By Richard Mann
You do not have to make your gun go bang to improve your shooting. This is good news because often you cannot go to the range and sometimes you just cannot afford ammo. Dry practice, practice with your firearm without ammunition, is a viable training tool and can help you master many aspects of the defensive handgun.
Dry practice can be done almost anywhere, but there are some rules. The first four rules are the same four rules that should be followed anytime you are handling a firearm.
- All guns are always loaded.
- Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
- Keep you finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
- Always be sure of your target.
In addition to these four rules, you should also only conduct dry practice in an area from which all ammunition has been removed. This cannot be stressed enough. Establish a routine for dry practice. Place all your ammunition in a container, triple check your firearm and remove the container of ammunition to another location.
Sight Alignment and Trigger Control
The most common use of dry practice is to improve your sight alignment and trigger control. Working with a handgun that will not recoil or make a loud noise when you pull the trigger allows you to concentrate fully on keeping the sights aligned while you press the trigger. The goal, obviously, is to complete the trigger stoke without disturbing your sight picture or sight alignment.
The process is simple. Pointing the handgun at a target that is safe (See rule 2 and 4), align the sights and press the trigger while watching for deviations in your sight picture and alignment. I have found a laser like Crimson Trace laser grips can be a great tool when doing this because even the slightest movement of the laser is easy to detect. Adjust the laser so that it appears on the target about two inches above your front sight. That makes it easy to see while you’re still using your sights.
Another option, and one that I have used a good deal when training new handgun shooters, is the LaserLyte Target. This small target reacts to laser beams emitted from the LaserLyte laser pistol cartridge and records the hit for display after a string of dry practice shots. As detailed in my book, Handgun Training for Personal Protection, with only about five minutes of practice per week with these training tools, I have seen more than a 20% reduction in group size.
The key to beneficial dry practice when working to improve your sight alignment and trigger control is to not overdo it. Between five and fifteen minutes of practice per day is plenty. Take your time with every shot and do not rush the process.
Weapon presentation or the draw is another skill you can practice without ammunition. From a defensive handgun standpoint, getting your handgun out quickly can make the difference between life and death. However, not only do you need to get it out of the holster quickly, you need to get it on target quickly. The key to speed is smoothness, and smoothness comes with repetition. Start slowly and proceed with speed only after you have perfected the presentation stroke.
A Crimson Trace laser grip can be beneficial here too. When you are drawing a handgun, you should establish a good shooting grip before the handgun ever leaves the holster. If you do this and your handgun has a Crimson Trace laser grip, the laser will come on and will provide you with exact knowledge of where your muzzle is pointing all the way through the draw stroke.
What we are looking for is efficiency of motion. The handgun should come up and out of the holster, and then it should be rotated toward the target before it is thrust forward to the target. After the rotation, you should see the laser on the target until your arms are fully extended into whatever shooting position you use. Again, work slowly and deliberately. Only 10 to 15 minutes of practice each day is all that is needed, and in a week you will have greatly improved your draw stroke.
You can also practice reloading your handgun without live ammunition. Dummy rounds are nice to have for these drills and add realism. You can practice all sorts of reloads such as a speed reload, a tactical reload, a slide lock reload and even a one-hand reload, and you will only need a handful of dummy round to do this.
One of the best ways to evaluate your reload practice, particularly the speed reload and slide lock reload, is to use a shot timer. Set the timer to beep at a par time, say about four seconds. When you here the beep to start, begin you reload sequence and try to complete the sequence before the par time beep. As you improve, reduce the par time.
Just as with sight alignment and trigger control and weapon presentation training, start reload training slowly. Smoothness breeds speed, and until you master
the mechanics of reloading you cannot increase your speed.
As you progress in skill, you can combine all three aspects – sight alignment and trigger control, weapon presentation and reloading – into one dry practice drill. Using a the LaserLyte target and laser cartridge, present your handgun to the target, align the sights and pull the trigger, and then conduct a speed reload while using a shot timer to gauge your speed. However, regardless of the drills you conduct, do not overlook the safety rules.
As a final thought, dry practice is not just for times when you cannot go to the range. It’s not a bad idea to start and end every live fire range session with dry practice. In fact, it should be part of most live fire sessions because it adds to your training experience. Because dry practice allows you to completely concentrate on the mechanics of what you are doing, you should even use it, intermittingly, while conducting live fire exercises.