Safety and Training

Dry Fire Practice – Is It Safe For Your Firearm?

Many of us who grew up around firearms have been warned for years never to dry fire any firearm. So we avoid dry fire practice. But can you really damage your firearm by pulling the trigger on an empty chamber?

The answer is, as you might have guessed, “it depends.” Most modern firearms are safe to dry fire, but there are some notable exceptions.

Rimfire and Centerfire Designs: Avoid Dry Fire

Rimfire rifles and pistols should never be dry fired. The reason is due to the design of the rimfire chamber. When a rimfire firearm is dry fired, the striker hits the outside mouth of the chamber instead of the soft brass rim of the cartridge.

This can not only damage or destroy your firing pin, but over time will peen the barrel face. Extensive peening can be so bad that ammunition will no longer chamber.

Many older pistol designs had notoriously brittle firing pins, such as the CZ-52. Pull the trigger on an empty chamber with that pistol and you’re almost assured of having a broken firing pin in just a couple dozen strikes.

The problem with many centerfire designs is that the firing pin travels too far when dropped on an empty chamber. In many semiautomatic firearms, the firing pin is only stopped when it hits the end of the firing pin channel. Other pistols, such as older Smith & Wesson revolvers, have the free-floating striker pinned to the hammer.

Again, there is the same problem that when the firing pin over-travels, it can hit the frame potentially causing damage to the striker. So it’s best to avoid dry fire practice.

Marling Model 336BL Rifle dry fire practice
It’s not advisable to dry fire centerfire firearms like the Marlin Model 336BL Lever-Action Rifle.

Modern Firearms: Debatable

While you can safely dry fire almost any modern pistol, rifle, or shotgun, why take the chance? It’s obvious from a design standpoint that firearms were not designed to be frequently used that way. Modern firearms are designed to have the firing pin hit the primer, ignite the powder, and make the thing go “boom” while propelling a small projectile out of the barrel at a high velocity.

They are not, by design, intended to be dry fired thousands of times. Dry fire practice with a modern centerfire firearm does not result in the firing pin “hitting air” — something has to stop it if the primer or a snap cap isn’t there. That impact, whether it’s a pin, rivet, or just the firing pin channel, is what can eventually damage your firing pin.

Will a modern firearm hold up to it? Sure, modern metallurgy has enabled engineers to produce much stronger steel, virtually eliminating problems from dry firing centerfire rifles and pistols. But they’re not designed to, so why risk it? Snap caps and various other designs of dummy ammunition allow you to fire nearly any weapon without risk of damage to your firing pin, or any other part of the firearm.

Every time I purchase a firearm in a new caliber, I always pick up a pack of snap caps to practice with. They’re inexpensive and are great not only for dry firing, but also an invaluable resource for practicing malfunction drills. I carry a snap cap in all of my bolt action rifles for use when the rifle is unloaded so that I can release the spring tension on the striker without dropping it on an empty chamber.

Conclusion: Is Dry Fire Practice Safe?

We contacted Ruger and asked their technical advisors to see what they had to say. According to them, dry firing is perfectly fine on all of their modern centerfire firearms for clearing the weapon, dropping the hammer/striker, or just trying out the trigger.

However, for practice, they said you should definitely use snap caps. And that just makes sense. When practicing for USPSA Limited Revolver, I’d regularly go through 100 trigger pulls a night, on snap caps as that was how I’d been taught. Ruger technicians confirmed for us that if you’re going to be practicing with your revolver or semiautomatic pistol, you should seriously consider using snap caps.

Rimfire firearms should never be dry fired without the use of dummy rimfire training rounds made of soft metals such as brass or aluminum, or polymer rimfire snap caps. Most modern centerfire firearms can be safely dry fired, but infrequently. If you’re going to be dry firing for practice, it’s always advisable to use snap caps.

And as always, if you’re checking out your buddy’s rifle, or handling a new pistol you’re considering purchasing at your local gun shop, ask permission before dry firing.

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 (18)

  1. As a follow up on my comment, I didn’t hear the shibboleth about dry firing until after I left the Marine Corps after 8 years. The drill in the guard shack with a 1911 was to withdraw the magazine, pull back the slide to extract the round in the chamber, let the slide go forward and dry fire the piece with the muzzle pointing at the overhead. I believe if you go in any guard shack on any Marine base anywhere in the world and look at the overhead you will see a bunch of patches to the overhead. This happens with particular frequency on the midnight to four a.m. watch. Nothing creates midnight revelle quite like the report of a .45 going off in the confined space of a guard shack at 0435. It was only when I was around civilians that I started hearing “Don’t dry fire an empty weapon.” I personally think it is a hang over from the 19th century. You know, those old rumors die hard. The warning about dry firing a .22 is well founded, although I believe without any factual basis that dry firing a Ruger .22 somehow doesn’t hurt it. I would say, I have a Remington Mohawk that does not have a bolt hold open after the last round, so many times it gets accidentally dry fired if I have lost count of rounds fired. I don’t know how many times it has been accidentally dry fired and still pumps them out like a Timex watch or the Energizer bunny. Now that I have been indoctrinated, I do use snap caps when I am doing a dry firing session where I will dry fire repeatedly. I guess I have become brainwashed.

  2. I would echo Col’s comments. In the U.S. Marine Corps, every time one has one’s weapon inspected the bolt is opened so that the inspector can examine the weapon. After it is handed back the Marine closes the bolt and dry fires the weapon. Any time the bolt is opened doing the manual of arms the weapon is dry fired upon closing the bolt. In boot camp, in the week prior to actual shooting, a significant portion of the recruit’s time is spent dry firing at aiming stakes in order to perfect getting into the correct position for the particular session being shot. My M-1 was issued to me in boot camp, went through all that dry firing, followed me to Advanced Infantry Training and lots of dry firing, overseas to Okinawa and lots of dry firing until I turned it in upon completing my 2-year tour on Okinawa. During that time that particular M-1 was dry fired anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 times. I was not the only Marine to dry fire an M-1. Every other Marine had similar experiences. I never once heard of a firing pin shattering from dry firing. While I was not an armorer, the biggest problem I ever heard about and it was extremely rare was operating rod spring weakness causing the M-1 not to cycle reliably. That was due to aged springs, not dry firing. I was lucky to get a brand new M-1 in boot camp. Many others got old WWII relics that perhaps had seen lots of combat in the steamy jungles of the Pacific followed by arctic winters in Korea. The practice in the Marine Corps at that time was to dry fire your M-1 every time you closed the bolt. You didn’t even think about it. Bolt closed—dry fire the piece. It was more automatic than zipping your fly.

  3. I have a CZ-52 pistol as does a friend. While checking out a new magazine the safety was ‘on’ and I bumped it up a little bit w/my thumb & the hammer fell just like I pulled the trigger and my pal’s did the same thing. DANGEROUS! Both off to a gunsmith for repair. The cheesy, brittle firing pins can be replaced with pins made by 70+ year old master gunsmith and FFL Claude Harrington at Harrington Products in Lafayette Indiana (harringtonproducts.com). That’s who I’m sending both pistols to in a few days.

  4. This article is all wrong. You can fire any kind of modern gun without worry, rimfire or centerfire. It states numerous times that the firing pin will hit the bolt. That is simply not true. Almost every gun with a firing pin has a spring to hold the pin back. That spring absorbs the shock. Unless you are talking really old guns, you will never damage one by dry firing.

  5. If rimfire guns shouldn’t be dry fired then why does the most popular rimfire ever, the ruger 10/22, not have lsbho? That gun is going to be dry fired hundreds or thousands of times, whenever a mag is emptied, because that’s the only way you know that you’re out of ammo.

  6. Having grown up in a hunting family & being told don’t but not why has always made me question dry firing, then I joined the Aus Army for 6 years, for the first 4 years we dry fired the 7.62mm SLR & M-60 thousands if not tens of thousands of times & many of these weapons dated back to the Vietnam era, then we were issued the Austeyr & we did the same, not once did we ever have an issue with any weapon, having said that, at least I now have a clearer understanding with regards to Rimfire weapons, thanks

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  8. In regards to the Ruger Mark III they say the following about it on their website:

    Q: Can I dry fire my Mark III pistol?

    Yes. The Mark III has a firing pin stop that prevents the firing pin from contacting the rear of the barrel and damaging the edge of the chamber. If you are going to dry fire the pistol extensively, the stop pin and firing pin will eventually wear and contact could occur, and we recommend replacing both the firing pin and the firing pin stop from time to time. You should also monitor the contact of the firing pin with the rear of the barrel.

    Ref: http://www.ruger.com/service/FAQs.html#Q114

  9. I use a laserlyte system to sight-in and practice shoot with, and always use snap caps. I just think it’s better to err on the safe side.

  10. My Ruger SR9c manual says the gun is safe to dry fire, but the text of this blog makes
    perfect sense. What would be the benefit of taking the chance dry firing on an empty
    chamber when snap caps are so inexpensive? And the text also points out that further
    questioning with Ruger shows that they recommend snap caps if using it for practice as
    opposed to just dropping a hammer.

  11. I’m curious.

    Your last paragraph says “rimfire firearms should never be dry fired without the use of rimfire snap caps”. You then link to this product: http://www.cheaperthandirt.com/15585-5.html, which is Pachmayr’s .22 LR training rounds… and your own webpage for that product specifically states: “do not use for dry fire”.

    So…. which is it?

    Cheaper Than Dirt Edit: While you can probably use those training rounds as a snap cap periodically, since they are solid aluminum they are not as safe as some of the polymer rimfire snap caps also available on the market. Since they are not specifically designed for dry fire, we cannot condone their use as a snap cap.

    Even polymer rimfire snap caps have a “life span” and can only be used a certain number of times before they must be replaced.

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