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A Year of Dry Fire Practice

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2016 was the year I started seriously competing in various practical shooting sports.  Prior to 2016 I had shot competitively before, just not with any consistency or resolve to excel.  So once I decided to get serious about competition shooting, I quickly came to the realization that it was time to get serious about dry fire.

I had always viewed dry fire as something that could be done to help maintain your defensive shooting skills if you didn’t have the time or money to make it to the range weekly.  Dry fire was good for the one box of ammo a month shooter, I thought.  I typically shot 150 rounds of 9mm a week, so I thought that I was exempt from the need to dry fire.  But to develp one’s capabilities to the level they need to be for competitive shooting, dry fire is a must for most people.

I started regularly dry firing in June of 2016.  My goal is to dry fire for a hour a day – typically coming from both an early morning session followed by an evening session five days a week.  Generally I’m shooting either Saturday or Sunday (often both) so I don’t dry fire on the weekend.  Pistol dry fire takes the lion’s share of my dry fire time, as it is the most difficult platform to shoot competitvely.  So I’ll usually start off with pistol dry fire drills, then finish up the session with either shotgun or rifle.  Often (though not daily) I record my results in an Apple iOS Notes file on whatever iOS device is handy so I can observer performance trends over time.

For most of the drills I perform, I mostly use some picture frames I have hung up on the wall in my basement as “targets”:

With these I can do my 3X3 drill, and my modified V-drill (see below).  But I also use another set of scaled cardboard targets which I purchased from the Ben Stoeger Pro Shop  in another part of my basement for other drills:

As you can see in the above photo, I’m using a photographic umbrella (these are set up in photo studio part of my basement) to partially obscure one of the USPSA style body targets.  Sometimes I’ll run “mini stages” transitioning from one set of targets to another to get some movement in my dryfire practice.

In terms of what specifically I do for dry fire drills, it often depends on what matches I’m preparing to shoot, and whether or not classifier stages will be involved.  Often times I can find out a few days or upwards of a week in advance of a match what the stages will look like, and I will tailor my dry fire accordingly.  In many cases, you can practice 3-GUN NATION and especially USPSA classifiers in dry fire, which I do if I know I have a particular one coming up at my next match.  But otherwise, here’s what I typically do in dry fire:

PISTOL:

I use innert ammunition in my pistol magazines which is designed to use during dry fire to help simulate the same weight your gun and magazines will have during live fire.  Here’s a link to what I typically use for 9mm dryfire practice ammo.

3×3 Drill – this is essentially El Presidente without the surrender start facing opposite of target.  Instead, I start facing my target, draw and fire twice on each, reload and repeat.    This is a bread-and-butter pistol drill for me.  In one drill, I can practice my draw, my reload, and transitioning from target to target.  When I started doing this drill, I performed it in 5 seconds.  Currently I’m at 3.5 seconds and I’m not sure I can run it appreciably faster than that.

Plate Rack Drill – Another dry fire pistol drill that I do quite often involves using a cardboard simulated plate rack target that I purchased from Ben Stoeger’s Pro Shop.  It’s scaled in size – 1ft in distance from the target simulates 2 yards on a real plate rack.  I typically shoot it from 10 to 15 ft. away, depending on what I’m practicing.  I can run in 2 seconds at max speed, making sure I’m seeing the dot of my optic on each plate.

Wednesday is usually my mid-week rest day from the gym, so I do an extra-long dry fire session in the morning.  I recently purchased Ben Stoeger’s latest book Dryfire Reloaded to get some fresh ideas on dry fire drills, and Stoeger did not disappoint.  I’ll typically pick 3 or 4 different drills to practice for 10 or 15 minutes each during these extended training sessions, particularly if I’ve got a USPSA pistol match coming up.  I normally do this to introduce some variety and to keep things from getting stale or boring.

Lots of good stuff here in this book – I highly recommend it.

SHOTGUN

Most of what I dry fire practice with shotgun involves loading – inert “dummy” rounds are used.  Here’s a link so you can pick some up for yourself.

Loaded Quad –   This is drill that launched 1000 YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram videos of guys quad loading their shotguns.  It essentially simulates the most often performed reload during a shotgun match – you start with the shotgun shouldered, with one round in the chamber.  On the beep of timer, load 8 rounds as fast as possbile, reshoulder the shotgun and pull the trigger.  When I started this drill laster year, it took me 7 seconds.  I’ve been able to do this drill as fast as 3 seconds when I use a magazine tube spring in my shotgun that has some coils cut and is well broken in from use.  But these days in both dry fire and during matches I use an unaltered spring, so my drill times are more like 3.5 seconds.  I’m OK with being a tad slower on the reload – the trade off is improved reliability which I’ll gladly accept.

There are some variations to this drill that can be run to simulate running dry, such a match saver start, or bolt closed with a completely empty gun (no match saver).

Keith Garcia’s Load 12 Drill – This is a good one to do as it incorporates shouldering the shotgun (and getting a good cheek weld and sight picture) along with quad loading.  Start with a round in the chamber at port of arms (stock on belt).  On the beep, shoulder the shotgun and simulate taking one shot on a target – I typically say “bang!” to similate the time of taking a shot.  Then load four rounds, and simulate two shots at two different targets.  Repeat the load and repeat the two shots on two different targets.  Do one final quad load and take a single shot on target.  I’ve been running this one pretty consistently in the 9 second range.

RIFLE/PCC

I spend the least amount of time each week dry fire practicing with my AR-15 or my PCC rifles.  Mainly I like to do drills which focus on transitions and reloading, though admitedly outside of classifiers, it’s rare to reload a rifle during a USPSA or 3-Gun stage.

Modified V-Drill – My favorite rifle drill to perform is what I call a modified V-Drill.  It’s modified in the sense that the way I have it set up in dry fire, all the targets are on the same wall or plane.  In a live fire V-Drill, the targets cascaded in distance away from either side of the front and center target (five targets forming a “V”).  But the purpose of this drill is to transition from target to target as quickly as possible, which is excellent practice.

In addition to the modified V-Drill, I’ll often run the previously mentioned Plate Rack Drill as well as the 3×3 Drill – particularly when preparing for classifiers that involve reloading.

HAVE I BENEFITED FROM A YEAR OF DRY FIRE?

I believe I have benefited, yes.  Clearly I’ve improved the mechanical skills which most directly relate to skills I use during a match – my draw speed, my reload speed, and my shotgun loading speed.  Admittedly, in some cases it seems as though there’s a point of diminishing returns on some of the drills after which point improving your time on the drill will do very little for you by way of improving your live fire skills.  But for me, there’s still a benefit in these situations.  I’m not naturally a fast shooter.  I’m generally very precise, but no so fast.  So any drill that gets me to move progressively faster with a gun in my hand will benefite me.

If you’re not incorporating dry fire into your training plan, you’re definitely missing out.

About John B. Holbrook, II
John B. Holbrook, II is a freelance writer, photographer, and author of ThruMyLens.org, as well as LuxuryTyme.com and TheSeamasterReferencePage.com. *All text and images contained in this web site are the original work of the author, John B. Holbrook, II and are copyright protected. Use of any of the information or images without the permission of the author is prohibited.

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