For purpose of definition, the terms dryfire and dry practice, in relation to firearms, means squeezing the trigger and manipulating a firearm without the presence of live ammo. The term “dryfire” specifically means squeezing the trigger without live ammunition. In times of an ammo drought people tend to gravitate towards dry practice for a training method. is it though? We will cover dry practice from 3 different perspectives, new shooters, competition shooters, and defensive shooters.
Novice or New Shooters:
For anyone brand new to shooting, we suggest they start by enrolling in our level 101 pistol class such as the NRA Basics of Pistol shooting or a USCCA course where we start off in the classroom before heading to the range. We discuss topics such as safety, storage, transportation, the anatomy of various pistols, operation, action types, and how they work.
At Patriot, we set up a “mock range” in the classroom where students can dry practice with real pistols without the presence of live ammunition. When we are using semi-automatics, our students load snap caps and/or dummy rounds into magazines, insert them into a variety of pistols, and rack a snap cap into the chamber. In addition, we will also step students through grip, sighted fire, stance, and other fundamentals as well.
We find this process is particularly useful because it teaches how to load/unload a pistol and often alleviates the first-time jitters of a new or still novice shooters before heading to the range for the live fire portion of the course. Having a new shooter be comfortable with a pistol and reviewing administrative topics prior to experiencing live fire is essential and key to assuring a positive range experience. Some instructors utilize SIRT (Shot Indicating Resetting Trigger) pistols or dummy guns during this process, however, we think using the real pistols the students will be shooting on the range more beneficial for our students.
It is important to note how I mentioned having the student load a snap cap into the chamber but did not have them squeeze the trigger. Squeezing the trigger on the mock (classroom) range sets unrealistic expectations. I mean, they can do it, but this results in just a “click” which offers no “bang” experience and therefore offers little-to-no training benefit. Sure, you can see where their finger placement is on the trigger and fix it in the classroom, but a student needs to expect recoil when they squeeze the trigger. Putting the time, effort, and energy in the classroom using dry practice can be greatly beneficial to both the instructor and student.
Seasoned or Competitive Shooters:
I remember when I used to be active in USPSA (United States Practical Shooting Association) competitions. I would put sticky notes all around my house and troughout my office to serve as multiple little targets. When no one was home (or at my office),I would holster my competition pistol (with no live ammo of course) and draw my pistol for first shot sight acquisition. I would do this countless times throughout the day. For a competition shooter, this kind of dry practice can be beneficial but only to a point… This was only good for first shot sight acquisition but nothing else of any benefit. Again, without the “bang” there is little benefit.
I would also practice magazine changes which, from a pure repetition standpoint, was beneficial I suppose… This dry practice was conducted without “context” - Without the recoil,muzzle rise, gun malfunction, competitive adrenaline, mental blocks, environmental conditions, lack of comfort, etc... This dry practice routine was performing isolated skills in a super controlled bubble without live fire “in context” competitive shooting.
Achieving sight acquisition after a gun malfunction in a competitive atmosphere is not the same as gaining sight acquisition on a sticky note in your house. The same goes for magazine changes. Changing a magazine in a competitive atmosphere while your adrenaline is going, and hands are sweaty (or bloody) is not the same as changing magazines in your kitchen or living room. I would often wonder if my dry practice routine was really making a difference or was it the competitive matches and live fire practice that was improving my skills. Today, I really believe that this dry practice contributed little to my skill development and that the live fire competitive training (in context) truly improved my overall skills, but it is difficult to quantify. I am sure some reading this may disagree but dry practice without context really does have little benefit aside from first shot acquisition and maybe mag changes.
Defensive Shooting Training:
Is dry practice suitable for defensive shooting training? I see this all over the web with instructors advocating for dry practice as a viable solution for defensive training. In times of an ammo drought, devices such as a SIRT, laser systems, blue guns, dry practice and so on are proposed as a viable defensive shooting training option, however, nothing could be further from the truth.
Let’s take a moment to talk about a worst-case defensive shooting encounter: Something grabs your attention and you “react” to that “something” – a stimulus. By the power of recognition (warrior export theory), you recognize the need to shoot and move off the X while drawing your firearm and then you shoot to stop the impending threat. After you have neutralized and assessed the threat (making sure the threat no longer exists), you assess your environment, etc. While a very simplified defensive shooting encounter, it speaks to the complexities and training for this type of encounter makes it very different from marksmanship or competition training.
The only way you can effectively put all this into practice is in a live fire format called Reality-Based Training or RBT. There is a lot to unpack here, however, we will concentrate on the shooting part since after all we are talking about live fire vs dry practice in a defensive shooting context. Isn’t it fair to define shooting as squeezing the trigger with live ammo loaded into the chamber? How can you practice defensive shooting without the use of live ammunition? You simply cannot. All these dry practice products, although good intentioned, can create training scars when used under the guise of defensive training.
So, let’s think about this for a moment. How can we stimulate a gun’s recoil without shooting live ammunition? Well, you cannot. Managing recoil during a multiple string of fire is one of the most important aspects to solid defensive shooting. This entails your kinesthetic alignment (utilizing your body’s natural bio mechanical locks), your grip, and body position. Doing this in your living room offers nothing in the way of meaningful training.
How can one react to and simulate a malfunction? Sure, you can stage a stove pipe or double feed in your living room, but this does not offer any benefit without it happening in the context of a string of live fire shots. What does the mean? Well, when staged in your living room, you have an extremely high anticipation that you are going to clear the issue after all you just set it up in your mock scenario. It just does not make sense without live fire context. When practicing on the range in a string of live fire, you are not going to have a great deal of anticipation in the event that a jam occurs which is more in context to a real-life defensive encounter.
Another aspect to this is performing an emergency reload. In a defensive encounter, whenever you press the trigger, and it goes “click” without a bang you “tap” and “rack.” When you press the trigger again and you get another “click,” you will need to perform an emergency reload. An emergency reload is dropping the magazine from the magazine well and putting another one in. You would also perform an emergency reload if at any timeyou go to slide lock. Seems complex? It is. Setting this up in your living room offers no benefit.
Some will argue they can sit in their living room and just load and unload mags, call it a day, and call that training. Training for what exactly? A competition? A carnival (i.e., seeing who can load and unload their mags the quickest)? Doing this can create those training scars we mentioned earlier and has no relation to realistic defensive shooting practice. It’s practicing a skill in abubble.
Additionally, in a competition, you know what you must shoot and exactly how many rounds to shoot. However, in defensive shooting, you have no idea what you must shoot (or not shoot) until you recognize a threat (thinking). Furthermore, you don’t know how many rounds it will take to stop the threat – we don’t have a crystal ball after all. None of this can be simulated in dry practice.
About the only aspect to defensive practice, we recommend to new defensive shooters is drawing your firearm fromconcealment. This is more about negotiating garments than it is anything else.
Think of it this way, how much driving can you realistically practice while your car is in park from your driveway? Sure, you can start the car, step on the gas, hit the brakes, manipulate the directional signals, wipers, horn, etc. but without putting the car in gear and getting on the road, you will be doing all those tasks without any real driving context. Driving in context can mean weather conditions, road conditions, kid running out in front of your car, driving on the highway during rush hour, etc. Practicing these lifesaving firearms skills in your living room (a bubble) is like operating a car in your driveway without context.
In conclusion, there are some benefits to dry practice for brand new and/or the novice shooters. They can learn the basics like grip, stance, loading, unloading, etc. Competitive shooters will find little benefit in dry fire practice aside from drawing and first shot sight acquisition. Dry fire practice offers virtually no benefit to realistic defensive shooting practice.