Lee’s note: This is the last of a four-part series from Michael Sheesley – a true expert – a practicing lawyer, firearms trainer and lethal force expert living on St. Thomas, USVI.
HONING YOUR RAZOR’S EDGE: DRY FIRE
by Michael Sheesley, Esq.
With the recent increase in prices of ammunition and a marked decrease in availability how can you maintain your razor sharp edge in training? Outlined in this series of articles are some ways to train cheaply (or free!), efficiently and virtually anywhere.
The purpose of shooting is hitting. In order to hit a target with a firearm the muzzle must be pointed at the target and simultaneously the trigger must be pressed to its rearward position in order to make the gun fire. Undoubtedly the best practice is live fire, putting hundreds of thousands of rounds down range.
The concept of “dry firing” is manipulating your firearm exactly the same way as when you are shooting live rounds without discharging live ammunition.
Before you begin you must make absolutely sure your firearm is unloaded. On a semiautomatic pistol this involves removing the magazine and then ensuring the chamber does not have a live round loaded into it. This should be accomplished by locking the slide back and visually and physically inspecting both the magazine well and the chamber. Do this once, look away and count to three and then repeat the process of visually and physically inspecting the firearm once again. On a revolver the cylinder should be opened and any live cartridges removed. To be absolutely safe take any live ammunition and place it in a different room from where you will be conducting your dry fire.
The first part of dry fire practice is trigger control. Pick a target, align your sights and acquire a sight picture on your target. Now slowly begin applying rearward pressure on the trigger. Try to imagine increasingly applying one ounce of pressure at a time. Concentrate on your sight alignment and sight picture. Attempt to move the trigger rearward in a straight line. As you slowly increase the pressure at some point the trigger will allow the hammer or striker will to move forward with an audible click.
If you are firing a double action revolver all you need to do is to ease the trigger to the forward position and repeat the process. Maintain positive contact between the pad of your trigger finger and the trigger at all times.
If your firearm is a semiautomatic pistol, continue to hold the trigger in the rearward position, take your weak hand and rack the slide of the firearm and then ease the trigger forward until you hear and feel a ‘click’. This is the trigger resetting. Once the trigger resets you again press the trigger rearward. The audible click is most pronounced in the Glock pistols of modern polymer framed, striker fired firearms but can be heard and felt in most modern guns.
There is no need to allow the trigger to travel farther forward than is necessary to reset the trigger. The amount of forward travel differs from make and model of firearm. A custom 1911 will have almost no forward travel. With modern double action only pocket pistols the trigger will have to travel virtually the entire way forward in order to reset the trigger. Glocks, Smith and Wesson M&Ps and Springfield XDs are somewhere in between. Learning the trigger reset on your particular firearm allows fast and accurate follow up shots on a target. You are only manipulating the trigger the minimum amount necessary in order to make the firearm function which gets rid of extraneous movement and therefore improves accuracy.
The easiest way to ensure that your firearm is pointed at the intended target is to aim using the sights. The front sight (which looks like a post) should be centered with equal space on either side inside the rear sight (which looks like a notch). The sights should be aligned equally on top. This is sight alignment. Once the sights are aligned place the top center of the front sight on the target. This is sight picture.
Focus on your sight alignment and sight picture when dry firing. Your sight alignment and sight picture should remain steady and on target throughout the trigger press.
One of the best places to practice dry firing is in your home. It is critical that you remember rules 2 and 4 of gun safety. #2 never point your firearm at anything that you do not intend to destroy/are willing to put a bullet in. #4 be aware of your target and what surrounds it.
I do not dry fire practice using my dog as a target. If I screw up and the firearm is loaded I am not willing to put a bullet in my dog. Similarly, any living thing or family heirloom should not be used as a target for dry firing. Remembering Rule #4 do not use the sheetrock wall which has your child’s bedroom on the other side as a backstop for dry firing. If you make a mistake and a bullet travels through the wall are you willing to put your child’s life at risk?
I have heard a story of a police chief dry fire practicing in his office. He loaded his firearm just as his phone rang. As he was speaking with his colleague he absentmindedly picked up his firearm to do some more dry fire practice and BOOM! Stories like this underscore the importance of following Rules #2 and #4.
Once you have practiced trigger control and trigger reset take these skills and add them to what we previously learned: drawing, moving and communicating. A great way to practice this entire skill set is using your television.
Key up your favorite movie or TV show. Every time a certain character appears onscreen communicate a command, move, draw, acquire a sight picture and dry fire. Scan for other threats and safely re-holster your firearm. You will be surprised how quickly characters appear on and off screen. Be honest with yourself and if you do not have a good sight picture or if the character disappears before you can dry fire treat it as if it were a psychological stop. Remember it is just as important to train not to fire when it is not proper. Do not get into the habit of drawing sloppily and jerking the trigger without a proper sight picture. If you do this it will ingrain bad habits which will show up when you are training with live ammunition on the range.
This should now give you a solid foundation to allow you to train virtually anywhere for free!
Train hard, stay safe.
Michael Sheesley is a practicing attorney, a firearms instructor and a partner in Virgin Arms, a FFL holder serving the law enforcement and civilian community in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Mr. Sheesley regularly deals with criminal matters involving the use of lethal force and is a consultant to expert witnesses. Mr. Sheesley is a member of the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors and the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association. He can be contacted at: email@example.com