Dry Fire Basics: How to/why

How To Start Dry Fire Training: The Basics

Dry fire training is the act of practicing weapon handling skills without actually firing a single round of ammunition. Given the market price increase on ammunition, dry fire training has been the best way to practice, with time being the main investment. While dry fire training can be used for any kind of firearm, we will be focusing mostly on the handgun, as the mastery of handgun skills is one of the hardest to accomplish.

Dry fire training should be a priority for every shooter, from a beginner to professionals. While a professional may not need to cover as much in their practice, they can still isolate specific skills that can make them a more proficient shooter. In this article I will be discussing the basics of how to and the why behind dry fire training. 

Steps to Proper Dry Firing

So you have your favorite handgun and want to get some dry fire practice in, but where do you get started? First we should consider what type of handgun you have. Most modern striker fired or hammer fired handguns will not suffer from any wear and tear while dry firing, however it’s generally not recommended for rimfire style firearms because you could damage the angled firing pin.

Safety Check

The first step everyone should take into consideration is safety! What we recommend is having your target set up in a completely separate room from where you store your ammunition and loaded magazines. It is also important to have your target set up in an area of your house or garage where your muzzle is being pointed in a safe direction. A final check of your firearm must be made before commencing your dry fire training session.

Choosing The Proper Target

As for targets, the general rule is you want to choose a target that is of reasonable size and shape that matches your needs. For instance, if you’re concealed carry focused, then a standard USPSA target at 3-10 yards with a refined target focus on the smaller A zones will work great in the beginning.

For a greater challenge, using smaller targets like a 3x5 index card will work well. Dry firing at a smaller target can replicate shooting at distance, however it’s important to keep the distance from your target reasonable. Personally, I love to challenge myself so I put small pieces of blue painters tape on the wall, which forces me to be very precise with my presentations and sight focus. You know, aim small miss small kind of idea.

Keep in mind that changing up your targets will make this less mundane in the future with your progression. Also consider using products like dry fire laser attachments, such as the Mantis X series, or laser cartridges that go into your handgun, such as the Laser HIT system. These both involve downloading an app to your smartphone, which gives you a variety of options of targets and dry fire drills.

How To Dry Fire

So you're all set up and ready to start dry firing, what do you do exactly? The most common practice method is to gain repetition of drawing and reloading your handgun. If you're not set up with your favorite Blade-Tech holster you can always work from a table and simply practice on presenting the handgun and getting your sights on target. Ideally you should only have to refine your sights slightly when presenting your handgun on the target.

For a beginner, it’s important to understand that speed comes with experience. Don’t expect to go fast right out of the gate. Speed is not everything, consistency with refined fundamentals is! A great goal for a novice shooter can be drawing your pistol and aligning your sights on target in a time under 2 seconds.

The best practice to develop an efficient draw stroke is to consistently have a high firm grip on the handgun before it leaves the holster while also keeping your trigger finger straight and out of the trigger guard. A good way to isolate this practice is to acquire a high firm grip multiple times without actually drawing the pistol. Nothing is worse than having to adjust your grip on the pistol as you're aligning your sights on the target. An improper grip is usually the result of attempting to go too fast on the draw and not acquiring a full firing grip during the presentation. Remember to go slow at first and build consistency.

Proper Draw & Re-Holster 

Drawing and re-holstering your handgun are two of the most crucial aspects of your dry fire practice, however re-holstering your handgun is even more important. From an outside the waistband holster, the process of drawing and re-holstering is typically more straightforward. However working from concealment can present some of its own challenges.

The best practice for your draw from concealment is to move your cover garment(s) out of the way so they do not inhibit your purchase on your handgun and your draw stroke. Same with re-holstering, remove your cover garment(s) from the path of your re-holster. This brings me to a pretty overlooked aspect of dry fire training, looking the gun back into the holster! Looking your handgun back into the holster is as it sounds, physically looking into the holster and following the gun with your eyes while reholstering.

The biggest reason to look your gun back into its holster is two-fold: One is purely for safety, and the other is purely for mechanical efficiency. When re-holstering into a concealed holster you want to make sure there is nothing obstructing you from doing so. If there is then remove it, because when you go to verify your dry fire training with live fire with your concealed carry holster, you do not want to have the slight possibility of a negligent discharge. The second reason to look your handgun back into the holster is to familiarize yourself with where the holster is in reference to your belt. Again, this is all about consistency. Knowing where your holster is in reference to your belt will allow you to become more efficient in your draw stroke which will enable faster and cleaner draws.

Another critical skill is to learn your pistol's trigger, specifically where the wall is and where the trigger breaks when pressing straight to the rear. Again, check your handgun to make sure it is indeed unloaded before doing this. There are different types of triggers, however, the most common types nowadays are striker fired and single action triggers.

Single action triggers are usually associated with 1911/2011 handguns and some revolvers, and usually lend themselves to being light and crisp. On the other hand, striker fired handguns are the most common and can be a bit trickier to master. Simply yanking/slapping the trigger can definitely lead to poor marksmanship, unless you've trained that skill to a very high level of proficiency.  Instead we want to identify where the wall of the trigger is and how much lbs’ of pressure it takes to then press through the wall and break the shot.

Learning where the wall of your trigger is at, is generally straightforward. Simply press the trigger to the rear to the point where you start to meet a larger amount of resistance. That resistance is what is referred to as “the wall”. If you continue to press through the wall of the trigger, you will eventually break the shot. Resetting the action by either racking the slide or pulling the hammer back will get you ready to repeat the process.

A great way to combine everything in dry fire is while presenting toward the target, get your finger onto the wall of the trigger before your sights settle. That way when your sights do settle you only have to press through the small portion of the trigger remaining. This can help tremendously with striker fired handguns as they tend to have mushy take ups before getting to the wall. Ideally you will only have to allow for a slight amount of correction of your sights before pulling through the wall and breaking the shot. Something to keep in mind is when you go to live fire, you should not be pinning/holding your finger to the rear after you break the shot. Many refer to this as “click banging” and it is something that should not become a habit. Instead you want to release your trigger finger right after the shot breaks to where the trigger resets. This will allow you to be right back on the wall which will help you make faster subsequent shots. Repeat this process several times for each handgun you own.

Shooting is all about vision. One of the hardest aspects of shooting handguns is seeing your handguns' sights in reference to your target. While I encourage everyone to learn the basic fundamentals of shooting a handgun with iron sights, having a red dot sight mounted onto your handgun is indeed the way of the future. A quality red dot and execution of proper fundamentals can increase both your accuracy at all distances as well as your speed. Keep in mind, learning to shoot with a red dot sight on your handgun does require a bit more time than learning to shoot with irons, but the advantages are well worth the effort put in. Just remember this trick when it comes to shooting; eyes lead, sights follow.

Reloads For Days

Besides drawing your handgun from a holster, practicing reloads are another crucial skill that should be developed with dry fire training. It seems simple enough, and to some level reloading a handgun is very straightforward. However, what you learn over time through dry fire reloads is that you want to eliminate all excess movements to then become more efficient. Since the majority of us carry some variant of a box magazine fed semi auto handgun, then the hardest part is not fumbling the mag either when retrieving it from its pouch or when inserting it into the mag well.

What works best for me is to index the first round/follower of my spare magazine in my left hand to where the round/follower is touching my index finger. Also during the reload, I quickly look at the mag well of my handgun in order to help align the magazine that is being inserted into the mag well. A mistake to avoid that I see a lot of new shooters doing is dropping the gun down below their line of vision when doing reloads. Ideally you want to keep the gun up and not obstructing your view of the target when doing a reload. Doing dry fire reloads is where I have spent the most of my time when it comes to my own dry fire training. One of my favorite OWB mag pouches that I use is the Signature Mag Pouch Pro. And for when I am working from IWB concealed, I use the Total Eclipse 2.0 Single Mag Pouch with its IWB Mods.

Set Yourself Up For Success

Once you have become accustomed to the basics of dry fire, you can continue the process with harder goals. Setting goals is important because it allows you to track your progression. Personally, I have a small notebook that dates back to when I first started.

There are two main metrics we can use to measure our performance with shooting, time and accuracy. Unfortunately accuracy is not possible with dry fire training, but time is one that can definitely be exploited. One of the best ways to track time with shooting and dry fire is with a shot timer. A shot timer can track every live fire shot down to the 10th of a second. How a shot timer is useful in our dry fire practice is to set a par time for a given drill and see if you can beat that time. You see the shot timer beeps at the beginning of when it starts recording, meaning you start the drill after the first beep. A par time is setting the shot timer to beep twice, once to start and the second is determinable to whatever you set it to be.

For example, drawing your handgun from the holster and firing a single shot to hit the target in under 2 seconds should be an easy goal for even a novice shooter. Or you can get really creative and do reloads and target transitions under a set time. This is where competition shooters spend most of their time. They learn to isolate each skill so they can tell how long it takes them to do a specific drill. My personal goal for dry fire practice, from concealment or OWB, is to break my first "shot" off in no longer than 1.2 seconds. I also practice to perform a slide lock reload in under 1.8 seconds from concealment. 

The beauty of a shot timer is you can start slow and build up your consistency to then become faster and more proficient. In my opinion, a shot timer is one of the best tools to acquire the metric of time to create raw data, which can be used and interpreted to improve your skills. Out of the two shot timers I’ve used, the Pact Club Timer III is the one I have the most experience using. The Competition Electronics Pocket Pro Shot Timer is another that works well. Both being slightly north of $100 which makes it attainable for the majority of folks.

While the various dry fire training tools have their clear advantages, it's important to keep in mind that having something as simple blue painters tape on the wall and a free downloadable shot timer app on your phone can get you started. If you're in the market to take your dry fire sessions to the next level then consider products like shot timers or even MantisX. All have their own advantages which can help with different aspects of your dry fire practice.

Dry Fire Practice to Range Days

Once you develop a routine within your dry fire practice and have recorded the progress you’ve made, it’s time to take your newly found skills to the range. At any stage of learning a new skill, it’s important to practice that skill. For shooting, it’s taking dry fire training into a live fire environment.

It’s important to have a plan when you go to the range instead of coming up with something on the fly. I find myself using the blue painters tape or print out targets quite a bit when going to the range, since the majority of the targets that you can buy are rather large. Again, make sure to record your times and or how you believe you've performed on that given range session. Depending on the range you go to you may not get to draw your pistol from a holster at all. If that is the case then work other fundamentals instead. If you have a range where you can work on everything, get those repetitions in and remember to be courteous to the other folks at that range, including the Range Safety Officer. Getting out to the range is a great way to measure how effective your dry fire practice has been. 

Final Thoughts On Dry Fire Practice

Dry fire is like any newly developed skill, you have to put in the time and effort to develop proper fundamentals and safety practices. Remember, at first go slow and be safe about it. Over time you can push the envelope and set performance goals. Also, seek formal instruction from a reputable instructor if you believe you’ve hit a roadblock in your progression. The ultimate goal of dry fire training is consistency through deliberate repetition. Which will allow your technique to become ingrained into your proprioception. Having these skills will hopefully allow you to act without having to think about how to do things like draw or reload your handgun, given you'll need these skills besides to impress your buddies on how fast you can execute Bill Drills. Be safe and Carry Confident®!

Find the right holster today so you can begin your dry fire training!

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