Dry fire practice is vital for improving your shooting skills
What's so important about dry fire training? After all, you aren't actually shooting. Why do any practice outside of the gun range?
Mostly because dry firing is one of the surest steps to becoming a more proficient shooter.
You see, dry fire practice enhances your trigger skills in two primary areas. First, it enhances your trigger control, which is roughly equal in importance in how well you aim and arguably, more so. You also build muscle memory with every pistol you dry fire practice with, making you that much more proficient with it.
In truth, you can't afford not to be engaging in any dry fire training.
Hone Your Trigger Control With Dry Fire Practice
The aspect of arguably the greatest importance regarding dry fire practice is that of trigger control. If you ask the experts, they'd tell you that your trigger technique is just as important - if not more so - than your aiming technique.
In fact, if your trigger technique is off...your hits will be too, regardless of your aim.
A good trigger pull won't move the gun. That keeps the aim true and puts your shot on target.
However, a trigger pull that is not WILL move the gun. For instance, if you pull the trigger with the tip of the finger, that will tend to pull shots to the left. If you pull with the distal joint (that's the last knuckle) or behind the distal joint, you'll pull shots to the right. If you're tightening your grip in anticipation of recoil, that can pull shots up.
And so on and so forth.
In order to ensure that your trigger technique is correct, you need to be able to observe it, which dry fire practice gives you the ability to do.
Dry Firing is Essential to Develop Muscle Memory
The only way to get good at something is to practice. While the range is always a great excuse to let off some rounds and practice shooting with your preferred concealed carry holster – it's a very small fraction of the total time most concealed carriers have their weapon on them. Dry firing is a great way to develop the muscle memory when it comes to not only trigger technique, as previously discussed, but also muscle memory when it comes to YOUR pistol.
While it is something that concealed carry enthusiasts may take for granted, consider the small changes necessary to go from one pistol to another. A Beretta M9, for instance, has a completely different trigger pull than a Glock 19. The M9 has a very tough first trigger pull with each pull afterwards being much easier and smooth. The Glock 19, however, has a smooth and fast first pull.
A simple drill which is easy and fun is to clear your weapon and practice dry firing from either your favored inside the waistband (IWB) or outside the waistband concealed carry holster. Not only do you develop the reflexes and reliable handling necessary to actually use that firearm – you develop confidence.
You may only have one carry gun, you may have a rotation that you go through. Some people carry a compact most of the year, but go up to a full-size during winter and possibly a subcompact during the summer for easy concealment.
You need to be competent and confident with all of them. One of the best ways to do that is with dry fire practice.
How To Dry Fire
To dry fire is fairly simple, but does require some care. First, you'll need to completely empty your gun, as any firing of a gun - even dry - requires observance of proper and adequate gun safety. Check, double-check and then triple-check.
In other words, you must make sure no ammunition is anywhere near your gun.
Now that your gun is unloaded, insert a snap cap if desired. Modern centerfire pistols don't actually need a dummy round, but any rimfire gun will. Older guns, however, may have a more brittle firing pin than modern ones, so you may want to get a snap cap as a matter of course.
Now, to dry fire:
The best dry fire drill for most people is something called the "wall drill." What you do is find a spot on the wall, any identifiable spot. Get close to the spot; you'll want the muzzle about an inch or two away from it. Get the sights over the spot, and pull the trigger.
Pay attention to the sights. Do they move? If so, you need to work on your trigger technique. Practice until they don't. Then keep practicing to keep up the skill.
If you want to dial it up a bit, balance a small object on the barrel or slide such as a coin or empty shell casing. If the coin or shell casing doesn't move when when you dry fire, then you're doing it right.
Once again, you need to make sure that no ammunition remains in your pistol, and keep it pointed in as safe a direction as possible. That said, a bit of dry fire practice can go a very long way so don't neglect it.
Finding The Best Dry Fire Training System
A great training tool for shooting skills is dry fire training, which has been known for decades to be one of the best things a person can do. However, the 21st century has also brought technological aids to go far beyond just honing trigger control.
In previous eras, you used a dummy round and honed basic skills like draw speed, sight acquisition and trigger control. Today, you can do so much more with modern dry fire laser training.
And you can get as advanced or basic as you with. Available dry fire training systems can be relatively simple and inexpensive or incredibly advanced and unbelievably expensive. Granted, since we here are concerned with the civilian carrier and not institutional solutions, let's focus on the appropriate choices.
Dry Fire Laser Training: Old Dog, New Tricks
Dry fire laser training in and of itself is using newer technology to update and get more from an old practice.
Dry firing is a proven and effective training tool for shooters, regardless of the application whether it be practical or sporting. Hunters, sport shooters, law enforcement and armed civilians can and have benefited from it for decades.
Karamojo Bell, the famous elephant hunter, would dry-fire at distant targets while on the march hunting to great benefit. He could shoot birds on the wing with his rifle and perfected surgical shot placement that allowed him to reliably harvest elephants with a single shot with a 7x57mm Mauser (.275 caliber) rifle. Jeff Cooper, founder of Gunsite and author of the Four Laws Of Gun Safety, was known to put a beer can on top of his television set and use it as a dry fire target while watching the news.
For the armed citizen, dry fire is a wonderful tool for developing practical skills. Accuracy on the range is great, but it doesn't matter if you can't get your gun out of your concealed carry holster fast enough. Therefore, you should be practicing dry fire with the draw.
However, the miniaturization of lasers has led to the development of laser blank cartridges, which activate for a short period of time when the firing pin, striker or hammer hits the cartridge. This shows the shooter where their shot is landing with precision. This gives you the ability to see where your shots are landing.
If you then pair that with a camera and a tracking system/software, you have all the tools needed to hone the skills of the draw, trigger control, sight acquisition AND accuracy.
The laser shows where your shot lands, the tracking system catalogs that and other data. This shows you how you're shooting without having to spend money on ammunition and in the comfort of your own home. Simple enough, right?
What Dry Fire Training Systems Are Out There?
A number of companies make dry fire training systems.
You can spend a lot or a little.
Now some of you may have been to this little website called Amazon. On Amazon, you can find laser cartridges for much less than some other companies charge. You can spend $100+ on a SureStrike...or a different model for $30. It's up to you, but you can start training with just the laser itself for the cost of a couple boxes of ammo. Set up a target where you can see the dot, and get to work.
We know of some great downloadable shooting targets that would be quite useful. You don't even have to pay for it; just download the PDF and hit "print."
The one that seems to get the most amount of press is MantisX. This system attaches the laser via an accessory rail, sort of like a Streamlight or something like that. The laser pairs with the MantisX application which you download to your smartphone.
You use the target of your choice and get to shooting. The app tracks times, placement and all sorts of other data, so you can dive deep into your shooting and where it's going wrong such as pulled shots or weird split times. It also offers suggestions, tells you what you're likely doing wrong and so on so the app includes coaching.
The MantisX system isn't terribly expensive but isn't exactly cheap either; the base system costs $150. However, a limitation that it has is compatibility. Where other systems can be used with ANY gun, the MantisX system is only compatible with pistols that have an accessory rail. They also sell magazine base plate adapters which get a few more models onboard, but it isn't unlimited.
Another good option to look at - though it is more expensive! - is Laser Ammo Training Technologies. This company has a wider product range, so you have more options. You can have a more minimalist set up or you can go whole hog, so to speak.
It starts with their SureStrike laser training ammunition, which you place in the chamber and "fire" it. You pair it with a webcam (your phone works, but you can get a dedicated one if you want) and a reactive target, which they also sell. The base system of just the SureStrike laser cartridge plus a reactive target runs about $200, but it just goes up from there.
They also have shooting gallery programs that you need a projector to run, laser training pistols, even airsoft adapters to simulate recoil. You can spend a little (a few hundred) or a lot. It just kind of depends on what you want to do.
Other companies specialize more in the software.
For instance, the LASR APP by Shooter Technology Group. While they do sell other accessories such as laser training pistols, laser cartridges (they sell Laser Ammo Sure Strike cartridges) and cameras, tripods and other stuff, their core is their smartphone application. The app pairs to your phone or through a webcam and computer, and tracks shots much like the other dry fire training systems mentioned. Placement, split times and so on are all tracked. It also provides suggestions, has courses of fire and many other features.
The LASR X app starts at $9 per month or $65 per year on a subscription basis, or you can buy a lifetime package for $120. Since this system can be used with any laser, that means more people can use it than can use the MantisX system.
LaserLyte is another very good maker of training systems. Similar to Laser Ammo, they offer laser cartridges and reactive targets, including one model that resembles a steel target and makes a "ping!" noise when you connect, a vibrating target that buzzes when you hit, and digital reactive targets that just register the hit and split times and so on. Bottom dollar is about $200 with the cartridge and the steel targets. Targets with more features add to the price.
Then you have full shooting simulators, which are more for law enforcement training, with a price tag to match. Only the ultra rich are going to be able to even entertain that option, so we might as well skip it.
There are other makers of dry fire laser training equipment and software, of course; these are but a few examples.
Picking The Best Dry Fire Training System
What constitutes the "best" dry fire training systems is something that could be argued.
Also, it should be mentioned that dry fire training needs to be paired with training on the indoor or outdoor shooting range that you go to. Dry fire training can work the draw, target acquisition and a consistent trigger pull, but what it does not work on is recoil management, sight re-acquisition and so on. There is no substitute for trigger time behind live ammunition.
In many regards, you could get a lot of mileage out of just buying the laser cartridge as a dry fire laser training system. You can pick one up for cheap online ($30 or less) so you aren't out too much. Then you work on point of impact and consistency until your groups get smaller...but the problem is that it's almost meaningless unless you can actually track your progress.
Ultimately, to get the most out of it, you need the tracking program to go with it. It's up to you whether you want to go to the length of getting a webcam and installing software on a computer; getting a tripod and using your smartphone just makes the most sense.
This also gets you the most bang for your buck, since the LASR App and MantisX system can be gotten into for about $150 all around though you can get a laser cartridge plus the LASR app for less than $100 if you're only buying a subscription for one year. The software has comparable features and is built for use with smartphones.
If you were to ask me, those would be the systems I'd buy. A bit of investment, but not too much and you get pretty much all the features you need to get the most out of your dry fire training. You see what needs work, get tips on what to do about it and can track your progress. It's tough to get more bang for the bucks.
However, I would also say that sometimes it IS the case that you can get more if you pay more. I don't think the base Laser Ammo system compares as well, but once you move into their deluxe products, you can get a lot more from it.
Their interactive Smokeless Range programs, which feature shooting galleries and shoot/no shoot scenarios among many other features, have the capacity to be great training tools AND a whole lot of fun. However, you need equipment (laptop/PC, a projector and a dedicated space for the thing along with a SIRT or other training pistol or laser cartridge) which imposes quite the buy-in cost, but you can get a lot of use out of it.
The Smokeless Range software, which includes a webcam, starts at $500 and that's not cheap. I got to demo the system at SHOT Show and if I had the cash and the space to dedicate to it, that would be the one I get. Of the remainders, MantisX and LASR App give you the most value for money, though MantisX is not compatible with all pistols.