Live fire exercises are a great way to understand how your weapon performs and hone your skills to become a better shooter, but as last year has demonstrated, it is not always possible to get in the range time we want.
Dry fire training can be an excellent way to supplement your time at the range and give you an edge over the competition. In most modern platforms, these exercises pose no risk of damaging your weapon and if you are careful, is typically an incredibly safe way to improve a range of skills from your trigger pull to speed reloads.
Does Dry Firing Damage Your Weapon?
Arguably the biggest misconception and factor that prevents people from dry fire training is the belief that “firing” an unloaded weapon will cause it to become damaged over time.
This is untrue…mostly.
For almost all centerfire pistols (including the recently reviewed Kimber Micro 9), as long as you take care of your weapon, and clean and lubricate it regularly, then there should be no risk of pulling the trigger and dropping the firing pin on an empty chamber.
The risk of damage comes from rimfire weapons (such as the Smith and Wesson M&P 22 Compact) which as the name suggests, drop the firing pin on a rim of a casing.
In normal use, this typically isn’t a problem as the soft brass cushions the blow and prevents damage from occurring to the firing pin, but when fired on an empty chamber, the firing pin is allowed to strike the steel breech face causing the pin to blunt with time.
This damage is not irreparable, but a damaged firing pin seriously increases your risk of malfunctions and misfires, so it is often not worth the risk associated with dry firing your weapon.
With that said, as we’ll see there are ways you can work around this but as long as you know your weapon and its limitations, there is very little risk of damaging your weapon with any dry fire exercise.
How to Safely Train a Rim Fire Pistol?
Centerfire pistols allow for you to dry fire with almost no preparation except making your gun safe, but the design of rimfires leads it prone to damage after repeated rounds of dry fire training.
While this may be enough to completely put some people off attempting to dry fire their pistol entirely, it is possible to perform dry fire training with a rim fire pistol thanks to the invention of snap caps.
Snap caps act virtually identically to live rounds, working both with a pistol’s extractor and magazine, but most importantly offer the same level of protection to your firing pin as a normal pistol round.
These incredibly affordable dummy rounds are available from a huge range of suppliers, however, Tipton offers some of the best on the market for both rimfire and centerfire platforms.
Whatever brand you prefer, it is always important to use some form of snap cap when working with rim fire platforms to act as a buffer for the firing pin in order to prevent it from being disformed by the breach face and potentially causing malfunctions when you need your weapon most.
How to Prepare for Dry Fire Training?
As with all firearms training and handling, safety should always be a number one priority.
As with servicing your weapon, it is important to clear your weapon and strip all ammo from your magazines, then recheck your weapon is truly safe.
I personally like to keep a reserve of old and partially damaged magazines, which are specifically marked for dry fire training, in order to prevent emptying and refilling magazines between training sessions but this entirely depends on your budget and capabilities.
Whatever set up you choose to train with, the most important thing is to always make sure your weapon is clear and that you are unable to accidentally load a hot magazine into the weapon during your practice.
What Can You Train with Dry Firing?
Once you’ve made your weapon safe, it’s always worth going into a training session with a plan, so what exactly does dry fire help you train?
While there are some exceptions, dry fire training is great for almost all of the fundamentals of weapons handling including trigger control, sight alignment, target acquisition, weapon manipulation, and drawing from a concealed position, just to name a few.
Ultimately, dry fire practice is intended to help improve your skills as a shooter and ensure you can get the most out of your time at the range, so let’s have a look at three of the most common drills to understand exactly how dry firing can make you a better shooter.
Wall and Balance Drills
Wall fire drills are arguably the most basic of any dry fire practice you can get.
Simply aim at a spot on the wall as if you were at the range, pull the trigger until you hear the click of the firing pin dropping, and then reset.
Assuming you have a perfect trigger pull, the weapon (and more importantly muzzle) should stay completely still reflecting in a clean shot at the range.
For most of us though, there is almost always some motion imparted into the weapon, either from jerking the trigger or anticipating the gun’s recoil, leading to our weapon moving off target and opening up our groupings at the range.
Dry fire is a perfect way to practice your trigger pull, but it can be hard to actually detect how much your weapon is moving as you fire. This is where balance drills come in, and takes your trigger pull one step further.
Simply balance a spent casing or penny directly behind your front site and if it falls off as you pull the trigger, reset and try again.
Over time, these drills are meant to allow your trigger pull and shooting position to become smoother and more stable, ensuring even under huge amounts of stress you are still able to effectively put rounds on target.
Draw drills, as the name implies are intended to help you practice drawing your pistol to get comfortable with your holster of choice and carry position. This is critical to make sure you are able to quickly bring your weapon into the fight when you need it.
Not only does this drill allow you to improve your draw, grip and how you present your weapon, but it provides a greater opportunity to test your systems.
Without the time pressure of a range, it is much easier to experiment with how well your CCW can be drawn in a range of different clothing or from unusual positions, so you can know your platform’s limitations and train around them or work on them.
Dry fire weapons presentation drills like this are arguably the most common you can find online because they “look cool”, but while internet trends will always come and go, being able to reliably draw your weapon is one of the most critical skills you can have and is also one of the easiest you can practice.
Just as being able to get your weapon out during a fight is critical, you also need to keep it operational and fed with a supply of ammo.
Reload drills are essentially designed with the same intention as your draw drills, ensuring when you need it, you are able to reliably find and access a magazine on your person and put it to action immediately.
Competency in your reloads can go a long way to also helping you clear malfunctions, as you get more and more comfortable dropping the magazine and running the slide.
With that said, while practicing of reloads can help with malfunctions, I often think this is an area better practiced at the range as there is no surprises with dry fire practices.
Malfunctions are arguably better practiced by working training dummies into your normal magazine loads, as they’ll appear randomly during your training and offer a much better simulation of problems occurring during a fight.
Getting the Most Out of Your Training
Any form of dry firing is almost guaranteed to augment your time at the range and help you become a better shooter, but it is possible to take your dry fire experience to the next level.
Various forms of digital add-ons are available that are intended to provide feedback from your training session, meaning you can not only practice the fundamentals but also see a representation of how your training may reflect on the range.
Laser snap caps are the simplest way you can boost your experience with dry fire, shooting a small laser from your pistol when the cap is struck by the firing pin.
This can be paired with specialized targets, such as those available from LaserLyte, which detect hits in order to assess your accuracy but for most people, these lasers are just another way to visualize muzzle movement once the trigger has been pulled.
While laser snap caps can be a great tool for those new to dry firing, no other training aid truly holds up when compared to the digital trackers available from Mantis.
These small devices attach to the picatinny under rail of most modern pistols, then once connected to your smart phone use accelerometer data to track your shot (both before and after the trigger pull) and provide training advice to improve your grouping and shot placement.
The Mantis is limited as it struggles to integrate into most holsters, but with support for both dry and live fire training, is one of the best on the market.
For those just getting started, these add-ons aren’t strictly necessary but if you get bored running the same dry fire drills over and over again, they can be a great addition to take from a good shooter to a great shooter.
Dry Fire Alternatives
Assuming you are able to clear your weapon correctly, dry fire is incredibly safe but that does not mean mistakes do not happen.
There are countless stories online of people dropping a magazine, forgetting to clear a chambered round, and experiencing a negligent discharge. Fortunately, there are still ways to experience the benefits of dry fire with almost none of the associated risks.
Many companies pride themselves on making one-to-one replica air pistols, with the weight and feel of a real pistol but without the ability to shoot live ammunition.
There are some limitations to these platforms, as most air pistols do not use accurate magazines, but for the basics of trigger discipline and sight alignment, these weapons offer an extremely safe way to get in training if you do not trust yourself to reliably be able to clear a weapon each and every time.
Firearms will always have some inherent risk associated with them, but once confirmed to be cleared are incredibly safe making dry fire a very valuable training tool for those unable to get to a range.
Most of us with center-fire pistols can dry fire at almost any time with no preparation, but for those who prefer rim-fire pistols, the potential risk to firing pins cannot be overstated, so it is always important to remember to use snap caps in order to protect your pistol and keep it functional.
Dry fire provides a great opportunity to practice with your weapon and experiment without the pressure of a range, so if you are looking for inspiration for new techniques to experiment with, be sure to check out our top 9 styles of conceal carry to see if there may be a better method out there for you.