Whether you are a new shooter or a seasoned one, competitive or defensive, casual or serious, we can all agree on one thing: shooting is actually a really enjoyable activity, one might even categorize it as fun. It gets us out into a unique world where we can try new things, meet new people, learn life saving skills, and exercise our mind, body, and the primal part within us all. In fact, when you fire a gun many of our feel good chemicals are dumped into our brains, we can’t help it, shooting a gun is enjoyable.
Once we get familiar with handling our firearm and find it fun rather than scary the next thing we all want to do is to be good at it. Shooting a gun may be fun, but shooting it well is exhilarating. As you get more comfortable with a firearm, and learn more skills a whole world opens up and being able to hit just where you intended makes it so much more enjoyable. But how do you get to that point? Well, practice of course.
What is Practice?
Ask any shooter you admire how they got so good and they will answer with “practice” and some may even be using what we call dry fire. Dry fire (using a firearm without ammo) is where you get good at shooting and live fire is where you put your practiced skills to the test. The companion to practice is training and we should all be attending at least one class a year to keep our skills sharp and attend more frequently to get to our next skill level.
Keep in mind that training is where we learn the “how to” portion and gain knowledge we want to apply. Practice is the repetition of what was learned in training. When you think about it this way, it makes sense why many instructors will give you homework and suggest a rule of thumb like 80% of your practice be dry, or have a 10:1 ratio of dry to live fire. Dry fire not only makes it easier to concentrate on mastering the fundamentals, it is also much more accessible and allows you to build a comfortable relationship with your firearm in an environment other than a range.
The nature of dry fire means it cannot replicate live fire with 100% accuracy, especially with striker fired guns, but look at this as something you can use to your advantage, not as a determinant.
There are so many benefits to dry fire, but having a thoughtful practice that you can measure against live practice will show you just how valuable it is.
Practice with comparisons
If you don’t already have a standard warm up and set of drills that you do when you get to the live fire range, pick one (here’s one I like to use) and start implementing it. This will give you a benchmark to measure your improvement against. Just like with exercising, you need to do the same lifts or run the same distance periodically to see if you are getting stronger, or running faster. Shooting works the same way, but many people never progress past shooting at a bullseye target and dump mag after mag into a target with no real metrics.
By performing the same warm up and set of drills each range session you now have the ability to compare your skills in multiple dimensions. By multiple dimensions, I mean you can compare more than just the shot group, compare calibers, makes/models, sighting systems, accessories, holster location, techniques, ease of use, recoil, manipulation, and so much more. Find out what your optimal set up is and what works best for you.
I suggest writing on a blank space in the target the date, gun used, caliber/ammo used, drill name, and notes on what you were practicing and anything special about the session. Then take a picture with your phone and save them all to one folder. This will give you an easy timeline to look at and some valuable data to compare.
For example, I primarily shoot a Glock 19 but transitioned to a red dot so I always mark down which I used, red dot or irons, and found that by doing this over time I was able to see what my red dot learning curve was by target comparison. I learned how to use my red dot primarily during dry fire practice. So each time I went to the range I could see my red dot shot groups getting smaller. I tested where I was with the red dot and found what I needed to practice. Then I consistently worked on it through dry fire practice a few minutes a day, and went back to the range to test it again. I had improved without leaving my house or firing a single round. I repeated this cycle again and again. Now, months later, I love my red dot and keep getting better with it.
Another example would be to do something like a friend of mine does, he shoots the AZPOST for every warm up. The drill uses one box of ammo and is a common benchmark test used in Arizona. So now when he has to shoot that drill as part of an exam, in a class, or for an LEO demonstration, he is stellar at it. Always a perfect score and always unbelievably fast. The first thing he does after he has made a modification to a gun, bought a new one, or is testing one out is shoot the AZPOST. It’s his go to drill, he has thousands of samples to compare against and can gain so much insight from doing that one drill with any gun. Just one run through of this drill and he knows if he likes the gun or not, how he would use it if he owned it, what he would change on it, how he would perform with it, who it would be good/bad for, and so much more.
Creating a practice structure that incorporates both dry and live fire together will help you not only learn more but prove that you are, in fact, getting better. Which is exactly the encouragement needed to stick with it.
If you stick with it, you can:
Think of dry and live fire as complementary to each other, not two separate pieces. As you improve during your dry fire sessions that will transfer onto live fire sessions, as long as you practice dry the way you practice live. That means your technique is always the same, but so is your intensity. There may not be recoil happening but you should still get in your stance and grip the firearm as if it were.
Using tools to aid comparisons
As mentioned before you can take pictures of targets to track your progress visually for live fire, but that does not work for dry and doesn’t help you get to the nitty gritty of what actually happened. Fortunately, we live in the age of technology and there are some great tools out there to aid in dry fire practice. Make sure you do your research so you can choose the right tools for your training goals. Here at Mantis we make a few of these tools, let’s take a look at how they can help aid in our progress.
Most of us don’t have the time to get to the range or the spare cash to shoot as much as we like, but with the rise of dry fire practice the laser cartridge has grown in popularity. A laser cartridge allows you to press the trigger and have a laser dot as your point of impact rather than an actual bullet. This can be incredibly helpful as a visual confirmation during dry fire. When using a laser cartridge, it gives you an approximation of where the would-be live round would hit. The key here is not just that you hit where you were aiming but that the laser shows up as a dot and not a dash on your target. A dot indicates a smooth, straight back trigger press while a dash indicates that the firearm was moved during the trigger press. The direction of the dash should give you an indication of which way your gun is moving and that is what needs to be corrected.
Mantis offers a laser dry fire system called Laser Academy and it contains everything you need, a laser cartridge, targets, phone holder, target stands/adhesive, and an app. The Laser Academy app has over two dozen drills and automatically captures your laser hits as if they were actual holes in the targets, so your phone will look like a live range target. Remember that photo timeline mentioned above, add these in there and you have an easy to track photo history of both dry and live fire practice.
MantisX Shooting Performance System
If you are looking for one system to track your live and dry fire sessions with any gun then this next system is for you. Our MantisX Shooting Performance System can supercharge your practice. MantisX devices are attached to the firearm and then connected to an app through bluetooth, this pairing allows for individual shot analysis in both live and dry fire environments. Each trigger press is scored and analyzed giving you the data you need to see the minuscule movements in your technique and correct them. With a device like this you can run through a drill dry and then go to the range to perform the same drill live and compare. The MantisX app keeps your session history and gun profiles so you can track progress over time and watch how your dry fire practice impacts your live fire.
As always our app driven products MantisX and Laser Academy are being updated with new drills, courses, and features. They are both free to download and have no subscription to use, purchase the physical item and we will keep adding value month after month.
Blackbeard and BlackbeardX
If you are practicing with your AR-15 style rifle then we have the product you have been waiting for, Blackbeard and BlackbeardX. The Blackbeard product family is a single molded drop in bolt carrier group and charging handle unit with a powerbank magazine. Simply swap these pieces out in your rifle and you now have an auto-resetting trigger system installed in your rifle, so you get to train with your trigger press, sights, and other accessories. Dry fire has never been easier, this unit removes the need to manually charge the rifle between each trigger press.
The BlackbeardX physically operates the same but you guessed it, BlackbeardX hooks up to our MantisX app and gives you a whole bunch of new features including the ability to analyze dynamic shooting in depth. Both of these allow you to dry fire like you live fire and allow you to have comparable sessions.
All Mantis tools can be used in conjunction with the others, both apps can run at once, and any laser will register in Laser Academy for point of impact comparison. So any practice you assemble will be enhanced with our products.
The ultimate goal of dry fire is to improve live fire and there is no better way to quantify that than by tracking your data. So attach your MantisX, perform the benchmark challenge, complete holster draw analysis, and repeat at the range for comparison. After all, we can only improve upon what we know needs to be improved, so take a thoughtful, holistic approach to your practice and set up a dry fire regimen that compliments your live fire sessions.