Tag Archive for Fundamentals

Dry fire

Today we’re going to talk about a type of shooting practice called dry fire.

Dry firing is simply pulling the trigger on a gun that is not loaded with live ammunition. The gun can be empty or can be loaded with dummy rounds or snap caps. Both dummy rounds and snap caps look and may feel like real cartridges but are fake and cannot be fired. They are designed to reduce wear on a guns firing pin by giving it something to hit and transfer its energy to.

Dry firing guns can have many useful results. One benefit is that it helps you become familiar with a new gun. With dummy rounds, you can practice loading and unloading the gun safely. You can get used to the weight of the gun and the feel of it in your hand. And you can get used to the trigger pull (every gun is different!).

Dry firing can also be used to overcome common problems new shooters have, such as flinching. Flinching often happens when a shooter anticipates the recoil of the gun and tightens up their muscles right before the gun fires. This can result in a badly spoiled shot. Dry fire can be a cure for this problem as it allows the shooter to focus on the fundamentals of pistol shooting without worrying about the recoil. The body becomes accustomed to the process of firing a gun without flinching and that can translate to greater success on the gun range.

Dry fire is also far cheaper than going to the range and can be done from the comfort of your own home. This lets a shooter work on proper grip, stance, sight alignment, sight picture, trigger squeeze, and follow through on a more regular basis. It is also very useful for practicing drawing and reholstering a firearm.

I like using dry fire to help with target acquisition and decision making. A good monster movie or crime thriller is good for this. Because the camera jumps from person to person quickly, when the bad guy or monster appears on the screen you have to quickly recognize the threat and engage.

However, there are several serious safety issues requiring careful precautions to be taken before every dry fire session to reduce the possibility of an accident.

First, no live ammunition is to be present in any room where dry firing is taking place. Not in magazines, speed-loaders, pockets, bags, boxes, or lying around. This is a zero tolerance policy!

Second, you should always dry fire with the gun pointed at something that could stop a bullet should there be an accident. A bookcase, solid door, brick wall, gun safe, etc. are all good choices.

Third, keep distractions to a minimum. Don’t talk on the phone, surf the web, or carry on conversations with others. Keep your focus on what you are doing. If you set your gun down for any reason, check to be sure it is unloaded when you pick it up again.

Fourth, when dry fire is done it is done. I know of one person who after a dry fire session was putting his stuff away and decided to fire “one last shot.” Unfortunately, he had forgotten that he had reloaded his gun and the gun went “boom” instead of “click.” Luckily, nobody was injured.

Dry fire can be a great practice tool and can be done safely as long as those basic rules are followed religiously.

Improving accuracy

Many new shooters, and to be truthful many experienced shooters, get discouraged at the shooting range by targets that look like they were hit by a shotgun blast. The problem is, they don’t know what to do about it.

The best way to correct accuracy issues is to get help from a professional trainer. If you don’t know or can’t afford one, there are a few things you can do to improve your shot grouping.

Make sure the gun fits you

A gun that doesn’t fit your hand well is much more difficult to shoot well, particularly one that is too big. Not only the size of the grip is important, but the weight of the gun and the amount of recoil (kick) as well. A big, heavy gun that noticeably rises with ever shot can be very difficult to control. If this is a problem for you, consider downsizing. Shooting accurate groups is far more impressive than shooting a big, loud, magnum caliber.

Conversely, a very small gun is inherently less accurate because of the shorter barrel. This gives less time for the bullet to develop a stable flight path as well as making for a shorter sight radius. A medium sized gun in a small caliber (.22, .38 or 9mm) is often the best choice for a newer shooter.

Take your time

The vast majority of shooters have accuracy problems while shooting quickly. Take your time and be sure to aim carefully with each shot.

Proper grip

I see a lot of shooters who hold a pistol incorrectly. A proper, consistent grip can go a long way towards improving accuracy. Your hand should be high on the grip in order to line the gun up as closely as possible with the bones in your arm as well as providing maximum grip surface area for your second hand. For a semi-automatic, the top of your hand should press against the beavertail (a small projection at the top of the grip below the hammer) if your gun has one. Be careful on a semi-automatic to not hold too high or your hand will be cut by the slide (slide-bite).

Take a firm grip with your shooting hand and then add your non-shooting hand getting as much contact between your hands and the grip as possible. You want your non-shooting hand to have considerable contact with the grip as opposed to simply closing around your shooting hand.

Grip pressure is important as well. You want firm pressure, but not so much that you get muscle tremors. You also want a little less grip strength with the fingers of your shooting hand so there is not too much tension interfering with a smooth trigger squeeze. A good rule is to apply 40% of the grip pressure with your shooting hand and 60% with your non-shooting hand.

Trigger squeeze

Proper trigger control is one of the most common problems shooters face. The trigger should be smoothly “rolled” to the rear in a continuous motion while disturbing the sight alignment and sight picture as little as possible. For the proper motion, it is helpful to think of a medicine dropper. If you squeeze a medicine dropper hard and fast, it sprays all over the place. However, if you squeeze it slowly and smoothly a perfectly formed drop will fall.

Be careful to not anticipate the shot. You should not know the exact moment the shot will break. Again, a medicine dropper is a good example. The drop slowly gets bigger and bigger until it falls, but you do not know exactly when it will do so. Anticipating the shot (mentally telling yourself to FIRE!) leads to flinching which will ruin your aim.

I also see a lot of people “slapping” the trigger. After each shot their finger flies off the trigger and outside the trigger guard, returning with force to take a swing at the trigger. This leads to a jerky shot.

Don’t forget your follow through! After the gun fires, continue depressing the trigger those last few millimeters until it stops. Like in many other sports, correct follow through will help you be successful because it minimizes unnecessary movements.

Sight alignment and sight picture

This can be a difficult concept for some people.

Proper sight alignment means the top of the front sight is aligned with the top of the rear sight. It should also be centered in the rear sight with an equal amount of light visible on both sides.

Sight picture is aligning the sights with the target. Some people shoot better with the sights splitting the target like a pie, others shoot better with the target sitting on top of the sight alignment like a pumpkin on a fence. Use whichever works best for you.

The front sight is the most important part of the sight picture. The front sight should be in crisp focus with the rear sight and target slightly blurry. Think of it as looking through the rear sight at the front sight.

Shooting stance

Like a building,  it is important to have a good foundation for your shooting position. You feet should be about shoulder width apart and your knees slightly bent. You should lean forward slightly and resist the urge to lean backwards to counterbalance your gun. You want to be stable and balanced. Some people find it more stable to have one foot ahead of the other and their body turned at an angle to the target, similar to a boxing stance. Whichever works best for you is fine as long as you are stable and balanced.

Breath control

Proper breathing is essential for good accuracy. At an extreme, gasping for breath creates a lot of muscle movement which will disturb your sight alignment and sight picture. You should take slow, controlled breaths. Breath in, let it out slightly, and then hold your breath while squeezing the trigger as you try to minimize the arc of movement of the sights over the target (the movement of the gun). If your trigger squeeze is taking too long and you need to breath simply stop squeezing the trigger, take a few seconds to breath, and then start the process over again.

These are just a few general tips to help improve your accuracy. There is far more to it than just these and as I said earlier, the best solution for poor accuracy is to get help from an experienced trainer.

Concealed carry

After being a gun rights activist for over eight years now, I find it easy to forget that not everyone thinks about guns when they hear the words “concealed carry.” Every so often I’ll mention it and get a quizzical look while the person tries to figure out what I’m talking about carrying concealed.

Concealed carry is simply carrying a weapon, usually a firearm in this context, that cannot easily be seen (like a plain clothes police detective), as opposed to “open carry” which is carrying one in plain sight like you see uniformed police do. You’ll often see it referred to as CCW (Carrying a Concealed Weapon).

There are many ways to carry concealed, but the easiest way to do so while carrying a gun on your person is to simply wear what’s called a cover garment, which is generally a loose outer shirt, jacket, or vest. In the picture to the right, you can see a shirt being used as a cover garment. When carrying like this it is helpful to have a holster that holds the gun close to your body (we’ll talk about holsters another time) because otherwise there will be an obvious bulge (called “printing”) if you’re wearing a thin cover garment.

It is for this reason that some people carry a smaller gun in the summer than in the winter. In the winter, you can wear a heavier shirt or a sweater which hides the gun better because it is thicker. You’ll also be wearing a heavier coat while outdoors.

One important thing is to not put yourself in a position where you’d want to remove your cover garment if you want to stay concealed. If, for example, you’re relying on a jacket for concealment and you go into a warm room where a jacket makes you too hot you could end up uncomfortable or look out of place.

Another simple way to carry concealed is to put the gun into a purse, briefcase, backpack, fanny pack, or other similar container. Purse carry is very popular with women. One thing to keep in mind if you’re going to do that is how fast you can get to your gun if you need it. It is advisable to use a container made for carrying a gun.

A quick search in the internet will reveal a wide variety of purses, bags, etc. that are made for doing so. The reason for this is that these containers hold the gun in a very specific place where you’ll know right where it is at. Anyone who has ever dug through a purse or briefcase looking for something knows that is not what you want to have happen when being confronted by a mugger.

Another concern with “off body carry” is that these bags, purses, etc. can be set down, which opens a whole new can of worms. It could be stolen, forgotten, rummaged through by a kid, or any other variety of things when the gun is beyond your immediate control. Purse snatching is a common crime and if you’re not careful the thief will have your purse and your gun. Not to mention the fact that you have to then go to your container in order to retrieve your gun if you need it.

Speaking of that, there is another thing to keep in mind when carrying concealed versus openly, and that is getting to your gun. If it is in a container, you usually have to first open that container. While a lot of containers designed for carrying a gun usually have a quick opening mechanism like velcro pull tabs, that still slows you down.

If carrying on your person, you have to “clear” your cover garment first, meaning move it out of the way. This can be done with your shooting hand or your opposite hand, but does require practice to do it smoothly. You can also have a problem with your gun snagging on the cover garment, such as if an exposed hammer catches in the material. For this reason, many guns designed for concealed carry have rounded edges, bobbed (shortened) hammers, or hammers that are shrouded (covered) or not there at all (hammerless).

It is important to remember that in Ohio, like most states, a license or permit is required to carry concealed. Each state varies in their procedures and we’ll talk about getting one in Ohio in a future article. Basically, you have to take a class and apply for a license at your local sheriff’s office.

For more information about concealed carry, a great resource is the Ohio CCW forums.

Firearms terminology

One of the most daunting things for a new gun owner is dealing with the terminology. Below is a list of some of the more common terms and what they mean. This is obviously not all inclusive, and mostly just covers the basics.

Action: The group of moving parts for loading, unloading, and firing a gun.

Automatic: A gun that fires many times rapidly while the trigger is held down. A “machine gun.”

Barrel: A metal tube through which the bullet travels to leave the gun.

Bore: The inside of the barrel.

Breech: The back end of the barrel, opposite of muzzle.

Bullet: The projectile, usually made of lead.

Butt: The back end of the stock or grip.

Caliber: System of measurement of the bore of the gun.

Carbine: A short barrel rifle.

Cartridge: Sometimes referred to as a “round”, the cartridge contains the primer, case, powder charge, and the bullet.

Case: The metal tube that contains the powder and forms the body of a cartridge. Sometimes referred to as “brass” as this is a common metal used.

Chamber: The part of the gun where the cartridge resides just prior to being fired. In a revolver, the chambers are in the cylinder. In a semi-automatic, the chamber is at the breech of the barrel.

Choke: A slight tapering of the barrel of a shotgun just before the muzzle. This tapering controls how tightly the shot is compressed before it leaves the gun.

Choke tubes: Short pieces of metal which screw into the muzzle of a shotgun that allow you to change the choke of the gun.

Cock: Prepare the gun to fire, typically by pulling back the hammer.

Comb: The top part of the stock of a shotgun.

Cylinder: The part of a revolver where the cartridges are loaded. It spins as the gun is fired.

Cylinder catch: A button or lever which is used to release the cylinder on a revolver so it swings out.

Decocking lever: A lever on some guns used to help safely uncock the gun.

Double action: When the trigger is pulled on a double action gun, it pulls the hammer back before releasing it.

Dry fire: To pull the trigger on an empty gun. Useful for practicing techniques like trigger squeeze, sight alignment, and holding the gun steady while pulling the trigger.

Ejector: Mechanism in the inside of the action which ejects a spent casing from the gun so a new one can be loaded.

Ejector rod: A rod of metal in a revolver used to manually eject cartridges from the cylinder.

Firing pin: A small piece of metal inside the action which strikes the primer of a cartridge causing it to fire.

Frame: The backbone of the gun, the framework to which all the other parts are attached.

Gauge: The measurement of caliber specific to shotguns.

Grip: The part of a gun you hold on to, most commonly used to refer to handguns. Often made of wood, rubber, or plastic.

Hammer: A piece of metal on some guns used to strike the firing pin when the trigger is pulled.

Magazine: Stores ammunition. For many handguns, it is often removable and can be loaded ahead of time for quick reloading. Sometimes incorrectly referred to as a “clip”.

Magazine release: A button or lever on a gun which is used to release the magazine from the gun.

Muzzle: The end of the barrel where the projective exits, the “business end”.

Powder: A chemical compound (gunpowder) that catches on fire and burns rapidly. This produces a lot of gas which expells the bullet out of the gun.

Primer: The part of a cartridge that is struck by the firing pin to make a spark which ignites the powder charge.

Receiver: The outside frame of the action where information about the gun (caliber, chamber length, serial number, etc.) is often stamped.

Safety: A mechanical device in the action of a gun designed to prevent the gun from firing if the trigger is pulled. As a mechanical device, it can break so should not be relied upon totally.

Scope: An optical sight similar to a small telescope used most commonly on rifles but also occasionally on handguns and shotguns.

Semi-automatic: A gun that will fire each time the trigger is pulled and reloads a new cartridge each time. Not to be confused with “automatic”.

Single action: The gun must be cocked before each trigger pull.

Sight: Used to aim a gun, typically a combination of a front sight and rear sight which must be aligned.

Slide: The outer portion of the action on a semi-automatic handgun which slides back and forth as the gun fires.

Snap cap: A “dummy round” that is used to dry fire a gun. It contains a spring inside to absorb the energy of the firing pin.

Stock: Rear and front outer portions of a rifle or shotgun used for holding the gun. Typically made of wood, but also can be plastic.

Trigger: A lever on the lower portion of a gun used to fire the gun.

Trigger guard: The semi-circular piece of metal around the trigger which helps prevent it from accidentally being pulled.