Great shooting requires actual practice, but that doesn’t mean practicing always requires actual shooting. Fact is, bad habits often go undetected during the flash and bang of live fire, so it’s extremely beneficial to practice without ammo. It will improve your shooting, alleviate the drain on your wallet and allow you to practice nearly anywhere, anytime. Here are three excellent practice techniques that do not require real bullets.
Great shooting requires skill, muscle memory and courage to control hand-eye coordination in the face of the gun’s recoil and report. Trouble is, once a bad habit is engrained, it’s often exacerbated by repeated live fire where it’s masked by the lurch of recoil. So from time to time, shooters of all skill levels should practice pulling the trigger without loading the gun. Called dry-firing, it’s like taking a practice stroke with a golf club before actually hitting the ball. All golfers do it because it helps, and so should shooters. It’s during dry-fire practice where shooters can best hone fundamentals and a flawless trigger pull without the fear of recoil to ruin it.
Even pro shooters routinely dry-fire. In fact, they dry-fire more than you’d ever guess.
For great practice that you can perform in your living room—indeed from your living room chair—make doubly sure your firearm is unloaded first. Then make triple-sure. Then practice getting the perfect grip, finding a on a safe backstop—a bookcase full of books can work—then drawing a perfect sight picture and releasing a perfectly motionless trigger pull and follow-through. The idea is to see and note exactly where your sights are in relation to your target as the trigger breaks. If all remains perfect even after the hammer drops, you’re doing it right.
If you wish to practice from a holster, that works too. Just pry yourself from the easy chair and stand up.
Best yet, dry-firing is free. Just make sure you work to improve your technique at all times so bad habits aren’t further engrained.
2. Laser Trainers
An enhanced version of dry-firing can be performed with lasers. Originally the Laserlyte company made visible, gun-mounted laser units for shooting and bore sighting, but it soon saw the advantages its lasers lent for training.
With a laser on the gun, any movement caused by the shooter becomes exaggerated and easy to see as the laser dances over the target or dips as the trigger is pulled. In this way the shooter can instantly self-evaluate and work to keep the laser as steady as possible on the target before, during and after the squeeze.
Laserlyte, however, took laser training to another level with tools designed specifically for that purpose. Its Trainer Pistol Cartridge product is a caliber-specific, laser-in-a-brass-cartridge-case that emits a laser beam moments after the firing pin strikes it. In doing so, the shooter can see where the laser lands—and where the bullet would have struck had it been a live round.
The Arizona company also makes an entire line of electronic targets that light up, beep, or otherwise indicate when they are struck by the light of a laser. Of course competitive games can be played between shooters or against oneself, thereby enhancing the training process, making it accessible anywhere and making it fun. While they aren’t cheap, they will pay for themselves quickly if compared to the cost of ammo.
3. Pellet Guns
Pellet guns are the closest thing to the real thing as possible, but without the massive expense of ammunition nor the detonation of gunpowder. At the time of this writing, a 50-round box of 9mm target ammo runs around $15, whereas 500 pellets costs around $10. And of course pellet guns allow more neighborhood-friendly practice.
For pistols, it’s tough to beat Sig Sauer’s new line of air pistols that are almost identical in look and feel to their real guns. Its 226 ASP fires standard, .177-caliber pellets as fast as you can pull the trigger—or until its 16-round magazine runs dry. And unlike most airguns of the past, the Sig’s slide and frame is metal just like the real deal so it’s got the same controls and feel. Of course you’ll need CO2 cartridges in addition to the pellets, but any way you slice it you’ll be sending lead downrange for pennies on the dollar.
For honing your rifle shooting skills, try Stoeger Arms’ X20 S2 Suppressed air rifle. This sub-$175 training tool fires .177-caliber pellets around 1,200 feet per second and at a decibel level of 95. Compare that to a .308 Win. round at around 140 decibels, and you can see why you’ll be capable of plinking cans or small vermin right under your neighbor’s nose—where legal, of course. This is a single-shot, spring-air piston rifle that is cocked by breaking the barrel over, so it does not require CO2 cartridges to shoot, but rather good old-fashioned elbow grease.
I recommend hanging tin cans from trees at various distances in your back yard and shooting them quickly without much thought. After a few hundred rounds of offhand shooting—or about $2 worth of ammo—you’ll begin to notice how quickly you’ll find the target in the scope, and how much steadier the crosshairs become during the hold and trigger pull. In essence, you’ll become a better rifle shot without firing buying—or firing—a real bullet.