So, you’ve taken the basic pistol or CCW class in your area, bought your gun and visit girl guntalk web sites or discuss with a few friends your choices in gear and the right ammunition. You show up at the range at least once a month, and may even be contemplating joining the ladies night shoot. You are carrying daily or at least thinking about it…
Or did you buy a gun and then tuck it into your night stand (or your husband’s gun safe) to await being found crusted with rust in some archaeological dig a thousand years from now?
Or something in between those somewhere?
Maybe you have not really given a lot of thought to exactly what sort of things would constitute effective preparation to use a gun in self defense.
What should you plan to do after you’ve finished your first formal class? The instruction in a class and at the range afterwards is extremely valuable, but you didn’t learn how to drive or operate your computer after only one short lesson, I suspect. The class is merely the place to start your training. You can obviously take more classes, but you will get the most value out of them if you set up a program to practice on your own too, regularly and faithfully.
My recommendation for the most valuable self training is something we call “dry fire.”
CAUTION: All of the safety rules must be maintained during these exercises. Remove all live ammunition from the room. Eliminate all distractions as much as possible. Establish specific times and places for exercises. Check to be sure gun is unloaded EACH TIME you begin a dry fire exercise. Exercises on the range, live fire, should be done with a qualified instructor or experienced mentor and conform with all standard and range specific rules and safety precautions. Ask an instructor for schedule of live fire sessions available or to arrange for one.
What is “dry fire?” This simply means that you use an unloaded gun, dummy ammunition or gun simulation for practice and drills to learn new skills and practice them to a desired level of competence before you shoot live ammunition at the range. [Make sure your gun would not be damaged by dry fire (empty). You may need to use a dummy round or “snap caps.“ Check with manufacturer.]
Why dry fire? Believe it or not, dry fire is far more important for building good skills than live fire. You don’t have the recoil to deal with, and it doesn’t cost anything. The only way to build “muscle memory” is with many repetitions of a PERFECT action, so taking the time to learn things and practice them CORRECTLY from the start will save you countless hours (and lots of ammunition). It takes about 300 repetitions to learn a habit, but at least 10,000 to UNLEARN one. Therefore, if you are not confident that you fully understand the operations called for in an exercise, wait to consult your instructor before you proceed. You’ll save lots of time and money in the long run.
Make specific plans for place and time to practice. If you make and stick to a schedule, you will benefit the most and create safe habits. In the ideal world, you would practice at least 10 to 15 minutes every day. Most people who are serious about self defense manage this about three times a week – at least in the beginning. Your choice.
Make an appointment with yourself for this, just like you do to get your hair cut, nails done, or anything else important to you. If you leave it to chance, when you “get a minute” or happen to think about it… it will just never happen. Your ability to defend yourself is at least as important as your hair.
Choose one place in your home, garage, patio or other for your dry fire exercise. Do not engage in this activity anywhere else except on the gun range. This helps form good habits and reduces risk of accidents. Evaluate the area for hazards such as appliances, fire sources and anything that would make the actual discharge of a gun a danger to you or anyone else. Eliminate those where possible. Choose a “safe direction” for your dry fire and keep your gun pointed in that direction as much as possible, depending on the drill.
Unless the drill calls for it, do not allow anyone else to be in the room. Do not use anything but simulated guns if others are present. Never point ANY gun at another person unless you are being attacked. Use an actual target.
Remove ALL live ammunition from your dry fire area. Check to make sure the gun is unloaded before entering the dry fire area and before EACH exercise. This may seem excessive or redundant, but it is a vital safety habit. The first thing said in most negligent (accidental) discharges is, “I thought the gun was unloaded.”
Maintain the three absolute rules each and every time you handle a gun. Muzzle and trigger control, along with frequent – even obsessive – checking for an empty chamber will go a long way towards guaranteeing that nobody will ever get hurt unless they attack you.
Eliminate distractions as much as you can. Turn off TV or radios, unplug the phone and lock the doors.
When you come to the end of your dry fire session, review what you have done and consciously END your session before you leave the area. Be very aware of what you are doing before you reload and store or holster the gun. This is the point were many unintended discharges occur. Do not reload in your dry fire area under any circumstances.
Ok, so just what is it you should practice in your first dry fire sessions? The most common thing my students need to work on is trigger control. Practice a smooth, straight back action to pull – rather than jerk – the trigger. If you pull it only part way or hesitate at all, release the trigger and start again.
When you have your trigger pull smooth and consistent, you can begin to work on keeping the muzzle of the gun still at the same time. Pulling the trigger just naturally tends to move the muzzle of the gun, and you must train yourself to avoid that. This is a much more difficult task if you are shooting a revolver, by the way, which is one reason the usual suggestion that women get revolvers to start with is pretty silly. The semi-automatic is a lot easier to control and keep on target.
First, set up your dry fire area as described above. Make sure the gun is not loaded, and remove all ammunition from the area.
Point the gun at the target and place a quarter flat on the top of the barrel near the front sight. This is much easier with a semi-auto, but it can be done with a revolver as well – I’ve done it both ways for years. Now gently and smoothly pull the trigger. If the coin falls off, you moved the muzzle of the gun in the process. Practice this until you can pull the trigger without moving the coin. Then, when you get to the range for live fire, you will find your shots are far more accurate.
I’ve written a small book about my experiences and the practice drills I use the most. “I Am NOT A Victim” is the title of that book, and you can get a free pdf copy in return email at any time. Read the first chapter here. It tells the story of the man I had to shoot to save my life, and about the dedication to self defense and training that followed. Follow the directions at the bottom to get your free copy.
Next time we’ll talk about other drills that will help you get ready to shoot fast, smoothly and well.