Dry practice, also called dry fire, is an incredible tool. If you are not familiar with what dry practice is, it is practicing manipulations of a firearm without the use of live ammunition. All the cool kids do it. Seriously though, there is immense value in correctly done dry fire, but there are some rules to follow.
First, we need to address safety. Anytime we are manipulating a firearm, there is an additional risk of making a mistake. All of the usual safety rules still apply. We need to verify the gun we are using is in fact unloaded. Remove all live ammunition from the training area just as an extra measure. We also still need a safe backstop, even though there is no actual intention to fire the firearm, all the rules still apply.
Dry practice is a mentally taxing process. In order for it to be valuable, we must execute each repetition as flawlessly as possible. Anything less and we are wasting reps. Because of that, the general recommendation is to keep dry practice sessions to 10-15 minutes. Any more and we get into possible fatigue issues. Once fatigue sets in we start to poorly execute reps, which leads to a negative return on the practice.
There are three specific areas we can focus on to make the best use of our time and effort with dry practice.
I prefer to work trigger control in isolation when I am not working any other skill. It is critical when working trigger control that we maintain an intense focus on the front sight. The front sight is what will tell us if we are pressing the trigger correctly. If we press the trigger straight to the rear correctly, the front sight will remain perfectly still. If the sight hops, dips, or jumps to one side or the other just as the trigger breaks, we messed it up.
To force this focus, I use what is called a Wall Drill. The muzzle of the handgun is placed an inch or two from a light colored wall, then press the trigger. With the front sight so near a light colored surface with no target, it helps to force the focus onto the front sight.
Another critical skill area is drawing the gun. This is especially true if drawing from concealment, where clearing the cover garment can add additional complexity to the process. For this, I like to use the 10-8 Dry Fire target that has circles scaled to represent different distances. When practicing the draw, I do not press the trigger. Instead, I race to the sight alignment and sight picture to get a theoretical hit on whatever size target I am using. The reason I don’t add the trigger press is that I don’t want to race through a trigger press. My sight alignment and sight picture should be my go signal for a trigger press, but if I am trying to beat a par time, I tend to cheat and press the trigger before I really should be. This creates poor programming and can lead to visual impatience when shooting.
Reloads are not at all common in defensive shooting incidents, but it is my luck that if I am unfortunate enough to end up in a defensive shooting, I will probably have to do a reload too. To practice emergency reloads, I start with the slide locked back, empty magazine in the gun. I have a spare magazine loaded with dummy rounds for my reload. Typically I run on a par time, and the start beep initiates my reload. Get the new magazine in the gun, slide into battery, sights back on target. Again, I don’t incorporate a trigger press here, but I do get back on the sights. In a perfect world, I get back on the sights before the end of the par time.
The fantastic thing about dry fire is that it is nearly free, and is an incredible skill-building tool. All you really need is a safe location to practice, a few dummy rounds, and a little bit of time. If you happen to have a shot timer, it can help, but you can also use a free shot timer app on your smartphone for these sorts of tasks. Be sure not to overlook dry practice in your training program.