I often get asked what can you do to improve your shooting skills. Over the years my answers has changed, but when folks just respond with a blanket statement of “dry fire” they actually are missing the point.
The harsh reality
The bottom line is dry fire simulates several components to shooting, but is NOT shooting. The student knows there is no “live” ammunition in the chamber and subsequently is a killer commando every time. In comes the hard truth, the big limiter to many students reaching their potential is not lack of shooting, but more often the poor shooting they do already. My good friend Tony Blauer comments, “be careful, you can get really good at practicing the wrong thing.” He is spot on with that statement.
The empty bar syndrome
So, what’s the big deal about dry fire. Again, it goes back to you are not really shooting. The best way to say it is through a similar example. You are practicing a complex weightlifting move such as a barbell snatch with no weight on the bar. It is great for learning the movement patterns; your balance, the explosive power you need to generate and then correct body position at the finish. Conversely, you wouldn’t throw serious weight on the bar and expect the lifter to be successful or more important avoid injury. Here, the act of dry fire is great and I mean great for learning the neural pathways for the movement. Everything from your drawstroke, to mounting the weapon, to sight acquisition and the all important trigger management, but it can only do so much. At some point, you need to put weight on the bar.
I never miss dryfire
If done correctly, the pathways will be invaluable to true sustained performance. However, they are not, nor will they ever be a replacement for live fire and that is the hard truth. You need to practice, but dry fire is not a substitute for live fire training. It just isn’t and here is why. Live fire has with two very important things; consequences and emotions. The consequences are pretty obvious if you fail to perform your round will miss the target. Where as with dry fire everyone knows you never miss. The real issue in my opinion is the emotions attached to live fire, especially for those who have a high aversion to shooting.
The startle response
Shooting has three things that all stimulate your startle response; they have a sharp recoil, bright light and loud noise. It is these factors you are trying to inoculate yourself to and inoculate yourself to under stress. So many students have this almost aversion-like response and they don’t even know it it is happening. Their body will literally flinch the moment they “think” the round is going to fire, that is a result of the loud noise and sharp recoil. Then they start blinking ultra fast and eventually loose focus on their sights, I mean literally they are shooting with their eyes closed as a result of the bright flash at times. Granted, it is happening at ridiculously speeds, but that is the reality. All it takes to really see this is random and I do mean random dummy round intermixed with their load out.
Planned events, not always good
Stacking a magazine with dummy rounds isn’t the same, the student actually begins to anticipate them and applies much more attention. Attention span quickly wanes after that magazine. Ask them to apply the same focus for say 1,000 rounds, not knowing which magazine will have a dummy round and it is almost more than they can handle. I see it happen frequently, we work through ball & dummy drills, something that we consider to be a planned event. The student is aware of the drill, knows it will be happening during the loaded magazine and can stay focused for that short duration (credit kathy). The moment it is an unplanned event and they are right back to their instincts because no change has been made at addressing the deeper issue, the aversion.
Yes, dry fire is great and can help create the important neural pathways for movement. It however does not address the most common problem with students and that is the fear, that is something that good instruction, high standards and healthy dose of awareness can only do.