This is probably the longest single period of my adult life in which I have not fired a single round. It has been almost six months. Due to Covid, the shutting of ranges, and my own wish to avoid exposure in public places, I have not had the opportunity to shoot. Therefore, my only handgun training for the past six months has been dry fire.
This past weekend I shot at an outdoor range and shot 300 rounds. It was an interesting opportunity to assess skills degradation and the influence of dry fire training only on skills maintenance. In the past six month there have been relatively few days in which I did not do dry fire. I tend not to go crazy with dry fire, spending hours, as many of the top competitive shooters actually do, but I average 15-20 minutes a day, pressing the trigger 50-100 times.
My dry fire routine consists of a lot of focus on the draw from concealment to the first shot. I also practice fine accuracy, dry firing at small targets and monitoring the sights so as to eliminate disturbance of the sight alignment when pressing the trigger. I also practice trigger reset for rapid shooting in dry fire as well, so as to practice resetting the trigger in recoil even with a dry gun. I also practice some reloading and malfunction clearance.
So, after six months of only a dry fire routine, what was the verdict on skills maintenance? The most essential skill, the draw stroke to an accurate first shot, was absolutely there. My times were good, and the first shot on target was consistent and accurate. The good news is that this absolutely critical skill can be maintained and improved only with dry fire. Likewise, my accuracy at distance did not suffer much, shooting for accuracy at 25 yards bore that out.
The skills that certainly deteriorated the most are those related to recoil mitigation and controlling the gun in rapid fire. This comes as no surprise as the only way to really practice this is through live fire. Shooting live ammunition provides training on the physical skills of mitigating recoil, but also in the more psychological aspect of taming the flinch response. Both the physical and mental aspects of recoil mitigation deteriorate without consistent live fire.
So, my takeaway is this: the most essential skills can be enhanced and maintained through extended periods of dry fire practice alone, but the maintenance of the full skillset does rely on both dry and live fire practice. However, if you have no opportunity for live fire for an extended period of time, a good dry fire regimen will drastically reduce the loss of your skills, it will even enhance your skills on the all important draw, presentation, and first shot, and all of the weapon manipulation skills can be enhanced as well.
In the current ammo shortage most of us are going to be shooting less, but you can keep the bulk of your skill sharp with a dedicated and regular dry fire routine.