Can’t Find Any Ammo? Do These 3 Dry-Practice Handgun Drills

You don't need a single live round to improve your handgun shooting skills. Just do these drills

The best thing about guns is shooting guns. But let’s face it, there’s very little ammunition out there right now, and what is out there is expensive. This creates a problem for the handgunner because shooting skills are perishable. Fortunately, dry-practice can be effective at developing and maintaining basic skills. Here’s three dry-practice handgun drills you should be doing when ammunition is not available, or when you can’t make it to the range. And when ammo finally does become more available, remember that these three handgun drills make for excellent live-fire practice, too.

Drill No. 1: Pull! Mastering Handgun Trigger Control

Batt Mann practices shooting a handgun.
Practice tripping the trigger while trying to maintain a perfect sight picture. Richard Mann

One of the basic foundations of marksmanship, with any gun, is learning how to operate the trigger without disrupting sight alignment. Sight alignment is the easy part, once explained you’ll remember it forever. The trigger pull is the hard part; it’s difficult to explain, and it’s even tougher to execute correctly. This handgun drill can help.

Drill Setup

Place a target with a 2-inch-diamter aiming point at just 3 to 5 yards. Now, using the proper two-hand grip, align the sights on the target, and then attempt to press the trigger without altering the sight picture. This, you’ll notice, is impossible; the gun will not only be wobbling while you hold it on the target, but it will also want to move as you press the trigger. Your job is to, for lack of a better explanation, become at-one with the wobble. If you keep the front sight inside the notch of the rear sight and on the two-inch target – from the beginning to the end of the trigger press – you’re doing fine.

Drill Goal

Take your time but speed up as you feel more confident. Try to conduct 50 correct trigger presses in about 10 minutes. That’s enough for one session.  

Drill No. 2: Draw! Clearing the Holster and Getting on Target

The author draws a handgun.
For the best real-world practice, conduct this drill in a way that forces you to clear a garment. Richard Mann

Handgun presentation—the draw—is a critical skill to master whether you shoot competition or you own a handgun for defensive purposes, or both. It’s not just about speed; it’s about putting it all together—clearing a cover garment, establishing a good shooting grip while the gun is still in the holster, correctly applying your support hand to the grip as you draw, obtaining good sight alignment, and executing a good trigger press. Of all the dry practice drills you can conduct; this one may be the most important.

Drill Setup

Basically, this is an extension of the trigger drill, except here you start with the gun holstered and you will add a timer. It’s a good idea, in fact, to do this drill 10 minutes or so after completing the one above.

Place a target with a 5-inch-diameter aiming point at 5 yards and start with your hands relaxed at your side. Draw your handgun, establish a two-hand grip, align the sights on the 5-circle, and attempt to press the trigger while keeping the correctly aligned sights inside that 5-inch circle. Start slow, making sure you execute each element of the draw and trigger press correctly. Once you become smooth, use the par-time function on a shot timer and attempt the drill within a certain time limit. 

Drill Goal

The author uses a shot timer.
The par-time function on a shot timer provides a start and end beep at a specific time interval. It is a great tool for dry practice.
Richard Mann

Anything less than 2 seconds is good, less than 1.5 seconds is great, and less than one second is outstanding. You should be able to do about 20 to 30 repetitions in 10 minutes or so. 

Drill No. 3: Reload! Get Back to Shooting Quickly

The author reloads a handgun
The author inserts a fresh magazine topped with dummy rounds. Richard Mann

Learning to reload quickly will improve your score on weekend shoots and could save your life one day in the real world. With a pistol there are two types of reloads you should master. The first is the slide-lock reload where you’ve shot all your ammo, and the second is the speed reload that’s conducted before you run out of ammo. Both are done almost exactly the same way, and both can be practiced without ammo.

Drill Setup

Using the same 5-inch aiming point at 5 yards like you did for the previous drill, start with the pistol extended towards the target. For the speed reload, simply pull the gun back into your workspace, secure a fresh magazine with your support hand, eject the magazine from the pistol, insert the fresh magazine, extend the pistol towards the target, and make a trigger press when the sights are correctly aligned. 

If you’ve emptied the gun and you’re practicing this drill from slide lock, start with the slide locked back. After you insert the fresh magazine, you’ll have to release the slide with your support hand or by depressing the slide lock. You’ll need dummy rounds in the fresh magazine to make the gun work properly from slide lock.

The author works the slide on a handgun.
If you are doing this drill with a slide lock, start with the slide locked back. Richard Mann

Once you have the mechanics down, increase speed and bring in the shot timer. Using the par-time function, attempt to conduct the reload between the start and end buzzer. 

Drill Goal

If you can do it in less than 2.5 seconds that’s good, less than 2 seconds is great, and less than 1.5 seconds is outstanding. Try to do at least 10 repetitions each session, which should take about 10 minutes.

Safety First, Safety Always

Handgun dummy rounds.
Dummy rounds are affordable, easy to find, and the make dry-fire practice safer. Richard Mann

Just because you don’t have live ammo doesn’t mean you can relax when it comes to the standard gun-safety practices. Always observe these four rules of firearms safety during dry practice.

1. Assume every gun is always loaded.

2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.

3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.

4. Always be sure of your target.

Additionally, anytime you’re conducting dry practice, even when on a range in preparation for live fire, make sure there’s no live ammunition on or near you. Ideally, you should always be using dummy rounds.