For many shooters, mastering the handgun is a life-long pursuit. Most folks who hunt small or large game use a rifle. With a rifle the shooter has many options to support the gun and make the odds of hitting the target much more likely. With a handgun the only support is the gripping action of your two hands. If you’ve tried shooting a handgun and are struggling to shoot consistently, dry fire training can dramatically improve your shooting in a short time.
What is Dry Fire Training?
Quite simply, dry fire training is shooting and manipulating your handgun without any live ammunition.
You practice and rehearse your trigger squeeze, draw from the holster, magazine changes, and malfunction clearing just as you would if you were firing live ammo at the range. Each time you practice handling and manipulating your firearm you are building muscle memory and the neural pathways needed to become a great handgun shooter.
Dry fire training, by definition, means no live ammunition. You must follow all the same rules for safe gun handling even when you know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the gun you are training with is unloaded.
Let’s review the basics of safe firearms handling:
- TREAT EVERY GUN AS IF IT IS LOADED
- NEVER POINT THE GUN AT ANYTHING YOU ARE NOT WILLING TO DESTROY
- KEEP YOUR FINGER OFF THE TRIGGER UNTIL YOUR SIGHTS ARE ON THE TARGET
- KNOW YOUR BACKSTOP AND WHAT IS BEYOND IT
When you train and practice you must practice safe gun handling. Do not do anything with an unloaded firearm that you would do with a loaded firearm.
Pay attention to where the muzzle is pointing at all times. Do not get sloppy. You are training to develop strong shooting skills as well as safe gun handling skills.
When you choose an area to practice, be certain that the area behind your target is not a bedroom or your living room. The walls in your house will not stop a bullet. A cement wall in your basement or garage is relatively safe. You must determine if you have an area in or near your home that is safe for you to practice.
Your Practice Sessions
When you prepare for dry fire practice equip yourself with the same gear you would normally wear for a match or concealed carry. Strap on your holster and magazine carrier. If you typically wear a vest or loose-fitting shirt put that on as well. Again, the idea is to train yourself to manipulate and fire your handgun for the situation you are training for.
The next step is to unload your gun and your magazines. Place the ammo you removed from the gun in a container and remove it from the room or area where you do your training. Double check the gun. Rack the slide back and lock it open.
Check the magazine well and the chamber. Place your pinky finger in the chamber to verify it is empty.
Now check it again.
When you are absolutely certain all ammunition has been cleared from the gun say out loud, “Dry fire training is beginning, the gun is empty.” This is a physical reminder that you are beginning your training session.
Likewise when you are finished training, say out loud,
“Dry fire practice is finished, the gun is now loaded.”
No more gun handling until your next practice session.
Now you can begin training on the skills you want to work on for this session.
Dry Fire Drills
Dot Torture Test
This drill was explained to me by Sam Middlebrook of Redhawk Firearm Training. Sam learned this drill at a course he attended at the Sig Sauer Academy. The drill is designed to refine and perfect your trigger squeeze. If you ask any accomplished handgun shooter the most important component for good, consistent handgun shooting they will tell you trigger squeeze is key. Any force on the trigger that is not absolutely straight back will cause your sights to drift off the target and will send your shot off the mark.
To do the Dot Torture Test you need a piece of blank paper and a Sharpie. Color in 10 dots about the size of a pencil eraser on the paper. Tape the paper to a wall or area you have deemed safe for your training at about eye level.
Position yourself so when you extend the handgun out to a shooting position the muzzle is about an inch from the paper. Using your strong hand only, get a good grip and push out to the target.
With a front-sight-focus align your sights on the first dot. Now, slowly execute a perfect trigger squeeze. A perfect squeeze means when the hammer drops the sights stay perfectly aligned on the dot. You will see very plainly if the sights move when doing this drill. Once the hammer falls, stay in position and exaggerate your follow through, holding the trigger to the rear. As you progress, hold the follow through a little longer each session and focus on not letting the sights move.
Now, with the trigger held to the rear, rack the slide and cock the gun again. Push back out to the target and align your sights on the dot. This part of the repetition is the trigger reset. With sights perfectly aligned, slowly let the trigger move forward until you hear and feel the trigger reset. Again, focus on keeping the gun stationary and moving only your trigger finger.
Once the trigger has reset, move your sights to the next dot on your paper, align your sights, and slowly squeeze the trigger again.
Repeat the exercise with all ten dots.
Now, do the exercise with your weak hand only. Repeat the process with all ten dots and begin building the skill to shoot one-handed with your weak hand. Why? Because if you shoot at a match eventually you will have a stage that is weak hand only. Or you may injure your strong hand in a defensive scenario. I shot great groups at my first action pistol last week because I had been training the Dot Torture Test with my weak hand.
You can also do the Dot Torture Test with your normal two-hand grip. This helps you develop your press to the target as well manipulating the trigger without moving the gun or sights in your normal shooting stance.
Take your time and make every trigger squeeze and reset perfect. You will find your hands and forearms will get tired and will be sore the next day. That is why we train.
Balance the Case Drill
This drill also works on trigger control and moving nothing but the trigger finger when firing the handgun.
You will need a partner and an empty shell casing for this exercise.
Rack the slide and cock the gun. Establish a good stance and two-hand grip and press the gun out to a target. You can use same sheet for the Dot Torture Test. Now, have your partner, who will stand to the side and behind the muzzle, balance the empty case on your front sight.
Your job is to now squeeze the trigger, drop the hammer and follow through without the case falling off the sight.
As in the exercise above, you can keep the trigger depressed, rack the slide and reestablish your grip and have the case placed back on the slide. This time you will slowly release the trigger to the reset while keeping the case on the front sight. The gun is now ready for you to squeeze the trigger again for your next repetition.
As you progress you can do the Balance The Case drill with just your strong hand and just your weak hand much like the Dot Torture Test.
Draw and Presentation
Getting your gun out of the holster, establishing your grip and pushing the gun out to the target requires a lot of practice to get right. Dry fire training allows you to work through each step slowly and deliberately so you learn the process correctly. As your muscles develop and your technique improves, speed will naturally come.
To train the draw requires three distinct components.
First, with the strong hand establish two points of contact with the then handgun. The web of the hand between the thumb and forefinger goes as high as possible on the handgun back strap. The middle joint of the middle finger goes as high as possible under the trigger guard and the index, or trigger finger, is indexed outside the trigger guard.
Second, as the strong hand is going to the gun and establishing the first two points of contact the support hand is coming up to the center of the chest.
As the gun is drawn from the holster, the muzzle is directed downrange and the support hand makes contact with the gun. The middle joint on the index finger of the support hand goes under the trigger guard as high as possible and the fingers wrap around the strong hand. The palm of the hand nestles into the space on the left side of the grip. Roughly 60-70% of the gripping force is provided by the support hand and 30-40% is provided by the strong hand.
Third, the gun is pushed out to the target. While the gun is moving forward the trigger finger is moving inside the trigger guard, you are beginning to see your sight picture and once your sights are aligned to the target you press the trigger.
As you can see, the draw has a lot of moving parts that need to be trained consistently so when you get to the range you consistently get the gun on target shot to shot. Again, do this training slowly at first to develop a consistent grip. As you begin to develop the grip that works for you and your gun, your speeds will begin to increase.
When you hit the range with live ammo test your speed to see how you are improving and what you need to continue to work on. A good target to shoot for initially is to draw and fire one shot in the A-zone of your target at five yards in two seconds. Once you can do that consistently, try to get two shots on target in the A-zone in two seconds.
With a semiautomatic magazine changes are critical. Practicing ejecting the empty magazine and inserting a fresh magazine and getting the gun back into battery looks simple on YouTube, but can give you fits if you don’t train for it.
This drill is best done with Snap Caps. This will allow you to load your magazine so when you hit the slide release the slide will close and you can proceed to reestablish your grip and fire your next shot.
To train yourself to do smooth magazine changes you need to have your spare magazine in a carrier or pocket. Remember, train the way you normally carry your gear.
Orient the spare magazine in such a way that when you pull it from the carrier or pocket your index finger is resting on the front surface with the point of your index finger just below the top of the magazine. The base of the magazine should be resting against the meaty part of your palm.
Stage your gun with an empty magazine and the slide locked open. Now get a good grip, acquire your sight picture, squeeze your trigger just like you would for a normal shot. You now realize you are empty.
Your support hand comes off the gun and moves to your spare magazine. While this is happening your strong hand shifts from a shooting grip to allow your thumb to press the magazine release and eject the empty magazine. All of this happens with the muzzle pointing downrange and the gun up in front of your face where you can see it.
Now the support hand brings the magazine up the to magazine well and the index finger serves to guide the magazine to the well while your palm inserts the magazine fully. The support hand then comes back to the grip and the slide release is pressed to run the slide back into battery. Note: on some guns when the magazine is seated forcefully and fast the slide will drop on its own. You need to shoot a lot to see how your gun behaves when the magazine is changed.
In some cases, if your thumb rides the slide release the slide will go forward on an empty magazine. In this case you will need to use your support hand to rack the slide and chamber a round from the fresh magazine before reestablishing your grip.
When you do get to the range practice some dry fire repetitions before your live fire practice. That will get your mind right and help to groove in the practice you have been doing at home.
To gauge your improvement, keep a shooting log in your gear and record your times, your hits and what you feel you need to work on for next time.
An easy evaluation drill is called the 5×5 Drill. All rounds are fired at 5 yards with 5 shots per string.
1) Draw and fire – 5 rounds to body with two-hand hold
2) Draw and fire – 5 rounds to body with two-hand hold, reload and fire 5 more rounds
3) Draw and fire – 5 rounds to body, strong hand only
4) Draw and fire – 5 rounds to body, one shot to head with two-hand hold.
The initial goal is to do each repetition in 5 seconds or less. Once you reach that level of skill, try to have a combined total time for all four repetitions of 15 seconds or less. To make it harder as you progress, increase the distance to the target and/or reduce the size of the target used.
These drills will improve your shooting and gun handling. But like anything, you only get good at what you train and practice. You have to put in the effort to be a good handgun shooter.
Tell us about your favorite drills and how you track your improvement.