Whether you have been around firearms for a long time or are just getting started you have probably heard about dry firing, but what exactly is dry fire? Well, there are two answers to that question. The first is the actual physical action you take, which is to fire the gun without any live ammo. The second answer is the more interesting one, which is that dry fire is how you get good at shooting.
As a responsible firearms owner, it should be a no-brainer that you need to practice your craft, and not just punching holes in paper, but truly being able to control and manipulate the firearm properly. Unfortunately, that isn’t always enough to prompt people to practice or take classes, but if you don’t train you’ll never be the shooter you want to be. There may be a plethora of reasons you can’t go to the range or take a class, but those situations are where you learn and test your skills, dry fire is where you get that perfect practice, and there is no reason you can’t incorporate just a few minutes of practice into your week.
What is dry fire training and how can you do it safely?
To dry fire a gun you go through all the same actions as you normally would when shooting, except there is no live ammo. This means no bang, no recoil, and no slide movement. Before we can do that though, as is always true with firearms, safety is paramount. The first thing to do is make sure you have a firearm that can be dry fired safely. If you don’t know, consult your owner’s manual or reach out to the manufacturer. Next you need to make your dry fire environment safe, this means absolutely no live ammo in the room that you are practicing in, choosing a safe direction as your imaginary down range, and triple checking, both visually and tactilely, that the firearm is clear. To confirm it is clear, lock back the slide and look for a cartridge (commonly called a round) in the chamber and confirm with your finger that the chamber is empty and no magazine is in the well. Remember, the universal firearms safety rules still apply even though this is dry fire.
Now that you have confirmed your gun can be dry fired, and set up your safe environment you can begin your dry fire training. While you should have a specific goal in mind for your dry fire session, the overall goal is to teach your mind and body how a perfect trigger press, and ultimately shot, is executed. Don’t just point and shoot, execute your fundamentals and engrain that perfect stance, grip, sight picture, sight alignment, and trigger control with each shot. You should train dry the same as you train live, and that includes the intensity at which you perform it. Start slow, rushing your fundamentals can engrain sloppy technique so be sure you are performing each trigger press correctly. In shooting we have a saying, slow is smooth and smooth is fast.
Depending on what type of action your firearm has you may need to reset it manually, if your firearm requires a manual reset (aka racking the slide) then use it as a training opportunity and treat it as clearing a malfunction, performing a press check, or going through your make ready routine. This is also when you can pause, assess your shooting, and make any adjustments needed for the next shot.
In action it looks like this:
Remember you set a goal, so make sure you are working towards it, and don’t be afraid to isolate the parts of your craft you are having trouble with and then add it back into the overall skill when it has been refined.
Why dry fire should be part of your training
Now you understand what dry fire is and how to do it safely or have even tried it yourself, it quickly becomes apparent that this is just not as fun as live fire. We get it, and all shooters sympathize with you, but live fire is even more fun when you’re good at it. Plus it’s worth mentioning that legally you are responsible for every round you fire, so you should have plenty of incentive to practice.
While it may seem counter-intuitive, one of the biggest benefits of dry fire training is that there is no bang, and even though we know it is controlled our brains may still be wary of this bang in front of our face. This shows up in our skill as a flinch or dip, meaning we react to the bang we know is coming and that causes our bodies to move, which in turn, impacts where our shot lands on the target. Taking away this bang will allow you to train your mind and body to overcome that natural reaction and execute your shots more smoothly, and accurately.
Another key benefit here is that you will also be able to pay attention to the individual steps of each skill and can adjust and experiment to find what works best for you. Find what gives you the most control, the best economy of motion, the most speed, and highest accuracy. This applies not only to shooting the gun, but to magazine changes, malfunctions, use of tools/accessories, movement, and so much more. Which brings us to the next reason you should be incorporating dry fire training into your shooting life.
We are restricted on ranges and in classes by safety and liability concerns, so you can use dry fire to train in the dimensions that exist in the real world but not on the range. For example, having your target in the middle of the room and being able to move around it to change your backstop, or practicing home defense in the actual layout of your house.
Now this all may seem like a lot, but a crucial aspect of dry fire training is breaking things down, and not practicing everything all at once. This also helps us to keep dry fire interesting, as it is scalable and only limited by your imagination. The more skills you know the more options you have to train and the more sophisticated your practice session can be.
Dry fire training has become a staple for shooters and everyone will benefit from quality sessions, but if dry fire is where you get good at shooting then how much of it do you need? There are a few numbers bouncing around out there but a good estimate is that it should be about 80% of your time spent with a firearm, or a 10:1 ratio of dry to live.
What does that really mean? Well it is different for all of us but just a few minutes a day and one or two structured 10-15 minute sessions a week will make a world of difference.
Tools for Dry Fire Training
While you can do most dry fire training with just your unloaded gun there are many tools out there that can enhance your dry fire session and help you get the most out of it, some of them drastically so. Depending on what skill you are training, you may select different tools or no tools for that practice session.
If you take a look around there are so many options in dry fire tools you may not know where to start. When looking at a particular dry fire tool think about how it will impact your firearm and your practice and if that is advantageous or not for you as an individual.
Some of these tools have been around for a long time and are pretty commonplace in a classroom or store, but recently technology has been incorporated into dry fire training and it is a game changer. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular tools out there.
You have probably seen these before in class or online, they are inert rounds and typically have a non-standard color, like red, blue, or orange, for the cartridge or bullet portion. These ensure your gun is inert but allow you to pull the trigger and manipulate the slide like you would with live ammo. They act the exact same as live ammo but without the bang which makes them great for safe dryfire training, like malfunctions. Many gun manufacturers, particularly for old guns, will recommend the use of these when dry firing your gun as well since they give the firing pin a surface to strike against.
There is another kind of dummy round that doubles as a chamber flag. These are dummy rounds that make your gun inert, and are meant to show that the gun is inert by leaving some plastic hanging out the barrel or the ejection port.
Lastly, there is a dummy round that is made just for the magazine. This round is a plastic round that has been carved into a boat-like shape and allows you to rack your slide with the magazine in the well. This dummy round pushes the follower down so the slide stop does not engage, and this will prevent the slide from locking open on the “empty” mag. This type of dummy round does not leave the magazine, and does not go into the chamber, but can often be used in conjunction with another dummy round, which brings us to our next training aid.
These are similar to dummy ammo as they also make your firearm inert, but they are different in that when the shot is “fired” a laser will be projected down the barrel and onto the target at your approximate point of impact. This gives you a visual indicator during live fire which helps you identify the point of impact and if you have moved the firearm during the trigger press. When the laser shows up on the target you want a dot, not a dash, of light to know you held the gun still.
It’s worth mentioning that laser cartridges can be used on their own or in conjunction with other tools, the primary function of a laser cartridge is to give you visual feedback on your shot placement.
While a light switch or sticky-note on the wall can be a target in a pinch, there are also interactive targets that can gamify your session and provide more feedback.
Some targets can simply react to a laser and show that a hit occurred through a light or sound cue. While others can be used in conjunction with a smartphone or tablet that uses an app to show where the laser hit on the target, and tracks your performance over time.
Other Training Aids
There are many other tools out there that are not meant for your gun, but for you. These include training cards, books, at home courses, mental exercises, etc. These types of training aids can help you understand your guncraft more, bring a well rounded view to personal protection, and help you tailor your shooting life to be effective in the areas that matter to you. Adding more knowledge and intent to your dry fire training will make it much more fun to do and easier to complete than to just stand and shoot.
What’s the best dry fire training system?
You may be asking yourself, “What’s the best dry fire training system?” and the simple answer is “The one you will use.”, but we like to think it goes beyond that. We think it’s the one that helps you actually improve, which is why we created our product line-up which allows you to use your own, unaltered firearm, and is backed by data that you can use to accelerate your training.
Our flagship product is the MantisX Shooting Performance System. This system measures the movement of your firearm, and tracks your technique to show what you are mechanically doing when you shoot that impacts your shot placement. Based on this data the app provides coaching feedback, tracks each session, and scores each shot. The MantisX is a small device you attach to the firearm, by rail or adaptor, and an app that is brimming with drills and features that help you learn and improve. The system will track the firearm movement before, during, and after the shot, then use that data to create a score, track your times, analyze your movement, and ultimately tell you what happened and how to improve to get closer to that perfect trigger press. You will have access to all of the information it is able to provide on your phone, tablet or by visiting your training portal on our website, and are able analyze how you have improved over time, as well as identify patterns in your performance.
Remember how we said we like to keep your gun unaltered? Well, we are such a big fan of this that we created a drop-in auto-resetting trigger system for the AR-15 platform called “Blackbeard” that allows you to do just that. Blackbeard allows you to swap out your bolt carrier group and mag for ours to turn your AR-15 into a dry fire training tool that automatically resets its own trigger with an integrated laser for point of impact. We have since supercharged our Blackbeard system by integrating MantisX into it, so check out the best of both worlds with “Blackbeard X” and its dynamic drills for practicing transitions.
Another system we provide is “Laser Academy” and it is the perfect partnership between laser cartridges and smartphone target apps. Laser Academy allows you to go to the range without ever leaving your house by providing drills and courses coupled with smart targets, allowing you to go through guided drills with real time shot placement feedback all from the convenience of your home, without ammo.
Mantis products can be used in conjunction with each other, even if they don’t directly integrate, so don’t forget to turn on that MantisX while you run Laser Academy and get the most out of your session with MantisX’s detailed breakdown of your technique showing you why your shots landed where they did in Laser Academy.
Our goal is to improve every shooter at every level. We are using technology to be at the cutting edge of firearm training, and want to give you nothing but the best. Rest assured, we have not even begun to hit the ceiling but when we do, we'll probably shatter it in pursuit of higher firearm education for all.