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Shooting Skills: Dry-firing Practice, Part 2

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Click, Click, Boom. Here’s three ways to get more from indoor practice. Read on!


By Glen Zediker


 Defined: dry-firing is shooting with no ammunition. Cock the gun, hold on a target, break the trigger. It’s a simulation.

Last episode we talked about the essence of dry-firing, the means. Here are more ideas on getting the most from this valuable venue.

1. When to make it “real.”
There are two fundamentally-differing approaches. One way is to use dry-firing as a means for technical or mechanical improvement. That’s main, and that’s the usual focus. Another, though, is as a way to rehearse a course of fire or another orchestrated shooting scenario. Some believe that the more “real” we can make dry-firing the better. I agree, and then I don’t. If the idea is to replicate a competitive event, for instance, that means setting up a firing point, running a timer, adorning all personal gear, positioning all kit items, and so on. I think that is a great exercise for newer entrants because, in NRA High Power Rifle, for good instance, it’s all the “other” things beyond shooting that can get in the way of progress. There’s a lot to remember, a lot to do.

1907 sling use
Something like learning to install a 1907-style sling onto your arm for support is decidedly not something you want to experience first at a shooting match. Such as this needs to be done over and over (and over) to learn. Best way is taking your time at home.

 Away from needs on the firing line, dry rehearsals are way on more than wise. If, for instance, you’ve never fired a gun at night, start experiencing that scenario sans ammo. If you’re a concealed carry person, figure out the smoothest and fastest way to get your pistol pointed. That might “go without saying,” but I just said it because it needs to be done. Anything, for that matter, that has changed or modified a firearm or the means to deploy it should be drilled over and over until you “got it.”

 It takes more than a lot of directed thought and careful planning to get a gun leveled through a car window, for example. Have you ever seen how fast you can get to another room in your house in the dark? If you think that might be valuable to file in the been-there-done-that archives, then be there and do it. It’s a kind of self-made “fire drill.” Doesn’t make much sense to put stock in something that’s really important without verifying that it’s workable… And it’s plenty easy enough. Just make sure the gun isn’t loaded.

When technical and mechanical improvement is the focus, I don’t think it matters even a little bit to attempt to duplicate “real” conditions. Just make yourself comfortable.

2. Do something different.
Once you feel like you’ve honed the skills of triggering mechanics, noticed progress in hold quality, and all-around have attained some satisfying improvement, take a stab now at dismantling the entire thing!

shouldering rifle
Same goes for working on the other essential elements in a shooting position, like learning to position the buttplate in the same spot each time. Here’s me first figuring out exactly where that spot should be…

Dry-firing is the time to run experiments, so experiment! These can be major changes, like a different holding or gripping method, or small things, like nudging the head a quarter-inch farther forward on the rifle stock. Everything and anything that’s not part of the “routine” is an experiment. Backing up: dry-firing gives the opportunity to really tune in to just exactly what your routine is. Competitive shooters often call it the “control” position. When you make a change to that control position, do it one thing at a time. Otherwise feedback might be less accurately reliable. Decide that the big change is worthwhile (even if only for more testing) before incorporating more changes along with it.

Use your imagination. As long as you have a place to return to, any side trip is a no-harm, no-foul experience. Try canting the rifle inward a little more, changing the position of your right foot, gripping more (or less) with the little finger, loosening or tightening a strap on the coat. You name it.

 And do by all means name it. Write everything down! Don’t end a session without making a few notes. State what you tried and then what happened. Add on ideas for next time. Don’t trust memory. It’s right then and there that you have the most keen sense of feedback.

air rifle
This photo is a many years old. If you’re training for competitive shooting, at the least, wear your coat, glove, and ear phones (if you normally wear them). I learned the very hard way to now give that advice. I used to shoot my air rifle without my coat or any other gear but a glove. My idea was to develop a standing position that relied that strongly on skeletal support. (My idea also was to stay cool and reduce set up time.) As a result, I got to where I could shoot really good targets just in a t-shirt. I worked and worked (and worked) on this. Well, then I put my coat on, and my hear-phones, and found out that I couldn’t duplicate my t-shirt position! Oops. I learned a lot but overlooked the future application of why it was that I was learning.

3. Test yourself.
Don’t over-stay a dry-firing session. There’s a time to quit, and that’s so decidedly for your own good. A yardstick for a competition shooter is no longer than the “official” duration of a string, plus 5 minutes more or 5 shots more for a little extra strength. Those among us who tend to be, well, a little hard on ourselves, don’t like quitting until they “get it.” After a point, which varies with us all, we experience a physical and mental breakdown where we then are running experiences through a tired mind and body. I’ve seen this in other sports. Hitting too many golf balls, throwing too many pitches, running too many laps on a racetrack. If you’re trying to teach yourself when you’re tired, you’re learning only how to perform when you’re tired. If you want to build strength and endurance, do exercises where that is the focus. Hold the gun to the point of exhaustion, just don’t drop the hammer! I think you’ll get more from lifting weights.

 Speaking of exhaustion, still considering the cautions just presented, find out how long you can hold on a shot attempt. This is important. Over-holding can kill a score, so can “over-staring” the sight. Pay attention to sight movement, and then, mostly, see when it’s just done with until the next attempt. This is valuable. It’s hard sometimes on a record shot not to continue to hold beyond the point you should have brought the gun down.

Dry-firing is not shooting… We all score more “10s” dry than live. So, point is that if you can bring dry-firing closer to live firing you’ll be hitting a lot closer to center a lot more often. As always, call each shot, dry or live. We learn all this dry-firing and then we hope to remember this on the range. That’s the whole point.


Last: Take all your dry-fring practice to the limit first trip out to the live range this Spring. Here’s how: Have someone load your gun for you. Or not… Right: it might fire or it might not fire. You’ll be slap amazed at what you might have learned. It helps to have a friend with a dark sense of humor. Remember: the idea is to take that dry-fired perfection straight to target center.


 Information in this article was adapted from material in several books published by Zediker Publishing. Glen Zediker has worked professionally with some of the greatest shooters on the planet, and he does pretty well on his own: Glen is a card-carrying NRA High Master and earned that classification in NRA High Power Rifle using an AR15 Service Rifle. For more information, please check ZedikerPublishing.com

Shooting Skills: Dry-firing Practice, Part 1

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The art of shooting without shooting. Here’s how to make a big improvement in your on-target accuracy come Spring, and it doesn’t cost a thing but some time… Read on!


By Glen Zediker


Defined: dry-firing is shooting with no ammunition. Cock the gun, hold on the target, break the trigger. It’s a simulation.


First: Will dry-firing hurt my gun?
No. Any and every centerfire bolt-action rifle I know of (that “we” use anyhow) can be dry-fired endlessly with no damage done, and it’s the same for pistols. If you are at all worried, use a “snap-cap,” which is a cartridge duplicate that provides a cushion. Midsouth Shooters Supply carries them. .22 rimfires people have different opinions about. The fear is peening the area around the chamber friom firing pin contacts. Ruger actually encourages dry-firing its 10/22 (so says my factory manual). Inserts are also available to cushion the blow, and even a spent cartridge case left in place will do the trick too.

snap-cap
A-Zoom Action Proving Rimfire Dummy round.

Check out a few products at Midsouth, if you’re worried…


Every shooting coach I know of sings the value of dry-firing. It’s a training staple for competitive shooters, and, as a matter of fact, me, David Tubb, and most others I know spend time dry-firing prior to an event to get mind and muscles warmed up. However! It’s the equivalent of stretching for a runner. As with many things, most things, as a means toward improvement, you get from it what you put into it. A big part of that is also in how you put into it.

First is safety! Make double-daggone sure there is no ammunition in the gun (of course) and also that there is none nearby. No loaded magazines in vicinity. I’ve heard stories from people who reloaded their handguns, in this instance, after a dry-firing session and then decided to snap just one more “for the road.” Yikes. Don’t trust memory.

Part of the point and advantage to dry-firing is elimination of distractions. We can then see and sense things when we’re in our little cocoons that may be obscured in live-fire at the range. I’m not saying that no one can tune in as keenly outdoors with a loaded gun, but can say there are always more distractions in that environment. The point is to see it dry-firing, and then experience it again at the range. That’s the idea.

The first and foremost conviction necessary to make dry-firing “work” is a commitment to two things. One is observation, close observation, of sight location and movement. No matter what, that’s the “it.”

You must be able to connect sight location at the instant you are aware of the audible “click” of the hammer or striker fall. Not just when the trigger breaks. There’s a few milliseconds in the interim. It won’t take long to, on its own, develop the skill of “calling” shots with more precision and realism dry-firing with this as a goal. (Calling a shot is providing an estimation of its location on the target based on sight location at the moment of firing.) It’s how a shooter learns to separate what should be and what actually is. If you are perfectly aware of the sight location on the target at the strike, that by itself may have improved followthrough. You are then “holding on” just a little longer, and I discussed the importance of that in an earlier article in this series. Experience will show you the difference between seeing the sight picture and breaking the trigger, and calling that result, compared to seeing the result upon the strike, and calling that result. It’s a small thing, but many small things happen in the time it takes for the bullet to exit. No matter what your last name is, everyone’s gun is moving. It’s also here that the shooter learns to watch closely for movement.

Dry-firing allows a shooter to discover perfection in natural point of aim. Natural point of aim (let’s cut it to “npa”) is a drilled and preached fundamental by every instructor or authority I know. Dry-firing gives the opportunity to honestly get in tune with it. At least three things you’ll learn: npa is a finite point, not an area. It has two components, vertical and horizontal. And it changes! Even among the very best shooters, it’s not likely to start and stop with the exact same body orientation for a full shot string.

A huge key to refining npa is watching for sight movement just before or just as the trigger breaks. That’s easy to see in dry-firing and more difficult with a loaded gun. I’m not exactly sure why npa sometimes “reveals” itself in this moment, but it does.

AR15 dry-fire device
Here’s handy for AR15 shooters. Renown AR15 builder John Holliger of White Oak Armament developed this device to help dry-firing an AR15 easy. It drops in and replaces the magazine and lets you reset the trigger using the lever on the device rather than racking the action each shot. Cool. Check it out HERE

The target you select for dry-firing exercises can be very variable. If you’re looking to replicate the same target you use outdoors on a small scale, a calculator and computer printer gets you close, and experimentation gets you closer. Otherwise, anything can work. Light switches are great for pistol practice. They look a lot like a USPSA-style “Milpark.” And, why not also try the “Holding Drill” targets shown last time?

dry-firing target
Scale a target for dry-firing. I can’t tell you exactly what size to make it, but a little math usually gets it pretty close. Due to varying appearance that results from distance outdoors, the one you train with dry-firing might need to be a tad different size than calculations indicate. Lighting conditions change the appearance of a bullseye, as can perception of sight picture relationship to same. This is what I use from 20 feet for rifle practice: the aiming black area is 0.700 inches diameter to replicate an NRA SR1 (200-yard target). That’s a little smaller than the calculation indicates. CLICK HERE  to download a .pdf ready to print

 Information in this article was adapted from material in several books published by Glen Zediker and Zediker Publishing. Glen is a card-carrying NRA High Master and earned that classification in NRA High Power Rifle using an AR15 Service Rifle. For more information and articles available for download visit ZedikerPubllishing.com