Dry Fire Training to improve skills for new shooters

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Dry firing our firearms is an important task that every gun owner should practice. It helps get you comfortable with new techniques before introducing the live fire portion. It is also a good way to hone and practice our skills without going to the range or burning up ammunition.

Safety first when dry firing

One of the most important steps in a dry fire training routine is making sure the firearm is unloaded. When I do my dry fire exercises at home, I will take all ammunition from the room, just so there is no chance of an accidental discharge. The other item that I did invest in is a set of dummy rounds.

Snap caps used for Dry Fire Training
Dummy ammunition used for dry fire training and loading

Dummy ammunition is usually made of plastic and will sometimes have a re-active primer area. These are called snap caps. Dummy ammunition will also be bright orange or red color. That way you know straight away that the ammunition is not real.

Even when you are dry firing and you know the gun is not live. NEVER point the firearm at anything you are not willing to destroy. This way you will not instill any bad habits and since we are working on creating muscle memory, we do not want to create any bad habits.

Where to practice Dry Fire training

The best place to practice dry firing training is in a room that is not a common area of the house. You do not want people walking in out of the room while you are pointing and pulling the trigger. Using a private bedroom is a great place to practice. Sometimes a full-size mirror can help you see how your stance looks and if everything looks like it should.

What is the purpose of Dry Firing Practice

The purpose of dry firing our firearm is to create a muscle memory of the action that we are performing. Shooting a firearm is a combination of several things happening with our bodies at once. We are using our eyes to sight down the firearm and align the sites. We are controlling our breathing to help stabilize our body’s movements. Our hands and arms are supporting the weight of the firearm while holding it on target. Then lastly our index finger is lightly squeezing the trigger to fire the gun.

Muscle memory for shooting skills
Training in repetitions of any skill will force our body to create muscle memory. Meaning that the task will become easier to perform well over time

Our bodies will develop muscle memories for everything that we do. Breathing is a muscle memory; our bodies just do it and we do not have to think about it. When we learn new skills whether it be a shooting skill or some other kind of sport, we have to train our bodies to move and react in a certain way. The way we do that is by repeating the task over and over until we can do it almost without thinking about it.

Is Dry Firing my Firearm safe for the firearm?

Dry firing almost all firearms is perfectly safe for the firearm, with one exception. If you plan on training with a rimfire rifle or pistol you should not dry fire it without using a snap cap. The reason for this is that the firing pin can come in contact with the edge of the chamber when dry firing. This contact can damage the chamber and or the firing pin. However, so long as you use dummy ammunition there is no problem and you can train away.

Rim Fire firing pin location
The picture above shows the location of the firing pin on a rimfire pistol

Centerfire rifles and pistols are generally not an issue to dry fire whether you use dummy ammunition or not. This is because the firing pin is designed to strike the center of the cartridge. Without a cartridge, in the chamber, the firing pin will strike nothing but air.

Center fire firing pin location
Center fire firing pin location

Types of Dry Firing Exercises for new shooters

Every time I introduce a new skill to a shooter, I will always start by practicing that new skill with the gun being empty. For a new gun owner that means that just about everything is a new skill and can be practiced by dry firing.

Loading and unloading with dummy ammunition

As a new shooter, one of the first exercises to practice is loading and unloading your firearm. Remember do not use live ammunition for this exercise… Make sure to have on hand at least 5 to 10 rounds of dummy ammunition.

Loading practice with an automatic pistol

If you are training with an automatic pistol start by loading one or two dummy rounds into a few magazines. This is going to give you some loading of the magazine practice as well as unloading the pistol practice.

  • Practice loading the pistol by holding the magazine in your left hand and the pistol in your right hand.
  • Align the front of the magazine with your index finger on the left hand so that you can feel the front of the bullet head with your finger
  • Place your left index finger against the bottom of the pistol so that you can feel the magazine and the pistol are aligned.
  • Press the magazine up and into the pistol using the palm of your hand, making sure that the magazine seats all the way into the gun.
  • Pull the slide back and chamber the dummy round.
magazine training with dummy ammunition
Using your index finger to correctly index the magazine to the pistol

(left-handed shooters will using the opposite hand than stated above)

With a dummy round in the chamber, you can now practice the unloading procedure. If you only loaded one round in the magazine just go ahead and pull the slide back, ejecting the round. The slide should lock open. If you loaded two rounds then you should first, remove the magazine, then pull the slide back to eject the dummy round.

Dry fire training with dummy ammunition
Dummy ammunition in the magazine and ready to chamber

It is good to practice unloading both ways as you never know if you may have to stop and unload live rounds out of the gun when at the range.

Loading practice with a revolver

Loading and unloading your revolver can be easier than an automatic. Although it is still a good idea to practice it.

  • Hold the revolver in your right hand open the cylinder using your right thumb and your left hand to push open the cylinder
  • Let your left fingers pass through the frame and then hold the revolver in your left hand
  • Load the cylinder with your right hand
  • With the cylinder loaded grip the pistol again with your right hand and close the cylinder with your left hand. Make sure to rotate the cylinder slightly to index it correctly.
  • To unload the pistol, press the latch with your right thumb and use your left hand to open the cylinder.
  • Tilt the pistol so the barrel faces up and press the ejection rod down to eject the dummy rounds.
Unloading a revovler into your hand

There are two ways to practice unloading. The first way is to maintain control of the pistol with your right hand and eject the rounds onto the floor. The other way is to let the pistol pivot on the two middle fingers of your left hand through the frame. Then catch the rounds in your right hand as you press the ejector rod with your left hand.

It is up to you, which way you want to practice unloading. However, bear in mind if I were using a revolver for a defensive pistol and need to perform a reload, I am not going to try and catch my spent brass. I just need to get it out of the gun as fast as possible and fresh ammunition in. So, remember to train for the intended purpose of the gun.

training for trigger control

Trigger control is one of the most common reasons for dry fire practice. New shooters tend to be pretty rough on the trigger pull. Usually, when I am practicing my trigger pull, I will not even try to aim the pistol at anything. Rather I concentrate on feeling the trigger. My pistol of choice is the Colt Defender. This is a single action 1911 style of a pistol with an external hammer. The external hammer makes it easy to cock the pistol without racking the slide.

What I am trying to do is make my trigger pull as smooth and consistent as possible. All the time while trying not to move the pistol around or shake while pulling the trigger. I want to be able to feel the point where the trigger breaks and the gun will fire.

Trigger drills for automatic pistols

  • So, what I will do is cock the hammer and hold the pistol in the low ready position. (arms straight out at 45° pointing at the ground in front of you).
  • I will place my finger on the trigger so that I can just feel the grooves on the trigger in the middle of the pad on my index finger. I do not want to wrap my finger around the trigger. Nor do I want just the tip of my finger on the trigger.
  • Next, I want to take up the slack in the trigger. This is the travel in the trigger before you feel the pressure of the sear. Once I have taken up the slack, I want to pause here keeping slight pressure on the trigger but not letting the hammer fall.
  • Lastly, slowly increase the pressure on the trigger until the hammer drops. It should almost be a surprise when the hammer falls.
  • Keep your finger on the trigger after the hammer falls. This is the follow-through for the shot. Wait for a second or two then slowly release the trigger.
Low Ready Position
Standing with the pistol at the low ready position to practice trigger pull

Keeping repeating the process by cocking the hammer and going again. It’s important to keep an eye on the pistol while doing this. The pistol should be perfectly stable and not be moving while pulling the trigger. If your pistol is a striker-fired pistol, then you will need to rack the slide after each trigger pull. This is also good practice for loading and if you can practice with a magazine full of dummy rounds so that the pistol will lock open when the magazine is dry. This will help you train for reloading with a fresh magazine.

Trigger drills for revolvers

Training with a revolver is going to be basically the same as the automatic. Only the trigger will feel a lot different. Because a revolver is turning the cylinder each time the trigger is pulled the trigger will be quite heavy. What you want to concentrate on is getting a smooth pull all the way through to the hammer drop.

  • With the pistol in your hands and at the low ready position, place your finger on the trigger. Because of the amount of trigger travel your finger will need to be a little further in on the trigger than it would be if firing an automatic pistol.
  • Slowly pull the trigger back rotating the cylinder and allowing the hammer to come back. Ideally, the trigger speed should remain constant all the way through the process.
  • Repeat the process while trying to keep the pistol as still as possible throughout the pull.

Cocking the hammer on a revolver is a way of practicing the single-action trigger pull. However, the trigger is usually very light and will not have any travel at this point. If the pistol is to be used as a defensive firearm then I would concentrate on the double-action pull.

Aiming and Dry Firing the pistol

Aiming and dry firing the pistol is about putting it all together. For this exercise place a target on a wall or pick a spot that you can aim at. While aiming the pistol concentrate on holding the sight picture while pulling the trigger. Take your time and work on being consistent and smooth with your actions. When you pull the trigger and the gun goes click ideally your sight picture should not change.

Isosciles stance side on
Aiming and dry firing the pistol, your sight picture and pistol should remain as still as possible

This is also a good time to work on your stance and grip. Both the stance and grip will influence how stable the pistol is in your hands. This is where you can use a full-size mirror to see what your stance looks like.

How often should I be practicing my dry fire exercises?

The more you practice the more comfortable you will become. As a new shooter, I would practice 2 or three times a week with my pistol. That way when I would go to the range on the weekend, I could really see an improvement in my live fire. It is really going to be up to you how much you practice. Training for 10 to 15 mins twice a week can improve your range shooting skills 10 fold.

Using training aids for Dry fire practice

There are a number of different systems available today that can help with training to use your firearm at home. These systems can range in price between a couple of hundred dollars to thousands of dollars. Though training systems like Sirt or Laserhit can certainly help improve your shooting. They are just not necessary to have as a new shooter.

Dry fire training is not just for new shooters

Experienced shooters can also benefit from dry fire training and practice. I use dry fire practice to train for pistol failures and stoppages as well as drawing from a holster. When I go to the range to practice, I will generally take a couple of dry fire trigger pulls before loading up and shooting. It just helps to get me into the right mindset for what I am about to practice. Some competition shooters will dry fire 100 to 1 live trigger pulls to train for the one live one.

When learning to draw from the holster having the gun unloaded is a must-do. This allows us to concentrate on learning the right techniques without the risk of an accidental discharge

Remember to be safe when you are performing your dry fire routine. DO NOT use live ammunition. And always practice good firearm safety by not pointing the firearm at anything you are not willing to destroy.

Stay safe and shoot often

hold right edge

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