The first, best and even cheapest way to improve your handgun skills doesn’t begin at the range like you might think; it begins right at home where you can practice a number of skills without ever firing a shot.
Let’s face it, even though live-fire drills are critical to becoming a skilled shooter (and are much more fun), the cost can add up quickly for a lot of people making it difficult to put in the training time needed. Dry-fire drills can be done every day in the privacy and convenience of your home and best of all, they don’t cost a thing. But safety first.
Any time we have firearms around, safety is the paramount concern. To ensure the safest environment possible, develop a process you follow each time before practice so that safety becomes an observed routine. First, unload and ensure the gun is empty of any live ammunition in one room. All ammunition must be stored in the room you clear the firearm in. Then move to another designated room—one that never has ammunition in it—to perform the drills. Again, follow this routine every time to ensure there is absolutely no way a live round can find its way into the chamber when performing dry-fire drills.
Practice Your Draw—Hardly any outdoor ranges permit shooters to draw a firearm from a holster and then fire for obvious safety reasons. Yet, transitioning a firearm from how it is carried to a steady, aimed position could be one of the most critical steps executed in a defensive situation. Drawing and firing from concealment—underneath a shirt or coat or from a large jacket pocket—will help you determine the best way for you to carry, how to best get the handgun cleared and aimed and will help you design a way to do this without hitting snags or fumbling the gun. You need to practice often enough to make the motions all a part of muscle memory as an actually defensive situation is hardly time to discover you really don’t know how to draw a gun.
It is here you want to practice and perfect your drawing technique including using your off-side hand to pull away or adjust your clothing to expose the firearm. With a holster worn on your waist, as you do that, take your main or strong hand and place a firing grip on the gun. Draw the firearm straight out of the holster and rotate it 90 degrees bringing the off-side hand together to begin forming your complete grip and then drive the gun forward to your target. As you acquire your sights, click the safety off if the gun has one and then press the trigger keeping on target.
One of the biggest mistakes shooters make when firing a handgun is anticipating the recoil. This is noted most often in right-handed shooters when their bullets hit low and to the left of their center of aim. For left-handed shooters, low and to the right. This is because they are pushing the gun forward just slightly in subconscious anticipation of the recoil created when the gun is fired. Most of us never even realize we are doing this until it is pointed out by a more trained shooter or instructor.
This drill is best done from a full shooting position having established a proper grip on the gun and practice squeezing the trigger without ever moving the gun. Do this over and over, taking any slack out of the trigger and squeezing it. Want to be sure you truly aren’t moving? Take an empty casing or a dummy round and set it on end on top of the slide of your handgun. If you can squeeze the trigger each time without it falling off, you are shooting without moving the gun or changing your point of aim.
Practice Mag Changes
While few of us will thankfully ever be in a situation where we must fire sufficient defensive rounds to necessitate a mag change, the point of training is to be prepared for anything. A key part of that preparation is being able to perform a smooth mag change and keep shooting if necessary.
Using an empty mag in the gun and an empty one in your pocket or a mag holster, squeeze the trigger, draw the slide back, hit the mag release dropping the mag and replacing it with the other, snapping the mag shut and again squeezing the trigger. You want to be able to change mags smoothly and effectively within seconds.