How Does Dry Fire Training Work?


To make sure we’re all on the same page, “dry fire training” is simply an umbrella term for any kind of simulated shooting practice without live ammunition. Most commonly it’s used for ironing out hitches in your trigger press, but can incorporate drawing, magazine reloads, and hey, if you really want to spice it up throw some different firing positions in there. Dry fire training allows you to work on a variety of mechanics and weapon manipulation without the danger of an accidental discharge, all while saving you quite a bit of money on ammo and range fees. 


Now, let’s begin with the aforementioned most common reason for dry fire training: smooth trigger pulls. Just like baseball players in a batting cage, boxers hitting mitts, and football players smashing tackling dummies, competitive shooters use dry fire training to work on, and maintain, their fundamentals. When you start training a new skill, you’ll actually be creating new neural pathways in your brain, and, with repetition, those pathways are reinforced -- what people often refer to as “muscle memory” -- to make your task as smooth and natural as walking. There is something to keep in mind here though, if you’re practicing your mechanics incorrectly you will obviously only be reinforcing bad habits. Your trigger press should be an economy of motion, and simplification should be the focus. We all surely know a shooter or three who purposely aim off-target to compensate for their known poor mechanics. I hate to admit, but from childhood into my early 20s I always aimed rifles, shotguns, and pistols low and to the side to counter what I eventually learned to be massive recoil anticipation; though I always thought I was an alright shot, my accuracy was purely dependant upon on my terrible mechanics staying terrible in the exact same way with every pull. 


Our collective goal as shooters is to stay on target throughout the delivery of our shot. Consider that we are the firing platform for the mechanism in our hands, a part of the machine, and regardless of stance or grip, often the biggest contributor to inaccuracy is contained within the pull of the trigger. Dry fire training with the intent of smooth delivery can be broken down to these simple steps:

- Line up your sights on the target

- Keep the muzzle steady

- Pull the trigger without moving the sights

Oversimplified? Maybe, but again, this is what we’re all striving for, and dry fire training is where we can really hone this discipline. Let’s look at some tools we can incorporate into the process that give us more feedback than just trying to watch for squirm in the sight picture.


I’m sorry, I know most of us have heard this a thousand times, but it bears repeating: no matter what sort of dry fire training you’re engaging in, make absolutely sure your weapon is empty. Drop the magazine, lock the chamber open, check the rear of the barrel, the magazine well, and the bolt face. And for another layer of safety, make sure the entire room you’re training in is completely clear of all live ammunition. Got it? Alright, let’s go


I’ve heard this called by different names, as you can use a dime, penny, washer, or even an empty round casing, so use or call it whatever you like, but this classic drill is brilliant through its simplicity. While balancing a dime on the front blade of your sight, present, aim, and go through the trigger pull without disturbing said dime. It is, of course, challenging at first, but stick with it and you’ll feel like you could join Cirque Du Soleil once you start nailing it.  


With laser indication from every shot, you gain visual feedback via the movement on your target. When you pull the trigger, the hammer/striker hits the back of the cartridge, and the laser gives a quick flash; essentially, the more the laser squiggles around on the target, the worse your accuracy. The farther you are from the target the more pronounced the shown muzzle movement. An advantage this has over the dime drill is that, if you’re observant, you can get an idea of which way you may be twisting, pulling, or pushing your grip and work to address it. 


If you’re serious about your training, then of course we have to look at the MantisX systems. The dry-fire-only X2 model is an exceptional tool on its own, giving you visual data regarding muzzle trace through the shot, trigger control analysis via diagnosis and suggested adjustments you can make to fix the issue. With training modes and even a shot timer built in, training stays engaging over the long-term, while historical tracking gives you the big picture over time.


Dry fire training “works” when you put in the work. Think of it as maintenance for your accuracy. Once you return to live fire and reintroduce recoil to your life you may find yourself returning to old habits, anticipating and fighting the recoil, and thus missing your shots. Dry fire training can play a large role in conditioning that response back out, smoothing your mechanics, and once more making you a reliable part of the machine. 

Jason Manning
Jason Manning