4 Dry-Fire drills that can save your life

Not having access to a range is not an excuse for lack of training

In this article I am going to show you how 10 minutes a day is all you need to be a better shooter.

Before you read the rest of this article I need you to take a minute and be honest with yourself, because what I will discuss in this article is of paramount importance and should not be taken lightly. Ask yourself these questions, be honest with your response because I won’t be there for you when the SHTF; The only person you will have to rely on is yourself.

  1. When was the last time you trained with your Every Day Carry (EDC)?
  2. How many rounds down range have you had in the past month?
  3. How quick is your draw stroke? Have you ever practiced drawing from concealment? Have you ever practiced your draw under duress?
  4. How fast is your reload? When was the last time you practiced it? Can you perform a reload under stress? Have you ever tested your magazine holders?

Now that you had time to honestly answer these questions you will most likely have a knot in your stomach at the realization that you are not properly prepared. If you left that Q&A feeling uplifted you are most likely delusional and this article isn’t for you.

In 2016 alone I put 12,000+ rounds of 9mm downrange with my EDC, clocked in another 18,000+ on dry-fire with my EDC, and attended 3 courses taught by industry leading professionals like Chris Costa, once again with the firearm I carry every day. Yet I ask myself questions like those listed above constantly because firearm training is not something that you simply learn, it’s a skill that must be constantly nurtured in a never ending pursuit for perfection.

Dry-Fire training when done correctly translates directly to Live-Fire performance

Full disclosure:

I am the Founder of Salted Earth, a startup based out of Chandler AZ that engineers and manufactures dry-fire training equipment for LE/MIL/CIV customers.

I started Salted Earth because I saw a tremendous gap in available Dry-Fire tech. I was born and raised in NY (Long Island) and had a single mother who through a strange series of events, went from being a school teacher to a federal officer when I was very young. Throughout her career I was always disappointed with the quality of the training she was receiving. I constantly encouraged her to go to the range, to get better equipment, and to practice; but even after almost 2 decades on the force I know that she is still not properly trained. When I turned 21 I purchased my first handgun (there is an age requirement in NY for those reading this in America) and made the commitment that if I was going to own the weapon, I needed to be highly proficient.

I started with live-fire training, frequenting a range an hour from my house, and then started taking courses with a training company MDTS in NY. The head instructor Chris Fry is a phenomenal instructor with a great cadre of instructors with him. However I couldn’t afford to take as many courses as I wanted, and found that my skills would deteriorate in between. I set out to find a way to train while still at home and that is when I discovered dry-fire training. I purchased a product from what is now my competitor and hated it, I couldn’t use it with the lights on in the house, it wouldn’t work outdoors, and it only had one mode that wasn’t very useful. I set out at that moment to design what is now the ATLAS (Adaptive Training Laser System) to fill the enormous gap between the couch and the range.

The skills I show with this article are illustrated on the ATLAS-8 system, however you can do them without anything aside from your weapon. When performing Dry-Fire with your own weapon you MUST do the following to create a safe effective environment:

  1. Ensure that your weapon is UNLOADED and SAFE.
  2. REMOVE ALL LIVE AMMUNITION from your training environment. Preferably use an inert training replica such as a Smart Firearm or SIRT device. If you want to use your own firearm we recommend using a Laser Ammo rimless cartridge with the included safety pipe to ensure that the cartridge won’t fall out during training.
  3. ALL FIREARM RULES STILL APPLY, train with your weapon just like it is live. Set your training environment up in a safe manner that will not cause any panic or cause for alarm.
Training in the backyard with friends is a great way to share skills and try drills you can’t do at the range.

Draw Stroke:

If you carry a firearm with you every day you most likely do so to protect yourself, your family, and your loved ones. How much good will that weapon do you if you fumble on the draw stroke and can’t deploy the weapon when you need it? How quickly you draw your weapon also determines your minimum safe distance from an attacker with an edged weapon and fractions of a second can make the difference between you neutralizing an attacker or bleeding out before help arrives.

Law Enforcement teaches the “21 foot rule” as the minimum safe distance from an attacker with an edged weapon:

21' rule that is traditionally taught

However this assumes a draw stroke of around 1.4 Seconds, many tier II holster manufacturers advocate for 3000 draws before a user would be proficient with his draw; with most LE receiving 1000 rounds or less annually it’s not very likely they are confident in their draw stroke. Several studies including one done by the Force Science Institute show that realistic draw strokes means the “21 foot rule” should really be the “30+ Foot Rule”. Shaving off fractions of a second from your draw can save your life.

My draw stroke to first shot when I started Salted Earth from concealment was 2.4 Seconds. My current draw from concealment to first shot is 1.1 Seconds, and from open carry to first shot is 0.74 Seconds. The fastest recorded draw stroke to first shot to date on our ATLAS system is held by Tom Alibrando who clocked in at 0.59 Seconds from open carry to first round on target, to make it even more impressive he placed his round in an eyebox sized target (He is also a really great guy if you ever get the chance to meet him).

The Key is repetition. Want to get to 3000 repetitions in a year? Perform this draw stroke drill 10 times a day and you will have 3650 repetitions by the end of the year; Even if your draw stroke is an insanely slow 5 seconds that’s still less than 1 minute of your time.

Trigger Control:

So you got your weapon out of your holster and the terrorist in your sights…. but can you hit him? Poor trigger control is the difference between hitting your target, and hitting the innocent 85 year old woman right behind him (Or child if that drives the point home for you). “There is a lawyer attached to every round leaving your weapon” and it is your responsibility to know your target, and what is behind your target when making the decision to use deadly force; but knowing those two things won’t do you any good if you miss.

If you have been to the range lately you will undeniably remember seeing someone blasting away at a target about 5 yards away and missing altogether. They probably were blaming the gun, or the sights, or the recoil, but ultimately it’s just their terrible control of their weapon. There is one simple truth that removes your ability to make excuses for your first round miss:

The bullet has left the barrel before you begin to experience recoil:

Even with a .45 Caliber handgun, it’s not the recoil, it’s you.

Obviously recoil mitigation will be important later on for placing follow-up shots or multiple shots on multiple targets. But for a slow fire aimed shot, you are the only one to blame for a miss. A good deal of Law Enforcement that we train on our system for the first time will come up on target, and physically stumble forward because they have trained their body to do weird things in anticipation of recoil; and in the absence of recoil they no longer know what to do.

This is what can be achieved simply by focusing on your trigger control. TFB (The Firearm Blog) writer Tom Radar spent a month using dry-fire to enhance his skills. As a former Navy Corpsman who served with a Marine Recon unit in Iraq, and being a current Law Enforcement officer he is no stranger to small arms training. However even with his extensive experience he found profound improvements in his shooting abilities by focusing on core mechanics that we sometimes overlook as time goes on:

What 1 month of Dry-Fire training did to Tom’s shooting

Practice slowly pulling your trigger to take up the slack until you reach “the wall,” continue to pull the trigger until the hammer or striker falls. Your sights should have been rock solid that entire time, if you flinched or anticipated the shot, do it again. If you were rock solid and didn’t move at all, do it again. You can get a friend to balance an empty shell casing on your front sight, you should be able to pull the trigger and remain so motionless that the shell casing does NOT fall off. Practice, practice, practice using dry-fire and then do it with live fire. Look up the “Ball and Dummy” drill for when you’re ready to transition to live-fire with this drill.

Body Mechanics Matter:

Building upon the first two drills we are going to incorporate the double tap drill. This drill can take many forms and that’s up to you, but the core principal of this drill is that humans are robust machines and often require multiple hits to take them out. This isn’t hollywood and training to take multiple shots at a target to put them down is important. There are 3 major areas of attack: The pelvic area, the chest, and the head. Which zone you begin with is up to you but personally I always start center mass, deciding which region to go after next will depend on the situation at hand.

Lets say the assailant is running at you full speed with a knife or a crowbar, two shots to the chest later and he is still running. Putting a few more rounds in center mass probably isn’t going to stop him, and since he’s running full tilt a headshot might not connect; In this case I would begin placing shots in his pelvic region to immobilize him. Being able to ground an assailant before he can reach you with a blunt/edged weapon is important, it doesn’t matter if he lands 12 inches away or 12 feet away, he won’t be able to touch you with that 6 inch knife and you will have the chance to create distance while he is immobilized.

Alternatively lets examine a scenario where we have an assailant who is stationary, he’s trying to get a weapon out to use against you and you just put two rounds in his chest, but he’s still standing. He could be wearing body armor, he could be high on drugs, so pumping more rounds into center mass might not do anything. In this scenario I would most likely begin to place rounds in the eyebox to neutralize the threat. Immobilizing someone with a ranged weapon is not going to mitigate the threat to me and my family; so I opt for a region that will completely nullify the threat.

This is not an exact science and we have trained LE that taught officers to “knock the wheels off the bus” by starting at the pelvis with 2 rounds, then 2 rounds center mass, then 2 rounds headbox if necessary. Everyone will have a different approach, read up on different strategies or techniques and pick the ones that resonate with you; Then practice as much as you can until it becomes second nature.

Multiple Targets:

Predators hunt in packs and will always try to have the upper hand against their prey. Often times criminals will use numbers against you to ensure they are successful because above all else the criminal does not want to get seriously injured. This is why they will attack targets they feel are unarmed, unprepared, or that they can overwhelm with numbers. Training only to take on a singular threat sets you up for failure.

Now that you have worked on your draw stroke, trigger control, body dynamics on a single target, lets work on transitioning to multiple targets. Understanding how far you can engage targets while in a stable stance will build body-awareness for more advanced training and movement drills (I saved this for future articles).

In this drill you can either perform your double-tap or equivalent drill using multiple targets, or you can use a dry-fire target like ours to randomize how many rounds each target needs. The ATLAS-8 can be set in the “Multi-mode” to either display a random number between 1 and 4, or can be set to simply show a target without telling you how many times to hit it for a “Shoot until it’s down” style of drill. Start with your targets shoulders width apart, and as you get faster slowly spread them apart to learn how much you can pivot to engage targets without having to adjust your shooting platform (move your feet).

Once you get the hang of engaging multiple targets you can start to position them around you to practice engaging targets that are trying to flank or surround you. We will go into some more advanced drills in a future article.

Put it all together:

So at the beginning of this article I promised that you could improve your shooting in 10 minutes a day. I want to stress that you should train as often as you can, and I try to get in at least 30 minutes a day if not more (I combine my workouts with my dry-fire to get more trigger time in). To start out you could try the following:

  1. Practice your draw stroke for 2 minutes: Making sure to draw how you carry, meaning if you carry concealed you should be drawing from concealment. Drawing from open carry as a CCW will not help you prepare for self defense.
  2. Move to trigger control training for 2 minutes: Focus focus focus, make sure your front sight doesn’t move at all. Be one with your weapon, it is a tool that won’t do anything unless you tell it to. Keep working on this until you stop flinching or anticipating the shot, focus on your form and your sight picture.
  3. Double Tap for 4 minutes: Mix up each cycle, make sure to train for different types of attacks and how you would respond. Having a friend to shout out “Knife!” of “Gun!” is a great way to randomize this training and make sure you are kept on your toes.
  4. Engage Multiple assailants for 2 minutes: Place your targets at different distances and spacing. Try facing away from the targets and turning to engage as if being attacked from behind. Get comfortable combining your draw stroke and movement as it will help you with the more advanced drills.

I plan to write additional articles covering more advanced topics such as training in/around vehicles, adding movement to your drills, training in teams, etc. So please subscribe to keep up to date, feel free to comment with specific drills you would like to see.

Train Safe, Train often.

MDTS Website

Chris Costa’s Website

Salted Earth