Dry Fire Training: Mastering the Handgun
This article was originally written for policeone.com.
Do you want to significantly increase your overall shooting proficiency on a permanent basis? Do you want to increase your speed, accuracy, and mental conditioning for gunfighting? If so, you must learn to incorporate dry fire practice into your lifestyle.
Dry fire is the practice of working with an empty weapon and practicing all routines and subroutines that can be done without live fire. This type of practice is critical for skill development. In fact, most firearm techniques are best learned with an empty weapon in order to maximize awareness and control of critical skills. Additionally, the development of correct muscle memory is achieved by doing mindful repetitions that internalize and ingrain each skill on both a conscious and subconscious level.
Start by identifying a safe place to practice. There should be no live ammunition in or around your dry practice area. To maximize the effectiveness of your training, I highly recommend that you use a shooting timer that allows you to set par times.
Dry Fire Training Guidelines
Read these guidelines carefully, absorb them fully, and apply them precisely.
- Pick one area to improve (grip, stance, draw, etc.) and set a training goal for the session.
- Take two or three minutes and visualize the performance you wish to achieve from start to finish. Form an image of what it should look like.
- Perform the technique in depth. Do not just practice the technique, perfect the technique. For example, practice achieving a perfect two-handed grip while drawing and connecting solidly to the gun prior to full extension. Feel the pressure of the fingers, the wrists stiffening, and your trigger finger relaxed.
- Start at 25% of your full speed and work up gradually to 50%, then 75%, then 90-95% of what you perceive to be your top speed where you can do the skill really well 10 times in a row. Gradually push the pace, without compromising safety, until the skill starts to break down. You will work into the 100-105% zone or what I term the RED ZONE. This is the zone of improvement.
- Now, stop slowing down every time you make a mistake unless it is a safety issue. Try to fix the mistake by focusing on where the error is coming from and put your attention into doing that aspect correctly AT THE SAME SPEED YOU MADE THE MISTAKE. If you cannot fix the mistake, then drop back to a slower speed and pay attention to what you are doing when you are doing it correctly and then push back up to the red zone.
- After you have worked the skill to a maximum of 200 repetitions, take a short break. Put your mind in the competition arena or gunfight. It is important to target a specific emotional state and maintain it during dry fire. Practice the skill at gunfight speed which is 95-98% of your top end speed for 25 to 100 repetitions with the mindset of actually performing in the gunfight, competition or wherever you wish to perform well.
- Keep each session brief but intense. Mental focus must stay razor sharp as you maintain awareness of what you are doing as you are doing it. Sessions of only 15 to 30 minutes works for most people. I typically work longer, however correct execution is more important than sheer numbers.
Below is an example of dry fire training that I use to help my students improve their firing grip and prepare for a higher level of execution.
TPC Dry Fire Series: Sample Firing Grip Exercises
Exercise #1: Shooting Grip–use timer if available and set a par time of 4 seconds
- Goal: Increase awareness of friction, leverage and control between the gun and the hand
- Procedure: Draw the weapon slowly and achieve a perfect two-handed grip as you come onto the target. Do not touch the trigger. Feel both hands solidly connected to the gun. Get the same grip tension each and every time you do the exercise. Repeat this exercise 25 times.
Now move the par time down ½ second at a time until you are starting to make micro mistakes. Keep your attention on correcting the mistakes at that speed until you can do it to the best of your ability.
Exercise #2: Par time of 4 seconds
- Goal: Manipulate the trigger while maintaining proper grip tension on the gun. Keep constant grip pressure while manipulating the trigger.
- Procedure: Repeat exercise #1 but press the trigger while feeling your hands staying solidly connected to the gun. Do 25 repetitions. Keep your awareness of maintaining a solid connection to the gun with your shooting grip. Now move the par time down and keep doing it until you feel you are starting to get sloppy. Stay at this speed and correct the errors until you feel you can do it correctly at that speed.
*Important safety note: Be very aware of when you are touching the trigger. Don’t compromise safety for speed.
Exercise #3: Par time of 4 seconds
- Goal: Variable practice drill to get used to achieving a perfect grip while moving from different hand start positions.
- Procedure: Same as for exercise #1 but start from a different hand position each time. You can do hands up in front of you, hands holding an object, hands behind back, hands simulating holding a long gun etc. Do 25 repetitions using a different hand start position each time. Get a perfect grip each time.
Exercise #4: Set par time for 3 seconds. Work down incrementally to two seconds every ten repetitions until you have done 50 reps.
- Goal: Achieve a higher level of awareness and control of the shooting grip while drawing and firing while gradually increasing your speed from roughly 50% to 75% of top speed.
- Procedure: Repeat exercises 1 or 3 at the higher level of speed, striving for a perfect grip each time.
Exercise #5: Set the par time for 1 to 1.5 seconds
- Goal: Move up in speed out of your comfort zone and into the Red Zone. Strive to achieve a perfect grip and connection between the gun and the hand before and while manipulating the trigger.
- Procedure: Repeat exercise 3 at the higher level of speed for 50 to 100 repetitions.
Goal: Execute the skill at performance speed while incorporating proper mental focus and conditioning.
Procedure: Set the timer to whatever speed represents 95-98% of your Red Zone speed. Do 25 meaningful repetitions while visualizing yourself in a gunfight or competitive event.
Do this series three times a week on alternate days for a minimum of four weeks. You will notice immediate benefits in your live fire training as a direct result of a higher level of awareness of your shooting grip while you are shooting.
Ron Avery, co-founder
Tactical Performance Center
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