Do harsh winter conditions or a full schedule keep you from getting to the shooting range as often as you’d prefer? For us too, but that shouldn’t mean you can’t get in a little practicing. Dry fire practice can be an important (and better yet, inexpensive) part of your training. And it’s convenient because you can do it in the comfort of your own home.
As always, unload the firearm (check and double check to ensure it’s unloaded) and remove all ammo and distractions from the room. Close your curtains, and get to work! It’s easy and useful to log some practice reps by dry firing.
Here are a few drills to get you started.
DRAWING FROM CONCEALMENT
Dry fire drawing from concealment is particularly valuable obviously for people who carry concealed. Quickly and safely drawing your pistol from underneath a shirt, coat or other layers can be more difficult than you might think. Unpracticed, there’s significant potential for snags and fumbling.
Dry fire practicing can help you from coming up short like Fredo in The Godfather.
Don’t move the gun when you pull the trigger! Regardless of the speed you are moving your trigger finger, you need to avoid dipping/moving the muzzle.
How can you tell if you’re falling victim to this bad habit? Set the trigger on your unloaded pistol by racking the slide. Next, place an empty casing on its base on the top of the slide, just behind the front sight. Now, press the trigger without causing the case to fall off.
The speed in which you can do this will be a limiting factor in how quickly you can shoot accurately.
If the case doesn’t fall off, congrats! You’ve pulled the trigger correctly.
Another tricky skill is rapidly and precisely transitioning from one target to the next – especially when dealing with recoil during live fire. Since this is dry firing, though, we’ll have to do without the effect of recoil. Pick out three objects or other visual cues (targets), and practice transitioning the gun from one target to the next.
PUT IT ALL TOGETHER
Once you’ve practiced the above three techniques individually and have seen some improvement, practice them together. Again, with an unloaded gun, set the trigger, safe the gun (if applicable) and holster.
Start by drawing from a concealed position, acquire a target, align the sights and THEN perform a smooth trigger pull on each target (yeah, we know the hammer/striker only moves the first time, but go through the motion anyway). Gradually build speed on the gun movements and the trigger pull. Hopefully, the next time you’re able to get to the range for live fire, you will be able to shoot multiple targets faster and more accurately.
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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
Improving an AR15 trigger ranges from total redesigns to minor changes, and here are a few not to overlook.
Last time I used all the space I had talking about the two essential AR15 aftermarket styles, single-stage and two-stage. There was more to say, and here that goes:
Most two-stage and single-stage triggers work off the existing AR15 trigger architecture, but there are those that don’t. Some are self-contained and self-defined. These “modular” triggers are all way on better than stock, to be sure. What they are, are complete housings that contain the hammer and trigger captive within the housing, installed, tuned, and adjusted as a unit (some are user-adjustable, some are not). They “drop in” and the housing is then secured by the original pins. The pins, however, don’t function within the trigger unit itself.
A modular trigger is about the easiest way to a better trigger. The question with the modulars is how well they hold up, how reliable they will be. There’s a difference in the natures, and outcomes, of stress-in-use comparing target shooting and varminting to the pounding a carbine might get in a 1000-round range session. I have not put a huge number of rounds through any of the modular units and, therefore, have no notebook references. I do, however, know a good many others who have and whose opinions I value. Consensus is that not all are 100-percent.
Many aftermarket triggers come with a set of proprietary pins, and if one does, use them. If not, a better pin set can make a difference in trigger performance.
Look at how the system operates and it’s clear that pin straightness and circumference influence trigger break and function. The pins in the standard system are also free to rotate. If the pin is a little undersized or a little bent, or both, that means engagement won’t be consistently the same each time.
And sometimes it’s not all the fault of the pins. The receiver holes also have to be what they should be. I’ve had fit mismatches from time to time, and the way to fix it is usually in the pins, because they are usually a tad amount too small. However! It’s not always a straight-up fix to purchase “oversized” pins.
One (strong) caution if you opt for “oversized” pins: make daggone sure prior to installation that the trigger parts are fully free to move as they should on the pins. The hammer, especially, should have zero drag. Sometimes a little very careful polishing on the center point area of the pin is necessary to attain a “perfect” match.
To preclude pin rotation, a “locking” pin set is the trick. Even oversized pins can move. There are a few different takes on lockers, and I put a set on all my race guns.
Better pins can also make a positive difference in modular trigger installation.
Another simple trick I do, when I can, is install a pair of chrome-silicon trigger return and hammer springs. This material is radically superior to the standard music wire used otherwise. It rebounds faster at a lighter “weight” than a music-wire-based spring. That means easier operation with no sacrifice in tension. Chrome-silicon also lasts the life of a rifle. All music wire springs will break down and lose power, so simple replacement of the hammer spring every 2500 rounds or so can be a maintenance routine item to maintain peak performance. Trigger return springs, no so much. They’re not under much stress.
A chrome-silicon replacement set will reduce trigger pull effort a tad in a stock setup, but unfortunately won’t do a thing to improve its movement quality.
An extra-power hammer spring is a commonly-used addition to a competition gun, and the reason is pretty much to reduce hammer fall time. It works. However, be warned that an extra-heavy spring can wear the receiver holes; after some time, the holes can get a little oblong and, along with it, larger. If you want to run a heavy spring, get a very well matched fit prior to installation of the spring. This stays off hole wear because there’s just no room for movement.
Lube the fool out of the trigger! Simple as it may seem, keeping the works slicked up goes a long way toward making a trigger feel better and last longer. By “last longer” I mean retain consistent feel and weight. This is especially important in a two-stage. It can’t be over-lubricated. I use light grease with boron-nitride for the engagement surfaces and hammer face (bolt carrier slides across this) and oil for the rest of it.
The only exception is for those who are out in the field in sandy and dusty conditions, or in extreme cold, and then I’d suggest one of the “dry” lubes. But some lube always!
The preceding was a specially-adapted excerpt from the book The Competitive AR15: ultimate technical guide by Glen Zediker and Zediker Publishing available from Midsouth Shooters Supply.
A better AR15 trigger means a different AR15 trigger. Which essential type is right for you?
Good triggering mechanics aren’t wasted on a bad trigger, but a good trigger can quickly increase triggering skill. And, no kidding, it’s way on easier to control a shot break with a trigger that’s consistent and at the least not “heavy.”
So you have an AR15… We don’t really much talk about stock AR15 triggers. They’re bad. They’re safe and reliable, but it’s such a “mousetrap” design that it’s really not likely to make improvement using conventional approaches, namely files and stones. The metal is heat-treated and the hardness is shallow. Any intrusion beneath the surface of the sear (the nose-end of the trigger bar assembly) or the hammer hook reveals soft metal, too soft to maintain a geometry change.
So. We rely on aftermarket trigger systems. There are a good many. Problem is that not a many are good. This article will address trigger systems from a more “general” or overview approach. Yes. I have favorites. Yes, also, there are a few I don’t like. I’m more liable to name names in my books than I am here over the interweb in front of God and all the neighbors, and that’s because my preferences are largely subjective.
The aftermarket began addressing AR trigger issues a good long while ago, and the first idea was to produce essentially the same hammer and trigger pieces, but with improved precision and better geometry, mostly improved precision, in the mating surfaces, plus some mechanism adjustment means. The next steps were total redesigns, including adaptations from other systems. I’ll focus this rest on one of those designs.
Now I hope also to answer a question that I get time after time after time. It would be hard to have shopped AR15 replacement triggers and not come across “two-stage” triggers. So, the question is, “What’s a two-stage trigger?”
What it is, is, well, it is what it does: there are two separate and distinct stages or steps to the trigger pull. In a true two-stage, the first stage is free-run, of varying distance and resistance, taking up the secondary sear, and then there’s a stop, which is the primary sear engagement. Then any more pressure drops the hammer. So it pulls back, stops, and from that point, the shooter decides when to loose it. Or not. Shooter can let the trigger back forward, regroup, and go at it again. Being able to get on and off the trigger, and feeling it stop against the second stage, makes for a more competent, confident shooter. We know with certainty when the shot is going to fire. We’re in full control of it. We’re already holding some tension on the trigger. Makes the next bit easy. A two-stage doesn’t have the “delicate” feel of a single-stage.
This style is the preeminent design used in serious purpose-built competition rifles, and this trigger type has also been integrated into previous U.S. Armed Forces rifles, namely the M1 and M14.
Safety is the primary reason a two-stage was incorporated into service-rifle designs. As said, the two-stage gives the operator a clear signal. Unintentional shot release is far less likely.
There are a number of two-stage triggers available for AR15s. They vary widely in cost, and also in quality. Any and all, though, are a radical improvement over stock. For those looking primarily to fire focused, accurate shots, I very strongly recommend a two-stage. They are the bomb for “common” shooting circumstances.
But. They’re not for everyone, not for every application. Here’s what’s bad about two-stage triggers. First, foremost, and most noticeable, is the relatively huge distance-to-reset compared to a single-stage. Trigger “reset” is when the disconnector (which has captured the hammer as the carrier cycles) hands off the hammer to the sear. The hammer can’t fall again until the trigger resets, so the trigger can be pulled again. The trigger resets when it’s let back far enough forward to activate the sear. There is some amount of reset distance in any semi-auto trigger, and the AR15 already has a significant amount. The amount of movement from being pulled fully to the rear and let back forward until reset is what I’m talking about here.
Rapidly successive shots are a challenge with a two-stage. 3-Gun-type shooters, or any who are in wants or needs to fire shots in very rapid succession, are more effective with a good single-stage. All that swing in the trigger, back and forth, back and forth, is not conducive to best performance in hosedown-mode. It’s harder to ride the trigger at higher and higher speed when the trigger travels so far.
Next time I’ll talk more specifically about options and also the “modular” or “drop-in” AR15 triggers, plus a few tips and tricks to make any AR15 trigger better.
The skill of developing a good trigger pull is the difference between a hit and a miss. Here’s how to get started developing perfect mechanics.
Pulling the trigger is the “last thing that happens” in the shot process. Well, technically, there’s also hammer or striker fall, primer ignition, and so on, but breaking the hammer loose from the sear is the last part we influence. Yes, it’s important.
There’s an old saw that goes “let the shot be a surprise…” Wrong. That’s a great concept for teaching a brand-new shooter not to be afraid: keep putting pressure back against the trigger until the shot goes. That helps avoid anticipation-induced flinch. However. When we’re really shooting, sights on targets and time is important, you best know when the shot is going. Trick is to break the shot, pull the trigger, without moving the sights off the target. That requires a little technique, and that’s what this article is about.
First, the best point of contact with the trigger face is near the middle of the first pad of the index finger. Not farther in. Ideally, the last joint of the index finger (closest to the fist knuckle) will be parallel to the gun receiver. That helps produce a “straight back” pull.
Make double-sure that no other part of the index finger is contacting anything else! Done right, only the trigger finger moves to press the trigger. The rest of the hand stays calm and steady (no matter how tight the gripping pressure is). This is something to put on the checklist: learning and practicing isolating movement to only the trigger finger. And move it straight back. Any side-loads will also move the gun, which will move the sights.
This ideal architecture may be difficult to duplicate depending on the distance the finger has to reach to access the trigger face. Usually, especially with pistol-grip-equipped rifles, the distance to the trigger is closer than ideal. Be aware of what you’re trying to accomplish (pull straight back, no side pressure), and a little fudging in finger positioning will find a way. For me, and the eons of hours I spent fiddling with this, with an AR15 I decided that getting the last joint parallel to the receiver ultimately was a more influential factor than perfect placement of the trigger face on the first joint of my finger. I’m moved in closer to the first joint than to the fingertip.
When you’re practicing the “move only the trigger finger” tactic, you might notice that it’s difficult to do that without also having the thumb move. They’re a team. As best as I can, I effectively remove my thumb from the equation by holding it upwards (if possible) and keeping it either away from contact with the rifle or deliberately held against the rifle with constant force. The sympathetic “pinching” habit has to be overcome. Sympathetic, in this use, means unavoidably linked. Flexing the thumb in conjunction with moving the index finger will, not can, influence shot impacts.
A great trigger makes all this next a far sight easier, but the mechanics involved in a skillful trigger pull have a lot to do with what happens after the sear breaks. “Follow-through” has different definitions, and that’s because it’s as much of a concept as it is a technique. Follow-through, to me, is “staying with” the trigger break for a spell after the shot has gone. This spell might vary from a couple of seconds to no more than an eye blink, and the reason is the sort of “reverse” effect it has on all that goes before. A focus on this will, not can, improve your shooting! I focus on keeping the trigger held back and also watching the sight. Follow-through promotes smoothness, and reduces undesirable movement. Call it a trick, but it works.
Shooting a semi-auto rifle, like an AR15, keep your finger on the trigger shot to shot. “Ride the trigger.” Some folks treat a trigger like it’s hot: they poke it back with the trigger finger and then jump off it. Staying in contact avoids “slapping” the trigger, which creates all manner of shot impacts strayed from center. You should be able to feel the trigger reset on every shot. The reset is the little “pop” you feel when the disconnector hands off the hammer to the sear. Pull the trigger, hold it back, let it forward and feel the reset: the trigger is prepped and ready for its next release.
Learning how this feels, and seeing how much it helps, might add a whole new dimension to your shooting.
In another article I’ll talk about trigger types and traits that can either help or hamper results. The answers might not be predictable.
Glen Zediker is a card-carrying NRA High Master competitive shooter and earned that classification in NRA High Power Rifle using an AR15 Service Rifle. For more information, and more articles, please check out ZedikerPublishing.com