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Dry-Firing is No F—ing Joke

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“Dry humping is no f—ing joke,” emphatically states Christina Applegate’s character in the romantic comedy movie Going the Distance. Neither is dry-firing. We challenge you to find an instructor, institution, or serious shooter who doesn’t recommend dry-fire as a component of your training regimen.

Dry-fire practice can pay great dividends in improving every aspect of your shooting, all in the comfort of your own home and without the expense of costly ammunition. Ben Stoeger, a world-class competitive shooter, asserts that “the superior training method [is] a combination of live and dry-fire.” With dry-fire, you can work on:

Fundamentals of marksmanship:
You can work on your stance, grip, sight picture and alignment, trigger manipulation (in particular, breaking a shot without upsetting your point of aim), breathing, and follow-through.

Weapon manipulation:
You can practice drawing your gun, reloading, clearing malfunctions, and other gun handling to make your actions efficient, smooth, fast, and subconscious.

Indexing your weapon:
You can work to hone your natural presentation of your gun such that you can see and identify a target then immediately draw and present your weapon with the sights almost exactly on target. The same holds true for transitioning from one target to another.

Visual processing:
With dry-fire practice, you can really concentrate on what you see and how you process it. You can work on quickly switching focus back and forth between targets and your sights, develop your ability to shoot with both eyes open, and determine what you need to see to get hits on various types of targets from large to small.

You can practice moving from one shooting position to another, whether running from point A to B or quickly dropping from standing to prone. You can practice shooting on the move or working around or with obstacles, barricades, or other objects.

And much more:
Awkward shooting positions; shooting, reloading, and clearing malfunctions with one hand; support side shooting; working with slings — there’s no end to the practice and improvement that you can achieve with dry-fire. If you have the space, you can construct entire scenarios or mock stages.

Stoeger further explains that, “training, without actually shooting your gun, can give you an excellent demonstration of what it is you’re actually doing. When you are doing dry-fire training, you aren’t going to be distracted by the noise and blast of the gun. In a way, you will see more, all you need to do is pay attention … . The bottom line is this: If you want to get really good, dry-fire is part of the equation.”

Frank Proctor, USPSA grandmaster and former US Army Special Forces operator and instructor, emphasizes the key role dry-firing can play in improving your skills: “Shooting is visual. Dry-fire time can develop the visual connection between the gun and target. That visual connection with the gun is what puts bullets on target.

In its most basic form, you need nothing more than your unloaded firearm and a safe area to practice in. But humans being humans, we can’t leave well enough alone and have come up with a plethora of products to enhance dry-fire practice and mitigate its weaknesses. Some of the primary limitations of dry-firing with an unloaded firearm include:

Trigger reset: Unless you have a double action only (DAO) gun or revolver that cocks and releases the hammer with each pull of the trigger, semi-automatic guns will go dead after your first shot without a live round to cycle the action. As a result, shooters may manually rack the slide after each shot for single-shot practice, or simply continue pressing the dead trigger while addressing multiple targets to simulate follow-up shots.

Verification of accuracy: With no projectile hurtling downrange, you may not know for certain if you had properly aligned your sights and kept them on target while breaking your shot. That being said, to really advance your shooting prowess, you should learn to call your shots — that is, know exactly where your sights were aimed when you broke your shot. You should strive to know if you jerked a shot wide immediately after pulling the trigger, by having noticed that your sights had come off target when you actually dropped the hammer. So you should learn to call your shots during dry-fire; this can be done with an unloaded gun, you just won’t have verification that you were right.

Lack of recoil: Nothing quite matches the blast, noise, and fury of a small explosion occurring in your hands. Without live fire in the mix, it’s difficult to truly master flinching, recoil management, and calling your shots when your sights lift and jump around under actual recoil.

On the pages that follow, we present a sampling of products designed to improve the dry-fire experience:

Books: Reading isn’t as much fun as shooting, but even in the age of YouTube and Instagram you can still learn a tremendous amount from information printed on dead trees.

Firearm accessories: Various devices address the trigger reset problem and simulate recoil. Laser emitters can confirm your aim, actuate reactive targets and simulators, and help you diagnose problems (e.g. excessive movement while pressing the trigger).

Software and apps: Computer-based software and smartphone apps can detect hits via visible or infrared lasers, track and score your performance, diagnose problems, and provide simulations for you to practice.

Targets: Static and reactive dry-fire targets can make your practice more realistic, confirm hits, and be a lot of fun.

Training guns: Replica guns with laser emitters and self-resetting triggers can help make your training more realistic, effective, and fun.

One thing to note about laser-based systems: In spite of their benefits, visible lasers can also become quite distracting in extended use, and you don’t want to get in the habit of looking for the laser splash rather than watching your sights. Using infrared laser emitters is one solution. Another is to wear colored glasses to filter out your laser when you don’t want to see it — red Dewalt laser enhancement glasses effectively nullified the SIRT’s green laser. It felt like we were practicing on Mars, but it worked. In theory, green lenses should work on red lasers, but we didn’t have any to test first hand.

Training Guns


Laser Shot Simulations



The brand-new SIM17 feels quite realistic and looks fantastic — the overall weight is spot on, and the polymer frame and metal slide feels great in hand. The slide reciprocates for more realistic training, and the trigger is pretty good, though not as good as the SIRT. Our prototype unit broke at around 4 pounds, with a reset that was nearly at the forward travel of the trigger. It comes with a red laser; an infrared emitter is $100 extra.

The laser module is held in the barrel with a set screw; in our prototype unit, there was some play between the module and the barrel, so the zero of the laser would occasionally shift. The laser also occasionally wouldn’t activate when the slide was in battery, and weapon mounted lights were loose on the light rail — again, we had a prototype for testing; the company indicated production units have these bugs worked out. It nestled just fine in our holsters. The final product promises to be a highly realistic training tool.


Next Level Training
SIRT Training Pistol (Model 110)

$439 (metal slide, green laser)


The SIRT training pistol is the grand daddy of advanced laser training pistols and still offers the best trigger of them all, with realistic take up, break, and reset in roughly the same places you’d expect from a stock Glock. And if you’re not satisfied, you can adjust trigger position, break position, overtravel, break weight, take-up weight, and degree of sear engagement. It sports two lasers, one to indicate when you’re taking up the trigger (which you can turn on or off) and another for when you break the shot, to help you diagnose your shooting. We’d appreciate a third mode with all lasers turned off, though you can achieve the same with some tape.

Overall weight and feel translate well to an actual Glock, and you can even install real Glock sights to match your primary gun. The slide is fixed and doesn’t reciprocate. The SIRT played nice with the holsters and lights we had on hand. As an extra bonus, you can use its dummy magazine in an actual Glock to avoid locking back the slide while practicing. Glock and M&P models are available, with metal or polymer slides in different colors and red, green, or infrared lasers. The SIRT lives up to its reputation.


Smart Firearms
SF30 Gen 4



Smart Firearms Training built its business supplying agencies with plastic training guns for defensive tactics training, now adding additional features for firearms training purposes as well. The original product is all plastic by design, for durability and to avoid being too punishing to participants in combatives and other training scenarios. It also features a trigger finger proximity detector, which senses when a user puts their finger into the trigger guard. Based on police department policies, it determines when to sound an alarm (e.g. if the trigger finger lingers too long without starting to press the trigger). Large agencies such as the NYPD, New York State Police, and DC Metro use SFT guns for officer training. The addition of a laser emitter (visible or infrared) allows hits, misses, and muzzle direction to be confirmed and observed as well. A built-in speaker can be configured to emit simulated gun shot noises and trigger finger alarms, or remain silent.

As a plastic gun, it doesn’t feel the same as and lacks the weight of a real gun, though the shape is accurate — it fit in our Glock holsters and accepted weapon lights. The laser emitter worked well, zeroed perfectly with the sights out of the box. The trigger broke at just over 6 pounds and can be adjusted lighter if desired, though any modifications are permanent. The ambidextrous magazine release on our test gun ejects the weighted magazine all too easily, per the request of an agency — SFT already has a modification underway, and this will be remedied in future production. The company is also working on a new version with a reciprocating metal or plastic slide.

Weight (ounces)
                        Gun     Loaded Magazine    Total
Glock 17          22.6      11                                       33.5
SIM17              26.2      6.8                                    33.1
SIRT                22.1      8.3                                     30.4
SF30 Gen 4    11.1       9.8                                     20.9

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