Training Without Ammo (Part 1: Dry Fire)

The firearms industry has experienced unprecedented demand for product over the past year. Ammunition shortages are now the norm unfortunately. Still want to get some trigger time with your semi-auto handgun? Here are some tips to help you sharpen those shooting skills when training ammo cannot be found.

Dry Fire
If you take firearms training seriously, then you probably have some experience dry firing. If not, now is the time to get into it. I highly recommend using products such as dummy rounds, Snap-Caps, DryFireMags or the MantisX system. Some firearm designs are more prone to damage from repeated dry firing on empty chambers. If using a 22lr firearm, then you will absolutely need dummy rounds as dry firing rimfire firearms without the use of dummy rounds will cause damage to the gun. In fact, I do not recommend doing dry fire drills with a rimfire firearm at all. Note: If your semi-auto pistol has a magazine disconnect, you will need the magazine in the gun in order to dry fire it.

Safety First
Before proceeding with any dry fire exercise, remove live ammunition from the area and follow the steps necessary to make sure the firearm is unloaded. Check, double-check, and triple-check to be sure the gun is unloaded. It takes seconds but could save a life or destruction of property.

Always practice safe gun handling and the Three Rules of Firearms Safety when dry firing. See here for the three rules in detail. Even when dry firing, always make sure the firearm is pointed in a safe direction and always keep your finger off the trigger and up on the frame until you are on target. Don’t fall into the trap of developing bad safety habits during dry fire practice. I recommend doing these exercises at the firing range as this will force you to follow necessary safety protocols.

Once you’re satisfied the firearm is unloaded, the practice area is free of live ammunition, and you have determined your safe direction, you may proceed.

Dry Fire Drills
There are any number of dry fire drills out there, but here are a few of my favorites. Again, be sure the area is free of live ammunition and that you have cleared your firearm of live ammunition first. Determine what your safe direction is and use a reference/aiming point in that safe direction when performing all dry fire.

Trigger Stroke Drill: Let’s see how smooth and steady your trigger stroke can be. After all, if you’ve got a good stance, grip, and sight picture, then it’s all wasted with a poor trigger stroke.

  1. Load the pistol with dummy rounds only. Take your stance and strong-hand grip; using your support hand, place a loose dummy round with the bullet end facing up on top of the barrel just before the front sight. Obviously with most pistols this will be a spot on top of the slide. (Important: note that some firearms are not well-suited to this exercise due to the shape of the area where the dummy round is to be placed.)
  2. Take your normal two-handed grip and point the firearm at your aiming point in the predetermined safe direction. Perform a trigger press as if you were firing a nice, well-aimed shot. If the dummy round falls off, then you have some work to do in order to smooth out that trigger stroke. It may mean altering your grip or where your finger makes contact with the trigger or even the way in which your finger moves during the trigger press (or all of these things).
  3. Repeat by working the slide slightly to the rear just enough to recock the gun but not eject the round. Make adjustments as necessary until you are able to keep that dummy round balanced on top of the gun while the trigger is pulled.

Trigger Reset Drill: The trigger stroke doesn’t end when the trigger is pressed to the rear and the round goes off. How you follow through in resetting the trigger can make or break quick and accurate follow-up shots. Maintaining finger contact with the trigger throughout the trigger stroke is key to this drill.

This is a lot like the Trigger Stroke Drill, except we won’t be using the dummy round placed precariously on top of the firearm.

  1. As always, be sure the gun is not loaded with live rounds.
  2. Load the firearm with dummy rounds.
  3. Perform your trigger press while pointed in your safe direction but this time hold the trigger to the rear. With your support hand, work the slide to recock the gun but not eject the round.
  4. Then let the trigger come forward just enough for the trigger to reset (some guns make an audible click when resetting and/or the reset point can be felt), while maintaining contact with the trigger face. By letting it come forward to the point where the trigger resets and no further and performing this while in contact with the trigger face, you’ll be pre-staged for the next shot and avoid slapping at the trigger, which causes follow-up shots to spray about on the target (or off!).

Reload Drill: Quick and efficient reloads are necessary if you want to compete in handgun matches, and it’s something that could save your life in a defensive shooting scenario. Building muscle memory is key here and that takes repeated practice.

  • Load at least two magazines with some dummy rounds (at least three or four dummies in each). Load one of the magazines in the firearm and practice the Trigger Reset Drill aiming at a reference point in your safe direction. Except, instead of working the slide just enough to recock the gun, you’ll pull the slide fully to the rear extracting and ejecting the dummy rounds as you go.
  • When the firearm is empty and the slide locks to the rear, perform your reload either from a pouch, pocket, or from wherever you might carry mags.

    There are different schools of thought on the specifics of how the reload is accomplished, specifically pertaining to where the gun is oriented during the reload. What my instructor partner Ron Witten used to teach police recruits is the Tuck Method, and that is the reload technique we use in our training classes.

    For the Tuck Method:
  • Upon running empty, the shooter first ejects the empty magazine, letting it fall free from the firearm.
  • Bring the gun in so that the shooting arm’s elbow is bent and tucked against the rib cage. In this position, the back of the shooting hand faces the ground, turning the gun to the side but still pointed downrange at the threat, not up. The empty magazine well is now parallel to the ground and facing inboard ready to receive a fresh mag from the support side.
  • With the support hand grab hold of the new magazine with the baseplate in the palm of your hand and the index finger on the front leading edge of the magazine. From here insert the magazine into the firearm using the index finger to guide its way in.
  • Send the slide forward and repeat the drill. Do this until you’re able to reload without looking directly down at the gun during the reload. Ideally, the firearm should be in your lower periphery while you observe the threat downrange. The index finger indexes the magazine into the mag well.

Coming up in Part 2 I’ll talk about alternatives to training with real firearms, such as airsoft pistols.
-Brian Bertoldo, Instructor, Paladin Group Training, LLC