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Being proficient with your chosen defensive arm is something that requires practice, as many shooters know.   However, not everyone can afford to hit the range weekly, with costs of ammunition or even just distance being a contributing factor.  So, what do you do when you want to train up your proficiency but lack the means to do so?  Training at home can be greatly beneficial, and while it doesn’t directly impact controlling the recoil impulse or sight picture while maintaining a course of fire it can help develop muscle memory for some vital skills.

There is no replacement for good quality training, so if you do have the means I suggest looking around in your area for a reputable class or instructor.  That being said, let’s take a look at some drills and exercises to develop your proficiency and progress as a shooter.

Dry Firing: How I Learned to Love the Click

Despite what some gun shop clerks want to espouse, dry firing isn’t going to damage most modern firearms.  With some rare exceptions, but I generally suggest the use of snap caps if you are worried about damaging your weapon in any way.  The way I dry fire practice has helped tremendously in maintaining a proper sight picture and learning proper trigger control.  I’ve seen new and seasoned shooters alike display questionable trigger control at times, and it does happen.  We develop bad habits out of laziness or out of lack of practice, hence the importance of dry firing.

Source:  Youtube/Paratus Northwest

Source: YouTube/Paratus Northwest

The way to go about practicing is fairly simple, double and triple check that your firearm is unloaded before proceeding however.  Now, a trick I like to maintain that was taught to me some time ago is the use of a penny or empty piece of brass to place near the front sight.  This practice works exclusively with semi-autos, though I have had some decent luck utilizing it with a flattop rail on an AR-15 as well.  What you’re wanting to do is to apply gradual even pressure to the trigger while maintaining a clear sight picture, with the trigger break providing minimal shift from the intended target.

So, with your unloaded weapon in hand, pick or create a target in a safe environment like a garage or bedroom and take the time to assume a comfortable stance with your weapon.  While maintaining your sight picture on the target, apply an even and slow squeeze to the trigger and allow the firing pin to fall.  If done properly the penny shouldn’t shift in the slightest, with your sight picture remaining on target.   Poor trigger control will be detected almost immediately by the shift of your sight picture and the penny or brass falling from atop your weapon.

As a practice, I recommend dry firing when you have time for it.  This exercise takes just a little bit of time on a daily basis to see immediate improvements in your shooting when you go to the range.

Here’s a great dryfire practice video that can better visually demonstrate the exercise.

Reloading:  Speed Under Duress

It doesn’t matter if you use stripper clips, magazines, or speedloaders, the need to learn how to efficiently and smoothly reload your weapon is a vital skill to have.  Thankfully, this is another skill you can practice at home with your chosen defensive weapon.  What you’ll need for this drill is your chosen firearm, some empty magazines, and potentially some snapcaps.  Whatever your daily carry gear is, I suggest wearing for this exercise in particular.

After noting your firearm is unloaded and with one empty magazine in the well, take aim at your dry fire target, acquire a sight picture and move towards a reload.  Your support hand should go to your magazine holders if available, withdrawing the magazine as you eject the one from inside of the weapon.  This isn’t an exercise to be done on feel alone, use your eyes to make sure of clear ejection and proper insertion.  Proper insertion technique is crucial as well.  I use the index finger of my support hand to line up along the front of the magazine when doing this exercise.  No armchair commando has much clout in saying it should be done upon sight alone, because in the event you fumble a reload it’s a situation which can be deadly in a defensive situation.  Use your eyes, take your time, and make sure you can do it slowly.  As with the dry firing exercise, speed will come in time.

Source: Youtube/Viking Tactics

Source: YouTube/Viking Tactics

For ideal results, I’d suggest at least twenty to thirty minutes of reloading practice daily.  You can practice from slide lock or bolt open if desired, which can help develop those gross muscle skills and overall muscle memory.  If you feel the lack of ammunition doesn’t provide proper feedback feel free to use snapcaps or other dummy ammunition while doing this drill.

Drawing:  Not Just For Artists

Practicing a draw from retention can mean the difference in life or death in some scenarios.  Like any aspect of defensive firearm use, drawing from a holster is a vital technique to practice.  Practicing your draw is an easy concept to get behind though, and rotates around your carry gear.  The key as with previous exercises is to go slow and smooth for your draw, making sure to clear cover garments and present your weapon with no fumbling.  Speeding up the draw without proper technique can result in a nasty fumble, which could spell disaster in a real world scenario.

To practice your draw, you need a typical cover garment, your weapon, and your chosen carry holster.  Take care to note your firearm is empty, and then check it again and again until you’re sick of looking, and holster it.  The method of draw is heavily dependent on your method of carry, a pocket holster being vastly different in draw from an inside the waistband holster.  Let’s go over the proper draw for the three common holster types: inside the waistband, outside the waistband, and pocket holsters.

Pocket holsters are a little easier to draw from, with good quality holsters having retention tabs to snag on the pocket while drawing.  To practice your draw, face your dry fire target, place your firing hand inside the pocket, and grip securely around the handle of the weapon and draw out with a smooth motion.  Here’s a video that shows how to do it in a little more depth.

Source: YouTube/Ruger Firearms

Source: YouTube/Ruger Firearms

Inside the waistband is my preferred method of carry, and my usual method of practicing my draw is to take the firing hand, lift the cover garment while placing my support hand on the center of my chest or abdomen to prevent further movement of the shirt, and draw out.  From there I make a proper presentation while drawing the pistol to my chest and extending outwards to take my stance.

Outside the waistband centers around a similar principle to inside the waistband, but can sometimes be a bit easier to grasp the weapon due to the lack of tension placed around the waist area.  Yet again, you want to lift up the garment, grab the weapon’s handle, draw out while pinning the garment at chest or abdomen level with your support hand, and present from there.

Source: YouTube/Ruger Firearms

Source: YouTube/Ruger Firearms

Practicing your draw is a vital component of defensive carry or competitive shooting, and the quicker you adjust to actually deploying the firearm, the faster you can place shots on target.

Here’s a video depicting different configurations for drawing from IWB.

Airsoft:  You Mean They Aren’t Just Expensive Toys?

Airsoft provides a great means for any person seeking to further their proficiency.  They don’t make an adequate replacement for actual shots placed on a range or in a class, but they do serve a great purpose.  Airsoft guns are available in a plethora of varieties, with many emulating popular firearms, and can develop muscle memory just as well as dry fire exercises.  The added benefit is the ability to actually fire on a target with corresponding visual feedback available.

Source: YouTube/Haley Strategic

Source: YouTube/Haley Strategic

Now, an airsoft gun isn’t going to come close to directly simulating the recoil impulse or noise of an actual firearm, but the cost of ammunition for an airsoft gun makes it a very attractive option.  Numerous airsoft weapons are available in a variety of emulated platforms with 1911s, Glocks, and many other popular semi-automatic and revolver options being available.  Rifle variants also exist centering around more common AR-15 and AK configurations.

How To Structure Your Training At Home

You want to ideally spend about fifteen to twenty minutes on some of these aspects to improve your techniques.  Dry fire practice can literally be cut down to five to ten minutes, same with the other drills, but what you put in is what you get out.  If you think back to childhood piano lessons, or any other real hobby that requires practice it is very much a concept of how much energy and effort you’re willing to invest.  If you’re a beginner learning these techniques, it’ll be daunting just how clumsy your fingers feel.  A lot of shooters start out the same way, not everyone is a dyed in the wool shooter from birth.

Break up the monotony while you train, listen to music or a radio show if it helps you get past the boredom of these drills, because they frankly are boring.  They are effective though, which goes a long way from developing poor habits or fumbling when the proverbial fecal matter hits the air circulation device.