The Benefits Of Dry Fire

A Strike Industries Dummy Round for an AK-pattern rifle.

We’re in the middle of an unprecedented ammo shortage. A perfect storm of a federal election year, the Kong Flu, civil unrest, and ammo manufacturers hesitant to invest in production upgrades lest they get bit by a sequel to the Trump Slump (where gun manufacturers invested heavily in production leading up to Trump’s election in 2016, only to have the bottom fall out as fears of gun control temporarily subsided), the market for anything firearm related, especially ammunition, is tight. People are hesitant to train due to cost and/or depleting their reserves - however, train we must. That being said, there are plenty of “non-firing” options that can keep your skills sharp - most notably, dry fire…

What Is Dry Firing?

Dry fire, or dry firing, is simply the act of operating a firearm without live ammunition in the chamber. You do everything you would normally do to fire your weapon, but with no ammo loaded up. Draw, aim, press the trigger. Click.

Safety First

When doing dry fire drills, it is terribly important that you exercise safe gun handling practices. Triple check that the weapon is clear, ensure that the magazine you are using is unloaded, and even visual cues like a custom dry fire target (make your own that says “DRY FIRE ONLY” on it, for example…) can help reinforce safe dry fire practices. Also helpful is perhaps going to another room of your home (the one without ammo in it) so you don’t accidentally grab a loaded magazine.

Along those lines, having a “broken” magazine with some sort of visual cue that it’s for dry fire only is handy. Grab a junk or spare mag, pop the spring out, and put it back together sans spring and follower. A neat trick is to put something in there to simulate weight, even.

Regardless, be extremely careful. You don’t want to take a break from dry fire, accidentally grab a live magazine, load and make ready, and blow a hole in your wall, or worse…

FN 509 Gritr

Why You Should Dry Fire

A good shooter has established competency and excellence in the fundamentals. Grip, stance, trigger manipulation, and sight picture and alignment. Your instructor probably did some dry fire exercises with you when you got your first firearm, whether it was an AR-15 rifle or a 9mm pistol.

Dry firing frequently helps build up good habits and lets you concentrate on the steps to a successful shot. You can focus on the draw without thinking about dealing with the recoil and noise of a live round being fired. You can concentrate on a clear sight picture. You can refine your trigger press, where most errors in shooting tend to happen. After awhile you build up a muscle memory and when you actually have to fire your weapon, all the steps leading up to the shot are second nature.

Dry Fire Procedures And Practices

It isn’t terribly complicated to dry fire. You’ve probably done it already in classes and when function checking a new firearm.

Pick your chosen firearm for your dry firing session, clear it, grab any training aids, and pick something to use as a target, or print out something dedicated to the task. One piece of advice I’ve read is, again, to pick something that’s only used for dry fire as a mental reminder that you’re dry firing and not sending live ammo downrange.

There’s also a few things you can do, depending on your firearm, utilizing common household items to refine your technique.

A GLOCK 19x with an Austrian 10 Schilling coin balanced.

The Coin Drill aka The Penny Drill

One of the keys to pistol accuracy is to minimize movement when pressing the trigger. You might not know it, but you may just be waving the gun slightly prior to and during the trigger press. This movement, even minute, degrades accuracy. A millimeter’s movement becomes amplified over distance and can lead to a complete miss at longer ranges. So, you’ll need to practice keeping that gun still.

Grab a coin of any denomination. I like to use a quarter, though for the hell of it, I’ll also use a Hungarian 50 Forint coin since I did enjoy Budapest. Or maybe even an Austrian 10 Schilling coin.

Anyway, check your pistol and make sure it’s clear. Balance said coin on top of the front sight of your pistol. Carefully establish a proper grip on the pistol, while keeping the coin balanced. It’s not necessary to aim at anything specific, just make sure it’s in a safe direction. Then, press the trigger. If you are doing it correctly, the coin should not fall off of the pistol. Rinse and repeat.

Draw And Acquire The Target

You don’t even have to press the trigger on this one. Clear your gun, holster it, look at your target, then draw. Don’t worry about speed at this time, just ensure your movements are smooth. You don’t want to draw fast, and then wave the gun around acquiring your target. That’s still slow by the way since you’re wasting time aiming. The idea is that you just draw….then acquire the target…nice and smooth. Think Barry White, not KMFDM. Rinse and repeat.

A variation on this drill, for when you’ve built up your skills a bit, is the “turn and draw”. Set up your target, walk away from it. Clear your gun, holster it. Stay facing away from your target. Turn around, draw, and acquire the target. Again, slow and smooth and you’ll build up speed.

Reloading

You’ll need two dummy or “dead” magazines for this one. One remains in the gun, the other is conveniently located in your magazine pouch. Clear your gun and holster it. Get into your preferred shooting stance and press the trigger. Drop the “spent” magazine, and smoothly reload your firearm. You can do a follow-up “shot” if you want. For extra points, practice taking cover during the reload, since that’s what you should do. True story, I executed a reload during a force-on-force class at DA1, without taking cover. They shot me multiple times (with simunitions) and I didn’t do it again.

Dry Fire Aids and Accessories

Dry firing is the cheapest of all firearms training. It essentially comes “included” with the purchase price of your gun. However, there’s little training aids that can help refine your technique.

Dummy Rounds aka Snap Caps

Snap caps are basically plastic and/or metal simulations of real ammo. Often brightly colored to distinguish them from real ammunition, the snap cap can be loaded and chambered like a real round. This is great training for those looking to master loading magazines and chambering rounds, but without the attendant risk of “playing” with live ammo. Best of all, they’re cheap. Since they’re plastic, you can even 3D print them these days. They also help simulate the weight of a loaded magazine, which is helpful. Snap caps exist for pistol, rifle, and shotgun platforms of most calibers.

A 9mm Laserlyte dry-fire training aid.

Laserlyte

The Laserlyte is an interesting and funky little device. It’s basically a laser pointer encased in a caliber-specific sized brass casing with a momentary switch on the back. You can load and chamber it manually (i.e. place it right in the chamber) and then press your trigger. A little “blip” of laser light will project itself downrange and will illuminate whatever your firearm is pointed at when you press the trigger. This is great for diagnosing trigger press and grip problems. Laserlyte also makes “reactive” targets which will flash and make noise when successfully “lased” by the laser pulse.

Will Dry Fire Damage A Gun?

You might hear from some people that dry firing will damage your firearm. Truth be told, it’s a valid concern - but for most modern firearms it isn’t a problem. Modern firearms are designed as such that the firing pin travels only far enough to strike the primer of a round, and no further than that. In older firearms, the tolerances may not be as precise, and the pin can strike the firing pin channel if it goes too far, i.e. if there’s no ammo in the chamber. If you have an older gun, use a snap cap which will give the firing pin something nice and soft to hit.

Also, in most rimfire guns, i.e. those chambered in .22LR, the firing pin will strike the edge of the chamber instead of the rim of the cartridge if dry-firing. Again, a simple snap cap will mitigate that issue.

Brownells

Dry Firing Is Better Than No Firing

The best thing about dry firing is that you don’t have to spend much time per day on it. Even 15-30 minutes on a daily or near-daily basis can work wonders. Whether it’s doing the coin drill or using a tool such as the Laserlyte, dry firing reinforces fundamentals when you can’t get to the range.

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