I love the satellite TV service we have at our house, as well as the DVR recorder. It affords me an opportunity to catch programs that would otherwise be missed. There are a number of TV programs directed towards firearms and self-defense subjects, one of which reminded me of something I was pondering as the snow was flying: dry practice, also known as dry-fire. Watching an installment of S.W.A.T. TV, from the S.W.A.T. magazine folks, a discussion was held among several recognized defense experts. The consensus from the discussion was that dry practice is extremely valuable in learning fundamentals, but does not replace live fire. It was noted that the increasing cost of ammunition and ranges that, due to liability concerns, do not allow certain training exercises has led to more people doing dry practice. Weather can also be a concern as we found with our weird and wild Utah weather these past years.
In dry fire or dry practice, what is the goal and focus? In NRA basic courses dry fire is used to practice all aspects of the fundamentals before live fire including position, grip, stance, sight alignment and picture, trigger control and follow through. In the more advanced Personal Protection Outside the Home course, presentation from the holster is drilled repeatedly “dry’ before going “live”. I’ve seen the same process in attending courses through the years such as John Farnam’s DTI and Action Target’s Law Enforcement Training Camp (LETC) and while working as an instructor at Front Sight. A goal is a specific item to be worked on. Years ago while competing in the old IPSC matches in my area, I found my magazine changes were not the smoothest they could be and were costing me time in the scenarios we were competing in. I spent a focused 5-10 minutes a day on that item and at the next match did so well one of the regular winners complimented me on how smooth my reloads were. It was a pretty proud moment for that young shooter! Later during a course I was taking, I flubbed a simple action, when home and worked it “dry” then went back and smoked through the exercise perfectly. Some one asked how I’d improved, and I said, “Dry practice!” Yes, it does work!
Caution while dry practicing should be religiously followed to prevent negligent discharges at home or elsewhere. If you attend Front Sight near Pahrump, Nevada and stay at the Saddle West Hotel in the Front Sight wing, you will be required to sign their dry practice protocols before you can rent a room. It only took ONE person neglecting to remove live ammo from their practice area, in this case the hotel room, to mess it up for everyone. He was practicing and fired a live round inside his room. Here are things to do to prepare to practice dry:
- A set time and place.
- No distractions. Turn off the phone, etc. to prevent interruptions.
- Remove ammo from the practice area. (Never load or unload in the practice area!)
- Have a safe backstop surface in the practice place in case a live round does find its way into the firearm.
- Have a target that can be removed when practice is complete.
- Have s specific goal and do the action perfectly, slowly and smoothly.
- Stop before you get fatigued or tired which could lead to bad habits.
- When done, secure the firearm and leave for a while.
- Upon returning, DO NOT load in the practice area, go elsewhere.
- Load the firearm which is now ready for use and say OUT LOUD, “this firearm is loaded” three times.
- Do not walk through the practice area with the loaded gun to prevent trying it “one more time”.
Some other considerations: practice dropping speed-loaders and magazines during reloads, do not trying to catch them. You will do what you have practiced, so avoid bad habits. A timer can be included to practice smooth presentation from the holster, working on removing wasted motion. Invest in some good dummy cartridges. There are several sources with most common calibers. I prefer ones that use an actual case or metal case head as I’ve found the all plastic ones break frequently. A dummy firearm can also be used for many exercises such as presentation from the holster or house clearing practice in your own home.
Many schools have dry practice guides you can purchase. TV programs like those mentioned earlier and magazine articles can give you ideas on things to practice. If you attend a course or school, you’ll find it beneficial to work on your own on the things you’ve learned, If you don’t, the new skill starts to fade quickly. The late Col. Jeff Cooper, founder of Gunsite said the following about dry practice: through dry practice…”you will eventually blend with the piece, and your skill will be something unconscious and undirected. Note that you cannot shoot “instinctively”. The shooting stroke is a programmed reflex, and you will program it only by familiarity. You cannot go to the range enough to program those reflexes, but you can instill them at home, and the master marksman does just that”
Technology can provide tools that help in practice. Recently I tried a dummy handgun with two lasers, a red when the trigger is touched and a green when the trigger is pressed. It showed in very graphic fashion when the trigger got mashed. I’ve done the same thing balancing a coin behind the front sight of a handgun. The coin falls if the trigger press is rushed through. It is frankly a lot less expensive than the $400 dummy gun! Lasers mounted on firearms can also show if the trigger is being mashed during dry fire. You can see the dot move on the target, or stay centered during the trigger press.
Dry Practice is a very profitable tool if used correctly. Many skills can be polished without the expense of ammo and range fees as noted above. It is always good to verify what you practice with live fire. If you dry practice correctly, improvement will be evident. As was said to a group I helped train recently, “Practice the hard things. It will transfer over to the easy things and your skill level will increase overall.” We as instructors noted that those who had practiced did better. Sometimes their non-dominant hand shooting was better than their dominant hand. They found that they focused more when using that hand and shot better. Lesson learned: slow down and focus to get the hits! Dry practice can help you do the same. If you don’t have time to get to the range as often as you would like, add dry practice and watch your skills improve.