Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Dry Firing for Fun and Profit

Lets talk about dry firing. Is it necessary? Is it advisable? Can I do it with my handgun without damaging it? If I can, and I do, what sort of dry firing practice should I engage in?

Like just about every other topic in the shooting sports world, you can find some “expert(s)” with opinions that contradict each other, and sometimes even themselves. For example:

“Integrating regular dry-fire practice will greatly assist the shooter with maintaining proficiency with any weapon.”

“Dry firing a weapon for self defense purposes is pointless and absurd!”

“You must dry-fire your weapon for at least one hour every day.”

“Establish a routine of dry firing for five minutes each morning.”

Okay, so what do we make of all of this? Here is my opinion, and why I formed it.

My primary job, at least at the present time, and for the last 27+ years, is practicing law. Despite what most people think they know about that job, and all the jokes, and nasty cracks about lawyers and the profession in general, attorneys are first and foremost researchers. As one of my law professors in law school said, “The law that is cannot be known”. So, I asked him, “if that’s the case, why go to law school?” He replied, “So we can teach you to find it when you need it, dumb ass.” I was an older student, not overly impressed with my status in life, as was the case with so many of my younger law school classmates. He was a brilliant instructor, but also a pragmatist who recognized that he would not damage my fragile psyche by calling a spade a spade. We could communicate.

So, I learned to do research. The skills have stood me well over time, and have a wide variety of applications. One among them is sifting through the myriad opinions on a topic such as this, and distilling what I believe to be the salient points. Not because I thought of them myself, but because people that I respect for their knowledge, experience, and skills believe them to be important.

These experts, the ones I respect, uniformly agree that dry-firing practice is not intended to replace live fire practice. Properly applied, it can, and will, assist the shooter with maintaining proficiency with their self-defense weapon. It can be incorporated into drills such as drawing from the holster, drawing from the holster while wearing different types of clothing, practicing magazine changes, developing a smooth trigger squeeze, strong hand/ support hand techniques, and developing one-handed/weak-handed weapon handling skills. Like practicing any other physical skill, dry-firing will greatly enhance any shooter’s ability to perform much more smoothly and efficiently in the heat of battle.

First things first. The most important rule when conducting this type of training is always make sure you are practicing with an unloaded firearm. Visually inspect the weapon to make sure it is not loaded. Now, set it down. Take three slow, deep measured breaths and then pick it up and inspect it again. Overkill, right? No, it is not.

The human brain is a complex organ. If it is occupied with a variety of tasks, it can, and will, fill in blanks with previously learned information, even if that information is incorrect. The pre-occupied driver who pulls out into the path of an oncoming motorcyclist, later claiming, “I didn’t see him.” The police officer who blows up his wife’s aquarium full of exotic fish with a loaded .357 magnum that he “just knew” was unloaded. I personally have over two dozen such stories where I saw it happen. You do not have to add to them.

Make sure that dry fire practice will not damage your firearm. Some firearms will not be adversely affected. Some will. A number of modern handguns are designed to be dry fired, a number are not. For example, Beretta does not recommend dry firing its Model 92 autoloaders. Check the manufacturer’s recommendations and also seek the advice of a skilled and experienced gunsmith. Use “snap caps” to absorb impact and reduce mechanical stress on the action of your firearm. Some snap caps are better than others. I am not selling snap caps and make no recommendations as to which brand you should use. Do your own research on this issue and make your own decision.

Conduct your dry fire practice in a safe area, free from distractions. And do it in an area where there is no live ammunition anywhere near you. The fish killer noted in the earlier paragraph had conducted dry fire drills. He had ended the drills. He had reloaded his S&W, Model 19 service revolver with cartridges sitting on the table where he had placed them after unloading his revolver. He then decided, after smoking a cigarette, to try one more drill. The spent slug was recovered from his neighbor’s living room. Luckily no casualties occurred other than the expensive guppies, and his ass, chewed, in turn, by each officer up the chain of command from his shift Sgt. to the Chief. It is too easy to get distracted. You have to develop routines for safety and follow them every time without fail when handling firearms. Despite what some so-called “authorities” say, it is not the unloaded gun that kills or injures. Unloaded guns go “click”. Loaded guns go bang, with the potential for great harm when used irresponsibly. Its just that simple.

Work on sight alignment and trigger squeeze in your dry firing practice sessions. You must learn to identify your front sight location on the target at the instant you hear the audible “click” of the hammer or striker fall, not just when the trigger breaks. The very brief time span between the two (a few milliseconds) is referred to as “lock time”. This will help you build the skill of calling your shots, and it’s how a shooter learns to separate what “should be” from what is.

You should practice firing from your chosen standing firing stance, as well as a kneeling or crouched position. As you do, be aware of your grip, your sight alignment and your breathing.

Squeeze the trigger in a smooth, consistent manner rearward while maintaining minimal movement so that you do disturb the sight picture. You should be focusing on the front sight on the target you have chosen as you squeeze the trigger. Every shooter will have movement during this process. Excessive movement during trigger squeeze affects your sight alignment. The goal of the exercise is to minimize this movement.

Repeat this process at least five times using both your two-handed grip and then with a one-handed grip. This helps you build muscle memory and your confidence as well. Law enforcement officers, serious about their training and maintaining their skills use this technique constantly. So do military shooters and competition shooters. It is not intended as a substitute for live fire practice, but as an adjunct to that practice.

So the answers I believe to be most correct, based upon the experts I trust, are, yes, it is advisable. Yes, it is necessary, and with proper equipment poses no danger of harm to your handgun. I hope this information helps you make your own decisions on the issue.


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