Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an easy, safe, and free type of firearms training you could do at home to improve your skills and shoot better?
Well, there is, and always has been: It’s called dry fire.
Dry fire means shooting without ammo, and it’s a surprisingly helpful skill builder.
Plus…you can do it with almost any type of firearm.
We are going to dive deep into how to dry fire, cover a few dry fire drills, and of course…bust a few myths along the way.
Now with video too!
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Table of Contents
What is Dry Fire?
Dry fire is the act of simulating the firing of your weapon without ammunition.
Basically, you’re doing everything you’d normally do to fire off a shot…but without any ammo in (or even near) the gun.
Dry fire is one of my favorite ways to train new shooters in how to handle a firearm safely and teach them the very basics of weapon manipulation.
Dry fire can be done inside the home with no equipment beyond your handgun, but there are some things you need to know to stay safe, and there are a few things that can make dry fire training more effective.
How Dry Fire Helps
Dry fire is the practice of training with your firearm without ammunition.
Traditionally, dry fire sees shooters pulling the trigger on an empty chamber to practice all the basics without the need for ammunition.
As I type this, we are stuck in one of the worst ammo droughts out there, and dry fire is without a doubt one of the most valuable ways to increase and maintain your skills.
Dry fire allows you to practice your firearm handling skills at home and can go well beyond the repetitive action of just pulling the trigger over and over.
Modern dry fire should incorporate drawing, reloads, malfunction drills, and more.
You can walk through your favorite shooting drills dry and chase down the vast majority of firearms skills without firing a shot.
How To Dry Fire Safely and Efficiently
Anytime you are handling a firearm, you need to focus on the fundamentals of firearms safety.
Dry fire is not the time to get lax on your safety habits. Even though you are training without ammunition, you should reinforce safe gun handling.
Always ensure the weapon is unloaded by removing the magazine, locking the slide to the rear, and visually and physically inspecting the chamber.
Remove live ammunition from the area to ensure there is zero chance of it entering your firearm.
Never point your weapon at another person when dry firing, and always ensure the weapon remains in your control.
If, for whatever reason, you set the weapon down and leave the room, reclear it as you enter.
Dry firing is pretty simple. Choose a gun, clear it, and pick a small-ish target.
If you can…try to take something out or hang a target specifically for dry-firing. The reason for this is to segregate your dry practice mentality.
There have been stories where after someone finishes dry-firing and makes their weapon hot..to only practice “one more time.”
After you have a target…practice the very basics of firing your weapon. Maintain solid control of your weapon, and stress perfection.
Align the sights perfectly, pull the trigger perfectly, do not flinch or move in any way to disturb the sight.
The goal here isn’t to get a ton of repetitions, it’s to get quality training.
When To Dry Fire
The most beneficial time to utilize dry fire is right after live fire. Your muscle memory will be fresh with your mistakes.
I tend to run my students through the “dry fire Oreo.” We start with dry fire, move to live fire, and finish with dry fire.
The first few attempts of dry fire will often allow easy diagnoses of their shooting problems because mentally they’ll still be prepared to fire a live round.
When I say after shooting, I mean right after shooting, unload, show clear, and dry fire. Use the same live-fire range, same target, everything.
This muscle memory of mistakes will only last for about a dozen or so dry fire attempts before your body and mind remember it’s dry firing.
Any clenching, eye closing, flinching, or sympathetic movement will be apparent.
Off the range and at home I suggest dedicating 15 minutes of dry fire a day.
That’s it, that’s all you need to be a better shooter.
Do it after work, before work, whenever you feel productive enough to give 15 focused minutes to dry firing practice.
But Won’t it Break My Gun?
The most prevalent myth is that dry fire is bad for your gun. Like most every myth, this one contains a grain of truth.
There are a variety of firearms out there that dry firing is bad for, mainly rimfires.
With a rimfire, the firing pin strikes the rim of the round, and without a round present, the fire strikes the rim of the chamber.
This can lead to mushroomed and dented firing pins as well as dented chambers. The exception being some Ruger rimfires.
The manual for the Ruger 10/22, Page 20, says it’s perfectly safe to dry fire their 10/22s. It’s also our best rimfire rifle for beginners, so everyone should have one…or three…in their collection.
The second group of guns is older firearms — including any revolver without a transfer bar and some older semi-automatics.
On one of these older revolvers and semi-autos, the firing pins go too far forwards because they didn’t hit a primer. This causes the firing pin to overtravel and for a portion of it to hit the sides of the firing pin channel.
Over time this was fixed through the use of stronger firing pins in semi-automatics and the use of transfer bars and hammer blocks in revolvers.
If you own a modern firearm this is not an issue for you.
If you own an antique of any kind I’d be wary of dry fire, as well as any revolver with a firing pin attached to the hammer.
If you own one of these older firearms or a rimfire it’s best to make use of a Snap Cap ($16) while dry firing.
A Snap Cap is a dummy round with a soft primer. This allows the firing pin to land harmlessly on the soft primer. They even make Snap Caps for rimfire rifles, pistols, shotguns, and revolvers.
There are a lot of snap caps and dummy rounds on the market, so be sure to take a look at the Best Dummy Rounds & Snap Caps For Dry-Fire Practice!
Dry Fire Drills
This is a unique little trick you can do to really practice your trigger control. You only need a coin and a gun.
Balance the coin on the front sight. As the coin rests on the sight, practice your grip control.
Any error will cause the quarter to fall, which will show you what you’re doing wrong.
Using a holster and gun, you can practice your open or concealed carry draw.
Drawing practice can start slow, without a timer. This allows you to focus on the proper grip, drawing, and getting the gun on target.
Once things begin to smooth out and you build proficiency, speed things up.
Start with your slide locked to the rear, with an empty magazine inserted and a spare mag in a mag pouch.
Get into your normal stance and firing position with the slide locked to the rear. Put your sights on target, register one mental “bang” and reload your firearm.
To up the ante, remove the spring and follower from your mag. This will allow you to send the slide home during the reload.
You can also pick up some nice training magazines for this purpose that will match the fit and feel of a loaded magazine.
One Hand Shooting
Firing one-handed accurately is twice as hard as firing with two hands. It’s also a good skill to have with a handgun in case of emergency.
This is quite simple, practice dry firing with one hand and alternate between your dominant and non-dominant hand.
You can also toss in transitions between strong and weak hands.
You can also spice up any of the above drills by changing positions as you train. Training from the sitting, kneeling, and prone positions make you a more rounded shooter.
Also, practice engaging targets behind cover. Doorways work well for this.
Keeping a Dry Fire Journal
Outside of gadgets, there are a few ways you can maximize your efficiency with dry fire.
To me, dry fire is a lot like working out, and a little planning and organization go a long way. As such, I like having a dry fire journal.
A dry fire journal can be a digital or paper log that allows you to record a wide degree of information.
One thing I suggest for every shooter is a plan when they approach dry fire.
Know what skills you want to work on prior to beginning. This way, you don’t spend 5 of your 15 minutes figuring out what you want to do and what you need to train.
You can use your dry fire journal to produce a calendar of training for the week. A day for pure marksmanship, a day for reloads, a day for malfunctions, etc.
When you complete your 15 minutes for the day, you aren’t done with your journal, though. You can use it during your training or even post-training to record your times, reps, and thoughts about training.
Jotting down ideas for training can be super valuable because you’d be surprised how quickly good ideas disappear when you deal with the rest of your day.
Best Dry Fire Gadgets
Let’s dive into a few tools that’ll take your dry fire training and push it further. These gadgets and gizmos will add a little extra edge to your dry fire training.
1. Mantis X
The Mantis X is the pinnacle of dry fire technology.
This tiny little block attaches to your rifle, pistol, or shotgun and provides real-time information regarding everything from trigger pull to draw.
It’s a powerful tool offering measurable data to diagnose issues and track improvement. Users can see exactly what they are doing wrong and work to fix it.
The information feeds back to your Android or Apple device and essentially keeps a journal for you.
Mantis provides a system of lessons built into the app as well for those days where you can’t come up with your own lesson plan.
I love my Mantis X, and the information it provides is second to none. It’s a ton of data, and I could probably write 2,000 words just on the information you get.
The Mantis Xis, without a doubt, the ultimate dry fire tool.
You can even take it to the range and use it with live ammo and get even more information.
Techiest Training Solution
We reviewed the MantisX, read more about here.
The SIRT Pistol is a non-gun that replicates either a full-sized handgun or pocket pistol.
There’s also an AR-15 laser bolt that drops into your rifle.
These systems weigh close to the same as the real guns it emulates and utilizes an integrated laser.
The laser activates every time the trigger is pulled, and it shows you where you theoretically hit.
Trigger pull on the SIRT is somewhat lighter than most real handguns, but for learning the basics, and having a 100% always safe option it’s a solid contender.
SIRT options give you visual feedback and will function with most of the laser systems we will discuss a little later. SIRT pistols are a little pricey, but the AR bolt is quite affordable.
You can even purchase extra SIRT magazines that replicate the real weight of loaded magazines for training drills
3. TRT Tap Rack Dry Fire Devices
For less than $10, you get three of these training aids for your pistol or AR-15 style rifle.
These little devices fit inside your magazines and defeat your last round bolt hold-open device.
In my opinion, TRT devices offer two distinct advantages.
First, these ensure your magazine cannot be loaded during dry fire training.
Secondly, since they pin down your LRBHO, you can execute reloads on the fly without constantly dealing with ejecting dummy rounds.
TRT allows you to reload and slam your bolt or slide home without any difficulty.
These are also handy when practicing malfunction drills. You can induce a malfunction with a dummy round and execute a proper fix without having to worry about the LRBHO.
Pretty handy for a mere $10.
Prices accurate at time of writing
Prices accurate at time of writing
4. Dry Fire Mag
When you dry fire with a striker-fired pistol, you likely get quite sick of manipulating the slide to recock the pistol between shots. It’s an atypical action that gets old really quick.
The Dry Fire Mag solves that problem.
It replaces your magazine with a Dry Fire Magazine or DFM. This DFM simulates a trigger pull without the need to ever reset your firing pin.
DFMs are made for Glocks, XDs, the P320, and the M&P series by Smith and Wesson.
Installation is nothing more than dropping that magazine in.
You can then pull the trigger over and over, and it will simulate the trigger pull of your gun. No more racking the weapon after every shot.
The DFM is great for dry fire practice drills.
Doing an El Presidente, a Failure to Stop, a 5-5-5, or a similar drill can be completed with a Dry Fire Mag in place. It’s an excellent tool, especially when combined with a MantisX.
I really hope they make a P365 variant soon!
5. Dummy Ammunition
Snap Caps are a must-have and can be used for a wide variety of dry training functions.
Personally, I don’t know how I’d practice malfunction drills safely without them. The same goes for reloading a shotgun on the fly.
Dummy rounds allow shooters to safely practice a variety of techniques with a wide variety of weapons.
Most rifle and pistol shooters can use dummy rounds to create complicated jams that they then have to fix on the fly.
For tube-fed shotgun shooters or lever gun aficionados, shooters can practice their reloads on the fly.
Dummy rounds work well for beginners too!
The basic motions of loading a magazine or loading a rifle or shotgun can be conducted with dummy ammunition.
When I teach a newb shooter, I teach them to load their weapon with dummy ammunition.
Dummy ammo rocks, and you should have a few rounds for each caliber you shoot.
Need some more suggestions, check out our article on the Best Dummy Rounds.
Laser dry fire devices can make dry fire shooting a heckuva lot more interesting.
Real-world feedback makes it fun, and several systems integrate targetry with lasers for a more compelling experience.
Most of these laser cartridges and target combinations are expensive and require a special setup.
The LaserHit system uses a laser cartridge, and the target is a combination of your phone and a paper target set at a specific distance for training purposes.
Hits are recorded by your phone.
Different modes allow you to practice free-for-all marksmanship, reloads, timed draw, and more.
You can also broadcast the whole thing to a larger screen from a computer or TV. It’s a simplistic system that’s quite affordable for the entire package.
LaserHit is fun and can also be great for teaching kids and new shooters with its video-game-like nature. It also provides a great distraction if you get a little bored with basic dry fire.
7. Shot Timer
If you forced me to choose one specific training tool that’s just the very best, it would be a shot timer.
Shot timers rule!
Traditionally they are used for shooting and competitive use, but they can be quite handy for dry fire practice.
My favorite is the Pocket Pro II shot timer. I use it a ton, and it’s held up impressively well. Any shot timer will work, but that’s my personal favorite.
With dry fire, the par time setting allows you to set a timer, then you race against it.
It can’t measure your exact time but can set a restrictive guideline to work within. Shot timers force you to work fast to avoid hearing that second beep.
Not to mention, that second beep lays on the stress and gives you a hair of stress inoculation.
When you can start trimming off tens of seconds at a time, you know you have measurable improvement.
Becoming a dry fire pro takes time, patience, and the ability to really keep after it. A few minutes a day can both improve and maintain your skills when you can’t hit the range.
While dry fire training can’t fully replace live fire training, it certainly compliments it.
And adding a few gadgets or gizmos makes dry fire not only more entertaining but more dynamic, engaging, and ultimately more efficient.
You can turn 15 minutes of so-so dry fire practice into 15 minutes of incredibly efficient training.
For more tips on dry fire at home, check out Brownells Daily Defense video with Jeff Gonzales below.
Have more questions about safe and effective training? Let us know in the comments below! And check out our online Beginner Handgun Course…Gun Noob to Gun Slinger. We cover the basics PLUS how to become a crack shot.
Safe and Effective Dry-Fire Training at Home [Guide] is written by Travis Pike for www.pewpewtactical.com