Dry fire training improves a shooter’s grip, natural point of aim, sight acquisition, and trigger control through practice with a “dry” or unloaded firearm.
This practice can build muscle memory to hone marksmanship fundamentals, ultimately translating into greater accuracy, precision, and speed when using live ammunition. Dry fire training is economical, allowing a person to practice form-correcting and skill-building repetitions without the cost of live ammunition.
To avoid all possibility of mishap and negligent discharges, dry fire practice requires a strict protocol to ensure safety while training. While dry fire training is defined by the lack of live ammunition, it is necessary to observe and enact safe dry fire habits to eliminate the chance of destruction, injury, or death caused by human error.
Gun Safety First and Always
It is absolutely vital to treat all firearms as if they are “hot” at all times, even when training is intended to be “dry”. Always follow the 4 Rules of Gun Safety in addition to any other safety guidelines:
- All guns are always loaded.
- Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until your target is in your sights.
- Know your target (and what is behind it).
While there are no safeguards from negligence, obeying these rules without exception will prevent mishap caused by accident or malfunction. Once this mindset has been established, the following dry fire safety guidelines should also be adhered to.
1. Create a Safe and Controlled Practice Space
When creating a space for dry fire training, a person is essentially creating a space for immersive learning and meditation. Safety and improvement will be only be rewarded through serious, focused practice without distraction. An unfocused training area will be detrimental to one’s progression while creating a potentially dangerous scenario involving a firearm.
No Interruptions, No Distractions
- Turn off the phone or put it on airplane mode; if possible, leave it out of the practice space.
- Isolate yourself: Govern who has entrance and access to your training area and your line of fire.
- Mental distractions are real; do not practice dry fire if:
- You are suffering the effects of clinical depression.
- You are mentally preoccupied with larger life issues.
- You are in a rush and pressed for time.
- Under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or mind-altering medication.
Use a Proper Target
- Do not use a permanent fixture in a room (furniture, lamps, door knobs, etc.) as targets.
- Hang a target specifically meant for dry fire practice (paper, cardboard, laser-activated).
- Always remove and store dry fire targets when not in use.
Use a Proper Backstop
- Treat your dry fire target area the same as you would treat any live fire target area.
- Use a proper backstop that is capable of stopping a live round from over-penetrating.
- Know your target (and whatever is around and beyond it).
Clean, Clear Workspace
- Clear tables and necessary spaces to place firearms and dry fire equipment when not in use.
- Clear the floor space of tripping hazards and clutter to keep track of ejected dummy rounds.
- Make sure the practice space is properly lit and visible; know what is what and where is where.
- No food, no drinks, no smoking, no dip, no chewables (tobacco, gum).
2. Remove All Live Ammunition from Firearms and Practice Space
Eliminate all possibility of introducing live ammunition into a dry fire practice while continuing to treat your “dry” firearm the same as you would treat a “hot” firearm. The presence of live ammunition presents a serious risk of being accidentally mixed with dummy rounds or loaded into a magazine or cylinder to incur a negligent discharge.
Check, Double-Check, Triple-Check…then Check Again
- Check your pockets.
- Check your magazines/cylinders.
- Check your chamber.
- Check again.
Prevent Accidental Mixing of Snap Caps with Live Ammunition
- Store snap caps in a dedicated container for snap caps only.
- Before and after each practice session, check the number and type of snap caps.
- Visually inspect false primers on every snap cap before loading them into magazine or cylinder.
- Ensure dummy rounds and snap caps are actually inert; do not use blanks or spent casings.
- Snap caps are not toys; if found, they can be ingested by small children.
- Do not lose snap caps; they can be confused for live rounds and vice versa.
3. Establish a Strict “Training” Mindset
Firearms training demands a serious, focused disposition. If a person demands serious results, they need to take their practice seriously. Training and building marksmanship fundamentals can be fun, but only if training is performed safely and without incident or mishap.
Confirm Your Weapon is “Dry” Before Firing
- Check the magazine before inserting (or cylinder before closing).
- Check the chamber.
- Check your pockets.
- Check Again.
Make Zero Assumptions Whenever Clearing a Weapon
- Rack the slide multiple times.
- Rack again.
- Visually confirm the chamber is clear before treating the weapon as clear.
Don’t Horse Around (Useful Analogies)
- Injuries when goofing around during contact sports practice include broken limbs and paralysis.
- Injuries when goofing around with dulled practice swords, foils, and knives can injure or kill.
- Horseplay in a wood shop or school science lab can result in disfigurement or death.
4. Maintain & Build Focus Throughout Practice
As with live fire training, dry fire training might cause you to sweat, tire your hands and shoulders, and challenge your ability to maintain proper form to recall the 4 Fundamentals of Marksmanship. To prevent a safe dry fire session from negligently becoming a dangerous live fire accident, be sure to observe and track your focus while training.
Practice session length is much less important than consistent, focused practice; as little as 15 minutes of dry fire training can make a difference if practiced regularly (and safely).
- Pressure & focus will always be harnessed and challenged when training with firearms.
- If your mind wanders, stop; take a break.
- Restart the dry fire training process process (Step 1: Create a Safe, Controlled Space…).
- Reestablish a focused training mindset.
5. Safely Ending Dry Fire Training
Transitional states represent the most dangerous evolutions of firearm training. When we mentally and physically shift from “dry” training conditions to a “live” or “hot” firearm condition, it is necessary to maintain a vigilant sense of focus and safety.
- Continue to treat your firearm as a “hot” weapon.
- Remove the magazine (or empty the cylinders).
- Check the chamber and visually confirm it is clear (no snap caps, barrel plugs, training lasers).
- Inventory (number and type) your snap caps.
- Visually inspect each snap cap to ensure no live rounds are mixed into their storage container.
- Take down your dry fire target.
- Visually check your firearm’s chamber…then check again.
- Verbally announce to yourself that the weapon is “hot” again as it is placed into storage.
Additional Dry Fire Safety Equipment
While, none of these items are a substitute for following the 4 Rules of Gun Safety or any dry fire safety protocols, a few pieces of equipment will add layers of safety and realism to a dry fire training.
Keep a small penlight to visually inspect the condition of your firearm, and to inspect false primers on any snap caps to ensure they are actually snap caps and not live rounds.
Using a holster will provide a dedicated space on your person to store your firearm when not drawn and aimed during practice. A holster will also block access to the trigger guard. Always unholster and holster a weapon in a smooth, deliberate manner. Treat a firearm removed from its holster as a “hot” weapon until its status has been visually confirmed.
Snap caps are inert dummy rounds that simulate the weight and feeding function of live ammunition. They are commonly used to protect the firing pin and/or barrel breech from mechanical stress during dry fire practice. They are used to isolate flinching during live-fire practice.
Do not confuse “Blanks” with “Snap Caps”. Blanks contain a charge which can injure or kill. Snap caps will clearly be marked as “inert” or “dummy rounds”. Always check to ensure each snap cap loaded into a magazine is actually a snap cap and not a live round.
Barrel plugs are used to block the barrel and breech using a plastic rod that seats into the breech face of a firearm. A proper barrel plug will extend from the breech face and out the end of the barrel to indicate its presence.
Barrel plugs prevent rounds from being chambered while allowing a semiautomatic action to cycle, unlike a chamber flag. They can be a safer alternative to snap caps; regardless, it will still be necessary to practice the 4 Rules of Gun Safety and Safe Dry Firing protocol.
Dry Fire Safety In the Military
Dry fire can be observed as the phase of initial rifle training in the US Military. Before a single round of live ammunition is even introduced during basic training, recruits undergo “Grass Week”. During Grass Week, recruits learn the main firing positions, proper usage of sights, breath control, and trigger control. By the time the first shot of live ammunition is fired, recruits have dry fired their weapons at least 1000 times.
Civilian firearm owners who dry fire at home do not have professional oversight to isolate themselves from live ammunition. They must engage in strict, self-enforced protocol to ensure the same levels of safety used to prevent negligent discharge and mishap.