip every single time you touch your firearm.

Next, practice acquiring a proper grip from wherever you’re most likely to access your firearm, whether it’s your holster, shoulder-sling, ATV scabbard, purse, or briefcase.

2. Present the firearm.

Good instructors will break the presentation, or drawstroke, down into steps. Learn what each of the steps is, even if you can’t replicate it right away (that’s what practice is for). And take the time to understand why each step is executed as it is.

During your practice sessions, perfecting your particular presentation is a matter of restraining yourself from trying to be fast. Take the time to make each move properly. If the step is incorrect, go back and move into it again until it is. Only then can you advance to the next.

The goal is to master each step, and as that happens, the steps will begin to meld together. Ultimately, you’ll end up with a smooth, one-move presentation of your firearm.

If you’re carrying concealed, you should likewise learn a safe and efficient draw from wherever you’ll access your handgun.

3. Align your sights.

One of the most difficult skills to perfect is simply aligning the rear sight and front sights. If you have to use a firearm to defend yourself, you’ll be under stress and time constraints, and that’s no time to dawdle over sights. Yet, that’s precisely when you need as good a sight picture as you can get.

Here’s an exercise to help achieve that good sight picture quickly: First, hold your firearm in a good ready position (or have it slung or holstered). Don’t aim it. Next, look at the target. Focus in on a specific aiming point and close your eyes. Bring your firearm to an aimed-in, ready-to-shoot position. Now, open your eyes and check your sights. Are they aligned?

If your sights are not aligned, take the time to adjust your hand position to make that happen. When it does, close your eyes for a moment to focus on the feeling of your hand-wrist position so you can recognize it later. Take a breath. Return the gun to the ready position, and repeat. And repeat and repeat again. Eventually, your sights will be aligned whenever you bring the firearm to target.

4. Focus on the front sight.

Humans naturally focus their eyes on their subjects—their targets. Add to that our predatory instinct of training our vision on things that are moving, and you can see how difficult it is to properly focus on the front sight (or reticle, if you have optics mounted on your firearm) at the moment you press the trigger.

Dry practice is ideal for training the eye to go to and focus on the front sight or the reticle. In fact, once you’ve practiced exercise No. 3 and can consistently align your sights, simply add a few seconds of focused front sight work. This can be as simple as forcing yourself to note the outline of your front sight, or looking hard to see any imperfections on your front sight blade or bead. Continue to add front-sight focus to your sight work until it’s the natural result and end-step of aiming in.

5. Perfect your trigger press.

Eminent trainer Clint Smith points out that the shooter’s last connection to control of his projectile is his trigger. That’s absolutely true—meaning it’s also in the manipulation of the trigger that we often induce the most movement to the gun, and thus, the biggest disruption of the bullet’s path to our intended target.

To master a trigger movement that minimizes impact on our sight picture, go back to exercises No. 3 and No. 4. While maintaining your front-sight focus, place the pad of your trigger finger onto the trigger (generally, if you’re shooting a single-action pistol, contact the trigger roughly at the middle of that first pad; if you’re shooting a double-action, you can move up to the crease of the first joint).

Now, try to achieve a right angle at the second trigger finger joint. Your objective is to press—not squeeze or pull, but press—the trigger so that your trigger finger moves only from that second joint. It should come straight back, toward your shoulder. There should be no angle in your finger’s approach to and application of pressure on the gun. To verify that you’re doing it properly, you’ll see no movement in the front sight as you’re pressing the trigger. Practice until this is so.

A laser sight will immediately indicate how much you're moving the gun when you're squeezing the trigger. Here's how to use a laser sight for practice at home.