To Shoot Better, “Shoot” A Lot


Fast strings of fire teach recoil management but only if you are
hitting the target. A good rule of thumb is if you can’t fire one
accurate shot slowly, you sure can’t fire two accurate shots fast.

I know people who are vastly knowledgeable about cameras, know all the specs in minute detail and can discourse about various features for hours but hardly ever take a picture. I had an uncle who read all the camera magazines, owned the newest and best cameras, and used one or two rolls of film annually — and then only to test lens sharpness.

At the other extreme are those who only care about driving, shooting, photos, or whatever — and don’t maintain their equipment at all. Fortunately, most of us fall somewhere in between. I take care of my vehicles, follow the scheduled maintenance recommended by the manufacturer and regularly check fluid levels and tire pressure. But I buy them to use, so if I need to drive down a brushy trail and end up with some “Colorado pinstripes,” so be it.

With guns, it is the same. I’m meticulous about scheduled maintenance and care while using, transporting and storing my firearms, but regular use marks don’t bother me at all. A slide with the finish worn down to bare metal by thousands of practice draws looks pretty cool. Provided the gun is mechanically sound and safe, I don’t much care about blue wear or handling marks.

Dry fire training only helps if you focus on what you are doing. Hold the gun
as steadily as possible and press the trigger straight back without imparting
movement to the gun.

Shooting Better

Firearms last a long time. Many handguns made over a hundred years ago function as well as they ever did. The main reason is that most firearms don’t get used a lot. Based on what I see at the range and hear from readers, I suspect most center-fire handgun enthusiasts shoot maybe 50 to 100 rounds a month, and that is likely on the high side.

To become a really good shot, one has to shoot. The top competitive shooters I know generally shoot at least 1,000 rounds a week, some considerably more. If that is the skill level you aspire to, expect to do the same. But most shooting enthusiasts don’t have the time, budget, or interest to commit to such a goal.

What can one do who, for whatever reason, can’t shoot a lot? Quite a lot, actually. Maybe not enough to win formal matches, but enough to be a capable shooter. The primary shooting skill is the ability to hit the target on demand. When you can hit a 10″ diameter circle every time at 10 yards, you can handle most real-world problems. If you can do it at 25 yards, you will likely be the best shooter on the range.

Spring-loaded snap caps protect the firing pin and make dry fire training safer.
If you have a snap cap in the chamber, there are pretty good odds there’s no live round in there.

Developing Skills When You Can’t

Accurate shooting requires two basic skills. First, hold the gun as steadily as possible. No one can hold a handgun perfectly motionless. The gun is always going to move. With diligent practice, the amount of movement can be reduced.

Second, learn to press the trigger and release the shot without imparting additional movement to the gun. Press the trigger straight back, constantly and smoothly increasing pressure, without trying to isolate the exact instant the sear releases to break the shot.

The astute observer will have noted that basic skills can be learned with no ammunition, the only cost being your time. How much time? I’d suggest about 20 minutes per session. Much longer and the tendency is to get sloppy and inattentive, which is worse than no training at all. Daily sessions are best if you have the time. If not, then every second day at a minimum.

Dry fire carries the inherent risk of a careless moment resulting in a live round finding its way into the chamber. If you are snorting in derision and thinking — “It won’t happen to me!” — I can about guarantee it will happen to you. Treat dry fire with the respect it deserves. Triple check the gun is unloaded and that there is no live ammunition in the same room. Dry fire at a backstop capable of stopping a bullet safely, such as a concrete basement wall or perhaps your steel gun safe. If you don’t have a safe backstop, then don’t dry fire at home. And when a training session is done, put the gun away and do something else. Many times I’ve read of incidents where after dry firing, the person loaded the gun, put it on the shelf or in the holster and then absent-mindedly tried “just one more.”

I’ll admit dry fire can get boring, but it repays the time. You still need live fire to familiarize yourself with recoil. I don’t get much from short training sessions; I’d rather save my ammo and shoot 200 rounds once a month than 50 rounds a week but suit your own interest and circumstance.

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