When I teach a permit class, or any of my classes, I always talk about how important dry fire is to being a proficient shooter. People would then ask what they should do for dry fire on their own and I never had a great answer for them until now.
Don’t read into the word “basics” as if it means “easy” or “introductory” or “beginner.” It doesn’t mean that at all. These are things I still practice frequently. For the average person who wants to carry, but isn’t interested in becoming a competitive master of shooting, these are the essentials you need to be able to execute if the day comes when the pistol you carry has to be put to use in a legal self defense situation.
This set of drills will help you build the fundamentals needed to draw quickly, press the trigger correctly, and fire rapidly. This isn’t everything you could possibly do. I don’t have reloads in this because, honestly, I almost never carry a spare mag. You can practice that too, but being able to draw and shoot quickly is more important to the average carrier. If you spend 15 - 30 minutes a day, 3 days a week or more, it will make a huge difference.
BEFORE YOU BEGIN, VERIFY THAT YOU HAVE NO LIVE AMMUNITION IN THE GUN, MAGAZINES, OR IN THE ROOM WITH YOU.
TRIGGER PRESS/SIGHT DRILL
Procedure: Build a proper grip on the pistol. Hold the gun up to your eye and align the sights without aiming them at a target. While observing the front sight, press the trigger gradually until it breaks. If the front sight did not move prior to the “click” of the trigger, your grip and trigger press were good. If the front sight moved, you did something to cause that.
The most common marksmanship problem people have when shooting a pistol is moving the pistol off target a few hundredths of a second before it fires. Gripping the gun and pressing the trigger correctly is a fundamental skill that always needs practice to maintain.
Using a target for this drill would be a distraction from your grip and trigger press. Just work on this part of the shot during this drill.
If you are using an optic on your pistol, substitute “dot” for “front sight” in the procedure for the drill. A dot will give you much more feedback than a front sight. A front sight on an iron sighted gun will do the same thing, but you have to pay more attention to it as it doesn’t appear to move as violently as a dot will.
A good trigger press results from your firing hand remaining still during the press, of course with the exception of only your trigger finger pressing the trigger. Practice pressing the trigger slowly, but also speed up the gradual pressure you apply to the trigger. See how fast you can press the trigger and get away with it. If your grip and trigger press are really good, you can almost yank the trigger.
When working on drawing a pistol, work only on that. Don’t press the trigger while doing this. Only place your finger on the trigger, do not press it. Racing to meet a par time can cause you to press the trigger before the gun is where it should be. For these drills you will need some form of a target, but anything will do. You can use a piece of tape for a small target, a light switch cover, a sheet of paper, or even a purpose-made dry fire target. You will also need a par timer. Any shot timer will have this function built in, but they are relatively expensive, costing well over $100. There are apps for smart phones that work fine as a par timer, but don’t work well as a shot timer at all in live fire practice. You just need a start beep and an end beep. For iPhones, I have used the app simply called “Par Timer.” It’s 99 cents and works great. I
When using a par timer to do practice drills, you have to be honest about each run. If the second beep happens and your gun is still wiggling around away from the spot you want to aim at, you didn’t beat the par time. You can also have a stable gun but it the sights aren’t aligned. You also weren’t successful. When everything is where it should be at the second beep, you successfully completed the drill.
Procedure: With your hands relaxed at your sides, draw, build your grip, and aim the gun at a target with your finger on the trigger. Do not press the trigger. The drill ends when you have a stable sight picture.
Use your concealment holster with no cover garment. It doesn’t matter what type of holster it is, any holster you carry concealed with will do. If you are only wearing a t-shirt, tuck your shirt in so you have full access to the gun.
The best and most efficient way to get your firing hand on the grip is to move it directly to the gun. Your support hand should also be moving at the same time as your firing hand, moving to a spot near the gun. If you are carrying on your right hip, your right hand moves directly up to the grip while your left hand moves to the left of the gun, about belly button high on the right half of your belly. Then build your grip in tight, then aim at the target. It is faster to join your support hand on the gun close to the body than out away from the body.
This drill is good to do if you are new to practicing a concealed draw to get used to getting your firing hand in the right place on the gun. Once you get the basics of your draw down, this drill isn’t necessary to do all the time, but it is good to do when you find yourself struggling to get your firing hand on the gun correctly while doing a concealed draw.
Shoot for a 1.5 second time to start. Then drive it down as far as you can and still get a good grip with sights on target. I can do this reliably in 0.8 seconds. 0.7 or less is certainly possible.
Procedure: With your hands relaxed at your sides, or with hands held up at shoulder height, pull up on cover garment, draw, build your grip, and aim the gun at a target with your finger on the trigger. Do not press the trigger. The drill ends when you have a stable sight picture.
This drill is the same as the Open Draw, except your support hand is pulling your shirt or jacket away from the gun before you grip it and draw. This is with the gun holstered anywhere from 4 O’Clock on the right to 8 O’Clock on the left.
Side Carry Specifics: Step one of any draw is that both hands need to move toward the gun at the same time, they just have different jobs. The key to pulling your garment out of the way is to do it in a way that minimizes the chance of snagging a thumb or the gun on it. For a t-shirt draw from the side (3, 4, 8, or 9 O’Clock), I grab the bottom of my shirt just in front of the gun with my support hand, pull it up to my upper chest and in toward the midline of my body but not quite that far. This will reveal the gun and keep the shirt out of the way of the firing hand as it draws the gun. Hold it tight to your chest until the gun has cleared the holster and you can start building your grip.
When your support hand goes to move your cover garment, your firing hand should just go for the gun as if it wasn’t covered. If done right your shirt will be out of the way in time. With a jacket or coat the timing will obviously be different. This is why you need to practice.
Your firing hand needs to draw the gun at the same angle your holster is canted at. Most carry holsters have the FBI cant which requires you pull the gun upward and forward. This leads to a faster and more efficient draw. If you pull straight up on the gun instead of at the angle of the holster, it may not want to let go of the gun. It’s like trying to pull a golf club out of a bag by pulling back on it. It may get hung up.
Once the gun is clear of the holster, start rotating the muzzle towards the target, bring your hands together and once your support hand is starting to get on the gun, start pushing it towards the target. By the time your sights are at eye level, they should be on the target.
When it comes to wearing an open jacket, button down shirt, or blazer, I still rip it up and toward the midline of my body. Using the firing hand thumb to move it is less reliable from one jacket to the next. A light button down shirt may get hung up on the gun where a blazer wouldn’t. In my personal training ripping up was still the most reliable. Even with a heavy winter coat, it depends greatly on the coat. Experiment with what works best with your coat.
Start with a par time of 2.0 seconds and start whittling it down. I can reliably get a draw from the side done in 0.9 seconds, less reliably at 0.8 though that time or better is possible.
Appendix Carry Specifics: Again, move both hands at the same time. To expose the gun for an appendix draw, simply grab the bottom of your shirt in the middle of your body and pull it up under your throat. They may seem extreme, but if your gun is holstered just right or left of the center of your body, the grip of the pistol is a little farther away from the midline than the holster’s belt clip is. The higher you pull it up, the more shirt you can keep out of the way of the draw.
When you start moving both hands at the beginning of the draw, your firing hand will just go for the gun. If starting with hands at sides, both hands move at the same speed. If you are starting with your hands at shoulder level, or just out in front of you, your firing hand will still be moving towards the gun, just not as quickly. This is a timing thing that requires practice.
Once the gun clears the holster, start turning the muzzle towards the target but don’t start pushing it out until your support hand is starting to get on the gun and finish the grip. By the time your sights are at eye level, they should be on the target.
Start with a par time of 2.0 seconds for this and make it smooth. Once that becomes easy, start lowering the par time. I can draw from appendix under a t-shirt just as fast as I can when it is not concealed, 0.8 seconds. I can do a 0.7 about half the time, but faster is certainly possible.
Procedure: Draw from concealment, acquire a sight picture, and press the trigger. The drill ends when the trigger goes “click.”
I use this drill to expand on a good draw. You may need to shoot immediately on the draw, you may not. This is practice for when you do, but has the added element of giving you one shot to fire to see if your draw and building of your grip translates to good shooting when you press the trigger.
For a par time goal, start with 0.1 seconds over your current goal time for your draw. After you get better and drive the time down, shoot for the same time as your draw.
Procedure: Draw and engage one target with six rounds as fast as you can.
The Bill Drill is a staple of learning to shoot fast. When you do it with ammo, it really tests your grip. In dry fire, because there is no recoil to manage, it is easy to cheat the trigger presses and you can get into bad habits. When you press the trigger each time, make sure you are realistically releasing your trigger finger as if you were firing the gun with ammo.
In a dry fire Bill Drill, the most important thing to look for is movement of the sights or dot off target while pressing the trigger. The sights should remain stable while you are pressing the trigger. You also want to be aware of tension building in your shoulders. This is not good for fast shooting. Think of executing the drill with only your hands and eyes.
A good starting goal for this drill would be 3 seconds. As your draw gets better you should be able to work this down to 2 seconds. It is possible to get this drill done in 1.8 seconds or better.
If you have read about this drill and have thought “I shoot a Glock and the trigger doesn’t move after one press,” there are a couple of ways to deal with it. One is to use a folded up chunk of a business card or similar thin cardboard to leave the breach open slightly so that the trigger is not fully reset. It will then move back and forth freely. You don’t get the click of the striker being released, but you get the sensation of the trigger moving. The other option is to just press the trigger the first time and then press on the dead trigger for the other five rounds. I use both methods, but prefer the moving trigger.
If you have a Sig, M&P, or other gun that has a trigger that moves after being pressed, you don’t need to do anything, just press the trigger. You don’t get the click, but it’s good to go.
If you have a double action/single action gun, press the full double action once, then simulate releasing the trigger as much as it would take to fire the single action shots. Do not press the full double action every time.
BACKING BILL DRILL
Procedure: Draw, start walking backwards, and engage one target with six rounds as fast as you can.
The Backing Bill Drill is literally the same drill except the added aspect of walking backwards at the same time. It can be challenging to add in the “walking and chewing gum” coordination all at once. To get used to aiming and moving, do the drill without the trigger pressing. Simply draw, start walking backwards, and aim at the target until the second beep.
Your goal par time should be the same as a regular Bill Drill. But you will want to pay attention to how much ground you cover going backwards. If you only take two steps backwards, that is not enough. Work to get four steps or more in before you are done shooting.