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Everything You Need To Know About Dry Fire Training

One of the best things a new gun owner can do to learn to shoot is dry fire. One of the best things that an experienced shooter can do to keep their skills honed is dry fire.

In fact, some experts opine that dry fire should be the majority of your training regimen.

What is this dry firing that people speak of? Why is it so important to fire the gun without having bullets? Doesn't that defeat the purpose? How do I do it?

We're going to go over just about everything you need to know. This brief guide is going to cover the basics of dry fire training. How it's done, why you need to do it, whether it's safe for your gun, some training exercises to get you started and much more.

Ladies and gentleman, unload your pistols and let's get stuck into some dry fire.


What Is Dry Fire?

dry fire

Dry fire, or more accurately dry fire training, is a method of practicing with firearms without need of ammunition. You pull the trigger and fire the gun when it's dry.

It's an old practice. People have been doing dry fire training as a method of pistol practice and long gun practice for decades and decades. By now, it's firmly and rightfully entrenched as one of the most important things you can do to build skill with a gun.

If you're a totally new shooter, it's definitely something you need to put some time into. If you're an experienced shooter, it's something you're hopefully already doing.

dry fire practice

Mostly, you should dry fire because it's a way to get in repetition without needing ammunition.

As anyone knows, you have to do something over and over and over again before you get good at it. Shooting, of course, starts to cost a lot of money as the shot count climbs, whereas dry fire costs nothing.

Shooting a gun breaks down into a number of core skills, including trigger control, sight acquisition, sight alignment, proper draw and presentation mechanics, grip, recoil management and more.

Dry firing gives you a way to work on those skills without having to take the time to go to a range or spend any money on ammunition. Instead of having to spend hours and hours and hundreds and thousands of dollars on ammo and targets, you can get in a lot of reps for free in the comfort of your own home.

It's part of how the pros get that good.

It's no secret that Rob Leatham, the 24-time USPSA champion and 7-time IPSC world champion shooter, uses, advocates and teaches dry fire to improve trigger control, which is one of the most important foundations of accuracy.

10-time national champion shooter Ernest Landgon recommends incorporating dry fire in training for the same reason.

Keith Sanderson, formerly a marksmanship instructor in the Marine Corps and an Olympic (International Shooting Sports Federation) pistol shooter, dry fires religiously. Skip to about 11:20 minutes, and he talks about his dry fire routine.

In a seven-month span from 2008 into 2009, which included a victory at the 25 Meter Rapid Fire event at the 2009 ISSF World Cup, he only fired 500 rounds of actual ammunition...but dry fired thousands and thousands of times.

Great shooters from eras past would also dry fire regularly. Jeff Cooper would dry fire at an empty Coors Light can on top of his TV set. WDM Bell, the ivory hunter, would dry fire at distant "targets" while marching on safari.

The great gunwriting gunfighters Bill Jordan, Charlie Askins and Skeeter Skelton all kept sharp by dry firing their handguns, and all recommended the target shooter or armed citizen do so as well.

Start looking up elite shooters in any era or shooting endeavor, and almost every single one would say dry firing is an important component of building skill as a shooter.

The military teaches dry fire, elite sport shooters recommend it...point being that if you want to become proficient with any firearm for any reason, be it for hunting, for sport shooting or self-defense...dry firing helps.

Safety And Dry Fire Practice

safety dry fire

Any training with firearms must be done safely, including dry firing. It is on you to make sure that you handle and operate firearms safely.

Gun safety in dry fire comes down to religious observance of one simple principle:

Make sure your gun is unloaded before you dry fire!

You have to do it every single time. You cannot trust that someone else unloaded it for you, you cannot trust that you unloaded the gun last Wednesday or whatever. You have to make sure.

dry fire safety

Start by unloading the pistol. Then visually check the chamber to make sure no ammunition is in the gun. Make sure to keep any ammunition away from the gun while dry firing; some recommend not even having ammunition in the room where you dry fire.

Remember, you are responsible to handle, own and operate firearms in a safe, responsible manner.

Ever hear of someone accidentally getting shot when they were field stripping a Glock or similar pistol? (You have to dry fire a Glock to field strip it.) That only happens when someone doesn't make sure it's unloaded first.

Therefore, no matter what gun you own or carry, make sure it's unloaded BEFORE you dry fire it.

Can Dry Fire Hurt My Gun?

Can dry fire hurt my gun? Dry firing any modern firearm is not going to hurt anything. Modern handguns (and long guns) are made with heat-treated parts that can easily tolerate the mechanical stress of dry firing, so it's a non-issue...albeit with some exceptions

It's a good question to ask; you might have even been told something about "well, the firing pin" and so on.

If you are in any doubt whatsoever, use a snap cap. For those unaware, snap caps are dummy training rounds (typically plastic) made for specific calibers. You put it in the gun and the firing pin hits it, making the gun safe to dry fire.

snap cap

First, you should be very careful with rimfire guns. Since the firing pin hits the rim of the cartridge rather than the center, the firing pin often will have an upward angle. If dry firing causes the firing pin to hit the frame, the chamber or cylinder if it's a revolver, you cannot dry fire the gun without a snap cap or you'll damage it.

Second, take care with older firearms. The old adage that "they don't make things like they used to" cuts in both directions; older guns weren't necessarily made with modern CNC precision nor with the best heat-treating. That old .38 Special or what have you CAN be used for dry fire training...IF you use a snap cap.

Another very specific exception is with AR-15 rifles.

You must never dry fire an AR-15 when it's disassembled. When the upper is attached to the lower, it's fine, but never dry fire an AR-15 lower. The hammer will beat on the magazine well, causing both to deform.

These exceptions aside, dry firing a gun is totally safe for the gun.

Can I Dry Fire A Glock?

can I dry fire a glock

Yes, you can dry fire a Glock. Just make sure it's unloaded first. Have fun running the slide...A LOT.

Can I Dry Fire A 1911?

can I dry fire a 1911

Yes, you can dry fire a modern 1911. Just make sure it's unloaded first. If you have a vintage one, get some snap caps. Have fun running the slide or cocking the hammer...A LOT.

How To Dry Fire: The Absolute Basics

How to dry fire is rather simple...but you can make it as complex as you want.

The most basic of dry firing is literally to just pick a target, and "shoot" it with a dry gun. Align sights, press trigger. That's it. Go slow and put in perfect reps. Even if you did just that, and only that, for a few minutes a day or every other day...it's valuable because you're putting in repetition with sound technique.

You can make it more complicated if you want by incorporating more layers of activity.

Dry Fire Training Can Be Used For Multiple Purposes

Before we get into how to dry fire, let's briefly touch on how to approach it as a training tool.

First is to hone your base fundamentals like grip, sight alignment and trigger control. Good shooting requires proper execution of these seminal shooting skills and all in concert; it doesn't matter how well your sights are aligned if you snatch the gun off-target pulling the trigger.

Second is to use it as a more holistic training tool, for everything except recoil management since - duh - there's no gunshot.

You can use it to fine-tune the fundamentals, or you can use it to work on basically everything at once, or you can use it for both.

Think of it like this.

If you concealed carry, the first shot on target is critical in a self-defense shooting. You have to be fast enough to land that first shot before being killed yourself, and you have to place it accurately to stop your opponent.

What's involved in that?

Drawing the pistol from cover, presenting the pistol, aligning the sights on target and pressing the trigger. There is more, of course, but those are the key elements, and every single one of them can be done without needing to fire ammunition.

Delf "Jelly" Bryce, a lawman from the mid-20th century was blisteringly fast on the draw and laser accurate, surviving more than a dozen gunfights without being wounded. His first shot time from concealment was clocked at just under 0.3 seconds.

Think about that. From rest to putting a shot on target in one-third of one second. How did he get that fast?

Besides growing up hunting and shooting from a very early age, Bryce practiced drawing his gun in the mirror for hours every day. He shot a lot too, of course, but a lot of his practice was dry.

And that is also the kind of dry fire training you can do, at home, with only your gun and your concealed carry holster.

So, as you might be gathering, you can do a lot with dry fire training from the base fundamentals to virtually the whole package; you can pretty much do it all except manage the recoil from shooting your gun...although you can actually work that into your dry training as well with the right gear.

Dry Fire Training Gear

Dry fire training gear can be incredibly simple and cheap - you can opt to use very, very little - or you can get Gucci as heck and invest some cash into it or somewhere in between. 

What gear you need for dry fire training? What are some accessories you might want to pick up? Let's start with the bare minimum.

You'll Need Your Gun And Probably A Holster

For uber-basic dry fire training - simply dry firing at a small target in the room to work on shooting fundamentals - all you really need is a gun. Maybe, maybe, some snap caps, but that's about it.

If you want to add the extra layer of incorporating the draw into your dry fire training, then you'll need a holster and a gun belt to go with it. The best practice, of course, is to use your actual concealed carry holster or at least one that's just like it.

Having dedicated range gear is fine, necessary even if you're getting into competitive shooting. However, for the person training to prepare for the possibility of self-defense, it's better to only train with the gear you'll actually use.

Doing Any Practical Training? Get A Shot Timer

If you're using dry fire training to work on practical skills - meaning draw-and-shoot style dry fire training - one of the things you'll definitely want to pick up is a shot timer. It's one of the most infinitely useful training tools you can acquire.

A shot timer lays bare the amount of time that you take to place a shot, just as the paper lays bare how accurate your shot was.

If you've never used one before, a shot timer records time in between gun shots. It can be used as a time limit - meaning you have between the beeps to make a shot or shots - or to track how long one or more shots takes. If you start logging your times, you can also track your progress.

Whether you're working on that all-important first shot or target transitions, a shot timer is just as crucial in dry fire training as it is shooting live ammunition at the range.

Shot timers typically run you about $100 for entry level models - see this selection over at Brownell's and a bit more for the advanced ones, but you should probably expect to spend about $150 on a decent one.

Or you can download a shot timer app for free, but make sure to get one that's made for use with dry fire training.

There are a number of them but - of the free ones - we've found the best overall are the Dry Fire Par Time Tracker, the dry fire companion to the Splits shot timer app.

How fancy you want to get...is up to you. However, the more capabilities you give yourself, the more you can train and the more benefit you can get out of dry fire training.

Dry Fire Training Systems: Laser Training And Other Tech

If you want to invest a bit of cash into your training setup, what you want to look into is dry fire training systems.

Most are dry fire laser training systems, which take a number of forms. Treated as classes, however, they break down into laser cartridges and integrated laser pistol systems, which have a replica gun that has the laser in it.

The former is the simplest and also the cheapest. A laser cartridge is a cartridge of various calibers - you get the one that fits your gun - with a button on the back. When the hammer or firing pin hits the button, it shoots the laser beam and makes a dot on the target.

Actual laser pistol systems integrate the laser system into a training pistol, typically either a direct copy of an existing firearm or a facsimile of one. This would be SIRT, LaserLyte and other brands of such products, and the general idea is the same. Pull trigger, make dot.

Some of the laser training pistol systems also include a CO2 blowback system to simulate recoil.

There are also interactive target systems. Usually they'll illuminate when hit and/or give you a numerical score.

A rather recent innovation is the addition of tracking software. You get an app for your smartphone or tablet, and set your mobile device up to pair with an interactive target and/or (depending on the app) also take video footage.

What this will do is tell you where you were aiming and how your shots are landing, which can help diagnose trigger control, grip or sight alignment issues. It's a great tool for fine-tuning those mechanics.

Typically, this is also where someone mentions MantisX.

For those unaware, MantisX is a tracking system for shooters. What it does is track the motion of the gun and produces a readout of that data. The tracking system is contained in the MantisX dongle that you attach to your gun.

The unique feature that MantisX has is that it works in both live AND dry fire training, so it gives you real-time information and feedback (including diagnostics) of what's happening when you shoot.

It's not really a dry fire training system, but can be used as one.

Recoil Simulators For Dry Fire Training

Of course, the hitch with dry fire training is that it doesn't give you any help with one of the most critical parts of shooting an actual gun: recoil.

You can decide to ignore it and focus on the benefits it does give you...or use a recoil simulator.

Typically, they're a copy of an existing firearm (or facsimile thereof) with an actual reciprocating slide, which operates by gas blowback. Typically they're powered by CO2 or biomethane, aka green gas.

You can buy standalone recoil simulator training guns or a conversion kit from LaserShot, which will convert an existing actual gun into a recoil simulating laser trainer. Take the slide off, put the simulator slide on, and insert the simulator magazine into the grip.

Again, like other systems...you can spend a lot on them.

Or you can spend less.

There is an entire class of airsoft pistols which likewise are gas-blowback operated, many of which are literal copies of existing firearms. Some even made under license by the original manufacturer, including certain Sig Sauer, Colt and Beretta airsoft pistols. Walther Arms, as it happens, is owned by Umarex, an airsoft manufacturer.

While you would lose the laser portion of the training system, you get a training pistol that actually recoils. As much as an actual gun? No, but easily close enough to get value from it.

Don't believe it?

In the video is a virgin shooter; he'd never held a real gun in his life, only airsoft guns. And he crushes it.

Blowback airsoft guns can be easily found for less than $100, and the supplies to get started (gas cartridges and BBs) for maybe another $25. Top Tip: get the plastic biodegradable BBs, not steel or copper. That way, there's less concern for puncturing things and they'll just go to seed in your yard.

Okay, so now that we understand what dry fire is, a bit about how to do it, what it's good for, and the gear...where do you start?

There Is Almost No Practical Skill That Cannot Be Exercised With Dry Fire

Depending on exactly what your dry fire setup is, there's no practical skill that can't be exercised in some way by dry firing.

Magazine changes, target transitions, malfunction clearance, you name it.

Again, depending on what your dry fire setup is, there's also no practical shooting exercise that cannot be done at home as dry fire training that you'd otherwise do at the range.

Set up multiple target stands in the backyard and run the El Presidente drill. Practice the failure drill (2 to the body, 1 to the head) or the Bill Drill.

As previously mentioned, if you want to get fancy, you can add recoil simulation by a recoil simulator pistol, simulator conversion or by getting a blowback airsoft gun as a training aid. You can train without spending money on ammunition or needing to leave the house.

Dry Fire Training Is A Powerful Tool, But It Only Works As Long As You're Consistent

dry fire training

As with learning any skill, dry fire training is a tool that can help you get better...but you only get the benefits of it if you're consistent with it.

If you only work out once a week, you aren't going to get much out of it. Your conditioning won't improve, and you won't get stronger. You can't learn to play guitar by strumming a couple chords and then leaving it in the closet for a month.

It should also be said that dry fire training, even if you're using a recoil simulator, isn't a replacement for trigger time using live ammunition. You have to shoot real bullets, too. The masters quoted earlier dry fire a lot, but they also burn though a lot of brass.

So you should absolutely dry fire your gun to help build on those skills, and do it often. Every so often, you should get to the range too.

There's only one way to get to Carnegie Hall, and that's practice. So get to dry firing.