Spring Training: 3 Keys to Transitioning to Live Fire

Taking your hard earned Dry-Fire Skills to the Live Fire Range

Reprint with permission from the IDPA Tactical Journal

If you have not read the first article (the WINTER dry fire article), click here.

Spring training is here! This article will help you transition from your winter dry fire routine to live fire training. Even though it is just February, it will soon be time to hit the competition circuit. This article till help you transition from dry fire to live fire. If you missed the Dry Fire article published earlier…read it first.

You have been doing your dry fire drills religiously or meeting me at 0630 a.m. each morning to do the DDC (Daily Dry-fire Challenge). So, how do we integrate the live fire drills you so desperately need to really start your shooting season with a bang?   Well, that is exactly what I am going to teach you in this article!

First lets look at where we are (hopefully) after a long winter of dry-fire training (and if you didn’t put the work in this winter, shame on you!).  We should be really skilled and familiar with the basic manipulations and fundamentals such as building a proper grip, drawing from various positions, sweeping the cover garment, reloading the handgun, etc. 

The question is, what do we now focus on in our live fire sessions?  What differs? The answer is that nothing changes in terms of the technique we are working, yet our management of that technique and feedback we get from the gun is the key difference.  Now instead of you just practicing the draw for example, and getting no feedback from the gun, during live fire you begin to get feedback in terms of gun movement and recoil pressure, trigger movement, and sight tracking. So let’s break down how I think you should approach live fire:

Maintain Consistency in the Drills:  The first thing you would notice in any of my training programs (inside the American Competitive Shooting Society) is that the dry-fire training drills are nearly the exact same drills that you would do during a live-fire practice session.  This means that during your training week, assuming you can dry-fire several times and maybe hit the range once, that you keep the technique you are practicing consistent. 

It will give you more bang for your buck in terms of your mental focus and translation of a dry-fire developed skill to the range session.  The only difference is when we are actually shooting, we get feedback from the gun.  The gun gives us the information we need to improve and tweak that technique even more.  An example of your training week might look like this:

  1. Monday: Dry-Fire Practice – Extend, Prep and Press Drill
  2. Wednesday: Dry-Fire Practice – Extend, Prep and Press Drill Strong Hand Only
  3. Friday: Dry-Fire Practice – Extend, Prep and Press Drill Support Hand Only
  4. Sunday: Live-Fire Practice (long session) – 
    1. One – Extend, Prep and Press Drill
    2. Two – Extend, Prep and Press Drill Strong Hand Only
    3. Three – Extend, Prep and Press Drill Support Hand Only

Use Live Practice to Listen to the Gun: This is kind of a fancy way to say that when you shoot your handgun, it is always telling you a story. You simply need to “listen” to it. Listening to the story in this case is not done with just your ears, but rather your ears, eyes, and sensory (feel) information.  Consider this, when you fire a live round the gun will tell you immediately what you did right and wrong.  Here is what I am talking about – 

  1. When you fire the shot, first feel what the gun does in your hands, and what your hands do in relation to that recoil.  Do the hands slip apart when you fire?  Does the gun move in any particular pattern? How much does it move during recoil? Also, make sure you pay attention to the fingers and wrist tendons in both hands.  Are your fingers increasing and decreasing in pressure as you fire, causing the gun to move?  Are you breaking (relaxing) your tendons in your wrist, allowing the gun to point low or high when you fire?  One thing I have some of my students do is SAFELY fire a shot with their eyes closed (this is an instructor lead exercise, don’t try this at home unless you know how to do if safely).  This brief exercise gets them in touch with what the gun feels like in their hands when it recoils.  If we pay attention to this pressure, we can start to modify our grip to manage that recoil better.
  2. The second thing I want you to do while you are working on number 1 is to watch what the sights are telling you during recoil.  Now, the aspect of watching and tracking the sights might be difficult for some of you that have not learned how to do it, but I promise that it will give you feedback that is incredibly informative.   If you are having difficulty watching the sights during recoil, make sure you are not blinking, and you are not shifting your visual focus from the sights to the target.  Keep in mind that watching the sights means that I am ALWAYS seeing three things during that recoil cycle: A. the front sight, B. the rear sight, and C. the target and the relationship between those three things.   I might not see all three of them clearly, but I see and know exactly what the relationship is between all three.   So what should you be looking for while you are watching the sights?  First, start by paying attention to the movement and tracking of the sights during recoil.  Ultimately you should see the front sight lift slightly, and snapback into the rear sight very quickly.   The less the front sight moves out of the rear sight, the better.  You can not eliminate recoil totally, but try this, grip the gun really, really hard and shoot a shot.  Then grip the gun about 40% looser and do the same thing.  You will see a dramatic difference.  The second thing I want you to watch for is movement patterns that show you that you are not managing the grip properly.  An example of this would be a circular sight motion where the front sight tracks up and in a slight semi-circle to the left or right while it returns to the rear sight notch.  This normally indicates that you have not gripped hard enough with the hand on the side the sights track to. 
  3. And finally, pay attention to how you manage the trigger.  Trigger management is probably best defined as pulling and resetting the trigger as quickly as possible without moving the gun at all.   You might feel a combination of things on the trigger, but consider these:  A. Is the trigger finger applying pressure directly to the rear by contacting the center of the trigger, or can you feel the left or right edges of the trigger indicating you might be putting pressure on the left or right side of the trigger? B. On single or safe action type triggers (does not apply to double action), pay attention to the sensation of “prepping” the trigger or taking the slack out of it.  This is a key step in successfully hitting the harder shots.  C. After the shot is fired are you quickly resetting the trigger by relaxing it and allowing it to quickly reset and reprepp?   Be very careful that you are not wasting time on this process by holding the trigger to the rear, remember once the shot is fired our job is to reset the trigger and get ready to fire again.   

So there you have it, the key details you need to focus on during your live fire sessions, and how to directly tie them together with your dry-fire practice.   Don’t forget that the dry-fire, live-fire combination is unbeatable as long as you put it into practice!  Lastly, keep in mind that when you are on the range, sometimes less is more.  What I mean by that is you should rarely do more than three live drills per session.  The key is to really focus on what you are working on versus just burning ammunition and time.  Pay attention to EVERY SINGLE DETAIL!!  

Until Then – Train Hard! 

Mike S. 

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