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Practice your pull!

By Kelvin Dixon

We all know that to be a great shot we need to practice but the vast majority of us don't get to the range as much as we would like. Even without the lockdown it can be difficult to find the time, most ranges are only open at certain times and then there's the expense of the ammunition as well.


Dry fire practice is one way we can improve our skills without leaving the house or spending money. Pretty much every shooting skill except recoil management can be practiced this way. The key to accuracy is consistency and we develop that through repetition.


If we look at the principles of marksmanship each one can be practiced dry:

  1. The position and hold must be firm enough to support the weapon properly
  2. The weapon must point naturally at the target without any undue physical effort
  3. Sight alignment and sight picture must be correct 
  4. The shot must be released and followed through without any disturbance to the position


Those who learn to shoot in a formal setting like the Military will spend hours with their firearms before ever setting foot on a range or even touching a live round of ammunition. Dry fire is a great place to start when you're teaching someone the art of shooting.


The important thing is to focus on the mechanics and performing quality repetition. For this reason it's best to keep your sessions short, no more than 10 minutes - after that people's minds tend to wander. The old saying practice makes perfect is only half true, the reality is perfect practice makes perfect.


Dry fire practice enables you to improve your shooting with nothing more expensive than a piece of tape.


The single most important consideration whenever you are doing any type of firearm training is safety. The seven rules apply at all times and dry fire is no different. I strongly recommend that you never mix “live” and “dry fire” training anywhere, except perhaps when you're at the range.


Remember, the vast majority of accidents occur with “unloaded” firearms, and getting some practice in before or after your range/hunting trip makes it easier to get a live round mixed in with what you are doing. When I practice I’ll go to the gunsafe and remove the rifle I want without ever touching any ammo.


“The single most important consideration whenever you are doing any type of firearm training is safety. The seven rules apply at all times and dry fire is no different. I strongly recommend that you never mix “live” and “dry fire” training anywhere, except perhaps when you're at the range.


Select the spot you want to train in and make sure there is a suitable backstop that will stop an errant bullet. It's important to follow Rule 2, Always point firearms in a safe direction. This is especially important for those that live in town, the consequences of firing a live round through your house with your family around, or into the neighbour’s yard don’t bear thinking about.


Even if you live in a rural area surrounded by fields you still need to plan for the worst case scenario. I am fortunate to have an outside wall running through the middle of the house.


The military has been using dry fire to improve recruits shooting for decades.


Once you are in position and have your rifle ready you need to ensure that it's clear by doing a seven point check. With the bolt to the rear, check the chamber, the action and the bolt face, then the magwell or magazine, then check them all again. Once that's done close the action and do it again two more times for a total of three.


If at any time during your practice you get interrupted or lose track of the state of your firearm go back and clear everything again. We aren't joking about being safe.


Now you are ready to begin. Your target can be anything from a piece of tape on the wall to a video on your TV.
For pistol and rifle there are a variety of skills you can practice, but the marksmanship principles are a good place to begin. From your start position acquire the target, align the sights, squeeze the trigger, follow through, then cycle the action and you are ready to go again.

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It works best if you focus on one part of the process at a time, e.g; sight picture or trigger pull, don't get too ambitious - it's difficult to keep track of everything. 


This is a great way to familiarise yourself with the firearm and when you are ready you can work on other skills like manipulations or stoppage drills. For open-sighted rifles and scopes on low power a mirror is excellent as you can aim at your eye. This will show you how well your eye is aligned with the front and rear sights. You  can also do this with a shotgun. 


Skills I like to practice are my bolt work, shooting with both eyes open, and snap shooting. Col Jeff Cooper would often practice by watching TV in the evening and dry firing at the TV whenever an  “O” came on. My wife is not as understanding as Mrs Cooper however, so I use YouTube videos!


Snap shooting target video:



Training with the shotgun is a little trickier but there are still drills that can help you improve. One thing you can practice is shouldering the gun. This is best done in a full length mirror with a dot made of tape on it.


While looking at the dot mount the gun, then look at the bead(s) on the gun, you should be looking down the centre of the rib. Once you are confident you are mounting the gun properly, start doing it with your eyes shut. Mount the gun and then open them to see where you are looking, again it should be down the centre of the rib.


Another useful drill is the flashlight drill, Here's a short video on it:



Three bullet drill:




It's highly unlikely you will damage a modern centrefire rifle, pistol or shotgun by dry firing but it’s worth reading the owner’s manual or checking online before you start. It can be a problem with some lever-actions. If it's something you are concerned about or you are using an older firearm snap caps can be a useful tool.


Snap caps are replicas of ammunition (dummy rounds) made of plastic, metal or a combination thereof, and good ones have rubber or similar in the primer pocket to absorb the impact of the firing pin to prevent damage.


They can also be useful if you want to practice certain tasks like loading. I use them to practice topping up the magazine on my lever-action so I can reload by feel when I might be watching a mob of goats or moving.


I also recommend them if you are training with a rimfire. When I started shooting it was verboten to dry fire a .22 as the firing pin slams into the empty breech and will either blunt or break, or if the firing pin is hard enough it can chisel a groove in the breech face that protrudes into the chamber, catching on fired cases and stopping them ejecting.

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While doing research for this article opinions on dry firing modern rimfires were divided - many people saying it was okay and others saying it wasn't. Personally I don't advocate it; it's just easier not to, however .22 snap caps are available if you want them. 


To make your dry firing more useful or realistic there's a wide range of products out there using lasers and sensors, and even C02. These mimic the entire shooting sequence. Most of them are geared towards competition pistol but there's something for everyone, only a Google search away.


The range is the only acceptable place to mix live and dry fire. A few dry reps before you begin can help a lot.


Another useful tool is a shot-timer along with a note book. Depending on what you are training for these can be invaluable as they will allow you to track your progress. Shot-timer apps can be downloaded to your phone but they may have trouble picking up the sound of the action being fired.


Dry firing is a massive subject. Even if we just stick to rifles it can be broken into a variety of different drills for disciplines such as hunting, competition or tactical. There are loads of great resources on YouTube and the internet. It might seem silly at first but rest assured all the top level shooters and professionals are doing it.


It's a great way to keep your eye in if you can't get to the range or out in the hills, and it’s also an invaluable tool for teaching beginners.  


The seven basic rules of firearms safety apply at all times:

  1. Treat every firearm as loaded
  2. Always point firearms in a safe direction
  3. Load a firearm only when ready to fire
  4. Identify your target beyond all doubt
  5. Check your firing zone
  6. Store firearms and ammunition safely
  7. Avoid alcohol or drugs when handling firearms


Wall drill with a pistol:



Good video showing the types of things you can practice.

Forget the style of rifle - if you have the space you can do this type of thing with either a rifle or a shotgun to practice your field shooting:



Have fun and be safe!




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