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Building, mastering, and finally maintaining shooting skills are vital when choosing to go armed. The training methods that each of us have utilized to develop our shooting ability varies. In my experience, the one training tool that is most often underrated and overlooked is dry firing.

Dry fire is a chance to shed light on what we are technically doing right or wrong. Without the recoil and the blast, it seems easier to perceive these errant habits. For instance, if you have a problem with flinching, jerking the trigger, or nosing the weapon forward in anticipation of the recoil, this will be readily apparent when you squeeze off a shot from an empty weapon.

That flinch, jerk, or push accompanying the fall of the hammer or striker is painfully obvious with no blast or recoil to camouflage it. Once a problem has been flushed out, working towards overcoming these problems is much easier without the snap and report of live ammunition.

Kata Concept
Those who practice martial arts have long understood the concept of kata. Kata is a system of basic body positioning and movement exercises. What they also understand is that the subconscious does not know the difference between imagined practice or the real thing, which brings us to the next link in kata, imagery and visualization.

What the martial artist is doing while going through the movements of kata, is visualizing throwing or blocking punches, kicking, effecting holds, throws, joint locks, etc. Use the same principals to visualize firing the pistol, not only employing the proper technique but by using it to stop an attack. 

This is the reason we shoot at silhouettes. A normal person is averse to shooting people. The military has long known that troops trained to shoot bulls-eyes are very reluctant to shoot at the enemy. When training involves a repetitive shooting of images that are representative of humans (silhouettes), the tendency to shoot when it becomes necessary is greatly increased. 

These principals of the mind’s inner workings, imagery and visualization, coupled with the way that the mind and body interact to adopt learned psycho-motor skills through repetition, are all put to use in dry fire training. 

Put aside any doubts about the effectiveness of dry fire. Try it by going to the range and shoot a specific course of fire. Score your target. Now, dry fire the same course, complete with the same shooting positions, using a barricade or not. Do this every day for a week, then go out and try it again with live fire. You will see a marked improvement in your shooting, not to mention an increased smoothness of gun handling, and a boost in confidence. The more repetitions performed, the more precise those learned psycho-motor skills will be when you are called upon to use them. Under stress, you have a tendency to do as you train, assuming your training is sufficient, often, in a state that could be compared to autopilot. 

Acquiring and maintaining these learned skills require not only thousands of repetitions, but frequent “maintenance” to retain. These are perishable skills. Dry fire is a perfect way to do that maintenance.

Dry Fire Basics
The first rule of dry fire is to make your weapon safe, and remove any and all ammunition from your practice area. Verify that the weapon is empty again. Observe all rules of safety. Never dry fire the weapon at anything you don’t want to destroy. All guns are to be treated as loaded – ALWAYS. Have a backstop – ALWAYS. Don’t think it can’t happen to you. 

Once you have made sure that your weapon is empty, select a target. Assuming that you already know the basic principles of marksmanship, attain sight picture/sight alignment on your target. Your goal is to smoothly, evenly, squeeze that trigger until it breaks, without disturbing your sight picture/sight alignment, because if you can do that when the weapon is loaded, the shot will go where you want it to go. 

You will know whether or not you’ve disturbed that sight picture, because, of course, you’re going to follow through, watching the front sight and holding it on target even after the trigger breaks. If you are having one of the problems I mentioned earlier, they are likely to surface now. 

If you are jerking the trigger or flinching, you will probably do so even though you know the gun is empty. This is because your subconscious mind is conditioned to the report of the gun. If you are nosing the gun forward, this will likely happen now as well, and you will know to work toward defeating these habits. Take note of any other problems you are seeing and work to correct them. 

If you are reading this article, you most likely have enough interest and attentiveness to know by now that your focus should be on the front sight, but it bears repeating. This is the single most important part of your sight alignment/sight picture. The front sight is the only thing that should be in perfect, sharp focus. Both the rear sight and your target should be out of focus. 

As an instructor, I verbally drone into my students’ heads “front sight, front sight—watch the front sight,” endlessly. They have many principles to concentrate on simultaneously to pull off proper marksmanship, but this is among the most important elements to their shooting technique. It is normal for us to focus on the target—or the threat—that is how the mind instinctually works. If we do not remain vigilant and concentrate, we will slip into this mode. 

Frequency Over Duration
Avoid “marathon” sessions. Keep them brief. Perfect practice makes perfect everything. If you practice bad technique, you’re just reinforcing that bad form, so make every shot count through intense concentration. Long sessions will tax your ability to do so and likely result in slop. Dry fire frequently, rather than for a long duration. 

I try to dry fire every day, and I usually only fire five shots from my rifle, and only nine shots from my pistol. I fire the five shots from the long gun standing without the sling because this is the most difficult position for me to shoot from, making all of the others seem easy. I fire three shots from the pistol using a point-fire technique, and note where my sights are after each shot, on a target that is about 6 inches in diameter. I do this from about 7 yards. 

I then fire three more on the same target, getting a quick flash sight picture on a target about 4-inches in diameter from the same distance. Lastly, I fire three precise shots at a target about the size of a postage stamp. If you are a relatively new shooter, or don’t have confidence in your shooting, you should focus on the precise shots a bit more. Speed and quick sighting will come with practice.

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