The Fire is Dry

In the Marine Corps, we grew accustomed to the term “snapping in,” meaning practice firing without the use of ammunition, or dry firing. In view of the cost of ammunition in these troubled economic times, many of us are forced to dry fire in order to develop handgun marksmanship. I have personally spent hundreds of hours in dry fire, and have developed basic competence with the pistol, maybe a little more. It makes me wonder what might have happened if I had spent thousands, but I digress....

I am absolutely certain that this is a necessary part of the game. I would go so far as to say that if I were given unlimited ammo to teach a group of neophytes, I would still use dry firing as part of the instructional program. There are skills to be learned with an empty gun that cannot be learned with a loaded one. Buz Mills' Gunsite Academy still assigns students night homework of snapping in and gives them emphatic instructions on how to do this safely. Basically, they are taught ways to self-emphasize shooting in safe directions and always, always, ALWAYS with an empty gun with no ammunition anywhere near the gun. 

Dry fire practice needs to be done in short, intense periods of no more than 20 minutes long. No distractions permitted—TV, radio, conversations, etc. Never snap in at a mirror or at the TV set. An improvised target is OK. Much can also be learned by dry-firing at a blank piece of paper. When the allotted time is over, put the gun away and cease all practice. This is usually the time when the Negligent Discharges occur. A budding shooter gets to thinking about it and wants to do a few more cycles, but forgets (a) he reloaded the gun and (b) he always needs to perform a press-check. There is something important to be learned and formed into habit by perfect dry fire practice. 

Do it like this. Check to be sure there is no ammo in the room where you will spend a focused quarter hour of practice. Pick up your service handgun and ensure it is not loaded. Assume a firing grip, cock the action, take a deep breath and aim in on your point. When sight alignment and sight picture are perfect, apply straight-back pressure to the trigger until the hammer or striker drops. Hold the trigger all the way back and slowly release to the point where the action resets for another shot. On many guns, this can't happen until you re-cock the action. Think perfect sight alignment and repeat.

I also recommend an additional extension of the basic dry fire cycle. Do about five reps of this one at the end of your session and do it with a blank target. Everything is the same until the hammer falls. At this point, continue to hold the trigger back with the sights in perfect alignment. Hold the gun steady, sights aligned and trigger back, until it becomes uncomfortable, almost painful—no less than a minute. This drill develops the muscle groups necessary to hold a heavy pistol still. It also develops patience and the ability to work the trigger. The last step before you lower the gun and rest the aching muscles of your arm is to reset the trigger and resume proper sight alignment. When shooting live, any given shot ends with proper trigger reset and a new sight picture, not when the hammer falls. Shooting multiple shots is a linked chain of events always ending in reset and re-align.

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7 Responses to The Fire is Dry

Harry P wrote:
October 10, 2012

5/5 In summary, Mr. Clapp, I agree with you that such focused dry firing efforts can do a lot to improve sight alignment & follow-through in all guns where such actions can do so safely & without harm to the firearm. Harm that has not been mentioned by either of us here. There can be issues with dry firing some rim fire handguns in that damage to both their firing pins (or strikers) and chambers can result. Overtravel or, conversely, the shortstopping of the pin or striker on surfaces inside certain centerfire handguns can also cause damage or breakage to them. Therefore, in regard to these issues, I would tell the readers that they need to check with the manufacturer of whatever handgun they plan to dry fire and learn what they have to say about it. But back to the matter at hand, I also believe that dry firing can do a lot to help ingrain or imprint a consistent trigger stroke upon the “shooter”. For not only can they develop the user’s ability to stroke the trigger in the first place, but once he or she is capable of working the trigger comfortably and consistently for single shots, certain dry-firing techniques can also be used to develop better and more consistent multiple shot skills as well. Finally, I concur that certain dry firing exercises can also build hand and finger strength but I would further propose as (hopefully) I have done here, that they can also “break in” certain handguns at the same time and at a cost far lower to the shooter than the thousands of rounds that it might take to do so otherwise. And please note that I would never say that structured live firing should be done away with (or even that much reduced) if it is affordable. That said, I once again want to thank you for calling to our attention another subject that some of us either take for granted or ignore altogether for while helpful, it isn’t seen as trendy or as exciting as the ones some other authors so often seize upon in order to titillate rather than to benefit their readers.

Harry P wrote:
October 10, 2012

4/5 Advancing again this time, but just as I suggested regarding advancements the last time (in 3/5), I would advise that only when the student believes that the “two shot” dry firings I proposed can be made without the sights moving off target or out of alignment, should they advance to anything more. But once they are capable of maintaining a perfect & continuous sight alignment & sight picture of the chosen aiming point until the trigger has been reset for the second time, then similar moves (and their necessary & accompanying self-evaluations) to three, four and five “shot” exercises with these small-frame revolvers can be made. As a further means of both skill development & self-evaluation and only because we are talking revolvers here (with round top barrels and/or fairly narrow ribs if they exist at all), a small coin can be placed upon that tube whenever repeated double-action “shots” are used in dry-firing drills. Following the exact same procedures that I spelled out in 2/5 & 3/5 of this response, once the handgun is brought up to bear upon the aiming point, place a small coin (arguments can be made for & against the use of a nickel, dime or penny) on top of the barrel (not the topstrap) of the revolver. Then continue on with those same procedures and not only maintain your grip on the weapon and complete the drill by holding the trigger to its rearmost position, slowly allowing it to return forward (in a controlled manner) until it reaches the point where the action resets for the next “shot”, but keep the coin balanced on the barrel as an additional check of your work. As I said, arguments can be made in regard to the size & type of coin. Personally, I tend to use the dime for there is less of it to contact the gun & less of it to absorb the shock of the hammer fall or the twitch of an unsteady hand. But I have used things as large & heavy as a quarter so I suppose that it is a good thing to mix things up from time-to-time here as well. Go to 5/5.

Harry P wrote:
October 10, 2012

3/5. To advance one’s level of proficiency beyond that discussed in 2/5, I would suggest alternating the one-“shot”-at-a-time dry firing exercise detailed there with others that involve multiple “shots”, once the student feels that he or she has progressed to the point where each single fall of the hammer and the resetting of the trigger can be made without the front & rear sights moving off-target or out of alignment with each other. I would start this off by next employing repeated two-“shot” exercises; mixing them at times, with the original one “shot” drill. As in 2/5, again make sure that there is no ammunition of any kind within the room being used, Turn off any distractions including but not limited to the radio, TV, computer, and phone. Make sure whatever aiming point is used for the exercise is safe as is the space behind it. Inspect & re-inspect the revolver to make sure that it is unloaded & that all chambers show clear. Close the cylinder & obtain a proper firing grip. Bring the gun to bear on the aiming point. Strive for a perfect & continuous sight alignment & sight picture, while pressing the trigger to the rear until the hammer rises & then “falls”. Follow thru by consciously holding the trigger to its rearmost position (where it will have swept upon the fall of the hammer), then slowly allow it to return forward (in a controlled manner) until it reaches the point where the action resets for the next “shot”. Throughout that “return & reset”, the solid shooting grip must be maintained and the sights must remain aligned and properly placed upon the aiming point. Once the trigger resets, do not “regrip” the revolver but merely continue to maintain your grip as you again press the trigger to the rear until the hammer “falls” again. Complete this drill as the one in 2/5 by holding the trigger to its rearmost position and then slowly allow it to return forward (in a controlled manner) until it reaches the point where the action resets for the next “shot”.

Harry P wrote:
October 10, 2012

2/5. After years of listening to people complain about the trigger pulls on the small revolvers they carry, I believe that an ongoing series of dry fire drills could do a lot to polish those gun’s internal surfaces, get their springs to “set” and strengthen the fingers of their owners, in order to help make the actual firing of those weapons a lot easier. Mr. Clapp: While your method of pulling the trigger to its rearmost position & holding it there for some period of time, while maintaining a steady grip & keeping the sights aligned (as described for the pistol) can be used to build hand strength & skills, I believe that taking advantage of the double action (and self-resetting) trigger of these small revolvers thru repeated pressing of it in the normal manner, can do so too. After first making sure that there is no ammunition of any kind within the room being used, I would tell the student to turn off any distractions including but not limited to the radio, TV, computer, and phone. Next, they need to make sure whatever aiming point is used for the exercise is safe as is the space behind it. Then inspecting & re-inspecting the revolver to make sure that it is indeed unloaded & that all chambers show clear, they should close the cylinder & obtain a proper firing grip, bringing the gun to bear on the aiming point. Striving for a perfect & continuous sight alignment & sight picture, they press the trigger to the rear until the hammer first rises & then “falls”. Following thru by consciously holding the trigger to its rearmost position (where it will have swept upon the fall of the hammer), they slowly allow the trigger to return forward (in a controlled manner) until it reaches the point where the action resets for the next “shot”. This self-resetting single “shot” drill is perfect for familiarizing the student with the firearm and because of the emphasis on conscious & deliberate awareness of each step, it also fosters familiarization with themselves as well. See 3/5

Harry P wrote:
October 10, 2012

1/5. Mr. Clapp: When I was a kid, first learning how to shoot, my father not only emphasized dry-firing with me but he regularly trained in this manner himself in order to maintain a consistent level of performance when he couldn’t get to the range to practice there. Somewhere along the way, however, I also got the impression that he, like you, dry-fired in addition to live firing in order to actually advance his Bullseye (competition) skills as well. So I fully understand & agree with what you have to say here. Furthermore, due to space constraints & the most likely areas of interest within your readership, I can also understand your need to limit this piece to “pistol” shooting. But when I moved along in age and my work afforded me the opportunity to shoot in different events with different guns, I often found myself shooting “revolvers” in a number of them and I discovered that dry firing & certain forms of “strength training” (similar to the one you describe here) helped me with those guns too. Realizing that the vast majority of your readers are not PPC (Police Pistol Combat) shooters and many do not shoot any kind of Action Revolver or IDPA Revolver events, I won’t bore them with my thoughts about “practicing” for those competitions but I do think that dry firing the generally heavy actions of the Double Action J-Frame type revolvers that so many people are legally carrying around these days could be a real good thing for those folks. I believe that a focused and undisturbed period of time as you suggest for the pistol shooter could have a very positive effect on the thousands of wheelgun users out there who just don’t get to the range as much as they’d like. And for all of those people who complain about the difficulty of employing a shorter-sighted revolver, mastering the basics in this manner should be a real boon to them too. However, I think that there is even a better reason for dry firing one of these pocket revolvers and I’ll discuss that in Part 2/5.

Walkin trails wrote:
October 09, 2012

I start all my remedial sessions with dry fire drills. It really helps for a student to perform this drill in front of an instructor. I've found a number of them who tend to jerk and flinch also want to snap the trigger like a kid with a cap pistol.

Gordon wrote:
October 08, 2012

Great advise, dry firing has helped me a lot. However dry firing a 22 could damage the firing pin on some guns. On my High Standard I will use a piece of thin cardboard to cushion the firing pin.