Dry-Fire to Stay Sharp When You Can’t Shoot
When the author broke her leg at the beginning of summer, she developed this dry-fire routine to prevent her gun skills from getting stale while she healed.
You know the saying, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” But what’s a girl to do when she suddenly breaks her leg right at the onset of summer? Dry-fire. Lots and lots of dry-fire.
Just a few days before I was supposed to start competing against the guys in my gun club in our new centerfire league, I lost a fight with an area rug and broke my right leg. While there’s no good time of the year to break a leg, the very beginning of summer is perhaps the worst.
Getting to the range was totally out of the question for the next few weeks, and because shooting is a perishable skill, I knew I needed to do something to keep sharp while I stayed seated and let my leg heal.
Here’s the dry-fire plan I developed to help keep my skills sharp while laid up. It can help you do the same, even if an important part of you isn’t broken at the moment.
What Dry-Firing Is and How to Do It Safely
Dry-firing, if you’re not familiar, is firing your gun without ammunition. You can use dummy rounds or Snap Caps, or you just pull the trigger with an empty chamber and empty magazine, but consult your owners manual first to see if doing this could damage your firearm (it won’t be a problem for most modern guns).
And before you try any of these exercises, do a safety check, then do it again. Make sure there are no loaded magazines or live ammunition in the area. Double check that the magazine you’re using is empty and visually and manually verify the chamber of your pistol is clear or loaded with a snap-cap or dummy round.
If you’re lucky enough to own a laser training system, dry-firing is a no brainer and something you should do between range trips anyway. Since I have the AimWell Laser Trainer, I spent time each day playing some of the games that the system comes with. I was training and having fun, so it’s a win-win for me.
Devices like the new MantisX make training at home even easier, with its real-time critiquing of my shooting habits such as trigger pull, grip, and movement when I squeeze the trigger. By using my smartphone, I can see in real-time any mistakes I’m making, making dry-fire practice even more valuable, but devices like this are by no means necessary to get some quality home practice.
The training device can be used anywhere you can bring a computer and allows you to track your progress–even with your own gun. Here’s how it worked.
The Skills You Can Build
Most of the time, I’m dry-firing the pistol that I was going to compete with—a Springfield XD-9, or my go-to concealed carry gun, my Honor Defense HG9. Fitted with an OWB (outside the waist band holster), I can fake a standing position in my cast by utilizing the knee-walker I bought to help with mobility during my convalescence. Since there’s no live ammo or projectiles of any kind involved, I can use anything I want as a target. Sometimes it’s someone on the television, other times it’s a painting or plant in my home.
Primarily, dry-firing helps your body retain and build muscle memory. There are several things you can work on without ever leaving the comfort of home. Again, before any dry fire practice, please ensure your firearm is unloaded and that there is no live ammunition in your vicinity.
Drawing from your holster, whether it’s your competition gun or your everyday carry gun, is an important part of shooting—and one that’s often overlooked. Practicing your draw develops your muscle memory, so that when you need to draw your gun, you will do so efficiently, without even thinking about it.
What to try: After making sure your gun is unloaded, holster it. Randomly stop, draw and aim your gun, working on a smooth draw and presentation. I do several sessions of draw practice per dry-fire session. Because I wear different outfits and clothing styles, I practice often so that regardless of what I’m wearing, I can instinctively draw my gun should I need to.
Some describe it as squeezing the trigger, others as pulling the trigger, and still other as pressing the trigger. Regardless of how it’s described, this is where dry-firing can help the most. When you activate the trigger, you want a smooth and fluid motion, depressing your trigger straight back, while keeping the actual firearm as still as possible. Any horizontal movement of your trigger finger will cause your shot placement to be off.
What to try: Place a penny on your front sight. If you can pull the trigger without knocking the penny off, it’s a good trigger press. Give it a try, it’s harder than you think! Working those trigger finger muscles so they press the trigger straight back will help keep your shot on target.
If you carry a DA/SA pistol or revolver, be sure to practice with both single- and double-action trigger pulls.
When I took my instructor certification, my training counselor recommended we work on trigger press using Silly Putty to get a feel for it. It does help to develop a nice soft, straight pull.
Stance and Grip
Your stance may change depending on circumstances, but practicing drawing your gun from a variety of positions will make sure you’re ready no matter when you may need to draw. (Currently, I’m doing a lot of drawing from the seated position.) Your grip, however, should remain consistent. You may be able to shoot with both hands, but something could be preventing you from using one of your hands. Always practice accessing your gun with both your right and left hand, just in case, and practice your one-handed trigger pull as well.
What to try: Work on drawing from various positions, including standing, sitting, and prone. Also make sure you can access your gun with both your right and left hand. I’m right-handed and I usually carry at about 2:30.
The pros and cons of carrying at all the various waistband positions—with an eye toward the female anatomy.
There may be a reason that my right hand can’t draw my gun (attacker holding it, injury, right arm pinned behind my back, etc). Although awkward, I practice drawing with my left hand in case I need to. It takes more manipulation to grab the grip of my gun with my left hand and then transition it so I can get a proper firing grip.
It’s imperative to work on this skill ahead of time. It will always be awkward, but at least you’ll know how to do it should I ever need to. For more fun, practice an off-hand draw while sitting and laying down. You never know.
Whether you’re competing or drawing for protection, the goal is the same: getting your sights on target quickly. This skill goes hand-in-hand with your draw.
What to try: As part of your draw, bring your firearm up in a quick, efficient motion, getting your sight picture on target as quickly and smoothly as possible. As I said, when dry-firing I like to pick random household items to use as my targets.
For fun, have someone time you—the faster the better! If you’re using a laser training system, the software for most models can time you. They alert you with a beep to draw and the time stops when you hit your laser-activated target. It always feels good to beat your best time and it’s a great way to chart progress.
Another important skill set I’ve tried to keep honed with my at-home shooting routine includes pistol manipulation drills with magazine reloads. When I’m dry-firing, I like to practice reloads, both stationary as well as on the fly.
Being able to quickly and efficiently insert a new magazine into your gun while under pressure is important, especially if someone is shooting back at you.
What to try: After working on target acquisition, eject the magazine in your pistol and grab your spare from the place you usually carry it and insert it. Try to do this as quickly as possible by imagining someone is shooting back at you all the while keeping your eyes on your target.
While the magazine you eject will be empty, just as it would be with a real reload, the “fresh” magazine will be much lighter than a loaded one, so keep this in mind. Being loaded up with Snap-Caps will help, and you can find weighted dummy magazines for some pistol models online, but only the most popular ones.
If you carry a revolver, practice reloads the same way using loose rounds or a speedloader (reload the way you would in the field), and keeping your eyes on the target as much as possible. If physically able, you can practice your reloads from cover as well.
These are some of the things I’m doing while my leg heals. It’s been a trying time, but it’s also helped reaffirm how very important dry-firing is in shooting.
If you’re still on the fence whether dry-fire can help you, take a read about how this gold medal Olympian relied on dry fire for practice prior to the Olympics, because of a shortage of ammunition in his country of Vietnam.
A lack of ammunition at home didn’t stop Hoang Xuan Vihn from getting his country’s very first Olympic gold.