Everyone knows the best way to make giant gains in your shooting and weapon handling is to devote time to dry fire practice followed by time on the live-fire range working those skills. Particularly during this time of ammunition shortages, dry fire practice is especially helpful. Personally, I have tried to dedicate a brief time each day to dry fire practice, followed by a little live-fire practice once a week. The result has been tremendous improvement in my own skills.
One problem with dry fire practice is that most people find it boring, so the well-intentioned practice session becomes easily skipped in favor of something else. Another problem is dry fire practice sessions at home come with a myriad of other important things needing our attention: spouses, children, pets, yard work, fishing, hunting and regular daily life.
Don’t worry; here are a few exercises to improve some of your shooting skills that can be done while driving, watching television, or worse, sitting at your desk. The first step is to give yourself a daily reminder to work on your skills. Set a repeating reminder on your cell phone calendar to help you stay on track. This will keep training on your mind. Taking this time to invest in your training might be the best “bang for your buck.”
The shooting platform includes stance, grip, posture and body positioning used to minimize movement and stabilize the weapon system during firing. A simple exercise to bring the concept of a stable shooting platform to your conscious mind is to focus on maintaining a stable platform throughout your day. Sounds easy? It’s not. Unfortunately, we have become a physically lazy society. Look at the posture of the people around you on a daily basis. Slouching is rampant. When you catch yourself standing with your hips out of alignment or feet too close together, adjust to a more stable and balanced platform, ensuring your core is engaged. When you have a naturally stable platform, you can focus your attention on the sights and trigger.
The single most important part of the shooting platform is grip. While having a perfect grip may not be important for one shot, well placed and rapid follow-up shots require the best grip you can muster. Your strong-side hand should be as high on the backstrap of the handgun as possible, applying a relaxed but solid amount of pressure from the front strap to the backstrap as if you are squeezing a set of pliers. The grip pressure should allow your trigger finger to move smoothly while applying front-to-back tension on the grip to prevent muzzle rise during recoil. A simple, economical way to improve the grip strength of your strong-side hand is to invest a small amount of money in a set of hand grip strengtheners. Leave them in the center console of your car to use while driving to work or while doing errands. You could even leave a set in your patrol bag to use while driving at work. Working on your grip strength is better than focusing on the frustration of driving in traffic.
While grip strength in your strong hand is important, the support hand needs to exert most of the force on the handgun. Your support hand should be crushing the handgun just shy of making you shake. This clinching motion is like squeezing those little stress balls. Conveniently, this makes stress balls a terrific way to simulate that grip while exercising and strengthening the support hand. If you need a bit more resistance, grab a racquetball and start squeezing. One of my biggest shooting gremlins is a tendency to get lazy with my support-hand grip when fatigued. As an instructor, I see a lot of misplaced shots due to a lazy support hand. So, clinch that ball. It is that simple.
Once you understand the proper way to establish a two-hand grip, repetition is the key to success. If you wish to get some grip repetition without holding a handgun, here is something you can do anytime. Whenever you think about it, simply simulate the grip by grasping the shooting-hand fingers with the support hand. The heel of the support hand should fall into and fill the palm of the shooting hand. Keep the shooting hand relaxed while squeezing those fingers with the support hand in that gripping motion. You can do this while watching TV, during meetings or whenever your mind wanders to working on your shooting ability.
Sight alignment is simple once the concept is understood. The brain seeks symmetry and will automatically try to fix something it perceives as asymmetrical. Once we understand that the goal is to center the front sight in the rear-sight window using the concept of “equal height, equal light,” we can stop worrying about it and let our subconscious minds take over.
Sight placement is a little more complicated. Many shooters, particularly new shooters, have a tough time focusing on the front sight instead of the intended target in the distance. Under stress, the threat will draw our visual focus, so it’s imperative to train our focus on that front sight. By training to get a front-sight focus, we are conditioning our brain to rely on past experiences under stress. It takes time and practice to pick up the front sight instead of the target in the background, so the more you work on it, the quicker it will happen. If it’s true that we will fight like we train, it’s important to train to get that front-sight focus.
An effective way to practice moving our focus from the target to the front sight is to use the nail of your index finger as a substitute front sight. If you raise your arm with your index finger pointed up, the index fingernail is nearly the same distance from your eye as a front sight. Select an object in the distance as your simulated target. Starting with your hand at your chest, slowly extend the arm, finger pointed upward. Once the fingernail interrupts the eye line, shift your visual focus from the “target” to the “front sight.” The fingernail should settle over the target with the target appearing blurry or completely disappearing behind the nail. Repetition will help your brain pick up and focus on that closer point more quickly and consistently.
Trigger control is a universal shooting gremlin. Even the best shooters in the world struggle with pressing the trigger straight to the rear without disrupting the sights. To consistently move the trigger straight to the rear without disrupting the sights, we must isolate the trigger finger from the rest of the hand. A good shooter must be able to separate and control the muscles of the hand and fingers, much like a pianist. We know relaxed muscles move smoother and quicker, so being able to relax the shooting hand and isolate the trigger finger is key to good trigger control.
With your hand laying on a solid surface like a desk or armrest, start tapping your trigger finger, trying to isolate all movement to only the trigger finger. Concentrate on that finger. Relax the rest of the hand. Once that becomes natural with no movement of the hand or other fingers, try to do the same thing without concentrating on the trigger finger. Begin to mindlessly tap that finger while your mind is busy with another task. From time to time, glance down and make sure those other fingers are not moving, then go back to mindlessly tapping.
Once you get good at this, instead of tapping the finger, move it in a scratching motion. This motion should be in a straight line, just like moving the trigger straight to the rear. Isolating the trigger finger with the scratching motion will get that finger moving in a straight line.
Give these exercises a try, and you will be surprised at the difference in your skill level. These can’t replace quality training, regular dry fire practice and quality trigger time. But when that is not an option, these exercises will bring shooting into your consciousness, improve your skills and refresh your enthusiasm for firearm training.