(Most striker-fired semi-automatic handguns can be dry fired. Some single-action revolvers cannot be dry fired. If you are not sure if you can dry fire your handgun please check your owner’s manual or call the manufacturer. We have Glocks, HK’s and Wilson Combat striker-fired handguns and we dry fire all of them.)
Dry practice, sometimes called dry firing, is a proven way for shooters to increase their firearms proficiency. This practice routine focuses on manipulating the trigger, aligning front and rear sights, acquiring a sight picture, securing a proper grip, achieving a strong stance, drawing a handgun from its holster and re-holstering, reloading, and clearing malfunctions. All of these skills are practiced without live ammunition (thus the term dry practice) in the gun or in the room where the practice is happening.
Trigger manipulation is considered by many expert shooters to be the most important skill for shooting accurately. Pat McNamara, former Army Special Operations warrior and now a firearms instructor goes so far as to say, “The king daddy of all marksmanship fundamentals is Trigger Control. I do not consider this debatable.” Of course, grip, sight alignment and sight picture are important but if you have mastered those skills but have poor trigger manipulation skills you will not be an accurate shooter.
Trigger Finger Placement
During dry practice you can improve your trigger manipulation skills. The first step to improving trigger manipulation is to learn where to place the trigger finger on the trigger. The image below illustrates proper finger placement.
Many experts recommend centering the trigger on the center of your trigger finger pad as shown above. If the trigger is closer to the first joint in the finger as shown in the middle image then your hits will be to the right of center. If the trigger is placed closer to the tip of your finger as shown in the far right image then your hits will be to the left of center.
Pat McNamara has different advice for trigger finger placement. He says to sink the trigger finger deeply on the trigger. Here is a video of him talking about his advice.
During your dry practice training you can pay attention to your trigger finger placement and then make adjustments as needed. Then, when you go to a live fire range you can test out your finger placement and make adjustments to find the sweet spot for your finger placement. You might even try McNamara’s recommendation.
Trigger Slack and Trigger Re-Set
Most semi-automatic handguns have slack that is engineered into their trigger systems. The slack is the distance the trigger travels from the moment you start pressing the trigger to the moment the shot breaks. The travel distance of the slack varies from gun to gun.
Firearms instructors often teach students to take the slack out of the trigger smoothly and they advise students that they should be “surprised” when the shot breaks. Then the trigger is slightly released until there is a click that can be either heard or felt. That click is called trigger reset. The trigger reset technique is commonly taught. This technique is useful for accurate shooting.
Rolling the Trigger
Studies of people who have actually been in gunfights, however, have noted that in a gunfight people do not use the trigger reset technique to manipulate their trigger. They roll the trigger.
“With the rolling trigger method, the shooter pulls the trigger straight to the rear and then during recoil allows the trigger to fully return to its original position in preparation for a subsequent shot. Whether the trigger finger comes completely off the trigger during the firing sequence is irrelevant. What is important to remember is the trigger finger stays in motion. It is flowing naturally from the front to back.” https://hendonpub.com/tactical_response/articles/2013/0304/the_trigger_reset_method_controversy
We advise our students to master the trigger re-set method first and then as they become more proficient they can evolve to the trigger rolling technique.
All handguns have front and rear sights. The front sight is a post on the very front end of the gun’s slide. The rear sights are at the very back end of the gun’s slide. The rear sights have different designs depending on the manufacturer; for example, some are U-shaped, others are V-shaped, and there is one design that is a complete circle (https://www.walmart.com/ip/Dead-Ringer-Snake-Eyes-Glock-Gun-Front-Rear-Night-Sight/41805172)
When you are shooting for accuracy it is important to achieve sight alignment by positioning the top edge of the front sight so that it is even with the top edges of the rear sights and that it is centered in the middle of the space between the rear sights. The image below shows proper sight alignment.
Sight alignment is particularly difficult when you find yourself in a life or death deadly force encounter. Some experts say that it is likely impossible to acquire sight alignment in those circumstances.
Most deadly force encounters happen quickly and at short distances
according to some reports. We believe it would be extraordinarily difficult and perhaps unnecessary to have good sight alignment in those situations.
Although achieving sight alignment in stressful situations is challenging or impossible we believe that it is still important to practice achieving sight alignment during your dry practice sessions. Practicing helps to coat your brain’s neurons with myelin. As the myelin thickens the speed and strength of nerve impulses increase which translates into quick action in stressful situations (https://lifehacker.com/the-science-of-practice-what-happens-when-you-learn-a-510255025).
Training yourself to achieve proper sight alignment begins by determining eye dominance. The dominant eye of many shooters is on the same side as their dominant hand; for example, a right-handed shooter is often right-eye dominant and a left-handed shooter is often left-eye dominant. Sometimes people are right-handed but they are left-eye dominant which is called cross-dominance. Eye dominance is controlled by the brain.
Approximately two-thirds of the population are right-eye dominant and one-third left-eye dominant according to research on eye dominance; however, in a small portion of the population neither eye is dominant (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocular_dominance). It also common to see that some people cannot keep both eyes open and shoot accurately because they experience a form of double-vision. Those people tend to close the non-dominant eye or squint.
Many firearms instructors advise shooters to keep both eyes open while using their dominant eye to achieve sight alignment. Keeping both eyes open increases peripheral vision, which is especially important in deadly force situations. While keeping both eyes open you use your dominant eye to create a sight plane from the rear sight to the front sight to the target. The relationship of the target, front sight and rear sight is called the sight picture.
Three different sight pictures shown below. The first one is the combat hold where the front sight covers the bullseye and the three tritium dots are aligned. The second is the standard and very common hold where the front sight splits the bullseye in half. The third is called the 6 o’clock hold where the bullseye sits on top of the front post. Your gun’s owner’s manual should tell you which sight picture is best for your handgun.
No matter which sight picture you use you must ensure that the front sight is crystal clear in your line of sight as illustrated below. In the image below, the target is blurry the rear sights are blurry and the front sight is crystal clear. We cannot overemphasize the importance of keeping the front sight in focus. It has a significant effect on your shooting accuracy.
Grip and Stance
Securing a strong and correct grip on your handgun along with correct trigger manipulation will significantly improve your shooting accuracy.
The image below illustrates a strong and correct grip for a right-handed shooter using a semi-automatic handgun. To secure that grip you first get a good purchase on the handgun with your strong hand. A good purchase happens when you secure the gun high on the grip as shown in the second image. It is very important to avoid having the web of your strong hand sitting on the rear of the handgun’s slide. If the web of your hand is on the slide when the gun cycles the slide will grab the skin in the web of your hand and it hurts like hell. They call it a slide bite.
In the bottom photo you see space on the left side of your gun that is outlined in red. That space has to be filled with the meat of your left thumb and the heel of your left hand (for right-handed shooters). To make space for the left hand you have to get the thumb of your strong hand high and above your support hand thumb as shown in the top photo.
Once you have both hands gripping the gun you must lock the left hand by canting it downward at about 45 degree angle as shown in the top photo. As the support hand is canted the left thumb will move forward and be roughly parallel with the trigger finger that is placed along the frame of the gun. That canted angle locks the wrist and provides significant control over the handgun. Every time you draw your gun from its holster you need to achieve this grip quickly–every time!
A handgun requires the frame of your body to function properly. When you press the trigger a shot breaks. When the shot breaks the gun recoils. The less recoil you allow to happen the more accurate your hits are.
Recoil is significantly managed by acquiring a strong and proper grip on the gun. However, the way that you stand when presenting the gun toward a target also affects the recoil and ultimately your accuracy.
The first element of a strong stance is foot placement. Instructors advise students to stand with their strong side foot moved to the rear when using the Weaver Stance (see below). When using the Isosceles Stance (see below) some firearms instructors advise students to stand with their feet shoulder width apart. We teach our students to use the Isosceles Stance with what is referred to as an “athletic stance.” An athletic stance is achieved by having your feet about shoulder width apart and then moving your strong side foot slightly to the rear.
The second element of a strong stance is the way you hold your arms in front of your body. With the Weaver Stance the support side arm is bent at the elbow while your hands create a push-pull motion on the handgun. The push-pull motion reduces recoil (see the photo, below)..
Another common stance is called the Isosceles Stance (see the second photo, below). The word isosceles refers to the shape of a triangle that is created as you present your gun toward the target. Both arms are extended while properly gripping the handgun. Some trainers advise shooters to exaggerate their stance by bending forward at the waist as shown in the second photo, below. We teach our students to bend slightly at the waist while presenting the gun to the target as shown in the third photo, below.
Drawing from the Holster and Re-Holstering
Drawing From Holster
Drawing from a holster is an important skill, especially if you will be carrying a concealed handgun. The holster drawing technique we’ve been taught at the Gunsite Academy is a five-step sequence. You can practice this as part of your dry practice training. Remember, no ammunition in the gun or in the room.
Step 1: Starts with the grip. Simultaneously grip the gun while in the holster while moving your support hand to the center of your chest.
Step 2: Clear the firearm from the holster by bringing it straight up out of the holster.
Step 3: Rotate the firearm so it is pointing in the direction of the target. If the gun has a thumb safety it is released at this point. For close quarters shooting step 3 is where the gun can be fired.
Step 4: Smack–the support hand moves to the gun (don’t bring the gun to the support hand) to secure the grip and the trigger finger is placed on the trigger without pressing it.
Step 5: Present the firearm toward the target while taking the slack out of the trigger. When the arms are fully extended and locked-out the shot should break.
Here’s a video demonstrating the technique. In the video you will notice that the instructor is using the Weaver Stance with his support arm bent at the elbow. You can practice this drawing sequence at home as part of your dry practice training.
It is important to know that if you are carrying concealed there is one additional step that happens before step 1. You have to uncover the handgun by moving clothing out of the way. If you intend to carry concealed then in your dry practice at home wear the clothing that you would typically wear when you are carrying concealed and practice getting the clothing out of the way before going to your draw sequence.
When you completed your shooting sequence you need to return your gun to its holster. To do that safely you simply reverse the drawing sequence described above while doing two important additional steps: 1) take your finger off the trigger and 2) look at the holster so you can see where the gun needs to go. As you become proficient with re-holstering you can skip the second step. Never, never skip step 1!
Speed, Tactical and Administrative Reloads
All semi-automatic handguns use magazines (these are not clips). Magazines have different capacities. Some only hold 6 rounds of ammunition. Some hold 10 rounds while others hold 15 or 17 rounds. You can even find 30 round magazines for handguns.
No matter how many rounds your magazines hold when you are shooting you will eventually run dry and you will need to reload the gun by removing the empty magazine and replacing it with a full magazine. This is called a speed reload.
The speed reload is accomplished by bringing the handgun up and in front of your face. That is called your work space. Having the gun in your workspace gives you the opportunity to have a field of vision that allows you to see emerging threats. Then, using the magazine release drop the empty magazine while simultaneously retrieving a full magazine from your magazine pouch.
When you secure the full magazine be sure that the tip of your pointer finger is touching the tip of the top cartridge in the magazine. This is called an indexed grip. That finger placement helps with seating the magazine in the gun’s magazine well in low light or no light conditions. You then firmly seat the full magazine in the magazine well and release the slide to chamber a round.
There are different techniques for releasing the slide after performing a speed reload. The first technique is to use the thumb on your strong hand to press the slide release tab on the side of the gun’s frame. A second technique is to use the thumb on the support hand to press the slide release tab. A third way is to pinch the back end of the slide and quickly move the slide to the rear and then release it. Our preferred way is to grab the top of the slide with the support hand and quickly pull the slide to the rear and then release it. This full-hand slingshot method is preferred by us because if your thumbs are broken you can still put your gun into battery after the emergency reload.
Remember, when you are doing an emergency reload it is very important to have your gun in your work space.
If you find yourself in a situation where you are protected by cover but you need to move to a new location before you move you need to do a tactical reload. With a tactical reload you know you still have rounds in your magazine but you do not know how many. So, you remove the partially loaded magazine and put it some place where you can get to it later but don’t put it in your magazine pouch. Remove the fully loaded magazine from your magazine pouch and load it into your gun. Then, retrieve a second full magazine and put it in your magazine pouch. The partially filled magazine stays in a pocket, for example, in case you still need more ammunition.
The tactical reload is also performed in your work space. Below, you can watch a video demonstrating the speed and tactical reloading techniques.
For many years, we trained at the Academi Firearms Training facility in Moyock, North Carolina (https://www.academi.com/). The instructors there are former active duty Green Berets, Army Rangers, Navy Seals, police SWAT Officers, and competitive shooters. One of the instructors, a retired police officer named Doug who was a competitive shooter, taught us a reloading technique for range safety. It’s called an administrative reload.
To perform an administrative reload at a range the gun stays in the holster. You know you are running low and you want to get a full magazine in the gun before returning to the firing line. With the gun in the holster slightly lift the gun upward to expose the magazine release tab (you may not need to do this for some handguns). You press the tab and the magazine is released. You can then remove the magazine from the gun without removing the gun from the holster and then reload a full magazine making sure the full magazine is fully seated in the magazine well.
Not all malfunctions can be easily simulated during a dry practice session. You can create simulated malfunctions using dummy or practice rounds that can be purchased at firearms stores. They make these rounds in all calibers.
Using the dummy rounds you can set up malfunctions such as failure to feed, failure to eject, and double-feeds. Semi-automatic handguns malfunction, usually because of the interaction between the gun and the magazine, so learning how to clear those should be an important part of your dry practice routine.
Dry practice is an important part of your firearms training. Many top tier competitive shooters use dry practice to sharpen their skills. If they do it, you should too.
In this article we covered several firearms manipulataion skills that be trained using dry practice.