Live fire is important, yes. However, live fire is also why many gun owners find excuses not to practice. Travel to the range, lane fees, targets, safety gear, and ammunition all add up to the perfect storm of excuses to only hit the range once a year or worse. Ironically, most people buy that handgun because they believe it will make them feel safer. “Protection of self and family” is one of the top reasons why my Permit to Carry clients choose to buy a handgun. However, what happens when you’re trapped in a violent threat encounter and the time comes to descend to your highest level of training? If you have had no recent training or practice to make yourself a competent shooter, chances are that you are going to squander those critical seconds fumbling for survival. Despite your best intentions or protective instincts, we rarely rise to the occasion. We simply descend to our highest level of training.
Become a Competent Shooter
This is a mantra I carried with me from the Marine Corps after deploying to Afghanistan in 2011. In the years of training that led up to that deployment didn’t make much sense until we were thrown into a real world combat zone. It was then that we all realized what the training was for. Despite whatever was going on, we knew we could rely on our training to kick in when we needed it the most. Learning the value of training at that time drove home the need for continued education and training as well. The skills gained in training are very perishable if left unused and untested. That is why we had access to our own range while we were there to keep running our own drills and advanced training.
When we got home, we knew that most of that training and skills would be pretty useless stateside so many veterans let that part of their life go. However, I knew that I wanted to be able to carry a firearm in public. I realized that with that choice came the responsibility to remain competent with the firearm I chose to carry. For that reason I train 2 to 3 times a month on top of my regularly scheduled firearms training clients.
As I have been working with these clients, I was always looking for ways for them to continue training in the time we don’t meet on the range. That is where dry fire practice comes in. You can accomplish a wide variety of skill building by simply dry-firing at home. Here are a few drills and training aids that can help you get the most of whatever free time you may have to get some at home training in.
Of all the fundamentals, aiming and trigger control have the most influence over where the bullet is impacting the target. Event the best shooters can struggle with trigger control from time to time. The key is to be aware of yourself and a degree of self-honesty. If you know you’ve been getting surprised or scared by the bang or recoil of the firearm, there is a good chance that anticipation is causing you to break your wrist down in preparation for the recoil. There are plenty of other types of factors that can cause poor trigger manipulation but dry fire can help.
Penny Drill: The penny drill is a well-known drill for a good reason. It is an important confidence booster that demonstrates to the shooter that they can fully engage the trigger without flinching the muzzle off target. This is an important observation, because during live fire it may seem impossible not to anticipate the bang, flash, or recoil. Facing a safe direction, balance a penny on the front sight tip of your cleared firearm. Slowly bring the firearm up to eye level and achieve correct sight alignment and sight picture. At that point, you are slowly squeezing the trigger in a straight back motion. The trigger itself is located midway between the tip of your index finger and first joint. Keep squeezing until the trigger breaks. When that happens, the gun would normally go off, but you are keeping the muzzle steady and penny still balanced on the front sight tip. Charge the slide or recock the hammer to reset the trigger and repeat this drill for 5 minutes.
A mounted laser is also useful to illustrate to the shooter exactly where the muzzle is dropping when the trigger is being jerked or anticipated.
Dry fire does not damage your firearm when done correctly. Every manufacturer has specific guidance in their owner’s’ manuals on whether or not that individual model is capable of dry firing. Why is this important? Dry firing can damage the firearm if not done correctly. The firing pin being struck by the hammer must transfer that energy somewhere. When it’s not striking a primer, that energy is being dissipated throughout whatever metal on metal contact occurs within the action sequence of the firing pin. This occurring too many times can cause uneven wear in the action of the firearm, and eventually may require that the firing pin is replaced.
Some guns can handle this, some can’t. Either way, purchasing snap caps not only protects the firing pin by absorbing that energy, they also give you a chance to manipulate your firearm with all the realism except for the actual gunshot. Lauding snap caps is for another day though. They’re a great training aid, but only a small part of your at home training toolbox.
This brings us to aiming, the other of our top two marksmanship fundamentals. How do you practice looking at something? First of all, oversimplifying things like that downplays the importance of learning and practicing correctly. As you have undoubtedly seen plenty of times, this is what the ideal sight alignment looks like:
And when you add in a target, here is your ideal sight picture. Maintaining that sight alignment on target is where many shooters can struggle. Humans are always in motion, that is a simple biological fact. No amount of posturing, squeezing, or straining your shooting eye is going to completely eliminate that ‘arc of movement’ as we call it. However, using skeletal support, focusing on the front sight tip, and allowing your eye to naturally gravitate to the center of your target all sets you up to be in the best position possible to take a shot with consistent sight alignment and picture.
Using multiple target dry-fire drills can help train your eye to improve your aiming. The movement and refocus time required to engage multiple targets pushes the boundaries of your experience to really drill down on keeping a clear front sight and blurry target.
Blurry target. The term seems so counterintuitive that some people ignore this fundamental altogether and instead focus on their target from the beginning. While target focused shooting is an important defensive shooting technique, none of that is possible without a very solid foundation in these fundamentals. The reason we place so much emphasis on these fundamentals is that by building up the most proficient muscle memory in a controlled environment like dry firing at home, we can better depend on these skills kicking in when we need them the most.
In a real life violent threat encounters, the physiological changes that your body is going through will take away any rationality to your actions, and that is when muscle memory kicks in. Avoiding the effort of training and being unaware of your surroundings until the fight for your life is already on top of you will have you drawing on an empty muscle memory bank. That is when the blackness of shock will blanket you and freeze you from taking any type of action. Conditioning your mind and muscle memory with a combination of applied Situational Awareness and dedicated training will not only challenge you to become a better version of yourself, it will also ensure that you have best prepared yourself to protect your own life and those you care about.
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