Dry Firing is arguably one of the most important parts of maintaining good firearms discipline. I don’t necessarily argue that it’s a good way to build skills; you build skills with bullets on paper, using a timer to gain the crucial feedback to see where it’s coming off the rails. Skill development requires a coach and the pressure of a timer to identify your deficiencies and correct them properly.
Dry firing is how you keep those skills.
Marksmanship is a very perishable skill. It requires a lot of muscle memory to function, particularly under stress. Adrenaline, excitement, exhaustion, these will all inhibit your ability to recall your fundamentals. Under duress, you default to the lowest level of your training; skills maintenance is a very important part of your training.
Maintaining a good dry fire regimen is a question of ten minutes a day, easily. First, unload your firearm and your practice magazines, and put your live ammo in a different room. Never dry fire where you have ammo or loaded magazines around!
I strongly recommend using snapcaps if you can afford them; a pack won’t run you more than 10-15 bucks. They’ll help you run the gun more easily, particularly with slide manipulations and practicing loading and unloading. And, they reduce the wear and tear on your firearm. Prolonged dry fire is hard on firing pins if you do it hundreds and thousands of times.
There are three fundamental skills to maintain. Good grip; trigger press; proper sight alignment. As long as you have two of those three, you will be a capable marksman. The beauty of dry firing is that without the stress or hassle of the range, you can refine all three of these at once. By going slow and making smooth, deliberate motions (and using your sights) you can sense if your grip hand is weakening or if you are slapping or jerking the trigger. It’s the sort of thing you miss on the range while running the gun hard.
The four tasks you need to focus on as a defensive shooter are: the draw to center-mass shot; the low ready to a headbox shot; the transition to target; and the reload/corrective action.
First you need to get our your daily CCW rig. IWB, appendix, off-body, however you do it. Do at least 10 draws to a target– my favorite is to face a fullsized mirror with 15 feet of standoff, which nicely simulates a 6″ impact target on an aggressor at an ‘average’ starting distance. This is a very good time to take a realistic assessment of your ability to get to your firearm and practice the individual components of your draw stroke.
Make a good clean shot center-mass, and the key here is to go slow. Break down each part of the draw– clearing the clothing, getting a master grip, bringing it to centerline, and swinging it up to a good aiming position. Start slow and deliberately, then start working speed bit by bit; always end with at least three ‘slow and deliberate’ drills. This simulates the abrupt ‘Oh shit’ moment of needing to get your weapon into play right away to deal with an imminent threat.
Once you’ve done about 4 minutes of this, or around 20 reps, switch to low-ready to a headbox shot. This is a 4″ target at around 15 feet. Headbox shots are much more difficult and we do them from the low ready to simulate a situation where you have time to take a shot, but that shot must be perfectly precise. It may be a situation where you have to fire at someone quite a distance away, or you have the drop on an armed aggressor who’s momentarily distracted. Again, start slow and deliberate; pick up speed after a few minutes, then slow down and make your last five trigger pulls perfect trigger pulls.
Next, target transitions are very important. This is a drill that particularly gives gains in dry firing, because without the ‘go fast’ mentality of putting lead to paper driving you, it’s easier to focus on the motion of the firearm. There’s a technique called calling your shots here. Don’t ‘hold’ on the target after you make a clean dry fire repetition; instead, immediately transition to the next target. Go back and forth between them. If your three fundamental skills are all perfect, then you don’t need feedback from your target; you know you hit it. Drive on to the next one. This has a lot of utility both in the realm of competition and self defense where you might need to engage multiple aggressors very quickly, often without being sure that you’ve incapacitated them with your first few hits. Figure out how fast you can move the muzzle without over-correcting or swinging past the target.
Finally, reloads and malfunctions. Guns jam and fail. Ammo goes bad. The fastest way to get a firearm back into a gunfight is to drop the magazine, insert a new one, and rack the slide. This works for almost every malfunction and it’s a critical skill to have in a potentially prolonged altercation where lots of ammo’s being exchanged. If nothing else, you should be able to decisively and consistently rack your action to eject a round while not losing your master grip or dropping the gun out of your workspace. Many new shooters make the mistake of lowering their gun to their waist level to manipulate it. Get in the habit of doing all reloads and manipulations at face level. You will be able to get back into the fight more quickly and you can visually inspect for the ejected round as a confirmation that your firearm’s back in the game.
All of this can be done in literally ten minutes a day. Professional shooters might dry fire 30 minutes to two hours daily, even ones who otherwise shoot live ammo on the range daily, too. It’s a critical training tool if you can use it correctly, but if you develop those main skills on the range and take them home to practice later, you can stay sharp even if you only make it to the range for 100 rounds of live fire a month.