If I could convince you that there is only one firearms training technique that is guaranteed to blow-away your competition, would you use it? What if I told you that this one technique is cheaper and safer than any other way of training with firearms and it can even be done in your home? Would you think it’s too good to be true? Listen up: it’s not! In this article, I’m going to share with you the secret training technique I used as a Navy SEAL Firearms Instructor, and now teach in my private courses.
If you’ve read my bestselling book, How to Shoot Like a Navy SEAL or subscribe to my firearms training blog you already know the secret. For the rest of you, I could tell you the secret…but then I’d have to kill you. All joking aside, I’m guessing most of you have heard of this technique but may have questions about how it works or don’t know the benefits. What I am talking about is, of course, dry fire training.
What is Dry Fire?
Dry fire is the generic term for practicing weapons manipulation with an unloaded gun. Unlike what many seem to believe, it does not just mean pulling the trigger. I can teach a monkey the proper way to pull a trigger (although he might just slap the hell out of it). Dry fire training involves everything you do with that weapon, from the basic fundamentals to shooting on the move. Dry firing also refers to clearing malfunctions, practicing reloads, drawing your gun, or almost any other skill you need to work on to be a skilled shooter.
Because so many people think of dry fire as limited to just pulling the trigger, I sometimes like to use the term a Dry Weapons Manipulation or my newest S.E.A.L. acronym, Safe, Effective, Ammoless-Learning™. Got a new piece of kit? You’d be well served to spend some time dry-firing and working with that piece of new gear before going to the range to figure out how it works…or worse yet, waiting until you need to use it in a competition, the line of duty or other lethal engagement.
I know most of you are just like me and want to get better at shooting, but don’t have the time or resources needed to improve or maintain this critical skill. When I was in the SEAL teams I pretty much had unlimited supplies of ammunition and was paid to perfect my skills – it was great! But now that I’m out with a family to enjoy and a business to run, just finding the time to get to the range seems to get harder and harder. Sure, I have 15 minutes here or there between a kid’s soccer game and trying to write, but the closest range to me is a 15-minute drive…what to do, what to do?
Enter Dry Fire…
Even if I did have the time and endless supplies of ammo like the good-ol’ days, I still think dry fire training gives you more bang for the buck. Think about all the things you need to practice to become a more effective shooter: shooting positions, grip, picking up sights, movement, tracking moving targets, barricades, trigger control, breathing, front sight focus, natural point of aim…the list goes on and on. I’ve seen many people go to the range just to practice how to draw a pistol. Not only are you wasting time and money, but you’re losing focus on the specific technique you’re trying to master.
When you dry fire, you can practice all the skills you normally work on live-fire without going to the range and paying for targets, ammo, range time and gas. By taking the time to dry fire, you’ll be able to go to the range and confirm everything you learned dry firing and quickly become a very proficient shooter. It’s just like what commentators talk about during boxing or MMA matches; the fight just confirms who has trained harder and better. Improving your shooting is not magic; the magic is in the dry fire!
Like me, you may have heard some people say that dry fire is not a good training technique for various reasons such as it’s bad for the gun, you need to feel the recoil or it teaches bad habits. So, let’s debunk each of these very quickly so we can start improving your shooting!
Myth #1: Dry fire is bad for the gun!
There is a bit of truth to this one: If you are shooting a rimfire weapon you should not let the hammer fall on an empty chamber. But this myth is busted in several other ways. First off, saying you shouldn’t dry fire because pulling the trigger might damage the gun shows that the person either thinks that dry fire is only pulling the trigger or that pulling the trigger is the only thing you need to practice to become a better shooter. In addition, there are products like Snap-Caps that you can put in your chamber to protect the firearm from damage. Either way, this myth is busted!
Myth #2: You need to feel the recoil to learn how to control it.
Do you need to take a punch to the face to learn how to block it? I hope not. Dry fire allows you to build the muscle memory of perfect trigger manipulation without getting punched in the face. The reason shooters anticipate, flinch, buck or close their eyes is because they have only tried learning a new technique with an explosion going off in their hands and in front of their face as they try to maintain front sight focus. If this is you, take a step back to move forward.
Practice dry fire until your body and your mind know that pulling the trigger does not automatically equal an explosion in your face. Then, when you go to the range next time, you won’t over-react like Pavlovs’ dogs. Of course the other reason this is busted (like Chris Kyle busted Jesse Ventura’s face) is that once again the person giving this advice understands dry fire to only mean pulling a trigger.
Myth #3: Dry fire teaches bad habits.
It really confuses me as to why anyone would even think this. My only thought is that the people saying this don’t understand how we learn motor-skills. Out of the three, this myth is not only wrong, but it’s actually the complete opposite of reality! When you learn and practice with dry fire it allows you to practice at a level of such perfection that it repels bad habits. By using dry fire you are literally Paving the Path to Perfection™!
Paving the Path to Perfection™
Dry fire improves the neuroplasticity of your brain by creating insulation called myelin along the path of neurons used to perform that motor skill. So every time you train you are paving a neural pathway in your brain. Do the exact same movement enough and you’ll create perfect muscle memory – your brain only knows one away to do the task – it can’t make a mistake. And like any path, the smoother it is – that faster you can go!
That’s why it’s critical to never practice a whole technique start to finish when you know you made a mistake in the middle. This is a big mistake I see many instructors do in letting student make mistakes before correcting them, why? To teach them a lesson? Unfortunately it does teach their brain that what it just did was one way you want to perform that skill, your learning brain doesn’t know right from wrong. Each mistake, no matter how small, is teaching your brain one option – and it’s not the option we want to imprint. To learn more about how this works, read my article, Why Dry Fire is More Effective Than Going to the Range at Center Mass Group.
Dry Fire Doesn’t Have to be “Dry”
One complaint I often hear from those who’ve bought into the benefits of dry fire is that it can get pretty boring. I can relate to that myself and feel your pain. It’s certainly more fun to go the range and see targets react or at least some holes in paper to feel like you’re actually doing something. Just understanding that dry fire is much more than just pulling the trigger should help with breaking up the monotony, and I’ve also come up with a Dry Fire Training Toolbox – a list of the training accessories I personally use and recommend to not only improve your training, but to also make it not so… “dry”.
I’m not saying that you no longer need to go to the range or that you can’t learn there, but hopefully I’ve opened your eyes to the real benefits of dry weapons manipulation or “Safe, Effective, Ammoless-Learning.”™ Now what you do with this new-found knowledge is up to you.
Do you dry fire? If not, what myths can I help you debunk? Let me know in the comments below.
About the Author
Chris “Snowman” Sajnog is a retired Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer, bestselling author, speaker and owner of Center Mass Group, LLC – a Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business in San Diego, CA. Chris commands an unparalleled level of respect when it comes to weapons and tactical training. He was hand selected by Navy Special Warfare Command to develop the curriculum for the current US Navy SEAL Sniper training program. As a Navy SEAL he was the senior sniper instructor, a certified Master Training Specialist (MTS), BUD/S and advanced training marksmanship instructor. He is currently a DOD and DHS certified Counter-Terrorism, Law Enforcement and Advanced Marksmanship Instructor. Chris has trained DOD, DHS, FBI, CIA, Law Enforcement and multiple foreign allies in all aspects of combat weapons handling, marksmanship and tactics.