The Zen of Dry Firing

DSCN0282Dry Spell. . .

Right now may be the perfect storm of reasons not to practice.  Ammunition at a decent price is tough to find, especially match grade .308.  Match grade .300 WinMag may as well be made of gold.  Even .22LR, the usual practice round, is scarce.  Although the weather is getting better, now comes all the spring activities:  yard work, kid’s sports, your own sports or hobbies, the list goes on.  If you are like me, toddlers and babies are the priority, not your personal fun time.  Ranges cost money too.

All are legitimate reasons for marksmanship practice to fall down the priority list.  A good course of instruction makes sense for this very scenario.  Now you can practice correctly when you do get the chance.  Time, ammo, and money are spent more wisely.  However, that topic is not the focus for this article.  Instead, I want to talk about a simple and extremely effective practice technique that is absolutely free—dry firing.

Shooters often overlook dry firing to keep themselves tuned into the weapon system and marksmanship fundamentals fresh in their mind.  Those of you that have attended a class have heard me talk about “Gunfighter Fitness” or “Shooter Fitness.”  Your body gets used to the muscles that it needs to shoot long range prone shots or standing/ kneeling shots efficiently.  You start to figure out which muscle groups to relax, which ones to flex, and how to really feel your natural point of aim (NPA).  Your eye muscles get accustomed to focusing on the reticle or sight system.  Unfortunately, when you go for long periods of time between range days, you lose those lessons.  It’s like water skiing the first time of the season.  Those muscles in your lower back that are only used water skiing are tired and sore the next day, no matter how good you are.  Same thing with shooting.  Plus, you keep your “feel” for the trigger, which is especially important for long range shooting.

It’s not hard to see the purpose and benefits of dry firing.  Now let’s look at the how.  Beware of just grabbing the gun and yanking the trigger 20x and calling it good.  Each session should have a purpose.  For instance, if you are working your trigger feel, focus on correct technique and follow through each time.  Really evaluate if you pulled straight back, if the reticle moved on the break, did your focus wander as it broke, was your finger flat on the trigger?  Try to envision your group after 3-5 shots.  When you work transitioning into position or alternate positions, look hard at NPA.  Which muscles are tensed subconsciously?  Are they necessary?  Where can you relax?  Often you will see when you start relaxing muscle groups, the reticle starts dancing around less and less.  Are you working bolt manipulations, magazine changes, malfunction drills?  Remember, the most missed shots are after a major action, especially a magazine change or malfunction drill.  Take the split second to get those follow-up shots right when you dry fire and it will transfer to live fire.

Try not to focus on too many themes for each dry firing practice.  One or two max.  Trigger pull and NPA, for example.   How often should you dry fire?  Everyday would be ideal, but generally I recommend at least two times a week.  Being a parent, that is realistic for me.  Be careful about mixing guns as well.  If I dry fire a long gun, then go to the pistol, and finish with a carbine, the results are not as effective as just hitting one system.

Obviously, safety is paramount!  Check the chamber (2x), use a snap cap, and keep the live ammo and booze locked up.  Never dry fire at something you don’t want to really shoot (i.e. people, cars, pets).  However, walking birds make excellent training aids for movement and quick adjustment practice.  Likewise, a TV screen is great for pistol work.  Early in my military career, my roommate and I would pick commercial characters to work the Sigs on.  It tested our reflexes, draws, tracking, and trigger pulls under a time constraint.  Again, check the chambers twice.  Know what is behind your TV!

Good, disciplined dry firing will yield results, almost instantly.  Plus, it is free and quick.  Your practice only needs to be about 5-10 minutes of time, assuming you are doing it correctly.  I can even get in a good practice between diaper changes very easily!

Thanks for joining us.  Until next time, enjoy the spring shooting!

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