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Improving Marksmanship at Home Through Dry Fire Practice

(Included in this blog are Amazon affiliate/youtube links for products which I test and use regularly)

As a firearms instructor, one powerful tool that I have found is vastly under-utilized by many beginners to build skill in pistol or rifle marksmanship is dry fire practice. Dry fire practice is simply the act of simulating the firing of your weapon and manipulating its controls without the presence of live ammunition. It is literally the cheapest and easiest way to work on marksmanship fundamentals/ safe weapon handling skills as all it truly requires is your cleared and unloaded firearm. When it comes to marksmanship many new shooters and some seasoned shooters with bad habits try to over complicate the process and make the process of hitting your bullseye seem like black magic. Once you have an understanding of how to properly align your firearm’s sights (iron, red dot, or magnified optic), hitting a target is simply about activating the trigger without disturbing the sight picture you have established on your intended target. This is in its most simplistic form the description of the task at hand. Now of course we can’t forget about a good balanced stance and proper grip to assist with recoil management and contribute to the steadiness of hands as you hold the gun. If you need more of a beginner’s explanation of the basic principles of marksmanship, I invite you to give a listen to Doc Wit A Glock Podcast episode titled “Hitting Your Mark: Basics of Firearms Marksmanship” 


Benefits of Dry Fire Practice

1.     Allows you to practice grip, trigger control, sight alignment, and forming proper sight picture in a controlled setting.

2.     Allows for repetition which is essential in building muscle memory of proper gun manipulation mechanics.

3.     Can be performed in the comfort of your own home or wherever you may travel.

4.     Is cost effective in that it doesn’t require use of live ammunition to practice the fundamentals.

Cons of Dry Fire Practice

1.     Doesn’t allow for practice in recoil management without the addition of other training aids. This is an awesome training tool if you are interested in simulating recoil with your firearm during your dryfire practice.

2.     Difficulty in simulating the stress and pressure of real-life defensive shooting scenarios.

3.     Less fun/engaging than live fire practice.


Safety First!

1.     Make sure you have a designated area for your dry fire practice and make sure that space has no loaded magazines, no loaded guns, no live ammunition anywhere within the training space. Accidents only take a split second to occur, so take the time and double check your training area and training equipment before you begin. Firearms safety is your responsibility.


What Are the Skills That Should Be Focused on In Dry Fire Practice?

1.     Trigger Control (smooth trigger press that doesn’t disturb the sight picture)

2.     Draw Stroke to first shot

3.     Emergency and tactical reloads

4.     Single handed shooting with both dominant and non-dominant hand.

5.     Shooting from varied positions

6.     Target Transitions

Trigger Control

Trigger control is simply the method of activating the trigger in a manner that will fire the shot with minimal movement of the gun as the shot breaks. This can be difficult for the beginner to achieve because of the concept of the “three amigos”. Whenever we grasp for something, say a bottle of water off a table, our fingers/palm naturally act as a unit to curl and grip the bottle in unison. However, when it comes to shooting this is bad. Ideally as the firing hand is firmly gripped on the gun, we want the three amigos (the middle, ring, and pinky finger) to remain static with the only thing moving being the index finger at the level of the 1st interphalangeal joint. The fleshy pad of the index finger should be evenly balanced and centered on the trigger. The slack should be taken out of the trigger until there is a firm feel of what is known as “the wall”. The trigger is held at the wall until further gradual pressure is added to allow the shot to break. Other common errors in trigger manipulation which will cause movements detrimental to accuracy are as follows.

·   Anticipatory flinch (a downward flinch of the hand as the shot breaks caused by anticipating the gun going off)

·  Slapping the trigger (forcibly jerky the trigger to the rear instead of using gradual pressure increase to activate the trigger)

·   Heeling (generally caused by over gripping the gun and exerting downward pressure on the grip of the gun as the trigger is pulled. This normally results in pulling shots off target in a 12oclock orientation.)

·   Too much or too little trigger finger on the trigger (this can result in lateral deviation of the muzzle of the gun as the trigger is not uniformly being pressed directly to the rear)


To combat errors in trigger manipulation that cause movement of the gun as a shot is taken, I personally use laser dummy rounds. Laser dummy rounds are safe for practice and work in your firearm, coming in various caliber options. Ideally when taking aim and breaking a shot on a target, the shooter should witness the red laser beam impact the target at the desired point of aim and then disappear without excessive movement or trailing of the laser off target. If trailing of the laser off target is noted this signifies instability and errors in the trigger manipulation process that need to be broken down and evaluated. Capturing side angle video of the dry fire shooting process, played back in slow speed will typically help you diagnose the point of the error and you can take steps to correct it. Here is my go-to laser training round for my dry fire practice. 


Draw Stroke to First Shot

My main purpose of personal training is geared toward self-defense skill building.  In general, two factors essential in this arena are speed and accuracy. Generally, in a gunfight, the first person to get the gun out and land a combat effective hit wins and even in competition shooting this holds true. If you carry a gun around for everyday living it is essential to train to see how fast you can safely deploy your firearm and land an effective hit on target. In general, this should be no longer than 2 seconds. If we break the process of drawing a gun and shooting into the components of drawing & aiming the component that you’d want to shave time on is drawing. Essentially, you can’t commence shooting until the gun is out the holster and pointed toward the target, so let’s not dilly dally on that part and have a few extra tenths of seconds to spend on the aiming process. We shave time on the draw be cleanly getting the concealment garment out of the way of the gun, simultaneously establishing a shooting grip on the gun before moving out of the holster, delivering the gun sights to the dominant eye in an efficient manner without extra or wasted motion, and prepping the trigger to “the wall”. The trigger is prepped once the gun is out the holster and pointed in the direction of the target. Once the sights are on target the shot is fired. My favorite tool to assist with draw stroke analysis, showing you how efficient your draw is and serving as a shot timer is the Mantis X10 Elite.  This tool really offers you tons of diagnostic information which can help you identify where you can improve and become faster.




Emergency & Tactical Reloads

One thing for sure and two things for certain is the only firearm that is useful to you is one that is loaded. For this reason, it is essential to spend some time practicing reloading your gun. In general, there are two types of reloads to be concerned about and they are tactical and emergency reloads. Say you were just in a gun fight and you shot a number of rounds that you can’t recall but you aren’t yet sure the area is safe for you to put your gun away. In this setting you would want to do a tactical reload. This simply involves grabbing a fresh fully loaded magazine loading it into the gun and retaining the partially used magazine in a pouch for later use if needed. This ensures that the gun is fully topped off in case it is quickly needed again. An emergency reload is called for in that “oh shit” moment when a gun is completely empty in the middle of a fight and you need to get rounds in the gun as fast as possible. Check out this video link from “The Tactical Rifleman” for further description on how each reload is properly executed.

Once these reloads can be done confidently from the static position begin incorporating reload practice with movement to and from points of cover.

Single Handed Shooting with Both Dominant and Non-Dominant Hand.

This is an invaluable skill to practice especially for anyone focused on improving skills for self-defense. In a defensive situation the mindset must be to never quit until the fight is won. This means that if the dominant shooting hand is injured you still must be able to continue to maintain marksmanship standards with the support or non-dominant hand. Offhand shooting is difficult in the fact that very few of us have reason to spend time developing fine motor control for the hand and fingers that we don’t do the majority of our daily functioning task with. However, with repeat focused attention to practicing this skill your offhand can once again become your ally. I typically utilize the dry fire training program of the Mantis X10 Elite   along with reps with a grip strengthener to build the muscular endurance and grip strength needed in my non-dominant hand to maintain stability of the firearm. Here is link for the grip strength tool that I use and recommend to help you in your practice.   



Shooting From Varied Positions

Gaining experience shooting from varied or awkward shooting positions is another skill important as it holds value in both the arenas of competition and in self-defense. Often times in both these disciplines, shooting never occurs from the static position. For instance, in self-defense shooting, it would be ill advised to draw a gun, shoot, execute reloads/handle weapon malfunctions while in a stationary position. It would be best advised to scramble if possible, to nearby points of cover and/or concealment to give you the best chance of survival. We call this “Getting Off the X”. The “X” is the point in which you were standing when initially contacted by a threat. Since this is such a critical skill, it’s important to practice how we hope to perform in real life. Generally, the way I train this in the home dry fire setting is I will usually start with my cleared gun holstered in my normal everyday carry position. I will set up a target on the wall some distance away from me, I really like to train with the Mantis Laser Academy Reactive Targets. 



From this point I like to start off with getting the heart rate up with a calisthenic exercise like jumping jacks, burpees, or pushups. I do this to simulate mild to moderate stress so as I practice my shooting, I can work on controlling my breath to steady my aim. From here when I feel as though I am winded, I will initiate my draw from holster. I visualize that the target is an actual threat with a weapon pointed at me and the objective is to break contact or get off the “X” and return fire.  As I draw the gun, at the same time I’m moving off the “X” laterally toward a point of cover and firing on the threat or the target. I continue to distance myself from the “X” until I’m at a point of cover. Now what can be used in the home to simulate a point of cover? Practice taking shots at a target peering from behind an open door or a door frame, maybe from behind a couch, what you choose to use is open to your imagination. When you do this try to minimize over exposure of your body to the target. The only thing you really want exposed from behind cover is a small portion of your face/dominant eye, and small portion of your shoulder and arms/hands. Don’t hug right up to your point of cover, maintaining a gap of space between you and your point of cover will allow you to avoid over exposure and also give you better visual perception of the periphery around your point of cover. If you want to see how much of yourself you are exposing to your target, set up a camera and record video from the vantage point of your target for later review. Practice making controlled shots on target from the prone position, kneeling, even lying flat in supine to simulate you fighting from the ground after being knocked down. The more variability and creativity that you add to your dry fire practice will only prove to benefit you in real life situations.



Target Transitions

Having the ability to shoot fast is one thing, but having the ability to shoot fast and accurate at a series of targets is golden. The goal of transitioning shooting between targets is learning what is an acceptable sight picture to obtain a satisfactory hit on target at a given distance. Generally, the closer you are to the target and the larger the target, the less precise you have to be in aiming. On the other hand, the smaller the target and the farther away it is from you more time may need to be utilized to dial in a more precise sight picture. Another skill that must be developed is the eye speed. Eyes that trail behind the movement of the gun to the secondary target generally result in overtravel or overshoot of the intended target causing you to lose time correcting back on target. So, it is important to understand that the eyes must spot the next intended target and then the brain signals the muscle to deliver the gun to the target. A training program that I love to use on the Mantis X10 Elite is called the 1-5 transition drill. It involves placing 3 targets on the wall evenly spaced apart from one another. At the buzzer the gun is drawn and working left to right, one shot is placed on target #1, two shots on target #2, three shots on target #3, four shots on target #2, and finally five shots on target #1. It’s a great drill to push speed of eye movement and efficiency of movement between targets. If running the drill with a pistol you may want to grab a dry fire magazine compatible with dry fire laser to avoid having to rest your trigger after each shot. .

If you’d like to run this drill with a carbine, I’d recommend the Mantis Blackbeard X system.




I hope these tips on gear and the process of dry fire practice have helped inspire you to get started practicing more and put you on the path to developing more confidence and proficiency in your firearm handling and shooting skills, even when you don’t have the time or money to hit the range.


-Stay Dangerous

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