Ask any world class competitive shooter or high speed tactical shooter about dry fire and they’ll tell you that it’s the secret to their success…it’s what separates the men from the boys.
But ask a typical Facebook commando about dry fire and you’re likely to hear something along the lines of, “I shoot once a week…I don’t need no stink’n dry fire, and neither does anyone else.”
The fact is, for the majority of shooters, dry fire is a LOT more effective than live fire at becoming a faster, more accurate, and more confident shooter.
Don’t get me wrong, you still need live fire…but today we’re going to cover the ways that dry fire is better than live fire, and how to make it easier and more fun than you thought possible.
First off, what is dry fire?
Dry fire or dry practice is going through all of the manipulations that you do with a firearm with no live ammo present.
From a safety perspective, it’s impossible to have a negligent discharge or accidental discharge if you’re doing dry fire, because no live ammo should be present. If there is live ammo present, then it’s user error and you’re doing something other than dry fire.
“Old school” dry fire, like what 90% of articles on dry fire talk about, focuses only on trigger press. It’s boring, and it doesn’t even work for most shooters because their brain creates separate neural pathways (muscle memory) for dry fire and live fire.
“New school” dry fire, like what we began to make popular 7+ years ago, is not only fun, but is WAY more effective than live fire alone.
What can you practice with dry fire?
Everything that you’d practice with live fire, up to and including recoil control. (As I write this, I can hear gasps and cursing when people read this…but get strapped in and hold on and I’ll tell you how it’s done)
When I’m working with shooters at the range, I’ll oftentimes have them go back and forth between dry fire and live fire on the exact same drills…dry fire to focus on perfecting/fixing their form and live fire to validate the change.
In military and law enforcement, when they’re practicing team tactics, they almost always start by learning and memorizing the technique with dry fire, then progressing to sims, and, depending on the unit, progressing to live fire.
If you limit yourself to the belief that dry fire is just a tool to help with trigger control and flinch, you’re SERIOUSLY shortchanging yourself…keep reading to see why.
#1 Dry fire is less expensive and takes less time than live fire.
That’s really 2 things, but they go together.
If you do 10 repetitions per minute for 5 minutes per day, you’ll get in another 1,500 repetitions per month…for free. Do that with live fire at a range and you’ve got to pay for travel time, range fees, targets, and spend time packing, driving, loading mags, waiting, taping, waiting, driving again, cleaning, and more…oh, and you’ve got wear and tear on your gun and you’ve got to pay for 1,500 rounds of ammo.
So, it’s obvious that dry fire is cheaper and faster than live fire, but is it effective? That leads me to…
#2 Frequent Small Block learning beats the traditional fire hose approach of teaching & practicing firearms skills with live fire.
The mind learns best with frequent small chunks of learning or perfect practice, spread over time.
It’s how we learn martial arts, all sports, and how successful schools teach.
Current firearms training does the exact opposite…it crams as much as possible into a 2, 3, or 5 day class. Students see dramatic improvement during the class, but their skill level drops like a rock over the next few weeks unless they continually practice what they learned. If you look at #1, that continual practice is prohibitively expensive for most people if you only do live fire.
Dry fire is the missing ingredient for most instructors. Dry fire is what takes firearms classes from simply being a fun experience for most and life changing for 1 or 2 students to being life changing for the majority of the class.
For students, dry fire is what makes your investment in training pay performance dividends for the rest of your life instead of petering out after a few weeks.
#3 Live fire distracts you from proper form and fundamentals
When things go “boom” a few inches from your face, it tends to be distracting…and a little exciting.
As world champion shooter, Max Michel says below (paraphrased), dry fire kicks the snot out of live fire for mastering fundamentals and improving:
One of the biggest problems I see with shooters doing live fire is that they either dip their wrist or dip their entire arm after each shot to see where the previous shot went. It’s incredibly tempting to check to see where your shot went, but what ends up happening is that your body will actually move the gun out of the way before the bullet leaves the muzzle and you’ll end up with groups that string up-and-down.
Live fire conditions shooters to think that when rounds go astray, it’s a problem with the sights and they end up chasing their groups around the target. Usually, the problem is the shooter. Dry fire conditions shooters to focus on the sights and trust the sights. It’s MUCH easier to develop the habit of getting a follow-up sight picture after every shot with dry fire than with live fire.
On this note, unless you’ve got a bench-rest or a vice, TRUST YOUR SIGHTS. If you draw your gun and plan on shooting a target 5 times, there’s no reason whatsoever to check and see where your 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th round impacted and try to adjust. Just TRUST YOUR SIGHTS and aim at the same spot every time, without shifting your focus to the target between shots. If you trust your sights for an entire shooting session and you’ve got all tight groups that are off the mark, then it MIGHT be the sights…otherwise, it’s probably the shooter.
#4 Live fire confuses new and inexperienced shooters’ brains
I mentioned in #3 that having things go boom in front of your face is exciting. Well, shooting causes the brain to release several neurotransmitters and happy chemicals, including dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, adrenaline, and endorphins…kind of like a cocktail of alcohol, coffee, cocaine, pot, and sex…except on a smaller scale and it doesn’t kill you.
This cocktail gets released regardless of whether you’re shooting great or poorly, and since the brain likes this cocktail and it isn’t associated with performance, the brain doesn’t have a whole lot of incentive to shoot better. As long as it gets it’s chemical hit, it’s happy, regardless of performance…and this feedback loop sabotages 100s of thousands of shooters.
It’s why you see people going to the range and just spraying lead downrange, not really hitting anything, and still LOVING the experience.
There’s nothing wrong with loving shooting (I do) but if you reward random performance with that release of neurotransmitters, you can only expect to get random performance in the future…whether it’s at the range or in a life-or-death situation. If shooting is just for fun, that’s OK. If your shooting may also be for fighting at some point, it’s not.
But, if you take control of the neuro-chemical feedback loop and tie the release of those neurotransmitters to good performance, you can have your cake and eat it too.
Dry fire lets you focus on form and fundamentals in a calm, relaxed, controlled state. And when you’ve got the form and fundamentals down and add good performance and the chemical cocktail that you get from live fire to the mix, all of a sudden you’re rewarding solid fundamentals with chemistry that makes your brain really happy, speeds up the learning process, and increases the chances that you’ll be able to perform at a high level under extreme stress.
#5 Dry Fire is more private/low vis/better OPSEC than live fire
Tyrants hate armed subjects. Always have. Always will. Whether it’s restrictions on ranges, ammo, or guns themselves, there’s a constant push to limit our ability to defend ourselves and to practice with our chosen self-defense tools.
If you live in an area that is particularly anti-gun or think that restrictions may increase in the future, dry fire is the absolute best way to continue to keep your edge and sharpen it beyond what you thought was possible in the privacy of your own home.
#6 Dry fire is safer than live fire
Since there is no live ammo involved with dry fire, it’s inherently safer than live fire training. Again, if live ammo is introduced, it’s no longer dry fire. You still must treat every gun as if it’s loaded…even when you know it’s not.
It’s because of this that I prefer and strongly recommend that you use an inert training platform that is incapable of firing live rounds. It could be a SIRT from www.DryFirePistol.com, a blue gun, an airsoft gun that you’ve rendered inoperable, a real gun that has a training barrel or barrel plug, or a real gun where you’ve replaced the trigger with a non-functional resetting training trigger.
With an inert training platform, you can do 360 degree training while standing, walking, moving, falling, rolling, crawling, and recovering from the ground.
Another HUGE aspect of safety is that if you train at home instead of at a public range, you avoid being around other shooters who don’t have good muzzle and trigger finger discipline.
#7 Weber-Fechner says dry fire rocks!
Ok…that statement is complete nonsense, but the sentiment is true. It’s nonsense because Weber Fechner isn’t a real person. Weber-Fechner is a law in psychophysics that combines the work of Ernst Heinrich Weber and Gustav Theodor Fechner. The Weber-Fechner Law states that your ability to sense things gets worse with the more stimulus you have or the faster the stimuli are happening. Max Michel refers to this in the video above when he says that 70% of your dry fire practice should be done at half-speed.
When you go full speed…TRUE full speed…the only 2 things you’re going to be aware of are the beginning and the end. Everything between will be executed subconsciously and a blur.
When you slow down, you’re able to identify and eliminate wasted movement during every step of whatever technique you’re practicing. More importantly, you’re able to repeatedly practice perfect, efficient form.
The more you do this, the more likely it is that you’ll execute that exact same perfect, efficient form at full speed under stress.
#8 Comfort at arms
It’s a lot easier for a new or inexperienced shooter to get comfortable manipulating a gun when they’re not in constant fear of it going “BOOM!” in their hands.
Getting a student comfortable handling and manipulating a firearm that’s incapable of firing projectiles will not only be easier and lower stress for them, it’ll be easier and lower stress for you. Your relaxation will be contagious and they’ll learn better and faster the more relaxed they are.
If/when they break safety rules…normally muzzle or trigger finger discipline…the potential cost and devastation is much lower with dry fire than with live fire.
When a shooter learns these lessons during dry fire, they’re a more confident, safe, and relaxed shooter when it’s time for live fire.
#9 Range Training Limitations
At your typical range, there are restrictions. LOTS of restrictions. You can’t move and shoot, can’t shoot behind cover, can’t work from a holster, can’t work from concealment, can’t turn and draw, can’t shoot multiple targets, can’t shoot faster than 1 round per second, and more. Some ranges won’t even let you shoot at “humanoid” targets!
Dry fire doesn’t have any of these limitations…in fact it’s the preferred way to learn a lot of these skills.
Now, interestingly enough, one of the criticisms of dry fire is that you can’t practice “recoil control” during dry fire. I would argue that this is completely inaccurate…and there’s a tie-in to typical range training limitations.
Recoil control is a function of proper grip. If your grip is correct, your gun will have minimal recoil (for the caliber), the sights will naturally come back into alignment, and you won’t have to adjust your grip, regardless of whether you’re firing 1, 3, 5, or 17 rounds in a row.
Dry fire is the absolute best place to practice getting a proper grip and support hand grip on your gun. Live fire simply gives you feedback on whether or not the grip that you’re practicing in dry fire is correct or not.
#10 Linear range training scars hurt
The guys at SEALed Mindset really made me sensitive to the problems that training on a linear range can have on people when they need to operate in a 360 degree environment.
If you haven’t trained in a 360 degree environment with a gun, how do you suddenly know how to move safely and effectively in a real life shooting situation? Simply put, you don’t.
If all of your gun handling happens in the confines of a lane at a range, on a 180 degree range, or in the woods with no other people around, you’re not going to know how to manipulate your gun, move, and engage targets if you’re confronted with 2-3 active shooters in a mall.
Dry fire with an inert training platform allows you to increase the stress level and practice situations that simply aren’t safe with a gun capable of firing live rounds.
A few years ago, a group of special operations and SWAT personnel teamed up to break down and test everything that they’d been taught during their careers about shooting. They formed a think-tank and high performance-high stress shooting lab called SEALed Mindset. There were SEALs, SF, a Recon Marine, a SWAT commander with more than 1,000 dynamic entries under his belt, and other combat veterans.
They taught 140+ classes per month for more than 3 years…most months, they were running 100+ force on force classes. They tested AND PROVED, under stress, what works and what doesn’t when it comes to gunfighting.
One of the things that they learned is that the ideal training ratio for high stress combat performance is 80% dry fire, 10% live fire, and 10% force on force. The interesting thing is that you never want to do more than 10-20% of your training with live fire. You can go the other direction and do 99% or even 99.9% dry fire, but if you want to make the fastest gains, you don’t want to do too much of your training with live fire.
In almost all cases, this doesn’t mean that you have to shoot less than you currently are…it just means adding in a few minutes of dry fire practice per day.
Dry fire practice like what you get in the Concealed Carry Masters Course. It’s a 9.5 hour DVD course that’s unlike any other firearms training you’ve experienced or heard of.
There are classroom components and teaching like in most courses, but the magic of the course is that almost half of the course is follow along dry fire drills where you watch the instructors demonstrate perfect form on your TV and follow along with them in your living room.
Sound familiar? If you’ve ever bought an exercise video, it’s the same idea…only you’re doing firearms training.
This process of watching the instructor with the intent of copying him and then repeating what you see takes advantage of one of the most powerful learning hacks in the brain…mirror neurons…and it’s just one of almost a dozen accelerated learning techniques that are embedded in the training.
When combined, they’ll act like a rocket to propel you forward as a shooter faster than you thought was possible.
Questions? Comments? What are your thoughts? Share them by commenting below.
Photo courtesy of Next Level Training, makers of the SIRT Pistol
Use Discount Code “ArmsGuide” (not case sensitive) and get 10% off your new SIRT Pistol
by Mike Ox
Mike Ox is an avid defensive and competitive shooter who has co-created several firearms training products, including Dry Fire Training Cards, https://se965.infusionsoft.com/go/dftcmedia/loadout
Dry Fire Fit, 21 Day Alpha Shooter, and See Faster, Shoot Faster. His brain based training focuses on accelerated learning techniques for shooting as well as controlling brain state and brain chemistry for optimal performance in extreme stress situations. Learn more about dynamic dry fire training for defense and competition at www.DryFireTrainingCards.com/blog