With much of the country (and world) practicing social distancing to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus, you’ve probably found yourself with some extra time on your hands. I know my gun ranges (both indoors and out) are currently shuttered, which makes reviewing guns a little difficult. It can be frustrating for sure, but we just need to suck it up and get through it. When the gun range is closed… the tough get going – or something like that.
However, there is at least one silver lining in this situation for many folks. The time you normally spent on other activities can be re-channeled into tasks you never make room for in your standard routine. All those things that fell into the “I’ll get around to it” bucket can be revisited. With a little effort and imagination (and maybe a few bucks) we can really profit from those extra hours in our schedule.
This is a biggie. For folks that are shooting enthusiasts, especially those that carry, I’m a huge advocate of methodical and continual training. Now, I’m not talking six hours a day every day – you’ve got a life right? But shooting skills are perishable and periodically revisiting the fundamentals, as well as more advanced training, keeps those skills from deteriorating over time.
There’s no substitute for live fire training. It’s where the rubber meets the road (not to mention it is a whole lot of fun). But in a situation like this where you can’t go to the range and bang away at physical targets, you just might find the substitute activities hone your skills in ways that live fire is challenged to do.
So let’s start with something basic… Dry firing.
For noobs, dry fire is just simulating fire by pulling the trigger on a cocked gun without live ammunition. With new pistols, dry fire is a good way to break in the mechanical surfaces inside the pistol. It very slowly “mates” contact surfaces that may not be perfectly smooth from the factory.
In a training context however, when the gun range is closed it is an opportunity to practice trigger control and rhythm to improve your shooting accuracy. It’s cheap, easy and with a little discipline – very productive.
Safe Dry Firing
First things first. Before dry firing any weapon, remove and inspect the magazine and confirm it is empty. Cycle the slide and lock it back, inspecting the chamber closely. If it is a revolver swing out the cylinder and inspect the chamber confirming all are empty.
If you removed any ammunition during this step put it in the other room or in the safe until you’re done here. Now go ahead and double check it. We’re trying to fill time right? Take a few extra seconds to be safe.
Insert the empty magazine back in the pistol or swing the empty revolver cylinder into place, cock the pistol. Point in a confirmed safe direction and pull the trigger. Congratulations, you’ve just dry fired! Not that exciting is it? No, not really. Unless you are a gun noob, you’ve probably done this hundreds, or even thousands of times.
The difference here is turning your simple clearing exercise into some productive practice.
Before going on to the dry firing exercise, just one more cautionary note. Most, but not all modern center fire pistols can be dry fired without damaging the firearm. You can (and should) confirm this with the gun’s manufacturer just as a general practice.
However, although this is true and you’re unlikely to damage a modern center fire gun with occasional dry fire, we’re going to do it a lot.
In this case I highly recommend purchasing some snap caps in the specific caliber of your guns and using them when you practice. The inert training ammunition or “snap caps” simulate the resistance ammunition offers to the moving parts of the firing mechanism.
Snap caps prevent parts that should not meet from meeting, over-traveling or contacting at abnormal speeds and forces. It makes the gun function normally except for the bang part. Snap caps are cheap, guns are not so it’s inexpensive protection for your firearm.
Unlike center fire pistols, rimfire pistols and revolvers are rarely safe to dry fire empty (even when manuals may say otherwise). Don’t chance damaging your gun. If it’s rimfire, always use a snap cap to dry fire.
Dry Firing Practice: The Quarter Drill
This exercise is extremely popular not only because it’s effective, but it only costs a quarter! Cock your unloaded pistol with the snap cap in place and balance a quarter (or any coin or an empty shell casing) on the muzzle end of the slide or barrel. Aim at any spot with your standard stance and grip and squeeze the trigger while maintaining your aim and focus on the front sight.
Any jerking or unnecessary motion in the trigger pull will knock the quarter off. See how many times you can pull the trigger without it falling. If your score at this improves your targets will too.
Dry Fire Practice: Draw and Fire
No mystery here right? Many gun ranges restrict practice of this type. Often you just can’t practice draw and fire with live ammunition. Dry fire allows you to work on these important skills.
Prepare your unloaded pistol as before with a snap cap. Holster your pistol and arrange it, and your clothing, as you would normally carry it. Now identify a “target” and while maintaining your focus there, unholster and bring your pistol to bear and “fire”.
Practice assuming your grip, the disengagement from the holster, clearing your clothing and taking your stance. There’s a lot of moving parts here – make it smooth.
Dry Fire: Change it up
Do you have that working pretty well? Good job, now change it up. Draw, “fire” and drop the mag and insert another spare (empty) mag while keeping the target in your view. Not so easy. This takes practice to do smoothly. Keep your spare in the same position and the same orientation. Rinse and repeat… and repeat again.
Try shifting your focus to multiple “targets”. The point is to have the mechanics of the presentation burned into muscle memory and allow that big brain to focus on what’s in front of you. These drills build that muscle memory.
If you’ve saved all your quarters from the dry fire exercises, you may want to augment your dry fire training with one of several great high-tech training aids. The continual feedback these products give you can be extremely helpful in accelerating your training progress.
There’s no sharks here but there are a whole bunch of “frick’n laser beams”. Laser based training tools allow you to see where your gun is actually pointed and what it is doing while you are squeezing the trigger.
In fact, if you already have a weapon mounted laser sight, you’ve seen the snake dance that your aim produces on a target. That visual cue is part of the function of these aids but in addition to illustrating that movement, they add the trigger function and even automated analysis.
Laserlyte Snap Cap
The Laserlyte Snap Cap is the entry level into laser based pistol training aids. Replacing the snap cap in your pistol, it is a strike actuated laser that illuminates for a 1/10 of a second when you pull the trigger. Without adding other laser actuated targets, the feedback consists of your seeing the momentary laser burst as a dot (when your shooting action is steady) or tracing a line (when you are moving).
This is an incremental improvement on a steady “on” laser like a laser sight as it focuses you on your hand’s motion at the time of impact.
The LaserLyte Snap Cap can also be used with LaserLyte trainer targets. When you add these, it gives you a recording of a series of shots and their positions on the target as well as a shot timer. This improves over the laser snap cap alone. It’s a good system – the snap caps can be used with or without the targets, the targets are compatible with multiple lasers.
Now here’s a completely awesome training aid for your shooting skills. The MantisX is a very sophisticated system combining a sensor attachment for your pistol with a smart phone app to display results and analysis.
The MantisX “Smart Sensor” attaches to any accessory rail on your pistol or rifle. If your firearm doesn’t have an accessory rail, Mantis has all kinds of adapters to mount the module on the barrel of your gun or magazine floorplate. The adapters are extra but it’s nice they’ve provided for most every kind of firearm.
Unlike the Laserlyte, this system doesn’t replace a snap cap so if you’re training indoors you’ll want to use your own. However, the MantisX system can actually be used with live fire as well so when things open up outside you can combine your analysis and live fire training which is pretty cool.
Each shot gets scored and analyzed. If you read AMMDOG’s Ten Steps to Shoot a Pistol well – this pretty much does the target analysis for you. Sweet!
OK, maybe I don’t need to tell you to watch videos. In fact, usually I think videos may be the mother of all time sinks and I rarely find the time to watch them myself. But since the gun range is closed, and a few hours on my schedule seem to have opened up, why not learn something new?
If you haven’t already check out some of the great content on PDN (Personal Defense Network). Some of the content is free but if you really want to dive into a subject you can subscribe or get a whole DVD set here.
I am hopeful we can all get back to the range soon but if you’re stuck inside why not make good use of your time?
Clean some guns. Figure out what all those holsters belong to. Sort out that pile of ammo in the closet. What did I buy this sling for??? Oh yeah!