Dry-Fire for Handgun Shooting Success
Are the ranges closed near you? Dry fire training is a great way get some trigger time in at home. Champion shooter Doug Koenig reviews the importance and training value of dry practice. Want to improve your shooting? Incorporate dry practice in your training regimen, but please do it safely.
If I told you there is one technique that, once mastered, will allow you to hit your target every single time, you’d probably write me off as one of those infomercial con guys. But, believe it or not, I speak the truth, and there’s no trick, no gimmick to it.
What is the technique? Perfect trigger press. A bad trigger press is the top reason shots go off target when shooting a handgun. Why? Most handguns require between four and 12 pounds of trigger pressure to fire. Most handguns also weigh less than three pounds; some these days weigh less than one. Now, if I remember my high school physics correctly, when you apply 10 pounds of pressure to a two-pound object, that object is going to move. Therein lies the problem. For you to hit your target every time, you have to press the trigger, with its four to 12 pounds of required pressure, without allowing your handgun to move at all.
Fortunately, there’s an easy way to develop your ability to press the trigger without moving your gun: dry-firing. Dry-firing is practicing your trigger press without using ammunition. It allows you to focus on technique without the noise and recoil. You can also dry-fire at home—no need to go to the range to practice—and it won’t cost you a red cent.
The most important consideration when dry-fire practicing is safety. It is paramount that you commit to never having live ammunition anywhere near your gun when you dry-fire, and I mean not even in the same room. Beyond that, four gun safety rules always apply when dry-firing:
- Treat your gun as if it’s loaded.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to dry-fire.
- Never point your gun at anything you’re not willing to destroy.
- Be sure of your target and what’s behind it.
Looks a lot like the rules for regular practice at the range, don’t they? That’s exactly my point. Gun safety is gun safety, with or without ammunition.
Now let’s take a look at how dry-firing should be performed, but one note before we do: Be sure to check with the gun’s manufacturer to make sure it’s all right to dry-fire your gun. With the exception of most .22 rimfire handguns, most modern pistols and revolvers are fine to dry-fire without ammunition, but some guns, especially older firearms, can be damaged by this practice, so better to check first. All set? Here’s how dry-firing works:
Step 1: Remove all ammunition from your gun.
For a semi-automatic, remove the magazine from your gun. Next, rack the slide to remove the cartridge from the chamber. Look in the magazine well and chamber to verify that your gun is truly empty. If you have a revolver, make sure the entire cylinder is empty. Perform these checks and ammunition removal while pointing the gun in a safe direction (see rules No. 3 and 4).
Step 2: Move the ammunition far away from your practice area.
Box it up, gather up magazines and moon clips, put them in a range bag that you take to another room or lock up in a safe, your car, etc. Do whatever you need to do to make sure all ammunition is out of your gun and out of the room where you intend to dry-fire practice.
Step 3: Identify a safe target and backstop.
This again is working with rules No. 3 and 4. When dry-firing you want to aim at a target that would stop a bullet if there was one in your gun—do this even though you have just removed all live ammunition from the gun and the room. You might use a heavy piece of furniture, a bed or one of the new products on the market intended for dry-fire practice.
Step 4: Focus on your front sight!
Bring the gun up in front of you with both hands and align your sights as if you were on the firing range. Focus on your front sight so that it’s crisp and clear. Your chosen dry fire target will be a bit blurry, again, just as if you were on the firing range. Your eye can’t focus on the rear sight, front sight and target all at the same time, so make sure the front sight is aligned properly with the rear, that the sights are aligned on your target, and then concentrate your focus on your front sight.
Step 5: Slowly press the trigger.
You might notice I keep using the word “press” instead of “pull.” That’s because “pull” implies aggressive action, the opposite of what we want to do with a trigger. Program your brain to think “smooth press” without moving the gun at all. Do this slowly and consistently every time. Speed will develop over time as you perfect your dry-firing practice.
When dry-firing, your front sight will move around a little bit. That’s all right. No one can hold the sights perfectly still, so the goal over time is to allow as little movement as possible. Also, don’t try to quickly press the trigger when your sight is right where you want it to be on the target. Just focus deliberately on an even and smooth press through the entire movement of the trigger from start to finish. As you practice, you’ll see your sights move less and less.
Step 6: Follow through.
As you complete the trigger press and the gun dry-fires, continue to keep your focus on the sights. You want to see the exact same sight picture before and after the gun “clicks.” It’s this after-shot sight picture that is follow-through. Train your eyes to see the sight alignment just after the gun dry-fires. Eventually, during live-fire, you’ll know where your shot hits without looking at the target.
Step 7: Reset, if necessary, depending on your gun type.
Depending on whether you have a double-action pistol, striker-fired pistol or revolver, your reset steps will vary. In any case, you simply need to prepare the gun to dry fire again. Double-action pistols and double-action revolvers are easy: just pull the trigger again. Single-action pistols and revolvers and striker-fired pistols will require that you cock the hammer or rack the slide in order to dry-fire again.
When finished with dry-fire practice, put your gun away in its normal safe storage location. If you reload your handgun after practice, do this immediately and safely store the gun as you normally do.
The goal of dry-fire practice is to program your brain, eyes and muscles to perform a perfect trigger press. Do not try for speed. You will “burn in” habits only by slow and consistent repetition of a perfect trigger press.
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