Safety and Training

What to do When the Ammo has Gone: Dry Fire Drills

One basic drill that helps you focus on trigger control and sight alignment is the penny drill.

Even though I sit just a few feet away from a warehouse of ammo, I’m a little worried about current and future price and availability. I am stingier than ever with my current ammo storage. We all seem to be going to the range a little less and hoarding a little more. However, the ammo shortage in no way means your guns need to be gathering dust. Shooting is a learned skill, and like any discipline, you will lose your ability to perform well if you don’t practice. says your shooting skills can weaken by 20 percent in just one week without practice. If you don’t already practice at home with an unloaded gun, now is the time to start.

Dry fire is performing the same actions as you would at the range without live ammunition in your gun. Dry firing perfects your technique, helps you memorize muscle movement and can increase your speed and accuracy. Besides that, dry fire practice is free.

You may have heard dry firing can damage a gun. With older guns, this may be the case and with rimfire guns—rifles and pistols—it often still is. However, dry firing most modern firearms is safe. If you are unsure, contact your gun’s manufacturer or use snap caps in the appropriate caliber of your gun. Snap caps are dummy rounds. They do not contain powder or a projectile.

If you have the time, you can dry fire practice every day. For many of us, that can be an unrealistic expectation. Much like exercising, if you practice for at least 20 minutes—three to four times a week—you will see results.

Safety First

Any time we are handling guns, safety is our first and most important priority. During your dry-fire practice, you will not have live ammunition anywhere near your gun or yourself. However, it is imperative you follow the four golden rules of gun safety.

  • Treat a gun as if it is always loaded.
  • Never point the muzzle at something you are not willing to destroy.
  • Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
  • Know your target and what is behind it.

When deciding where to do your dry-fire practice in the home, pick a room with at least one solid, concrete wall. Interior walls will most likely be made of drywall. A bullet will fly right through drywall and go into the room on the other side. Make sure no one will be entering the room adjacent to the one you have picked to practice in.

Before entering your practice room, remove all ammunition from your gun and from all the magazines you will be using. Do not take any live ammunition into your practice room. Check the gun again to make sure there are no live rounds in the chamber or in any of the magazines. At no time should any live ammunition enter your practice space.

If you are practicing with your self-defense gun and need it loaded immediately after practice, it is prudent to say aloud, “Practice is over. My gun is loaded with live ammunition now.”


When dry firing you will need your gun, magazines, snap caps if using them, targets—homemade or store-bought—a timer if you are working on speed, concentration and enough time to practice uninterrupted. LaserLyte makes a laser target that shows you where you hit during dry-fire practice. The system requires you to purchase a laser-training cartridge that fits into your handgun’s chamber. The system is perfect for beginners, as it allows you to improve your aim and sight picture.

Drills for Beginners

Dry fire is perfect for beginners who need to hone their fundamental skills such as grip, stance, sight alignment/sight picture and trigger control. Many beginners have trouble managing their flinch response from the anticipation of the recoil—leading to inaccuracy and poor placement of shots on your target. Dry fire practice helps you focus on your trigger control and minimizes the effects recoil.

If you just started shooting, start your dry-fire practice by focusing on your grip and sight alignment without pulling the trigger. Bring your gun to the target focusing on the front sight. Concentrate on a proper grip. Do this at least 25 times correctly before pulling the trigger.

One basic drill that helps you focus on trigger control and sight alignment is the penny drill. Place a penny or a dime on top of your front sight. While aiming and firing, the goal is to keep the coin from falling off.

If you have a concealed carry license or plan to get one, practice drawing smoothly from your holster and acquiring your target. Practice drawing from your holster at least 10 times before pulling the trigger.

Drills for Intermediate Shooters

Intermediate shooters have enough practice and range time to feel confident in their grip, sight alignment and picture, stance and trigger control. Intermediate shooters will want to focus on speed and accuracy, reloads, non-dominant and one-handed shooting. You can do the same drills as you would for beginner shooters, but do them holding the gun with one hand and with your non-dominant hand. A good drill to practice these skills involves using three targets a few feet apart. Draw your gun from your holster or grab it off a table and fire two shots into each target. Then, reload and fire two more shots into each target.

If you still aim with one eye closed, dry-fire practice is a perfect time to learn to focus on your front sight with both eyes open.

Another intermediate skill is to practice lowlight shooting situations. Keep the lights off in your practice room and hold a flashlight in your non-dominant hand. Practice using the flashlight to find your target and acquiring your sight picture.

Drills for Experts

Experts did not become experts without hours and hours of training and practice. Expert shooters will want to start practicing more advanced skills such as using cover, shooting and moving, point shooting and engaging multiple targets. Competition shooters will train to simulate their particular shooting sport rules and regulations perfecting speed and accuracy.

For Every Level of Shooter

Every level of shooter can, and should, practice clearing malfunctions. Semi-automatic guns will malfunction no matter your level of experience. Time and accuracy should be as important to the beginner as well as the competitor. Identifying and fixing a malfunction quickly, and adequately, can be a matter of life and death in a self-defense situation.

Do you already dry fire practice at home? If so, share your favorite drills with us in the comment section.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (26)

  1. As an ex-deputy, I have always enjoyed shooting. As long as it shoots, my finger is on the trigger. However, ammo is scarce and pricey. That is why I practice with pellet rifles and BB guns. I also practice with my inexpensive PS2 set up using Time Crisis I,II and III and Vampire Night. I get good action practice plus I get to shoot some zombie’s with no clean up, just free electronic gaming ammo. Happy shooting folks..

    1. I played a lot of video games and I’ve done a lot of real life shooting and I feel like what I’ve just done a lot of real life shooting my video game skills suck I think a man in a video game is different maybe I’m just playing the wrong video games

  2. I have Dry Fired for many years.Set up reduced silhouettes Pistol and Rifle and train with those.Drawing and firing and reloading.All helpful methods.

  3. Jeephill, I have a Laserlyte system that uses a laser cartridge that fires when you pull the trigger on my pistol and a target that marks the shot. I use it quite a bit in the house, setting it up in different places with different shooting angles and the like. I bought the equipment a year or so ago and it works good for practice during the winter up here in the north country.

    IIRC, I guess I got around a couple hundred bucks invested and the whole thing. With the recent increases in ammo prices, it has turned out to be a good investment.

  4. This sounds like a great idea. I bought snap caps for my Glock pistols, and tried it. I soon found one major problem, I can not do “Double Taps”, since my Glocks will not allow a secons shot with out cyceling the slide. Other than that it is great practice. Also, as stated above, it’s always better to avoid a shooting if possible, and Always practice in a safe manner. 32 years in law enforcement and seeing the results of careless practice/accidental shootings will make you very careful. Don’t learn it the hard way.

  5. I have purchased a high-end Airsoft firearm for practice so as not to shoot up my stockpile of ammo. A couple of extra batteries and a few thousand rounds of airsoft ammo are cheap. This gun is full metal and has the same weight and dimensions as my DPMS AR-15. I can mount my red dot sight and all the other gadgets to it. It has electronic blowback which simulates the cycling of the bolt. I took a trip to my local dollar store and purchased small metal serving trays. I hang these trays throughout the house and in the yard. When they are hit with an Airsoft BB it gives me immediate feedback to tell me I am on target. The cool thing is I can turn my house into a shoot house without destroying it or going to the range and burning up all my ammo. And when I’m finished, a quick trip around the house with a dustbuster picks up all the spent BBs. Granted it does not have the range of a real firearm, but for tactical training distances (out to about 30 yards) it works perfectly.

  6. Another good method is to use an air soft gun. They are very realistic and are often licensed replicas of the real thing. I saw this utilized at a conceal carry class for the ladies. They were able to concentrate on stance, trigger control and sight picture without the loud noise of actually shooting allowing the instructor to easily communicate and reducing cost by not burning through costly ammunition.

  7. Regarding Blake’s real life scenario above. I’d recommend staying outside and calling 911. Avoiding a shooting is always the best solution.

    As for Earl’s rushing his wife….. That’s how people die. Safety rule number two. Use a Red Gun only for this type of drill.

  8. There’s also a laser sensitive target but I can’t remember the name… It’s a laser that is momentarily activated by the firing pin and the target scores the shot. Anyone know the name of the system?

  9. Seriously, sell your Xbox, get off Facebook, and spend that time dry-firing and shooting pellet guns — you’ll be amazed what you can learn to do. I’m out of practice, and I can still do things most people deem impossible. Things to Google for: Quick Kill, point-shooting, Bob Munden, Ed McGivern, Roger Phillips, William Fairbairn… that should get you started. And wear safety glasses – pellets do bounce back sometimes.

  10. I ran an orange tie-wrap down the muzzle and out the little inspection port, making it impossible to chamber and immediately obvious that the gun was clear.
    Crimson Trace laser grips are great for draw-and-fire practice, as they fit any holster your gun will, flash when you want them to, and anything is a target. I’ve targeted everything from playing cards to actor’s faces on TV.
    Buy some spare springs and learn to install them, as you will wear them out eventually. The odds are you’ll break them in practice, not in combat, but it sucks to have your favorite gun down while you wait for FedEx to bring your new trigger spring.
    I don’t recall the name, but there’s a little company that makes purpose-built Glock replicas that only fire laser flashes. Sounds like a job for Google.

  11. Great article and valuable information. Thanks.I am hoarding ammunition and magazines as well. Thinking about reloading but…All this hype with the media. In a couple of years when Jeb Bush is President.Hopefully then prices will ease down. Possibly well before that.Its like the condo crash of Vegas many a year ago.Cheers.

  12. Right on to Dave Bolin’s comment above! One thing I might add is where to conceal a pistol around the house for a quick response to a break in, and the route to retreive it, position yourself & fire. Practice it with snap caps – keep it safe. In practice I rushed my wife in the kitchen from across the living room, and she did get a round off before I ran into her, so beware where you stand. Make the intruder make a turn to reach you. It may give you a few extra seconds!

  13. I have gone to using a BB Gun to help with practiceing drills. Many of the popular guns now come in a BB gun format. They look and fell like the real thing. Most BB Guns have heavy triggers. I have noticed that after practicing good trigger pull with a heavy trigger shooting with a lighter trigger is easyer.

  14. Excellent points made so far. I live alone now for the past couple years and before I had a room mate who was also very “tactically minded” we will say. I have always done dry fire type drills, especially when living with my old room mate as he was younger and much less experienced with firearms. Nice to pass along the knowledge. One night (recently, since I had moved out on my own and he was living with his girlfriend) we actually had met up (the three of us) for dinner and went back to his place to wait on my girlfriend to get off work. When we walked in, we heard a strange and deliberate commotion upstairs and luckily, instinct from our days of dry fire training kicked in. We drew our CCWs, sent his girlfriend outside to her car and swept the house in a safe manner. Apparently, a mylar balloon his girlfriend had gotten after breaking her arm the week before worked its way into the ceiling fan causing the ruckus. However, it was refreshing to feel rather than panic, a sense of “we have to do it with loaded guns now.” There was a level of trust and confidence there, although I am thankful beyond words it was just a balloon.

  15. I put in a dvd and let it go to the dvd screen saver (where the dvd logo bounces all over the screen) I use this as a target to practice target acquisition and dry fire right at the tv. Especally with a scope at close range you will see your flintch and learn to control it.

  16. Another purpose for dry firing might be to break-in some of the new mass produced, cheaply made, or ChiCom type tactical shotguns that are on the current market. The “Ithica 37” or “Rem 870” clones etc, which are currently offered. Often, I hear guys talk about how that proud new $200.00 tactical jams, or won’t feed, or eject properly, so you couldn’t trust it in a desparate situation. I contend that many of these returned guns, and dashed hopes could be overcome by snap-caps, and a lot of dry firing. Oh, a little jeweller’s roughe and some emory cloth might also help, but I think a lot of these FTF and FTE scenarios could be eliminated and overcome via this process.

  17. Though you may feel a little like a kid playing cops n’robbers, practicing home defense drills with dry fire is a good way to spend time when everyone else is gone. You can determine approach routes to various parts of the house, where the best cover points are, where an invader can hide from your initial sweep; all the things your mind is too busy to assess in the real situation. This is also the place to consider what’s on the other side of walls if there is round penetration (and there will be, both yours and the intruder’s). Doing this at night can disclose areas of illumination from the outside and show those dark places your flashlight should explore. Home defense tactics should be developed and practiced in this kind of environment, not made-up when there are real dangers lurking in the dark.

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