Dry-firing for Trigger Development

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by Sandy Keathley
Before following any of this advice, make sure your gun will not be damaged by dry-firing (firing unloaded). Most rim-fire (.22) pistols and rifles SHOULD NOT be dry-fired, as damage to the firing pin could occur. However, some manufacturers have made specific provision for that, so it can be safely done. Center-fire pistols are generally safe to dry-fire, but I have read a review of a Spanish CZ clone which pointed out a potential problem specific to that model. Check your owner’s manual first. In all cases, I prefer to use snap caps (dummy rounds) in the gun, just in case.

Dry-fire practice has long been known to be the secret weapon of top level shooters, although it might be seen by some as reserved for beginners. In fact, many skilled marksmen employ it as their warmup before competition. It is a cheap and easy way to improve both your mental focus on the fundamentals, and specific skills like trigger work.

There are really two basic steps in hitting what you are aiming at:

  1. Aim correctly
  2. Keep the muzzle from moving while you press the trigger to the rear

If you don’t get the first one right, the second one won’t help; getting them both right is required. Many shooters have their biggest problem with the second, although it is easier to fix than bad aiming.

In order to make this work, you must practice all the fundamentals, just like you are actually shooting: feet, stance, leaning forward, arm extension, grip, aiming, breathing, trigger work. Your goal is to keep the muzzle from moving any amount at all, from the start of pressure on the trigger, until it breaks. Unless your pistol is DAO (double-action only), you will have to either rack the slide or cock the hammer each time. Do it repeatedly, for 2-3 minutes, take a break, and start again. Commit to 10 minutes a day for 30 days, and see what happens. If the gun has a laser, turn it on, and try to keep the red dot in a circle the size of a dime while you fire. Otherwise, you could get an office-style laser pointer and tape it to your gun.

One drawback, is that many guns only fire in single-action mode.  This is great for live-fire, but since the trigger movement is so small, so is the benefit. If you have access to either a DAO or DA/SA pistol, you will find it much harder to do these exercises, but with greater benefit.

So what makes this difficult? The position of the finger on the trigger. There are many variables here, including the size of the grip, size of the hand, length of the finger, and position and angle of the trigger. There is no one-size-fits-all answer here, but if the trigger touches the finger too close to the pad, there will be a tendency to push the muzzle left. If too close to the joint, there will be a tendency to pull right. Right in between is the sweet spot, where you can press the trigger in a way that neutralizes (or balances) those forces. Lighter guns are also more subject to these forces than heavier guns.

The one thing not factored into this is recoil. Once you start shooting the gun with real ammo, a lot of what you learn goes out the window, but enough of it stays to help you out. The real enemy is not recoil, but the anticipation of recoil, and that is what you can learn to forget by dry-firing. Shoot with real ammo, but like you did when dry-firing, perhaps with more grip, and you will see results.

Author: Sandy Keathley

NRA-Certified Firearms Instructor