I’m a strong proponent of dry-fire. Dry-fire is far cheaper and frankly more effective at developing skills related to shooting than live fire. Spending time at home dry-firing can improve your skills and requires far less time and commitment than heading to the range.
The key to being effective with dry-fire in your training is to make sure it becomes a consistent habit. Habitual training is far more valuable than sporadic and uncoordinated training sessions. Want to make dry-fire a habit? Find a space and designate it for your training to help eliminate excuses and make dry-fire easy.
What makes an ideal dry-fire space?
There is definitely an ideal setup for dry-fire. It can vary a little from person to person, but some aspects will always remain universal. You can’t always mimic this ideal dry-fire space in your own home, but the closer you can get, the more safe and effective you will be.
Remember that safety is paramount in dry-fire. Anytime you pick up a firearm and pull the trigger you need to be conscious of the potential repercussions of doing so. When mishandled, firearms can be very dangerous.
Remove all ammunition
The first rule of dry-fire is to remove all ammunition from the practice area. If you want to set up an ideal dry-fire space, you can take this a step further by banning all ammunition from your dry-fire space at all times. If you are using a gun that normally remains loaded, you want to load and unload away from the dry-fire space (and equally important you will only dry-fire in your designated space).
If no ammunition enters your dry-fire space, you can have a reasonable expectation that your gun will remain inert.
Have a good backstop
The second safety rule that often comes up in relation to dry-fire is to have a safe backstop. Some people use body armor behind their target or dry-fire at a book case (from the side to force any negligent discharge to travel through your reading material).
I find this approach a little over the top. After all if you are diligent about removing all ammunition why would you need a backstop? That said, caution should still be taken in choosing the location and direction of your dry-fire. Instead of a formal backstop, I prefer to guarantee that no person or thing will be in the path of my muzzle when I dry-fire. Dry-fire at your wife’s cat? Not a good idea. Dry-fire at a wall at the back of your home that has miles of state forest behind it? A much better idea.
Have a good floor
You wouldn’t immediately think that the floor would be important for dry-fire, but I think it is. Effective dry-fire covers more than just squeezing the trigger. You should be drawing, reloading, and even moving. A really hard floor can spell disaster if you drop your expensive mags or pistol on it.
Ideally you would have a thick and durable rug or carpet to provide cushioning. Realistically this isn’t always possible. There are alternatives such as a padded box to catch things like mags that you intentionally drop.
Work space can be key
When I dry-fire I tend to take notes about what I do and will often have a written plan beside me. I also like to have space to stow my magazines and pistol while I’m rearranging my gear. Finally, my laptop almost always gets involved, providing a cheap par timer. For me this means having a good work surface available. This could be the edge of a bed, a desk, table, or even some other improvised surface.
What to bring to your dry-fire space?
Once you have a designated dry-fire space you need to make sure you bring the right equipment to make the most of your dry-fire. The right tools make any job easier, and that applies to dry-fire as much as it does to building a shed or fixing your car.
So what do you really need for dry-fire? A few things are crucial:
Your firearm – unloaded. If you have one, an inert dry-fire barrel can further improve the safety quotient, but it will hinder your ability to practice some things.
Spare magazines – you will need magazines if you intend to make your dry-fire dynamic. The more magazines you have, the less often you need to bend down to pick them up. I usually use 6; your mileage may vary.
Timer – shot timers are very helpful when your goal is to work on your speed. I generally use a timer in par time mode since most timers will not pick up dry-fire shots. Rather than mess with my range timer I tend to use my laptop and this great app.
Notebook – Recording your progress allows you to measure yourself against past performance.
Target – you definitely do not want to forget a target in dry-fire. My preferred dry-fire target gives me a variety of things to aim at and is scaled to take best advantage of the space I have.
A few other things help further improve your experience:
Snap caps – these allow you to see that a reload actually worked (when a snap cap round ends up in the chamber), or they can be used for malfunction clearing drills.
Weighted magazines – can allow you to practice certain manipulations more realistically. Some large capacity polymer framed guns handle significantly differently when full compared to empty.
Video camera – recording yourself can be a very helpful tool for diagnosing shooting errors. Going back to the tape can help you see why your reloads fail or how to shave time off your draw-stroke.
Some example setups
Over the past year or so I have had two different dry-fire spaces. Originally I used my bedroom for convenience and comfort. This works great when you only spend time dry-firing at times when your spouse will not be in bed. If he or she is sick, good luck.
More recently I moved to the basement in anticipation of the incoming baby. Getting away from the main family spaces allows me to dry-fire in the morning before work or any time I don’t want to disturb the wife and kid.
My bedroom setup was convenient for a variety of reasons. The carpet protected my mags, and my bed was correctly spaced from the wall to provide a good distance from my target and serve as a surface for my equipment. The nearby dresser also provided a great place to conveniently store all of my mags and my notebook between sessions.
As mentioned before, the big down side was that I was limited on when I could use the space. My wife isn’t a morning person and has been home for the past 9 months cooking up a baby, so trying to dry-fire in the bedroom before 10am noon isn’t really a great option.
The basement setup is less ideal in some respects, but it allows me to train when I want. I have an additional safe in the basement, allowing me to keep a pistol and all of my training gear stowed near my dry-fire space. In the short term I have been using a stack of styrofoam shipping containers as a temporary work surface, which will be replaced by my workbench when complete.
The floor in the basement is definitely not ideal for dry-fire. Concrete and magazines is a recipe for eventual disaster. To mitigate this I took a cardboard box (thanks Ikea) and cut the top off. I filled this box with bubble wrap to provide ample cushioning.
I move the box around as necessary to catch my mags. While I usually manage to miss the box a few times per session, I find that dropping a few mags a week on concrete is far better than dropping each one on concrete 30-50 times per week.
Dry-fire is a great, inexpensive way to improve your shooting skills in the comfort of your home. Just how comfortable is largely dependent on how much thought goes into your dry-fire area. A well designed dry-fire area results in safe and efficient training.
Now it’s your turn. How is your dry-fire area setup? Please let us know in the comments below.
If you would like to share pictures and a please send them them to nick <at> indestructibletraining.com, I’d love to see how you train.