The Importance of Dry Practice

Last week I taught the CCW range day with a new student who had taken the class day a couple of months earlier. I had wondered to myself why he had taken so long to finish the class and was pleasantly surprised that he had taken those two months to dry practice . . . and it paid off for him perfectly. He shot well all day and scored very high on his qualification targets.

Dry practice is an integral part of the learning process of the use of firearms and for most shooters it is seldom if ever done. Almost every movement you would make with a gun can be dry practiced to increase your speed and your competency, from simply being able to acquire a correct grip to all of the physical manipulations you would ever need to do. It is in effect the fastest way to neural pathway programming and unconscious competence under stress.

Simply going to the range and throwing a couple of hundred rounds at a piece of paper will quite often do you more harm than good. That is not practice; that is wasting money and often engraining bad habits. It takes 300 to 500 repetitions to engrain a physical skill to memory. A skill that has been engrained poorly will often require 3000 – 5000 repetitions to eliminate and reprogram. Fortunately for the vast majority of amateur shooters they don’t have very many engrained habits, good, bad or indifferent.

THE GRIP
For new and old shooters a great way to start dry practice is to reinforce the correct grip. Start with the gun laying on its left side (reverse for left handed shooters). Quickly pick the gun up with the right hand placed correctly on the back strap and place your left hand high on the side of the gun with your left thumb indexed towards the target. The higher the left hand the better control during recoil. The right thumb should essentially be inert and resting on top of the left hand.

This is best,

Not this,

The finished grip should look very similar to this,

When you look down on your grip the left thumb should look pretty much like your trigger finger. Practice this dry 25 to 50 times per session two or three days per week until it becomes second nature.

THE TRIGGER PRESS
When we watch students shoot and we see seven o’clock misses it is almost always applying too much pressure to the trigger or shooting from off the hard spot. In fact you can almost point to trigger control as the cause of all misses. What we hope to accomplish in dry fire is to program the mind to know exactly where the hard spot on the trigger is and exactly how many pounds of pressure it takes to break the trigger. The hard spot is the place on the trigger where all play or slack has been removed. Firing from off the hard spot will almost always lead to a six o’clock miss.

Stand with the muzzle of the gun almost touching a wall so you can readily detect any movement as you press your trigger. Practice this 50 times or more a week, frequency of practice is always better than less frequent longer sessions. After you can do 50 presses with no visual movement begin to balance objects on the slide or front sight until your mind can apply just the correct amount of pressure to the trigger with no movement of the front sight. For those with DA/SA guns about 65% of your trigger presses should be done in the double action mode, ditto for any live fire shooting.

Once your mind knows how much pressure to apply it can do it instantaneously with virtually no movement of the gun, thus you are becoming unconsciously competent with this manipulation of the trigger.

THE EXTEND/FIRE FROM THE RETENTION READY
The retention ready is the position where the gun is after you have drawn and rotated to target. The gun should be near your chest with the slide directly below your dominant eye. Once the muzzle is on the target you take the play out of the trigger and rest the trigger guard on the index finger of your support hand.

At this point you slowly extend the gun towards the target and press the trigger at the end of the extend. It’s important in dry practice to do this slowly so you can engrain the technique of steering the front sight to hide the desired point of impact.

This one thing will greatly improve your speed and accuracy on the range. Remember to place the gun in the correct position, do not worry about the left hand of the grip until you reach full extend. The left hand will fold correctly on the gun if the index finger is in the correct position before you extend. The right arm is accelerating forward and as you close in on full extend apply the brakes with the left hand and PRESS.

The object is as always tracking the front sight in your peripheral vision while steering it to the correct spot on the target. I practice this three or four days a week for about 10 minutes and attribute this skill to being able to get a round on the target from the holster in under 1 second.

DRAWING FROM THE HOLSTER
The first step is to grip the gun while placing your left hand over your heart, as if the two movements are one. The grip on the gun should be a shooting grip, which is high on the back strap, three fingers around the grip, trigger finger alongside the slide and that pesky right thumb high and out of the way for when the left hand joins the gun.

The next step is to pull the gun high, as high as your heart if possible physically. The muzzle is still down and has not rotated to target as yet and the trigger finger is on the frame of the gun, not on the trigger guard. With many concealed holsters pulling slow will not work well so you should learn to snap the gun out of the holster in a rapid movement.

Once the gun is high enough rotate the muzzle onto the target and position the gun in front of your chest directly below your dominant eye. The left hand would then slide over with the left index finger resting in the correct position under the trigger guard. I do not try to grip the gun with the left hand this close to my chest at this position because it is awkward and normally you have to begin to extend the gun before the left hand can close onto the grip.

It will look similar to this but I prefer the gun directly below my right eye and obviously if you are left eye dominant the gun position will be even further over in front of your chest.

How fast should you be able to get the gun into the retention ready position? If you can do this is 0.5 seconds and can extend to target firing accurately in 0.75 seconds that means one round on target at 7 yards in 1.25 seconds . . . which is pretty quick.

SAFE PRACTICES
Obviously you never practice at home with a loaded gun. In my practice areas there are never, EVER and live ammunition. I unload my gun in my office, as it is the only place where I keep live ammunition in the house and I tell myself out loud three time that “the gun is empty”.

I then take my gun in holster to where I am going to perform my dry practice drills. As I try to practice every day for 10 minutes I have found it is easiest in the morning right before I prepare to leave for work. Doing this the same time every day will make for a more dedicated practice session and makes it safer as it becomes a routine.

At the end of my practice session I take my gun back to my office and load it for the day. After loading the gun I announce loudly three times that “the gun is loaded”.

There are many other things you can practice dry but these are the basics. If you consider this that everything you would do in a training session at the range you can do dry your shooting will improve dramatically in a very short time.

Keep in mind that you are engraining in your mind habits that you will fall back to in a violent encounter, make your best effort in dry practice to do every step perfectly because once engrained it is very difficult to change. Even though we have neuroplasticity it can take months to change a bad habit.

OFF TO THE RANGE
Now I get to go put holes in paper, timed and scored to see how well my dry practice is working. While shooting is a lot of fun it is not really practice. It is simply measuring the effect of your practice.

When I get to the range I perform certain skills to warm up and then I start testing myself through a variety of drills. Generally speaking I shoot the same drills all the time as they are a measure of my progress. I normally end the practice session with a room scenario which requires all of the skills I work on during the day.

Failing to train IS training to fail.
Liberty Firearms Training