So many espouse “dry fire,” even those with a tenuous claim of being a firearms instructor. However, dry fire is often misunderstood. Dry fire is best described as “dry practice,” and it offers the most benefit when the shooter has identified a specific area they want to improve. By being specific about the goal, you can work that skill into these exercises to achieve tangible results. Dry fire shouldn’t be about dressing up and playing quick draw with an empty gun in front of a mirror.
Let’s consider the following exercises that should give you a lot of return for your invested time. The following exercises are a series of linked tasks. You can go the whole way through the set or emphasize a section.
1. Safety First
Once you double and triple check that your handgun is empty, check it again. Then remove all live ammunition from your training area.
2. Camera, Action
Set up a camera or your iPhone, ideally on a tripod rig, or have someone you can trust run a video-recording device. You see, feedback is what makes this type of training work.
3. The Target
You also need a target that you can use to practice shifting focus. I’ve used everything from miniature IDPA targets that I cut from paper bags to a light switch plate on a wall.
4. Shooter Ready?
After checking to be sure the handgun is clear of any ammunition once more, holster it and stand about 10 to 15 feet from your target. (Adjust accordingly if indoor space doesn’t allow such distance.) Square up to the target and focus, just as you would focus on a threat if it were real life. If you have a timer, you can use the beep to initiate a verbal or physical start. If you do not have a timer, just go off the sound of a beep in your head or ask that an observer provide the cue.
5. Let’s begin.
Draw your pistol out as fast as you can without flailing about. Concentrate on being as efficient as possible and not leaning or moving excessively. This is where camera feedback is important. Often times, shooters can’t self-identify problems that they induce or notice excess movement added to the draw process.
An efficient and smooth draw doesn’t mean slow. Sure, for a new shooter, moving slow and robotic has its place in learning fundamental movements, but for anyone who’s been shooting awhile, go as fast as you can without the wheels falling off. As the handgun comes into your line of sight, concentrate on moving the focus of your eye from the target to the front sight. Concentrate as your finger moves from the frame to the trigger, and again as you take the slack out of the trigger. “Slack” is that little bit of loose movement in the trigger’s movement before it hits the wall just before it breaks and the gun fires.
Ensure that your visual focus is remains on the front sight. Be sure that the sights are aligned properly before you finish taking the slack out of the trigger, and that you have a good grip. Only at this point do you complete your trigger press and ensure the front sight does not move or bounce as the trigger breaks.
6. Let’s reevaluate.
There’s a lot going on here, but let’s break down the drill. The first part is the draw. Use the feedback from video or your brutally honest friend to identify and eliminate unnecessary movement. You may find that you need to slow down in order to smooth it out your movement, but with practice you should try and speed it back up. No one ever won a gunfight because they were smoother than the other guy. The purpose of the drill is to become faster at doing it. Smooth is only a means to an end.
This is also an opportunity to work on refining your grip. Grip is one of the fundamental attributes that tends to suffer when moving at speed, so refining it and ensuring that your hands are consistently finding their proper placement will yield a tangible benefit in results down a real range.
7. Target Shift
The next area to focus on improving is your ability to shift your focus from the target to the handgun’s front sight. The more training you have, the more you can get away with a coarse sight picture. However, learning to shift focus from the target back to the front sight will help get you achieve better hits under pressure.
Focusing on the front sight will also keep the pistol aligned on the target if the target is moving, which bad guys tend to do. Engaging moving targets is really tough for most shooters, and they often swear that they are focusing on the front sight; in reality, most are not. You can enhance this drill by switching the focus of your eye from the target to your front sight and repeat several times. The eye needs to be trained like any other muscle. The more time that you invest in training your eye, the faster you will be able to shift your focus and the more natural it will become. Unconscious competence is our goal.
If you use a dot-sighted pistol, ignore the above paragraph and keep your focus on the target while maintaining an awareness of your dot’s position in relation to the target.
8. Trigger Control
Some argue that the act of manipulating the trigger rearward is called a “trigger press” while others say it’s a “trigger pull.” Don’t get lost in semantics. The important fact is that many shooters have a problem separating their trigger finger’s movement from the rest of their hand. Any extra hand movement will cause inconsistent hits on the target. It’s not necessarily a mash of the trigger that causes inconsistency, but if there is any excessive movement observed in feedback, it needs to be addressed. When dry practicing, don’t waste any press of the trigger.
You can improve trigger control by learning to take the slack out, but the feeling is often perceptibly different for each handgun. Taking the slack out is also referred to as “prepping the trigger” or “staging the trigger.” Safely orient your handgun towards the target. Once you have an awareness of the sights coming into view over the target area, begin taking the slack out without disturbing sight alignment. This process happens fast and requires repetition. Done correctly, it allows the shooter to be efficient and consistent, especially for that first shot. Once the trigger is prepped, the remaining press is much shorter and there is less chance of moving the muzzle during the stroke of the trigger.
Press the trigger slowly while gradually building pressure in your trigger finger until the hammer or striker lunges forward. If a trigger measured 5 pounds, use 5 pounds of gradual force and not 15 pounds of sudden force.
9. Grip, grip, grip
I cannot emphasize enough how important a strong, consistent grip is to shoot accurately and quickly. A strong grip will eliminate the front sight bounce that many shooters see, especially those who shoot striker-fired guns. You have to grip hard, but not so hard that you give up control of your trigger finger. And be sure to watch that front sight! If it moves so much that you can see it, tighten your grip, but relax your trigger finger. If your grip isn’t strong, the gun will move.
As you become comfortable with using an increased amount of force to grip the gun, it’s time to speed the process up. A partner that is watching or recording your muzzle can provide great feedback here.
There is an incredible amount of information that can be gleaned from different dry practice drills. It’s important to make each rep count; don’t just go through the motions.
Feedback is also important, as described. And be honest with yourself. Did you see movement in your sights once you presented the pistol to the target? Did the muzzle move as you pressed the trigger? Take your ego out of the reps and use this time to get better. On your next visit to a live-fire range, results will speak volumes about your level of effort at home.