When I was in college, I was a big fan of dry fire training. For about two years, I had a pretty good discipline going where I’d do 10 dry fires every night before bed. It did amazing things for my group sizes, and it fit my college student budget well. I can still visualize the bullseye target I had hung in my old studio apartment, and I can still feel my old Springfield 1911 in my hands. But let’s back up for a second: dry firing is pulling the trigger on an unloaded pistol. In this case, it’s doing so with an intention to improve speed and accuracy.

Well, suffice it to say, priorities shifted, and dry fire training hasn’t been a priority over the last [cough] number of years. But as I’ve been working on my holster draws, it occurred to me that I should be training my holster draws at home more and training them at the range less. So I set out to do a bunch of holster draws and dry fires at home before I went back to the range. I was kind of on-again/off-again for a week or two, not really hitting my goal of doing a little bit every day. Then I spotted a calendar that my friends at Resound gave me. I decided that I’d circle the days on the calendar that I did holster draws. All of a sudden, my holster draw practices got a lot more consistent.

As I practiced my holster draws, I could almost feel the neural pathways being formed in my brain: Pull cover garment clear, draw pistol up, rock pistol forward, meet hands together at chest, press out, click.

After two somewhat consistent weeks of dry fire, I decided to go to the range today to see how I’m doing. The answer? My speed is better. My hits aren’t where I want them to be, which is probably a function of not having the feedback of seeing where the bullet goes when I dry fire. But speed is definitely better. Here are some visuals:

Holster draw target: 24/35

Draw and shoot one target: 24 hits/35 shots

Holster draw timings: asterisks indicate misses; Last time is a split time for a reload

Draw and shoot one timings: asterisks indicate misses; Last time is a split time for a reload

Here’s an updated graph of my draw and shoot one drill results. This graph only includes the times I hit the middle of the target (the inner square):

Graph shows max, min and mean of draw and shoot one drill over time

My worst shot is about flat compared to my last outing, and way improved compared to my typical performance. My average is definitely improved, and my best is improved also. Notably, prior to today, I’ve only ever drawn and hit in under two seconds twice since I started doing this drill. Today, over half of my hits (8/15) were in less than two seconds. Since I started this drill, my max, average and min times are all improved by almost a full second (.8, .8 and .9 seconds, respectively). The major sea changes were getting some good training on holster draws and dry fire practice at home.

Let’s talk about a few aspects of dry fire training: safety, feedback and training scars.

Safety

Dry fire training is going to force you to violate rules 1 and 3 of gun safety. That is to say, you’re going to treat a gun like it’s unloaded, and you’re going to put your finger on the trigger at a time when you’re not ready to send a round downrange. So make extra sure you’re observing rules 2 and 4. That is to say, always point your pistol in a safe direction, and be sure of your target and what’s beyond it and around it.

Some folks advise locking all live ammo in a different room when you dry fire. That’s not a bad plan, but it doesn’t work for me. What I do is offload my spare magazine and unload my pistol and put both magazines and the extra round from the chamber onto my nightstand. Then I use the mags and the loose cartridge as my target. I always do this in the same order, also: Pull the spare mag out of my pocket and put it on the nightstand. Draw the pistol, finger off the trigger and pointed in a safe direction. Eject the magazine and let it fall on the bed. Rack the slide and let the loose cartridge fall on the bed. Then, maintaining my finger off the trigger and a safe direction, put the main magazine and the loose cartridge up on the nightstand. Then I triple-check that the chamber and magazine well are empty and pull the trigger with the pistol pointed at the baseboard, since I believe that’s the safest direction in my bedroom. Click. Good. Holster the pistol. Now when I draw and fire, I use the magazines and loose cartridge on the nightstand as a target. If those aren’t there, it’s not safe to draw. My nightstand also happens to be in the corner of the room, and there’s a block wall between that part of my house and any neighbor’s house.

(Remember that “walls” don’t stop bullets: solid construction does. Framing timbers and cinder blocks will stop bullets, or at least slow them down a heck of a lot. Bullets pass through drywall, insulation, clapboard and stucco like they’re pretty much not even there. Be sure of what’s beyond your target.)

If you get interrupted at any point in your dry firing, start over. Verify that all your ammo is in its proper place. Triple-check that nothing is in the chamber of your pistol. Do your next dry fire in the safest direction possible. Then get back to your training.

When I’m done with my dry fires, I remove my holster from my belt and set it on the bed. I insert the main magazine, rack the slide, then eject the magazine and let it fall onto the bed. (Again, finger is off the trigger and muzzle is pointed at the wall.) I then put the pistol in the holster, covering the trigger. I put down the pistol/holster and pick up the main magazine. I top off the main magazine with the loose cartridge and insert it firmly into the pistol. Then I place the pistol and magazine back on my belt. Finally, I put the extra magazine back in my pocket.

I’m a big believer in good routines leading to good habits. It’s true that habits can disengage the brain, but work to keep your brain ahead of your trigger finger while you build and practice good habits, and you’ll be in good shape.

Oh, and you do have a holster that stays open without a pistol in it, right? There’s no excuse. If you can’t afford one, then you certainly can’t afford a gunshot wound. You do not want to have to pry your holster open with the muzzle of your pistol, or with your support hand fingers. If you don’t have a good holster, get one.

Feedback

As I mentioned earlier, the disadvantage of dry firing is that you get no feedback on where your bullet would have gone. Tools like the Laserlyte Training System help this a lot. If you don’t want to drop the coin on a Laserlyte, then you’ll just have to hit the range to see where your bullets are going. That brings us to training scars.

Training Scars

Cop and trainer Greg Ellifritz says this about training scars:

All training, no matter how realistic, is artificial. It isn’t actual combat. In the interests of safety or convenience, we sometimes do things in training that we wouldn’t want to do in combat. If we continue to perform those artificial actions over a long period of time, they become habits. If negative, those habits are called training scars.

(That’s an excellent article, by the way. Do Read The Whole Thing™.)

Dry fire will inevitably lead to training scars. Since your pistol isn’t recoiling when you pull the trigger, you don’t get a chance to pull the pistol down out of recoil and back on target. And unless you dry fire a double-action handgun, you are going to have to either cock the hammer or reset the striker before your next dry fire. What you don’t want to do is to treat the hammer fall like the end of your training, and then casually lower the gun, cock the hammer and casually put the pistol back in your holster. To minimize training scars, once you’ve dry fired, come back to the ready position (both hands remain in a firing position, the pistol stays pointed downrange and you smoothly pull the pistol back to your chest). Then you can treat the exercise as over. Cock the hammer or reset the striker and safely put your pistol back in the holster. Taking a good look around before you reholster your pistol is always a good plan.

Wrapup

Grant Cunningham says, “I’ve come to believe that the first shot you decide to take is your best opportunity to affect your attacker’s ability to hurt you… [A]fter the first shot everything changes. People stop thinking, they start moving, bystanders start screaming, and it becomes harder to solidly land the second, third, fourth and subsequent shots.” (p. 34) I think Cunningham is right. If I’m ever going to use my concealed carry piece to defend myself or my loved ones, I’m going to have to get it out of the holster and into the fight. The quicker and more accurately I can do that, the better I’m going to be at defending myself and my loved ones. That’s why I’m drawing from the holster and dry firing.

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