Dry Fire Blues

You may remember that in the beginning of the year I had started shooting the AR in earnest after receiving my Noveske upper after waiting for it 11 months (I also prepaid for it).  A couple friends had sent me scopes to test and I was trying to get my skills up to a plateau so that the tests would be a valid basis of comparison between the scopes.

In contrast to most of my work with rifles on the blog, I was putting an emphasis on speed.  Most of my work was done in getting a single hit on a 4” target at 7 yards in the minimum time I could.  In my first week, after putting on the U.S. Optics SR-8, I spent about half a week working rather slowly just to get my movements calibrated.  My first day out getting a baseline turned out an average time of 1.29 seconds with a hit rate of 73% over 15 rounds (11 hits).

I spent the next week working on speed.  I started using the metronome to have an objective measure of how fast I was going during dry fire.  When I went to the range I saw a significant improvement over the previous week, but I didn’t have a lot of confidence in my shooting being solid, and the comment in my notes was “wild”.  My average time over 18 shots was 1.06.  My cold shot was 0.97 (no warmup), my fastest shot was 0.77, and my slowest was 1.34 (2nd shot “duh” moment).  My hit rate was 88.8% (16/18).

Based on what had happened and how I felt about it, I knew I could see a dramatic improvement the next time out, so I worked my rear end off in dry fire the next week.  By the end I had my metronome speed so jacked up it was almost a foregone conclusion that I would be taking 0.2 to 0.3 off my time while maintaining or improving my hit rate.

It was a huge surprise and disappointment when I absolutely sucked in live fire.  My average time was 1.21 seconds with a hit rate of 72%.  The only thing I can say is that I was more consistent, as the standard deviation for my times was approximately .04 less than the previous 2 times out.

I kept at my dry fire routine, thinking that my very poor results had only been the result of a very bad shooting day.  Again, I should have shown improvement over even what I thought I should have been shooting like the previous time.  When reality hit the fan the next time out, my average time was 1.13 seconds and my hit rate was an absolutely dismal 44%.

I had always thought of dry fire as something that could only help.  At worst I thought it could be ineffective.  One way to interpret these results is that a poorly managed dry fire routine can result in decreased performance.  A friend had suggested that it might be useful to temper the dry fire with a few rounds of live fire a day to keep a reality check on things.  I think this would be a catalyst to any serious training regimen, but around that time a lot of “life” popped up and I didn’t implement it in this application.

A problem with dry fire is the lack of accountability and not having an anchor to the real world.  I had considered spending some cash on one of the SIRT laser bolt carriers from Next Level Training.  The idea is that a laser indicates a simulated point of impact for every trigger press.  The hitch for me was that it’s not inexpensive, and some reviews at Brownells gave me serious pause.  In the end I decided that I didn’t really have the cash for such an unknown, but I had ammo, and big money on a gadget seemed like too much of a pain to pursue when I have a range 50 yards from the back door.

Another thing that came to my mind is that over-practice can decrease performance.  I think there was an element of that here, although I don’t think that I was wearing myself out or anything.  I can say for sure that my focus was extremely narrow and I felt like I had a lot emotionally invested in seeing a dramatic improvement.

One thing I have noticed as a pattern is that often the more often I want something and the harder I work to attain it, the more dramatic my failure and disappointment.  This used to be a real problem with me, but for the most part I have learned to accept my performance with very little (or no) emotion.  With group shooting I have learned that “dispersion happens” in real life and that despite what I may have seen on the internet if enough bullets are shot at the same point of aim, sooner or later there will be an outlier (the infamous “flier”).

As it turned out my shooting had to take a back seat to other things.  This made it harder to plan any coherent regimen of training.  The time that I did have I devoted primarily to shooting offhand groups, consisting of 10 round groups, mostly from 50 yards, sometimes from farther.  I shot at 50 yards because it was only at this distance that I could keep most of them inside my primary target at that range, which was 8 MOA at that distance.

At some point, about 2 months after my last documented 7 yard session, I must have had an extra mag, some extra time, and an extra target, so I decided to see where my performance on the 7 yards single round hit would be.  I did not have any particular performance expectations, just curious and looking to have some fun.  I shot 19 rounds.  My average time was 1.08 and my hit rate was 95%.  One of my shots had a blatant hesitation, 1.79, that brought my average down a few points, but all in all I was only a second and a half slower than my fastest day, on average and my hit rate was the best it had ever been.

The following day I did some more, but I placed my target stand so that I was looking through a narrow opening between two other target stands about a yard away from me.  In the photo below the target is in the center of the other two.  Of course the shot was no different, but there was a significant amount of visual “noise” to contend with.  I fired a full 30 round mag, one shot at a time, with an average time of 1.1, a hit rate of 90%, and a low shot time of 0.78.


I’m not exactly sure what the lesson to take away from all this is.  First of all, I’m not satisfied with even my best times, but it seems clear that not all work is worthwhile or even helpful at all.  Apparently it can be downright detrimental.  The thing about dry fire is that there is not authoritative feedback separate from the senses of the shooter.  It’s probably safe to say that anyone who’s shot enough has been surprised by where their bullet went at one point or another.  Sometimes our calls aren’t right on.  So dry fire requires very careful observation and honesty.  I vividly recall seeing the dot from the borrowed SR-8 move very rapidly from off target to on.  I thought this was happening before the trigger break, but it could have been after.

Another pertinent question is, what is dry fire good for?  Is it ever an appropriate venue for working on speed?  With as much time as I have put in with a metronome, I have absolutely nothing in the way of measurable results that would point to it having done any good for me.  Back when I was a pistol nut and didn’t care about rifles, I had 2D replicas of Steel Challenge courses of fire, down to the angles being correct and the targets being the right size if I stood at the right distance from the wall (they were on posterboard that I hung up).  That didn’t help either, but of course I was really wanting to see a huge improvement then too.  I was even worse back then, in terms of really wanting to see results.  It could be that dry fire is most appropriate for working on perfect mechanics rather than increasing speed.  It could also be that wanting something too much brings it farther from attaining it.

5 thoughts on “Dry Fire Blues

  1. I rarely ever “target practice” anymore with pistol or rifle. I sprint and move to get my heart rate up. I am only concerned with performance based on real world conditions.

  2. Target size is to small switch to a paper plate which will “let” you shoot faster, I assume speed is the goal at seven yards, then you will see what your fast cone of fire is and where it impacts ,instinct or point shooting with a rifle requires body movement rather than hunting for the target in a scopes field of view or am I missing something

    • Howdy! Yep, I think I could hit a plate easily without using the sight at all. I have a bit of a specific goal with the 4″ target, so that is why I’m sticking with it. I’m going to put myself through the Quick Kill program, which is a method of what I think is being called “instinctive shooting” now. I think you’re probably right about not needing the sights at extreme close range, even on smaller targets. Look up “Lucky McDaniel” on Google. Until I’m done testing these scopes I’m going to continue acquiring a quick sight picture. It’s pretty quick and easy to acquire a sight picture with these low power scopes, so it will be an interesting comparison to try it without sights at all.

  3. I find dry fire exceptionally important in building speed, and attribute most of whatever speed I do have to it. I also agree with Rawhider about the target size. I understand why you want the 4″ target, but I think starting with the larger target and building your speed (I try to keep a .6-.75 for that size and distance) and then working the target down to 4″ will be more effective. Of course, a large part of this is that exact mechanics you are practicing. I know you know how to snap shoot a bolt gun, but a video of your “up” drills might be beneficial.

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