A gun is widely regarded as the “great equalizer”. In spite of that, regular practice can make shooting feel like another rich-man’s hobby. The initial expense of your firearm, followed by the cost of magazines and accessories, followed by training, and then range fees is bad enough; but with every trigger press, you burn off anywhere from $0.25 to several dollars depending on what gun you use!

Shooting is a skill worth some sacrifice, but living beyond your means isn’t something that anyone should justify. Fortunately, you don’t have to. The most frugal means to improve your marksmanship is something that is accessible to everyone, and it is called “dry fire”.

What Is “Dry Fire?”

Dry firing, and dry practice more broadly, involves doing all that you might normally do at the range, but with all live ammunition removed and beyond reach. It is absolutely imperative that you clear your weapon every time you practice dry firing and that you have eliminated even the slightest chance of live ammo getting into the weapon.

With your completely unloaded gun in battery, you will aim at an appropriate target and pull the trigger. In its most basic practice, that is all there is to it and requires nothing more than your firearm.

Think of dry firing as a rehearsal for shooting with live ammunition. With every minor motion you make, from the draw to the trigger press, focus on achieving perfect technique.

Safety Still Matters!

You’ve cleared your weapon and removed all ammo from the area, but that does not mean the safety rules aren’t in effect!

Obviously, your gun will be unloaded, but the way you handle the weapon does not change.

Anytime spent practicing is time spent developing habits. Make those habits ones that promote safety. Additionally, handling your weapon as though it were loaded helps ensure that no accidents occur, and guarantee that no accident has the potential of being a lethal one.

Why Dry Practice At All?

As I have already mentioned, shooting with real ammo gets costly and you may want to take up dry firing in order to be frugal. However, you don’t dry fire just to shoot on the cheap.

Disciplined repetitions practiced using dry-fire will eventually hone your shooting fundamentals and make you a better shooter in every context.

An added benefit of dry practice is that it can and should be done inside your home! At a static range you stand in your own cramped little box with minimal options for movement. At home, you can “shoot” from prone, while kneeling, you can “cut the pie”, and do so in a setting where you could realistically one day need a gun to protect yourself and your family.

You never outgrow the basics, and dry-firing may be the best way to master the basics of shooting.

Techniques You Can Do

Fixing That Flinch

Flinching is hands down the biggest thing that dry fire training has helped me with. I would clear my weapon, aim at a light switch, squeeze the trigger, and do my best to remain completely still while doing so.

I noticed little difference at first, but then somebody introduced me to balancing a penny on my front sight. If the coin stayed on the front sight through my trigger pull, I passed. If the coin slid off, I failed.

Eventually, that penny would never fall off no matter how many repetitions I did. Upon noticing my improvement, I upped the ante and started balancing a spent cartridge casing on my front sight.

That was considerably more difficult, but yielded noticeable differences both in my living room as well as at the gun range. Not only could I usually keep the casing on the pistol, I started to eliminate those shots on the lower left area of my target.

Shooting From Different Positions

This can vary endlessly, which is another reason why dry fire training can be so invaluable. At the range you likely assume some sort of stance like the Isosceles or Weaver if you’re intentional about it.

At home though, you can shoot kneeling, in prone position, from behind cover or concealment, and you can even work in techniques in those positions that you wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to practice.

One drill I take the opportunity to do at home is a technique called “cutting the pie”. With the barrel of my firearm just adjacent with my door frame, I incrementally peer around the corner in the smallest slices possible. As more of my living room pans into view, I eventually identify a predetermined target (i.e. a doorknob) and squeeze the trigger with as little of my body exposed as possible.

You’re at home, so get creative with your practice, but do try to stay realistic.

Draw From Your Holster

This is especially important if you’re a concealed carrier. Carrying a pistol is pointless if you can’t present it in a fight swiftly when needed. To be able to do so, you need to get in as many repetitions as possible.

However, it is even more important that your repetitions are methodically building good habits and not just yanking a gun out of its holster. Start by picking a target, imagine a context in which you might realistically draw your weapon, and then slowly present your gun intentionally.

When drilling, consider the integrity of your grip. Take note of any unnecessary movements. Learn how to reliably clear your cover garment and train to be certain that your sights are on target. Keep your vision primarily focused on your front sight, and finish by squeezing the trigger without flinching. Only speed up as your draw is perfected.

This is one drill most ranges disallow, so dry fire may actually be your most important method to develop your quick-draw.

When drilling, consider the integrity of your grip. Take note of any unnecessary movements. Learn how to reliably clear your cover garment and train to be certain that your sights are on target. Keep your vision primarily focused on your front sight, and finish by squeezing the trigger without flinching. Only speed up as your draw is perfected.

This is one drill most ranges disallow, so dry fire may actually be your most important method to develop your quick-draw.


The first time you perform a magazine change probably ought not to be with live ammo, much less in a dangerous encounter. But once again, many ranges frown upon practicing reloads on their property. So how do you get repetitions in? Once again: dry fire training.

To do this, I purchased a Blade Tech training barrel and gutted two of my off-brand spare magazines, then painted them yellow. You can actually see these in the featured image at the top of this article.

I will squeeze my trigger to the sound of a click. Then, I’ll tap and rack to develop the habit of fixing a type one malfunction. Once again, squeeze to the sound of a click. With my support hand, I grasp my spare magazine, bring it forward as I drop my original magazine from the gun, insert the new magazine with force, rack my slide once more, and resume my sight picture and squeeze off one more click.

The training barrel is actually unnecessary, but it adds to my peace of mind. The cheap magazines, however, are gutted in order to keep the slide from locking to the rear and therefore rendering a training experience most similar to using live ammo.

Hand to Hand Combatives

This may seem to be a bit nuanced and even far-fetched, but if you understand a gun is a fighting tool, you realize that this is one practice that makes a lot of sense for dry fire training.

Sure, you can resort to simunitions, airsoft or paint ball, but each of those requires more equipment, money and designated facilities.

I personally have been fortunate enough to have training partners who view firearms through the lens of martial arts training. Consequently, I have been allowed to drill using real resistance to practice presenting my gun in a fight.

My most recent gym leader (of a local Krav Maga gym), as well as main training partner, were both concealed carriers. Using replica guns or weapons that had been disabled with training barrels and gutted magazines, we would shove one another to the ground to practice drawing our weapons following a proper “break-fall”.

Subsequently, we would drill defending ourselves with the already presented weapon while performing a “technical stand-up”. From there, depending on our training partner, we would de-escalate and gain distance, or we would engage and dry fire when appropriate.

To be absolutely clear, none of us ever brought live ammo with us to practice such drills!

Even without similarly skilled training partners, one might practice their strikes leading up to drawing their weapon. Maybe you can work pistol handling into a heavy-bag workout. Doing one-handed burpees utilizes roughly the same body mechanics necessary to go from a prone shooting position to a standing shooting position.

Those are examples that have worked for me, but hand-to-hand drills simulating realistic fighting combatives can vary as widely as you can safely imagine and have the skill to perform. Obviously, given the otherwise lethal nature of firearms, such practices would not be possible without dry fire training.

Techniques You Can’t Do

Though I have depicted dry fire training as an expansive training method, it does have its limitations. I think your amount of dry practice should far outweigh your amount of live fire training. Nonetheless, some things do require live fire training.

For instance, if you rarely shoot with live ammo, your recoil management skills will diminish. In order to practice your follow-through and manage recoil, you need to actually experience the recoil that comes with actual shooting.

Rapid fire, or even just a single follow-up shot, is completely impossible with dry fire unless you are using a double-action pistol. Even then, you are only exercising your trigger finger and every sequential trigger pull is practiced without the adversity of a moving gun.

Stress is also a factor you eliminate with dry fire. Without the explosion of a primed cartridge, you will never be able to inoculate yourself to the terror that is provoked by that literal bomb that is detonated in your palms.

In short, dry fire is necessary, but it is not sufficient in order to be the best shooter you can be.

For The Gear Junkie

Dry Fire Ammo

Dry fire ammo is basically a dummy round that that can manually cycle through your gun and absorb the energy of your firing pin. There are a wide variety of brands you can buy. The ones I’ve used most and have pictured are called snapcaps.

If you happen to have a firearm that shouldn’t be dry fired, these are a simple and cheap solution.

It’s also worth noting that these can actually be used for more than just dry fire training. While using live fire, these are also useful for forcing malfunctions by mixing them with your live ammo. When they’re cycled, they’ll obviously give the infamous click and you’ll get to test yourself at clearing a type one malfunction.

Training Barrels

These are unnecessary, but I recommend them. They range greatly in price and usually serve as a visual aid guaranteeing that no live ammo can enter your weapon.

I use a $15 rubberized training barrel, but there are options as high-end as the $84 Dynamis Alliance Combative Training Barrels

I think they add peace of mind when dry firing, but become an absolute necessity when you make the jump to drilling combatives with training partners.

Training Magazines

One well-known and high-end training magazine is the DryFireMag. It will cost about $100 and its main selling feature is that it mimics your trigger reset for certain common striker-fired pistols (Glock and M&P) without needing to rack the slide.

A much less expensive, yet more versatile, option would be the BlueGun Training Magazines. These are available not only for more handguns on the market, but also for long guns! They are designed to be comparable in mass to a fully loaded magazine, but without the feeding ramp. This way, you have a nearly identical experience to actually reloading your weapon in both weight and function. These will cost you anywhere between $18-$60 depending on your magazine model.

As I have previously mentioned, my solution was to gut a magazine. This is a great option if you use a less common weapon that isn’t supported by BlueGun, but won’t necessarily save you any money over the BlueGun option. My magazines cost me about $25 each, but at least I can always reconvert them to working pistol magazines in the future.

In hindsight, I think that the BlueGun weighted magazines are probably the best choice of the three options I’ve mentioned.

Laser-Based Training Aides

These turn the sometimes mundane practices of dry fire training and nearly give it the appeal of an arcade game!

They come in the form of dedicated laser replicas such as the SIRT pistols, laser emitting cartridges such as the Laserlyte, and you can even download software from Lasrapp to enhance any of these laser based training tools.

The SIRT pistol is a dedicated laser emitting replica weapon and is likely the most expensive tool you can buy ranging from $239-$439. That being said, it is also likely the most convenient if you use a Glock or M&P pistol.

The Laserlyte is a form of rimless snap-cap that inserts into your barrel and won’t be extracted by the weapon’s ejector. Every time the “primer” is struck by your firing pin, it emits a laser wherever you are aiming. The prices vary per cartridge, but the 9mm cartridge is currently about $80 on Amazon. This is likely the most versatile option given that it is based on cartridge types and not gun models.

Laserlyte even produces interactive targets that give positive feedback such as sounding off a metal gong sound, or moving when hit. One target even tracks locations of your hits.

Not All Guns Should Be Dry-Fired

As one final disclaimer, I should mention that not all firearms should be dry fired. This is most common among the rimfire cartridges. However, more modern rimfires are being designed with dry fire training in mind. My Ruger SR22 specifically states in the manual that dry firing is acceptable.

Additionally, any antique firearm should probably not be dry fired; both due to age as well as due to design. If you don’t have an owner’s manual to reference, err on the side of caution.

Revolvers without a hammer block, but rather a one-piece hammer that has the firing pin attached to the spur should not be dry fired.

Most modern guns will be fine, but at the end of the day, the definitive authority on whether your gun can be dry fired without damage is your owner’s manual. Do your research, and you won’t have to worry.

If your gun shouldn’t be triggered without a round in the chamber, either use snap-caps religiously or just don’t dry fire that gun.

No Excuse For Not Training

Hopefully, you realize at this point that just because you can’t always justify a trip to the range, or your range is just to tame for comprehensive practice, that doesn’t mean you can’t train with your weapon.

Dry fire training costs virtually nothing, yet will gain you so much as a shooter.

It’s not just a way to save money. It is a method you should use to become the best shooter you can possibly be. Be disciplined enough to create a routine that incorporates dry practice into your training regimen, and soon you’ll be well above average as a marksman.

Most gun owners won’t. Be one of the responsible gun owners that do.

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