As I write this, the weather forecast is for the temperatures to drop into single digits and stay there for a week or more. Who knows?
It may be colder, longer. This is Alaska after all! We measure daylight in minutes gained or lost, and our temperatures in the winter are always explicitly referred to as either above or below zero, never assumed.
I need to be honest. I love shooting, but at a temperature of negative below dumb, it is not terribly pleasant for anyone. Fingers get bitten, target pasters (those are the little bits of tape we cover holes with) no longer stick, and equipment gets finicky. Finicky here is code for “sometimes the dang thing doesn’t work at all and why did I drive out to the range in the first place?” I’ve done it, too. I’ve been the only guy on the range at ten below zero practicing until I couldn’t feel my fingers, my lips, or anything else. You get the idea. Not. Pleasant.
So what is a shooter living in the last frontier to do if they don’t love the embrace of the snow drift or the challenge of subzero equipment maintenance BUT they still want to get better at shooting?
One word: dryfire.
If you aren’t familiar with it, dryfire is the act of doing pretty much everything you would do in firing a gun except using ammunition, have it go BANG, and put a hole in something.
It allows us to practice all of the gun handling, trigger manipulation, and other important aspects of shooting a pistol, rifle or shotgun without freezing our bottoms off. It gives us a chance to work on form and technique without the distraction of the BANG and focus on improving one thing at a time, without the judgment of the target constantly grading our success.
Now, before you run off to the safe, yank out a gun and start going clicky-clicky like a madman, there are safety rules to follow. The number one rule is that the rules of gun safety still apply even though you aren’t using ammo in your firearm.
- Always point it in the safest direction.
- Always keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
- Always keep the firearm unloaded until ready to use.
- Always know your target and what’s beyond it.
Since dryfire involves handling the firearm and pulling the trigger, be sure to double check some things. Don’t have any ammo in the area for your dryfire practice, no loaded magazines around, and always imagine that if a bullet were to teleport into the chamber magically, and the gun went off, that the bullet would be going in the safest possible direction. It brings new meaning to “know your target and what is beyond” that is mentioned in the safety rules.
Dryfire is safe for modern firearms but might not be a good idea for the heirloom .22 rifle you got from great grandpa, or a 1950s era revolver.
If the firearm was made in the past 40 years or so, it would most likely be safe to dryfire. When in doubt, you can email the manufacturer and ask. But even if you don’t pull the trigger or have the firing pin strike, there are tons of things you can practice for definite improvement in your marksmanship.
What should you practice? Regardless of if it is a rifle, pistol or shotgun, my recommendation is the same: Begin with just holding your gun. Learn to shoulder the rifle and align the sights on target until it is natural and easy. Bring the shotgun up to where you are looking so that the bead is where it needs to be. Grip the pistol properly and learn to align the sights on your target. Repeat these things until they are natural and comfortable so that you no longer need to think about them when you are shooting, so your brain can focus on thinking about more important stuff. It can be incredibly helpful to video yourself from different angles using your smartphone so you can analyze your technique. Getting a buddy or coach to work with you can also be a fantastic help.
Learn to pull the trigger without making the sights move as a result of pulling the trigger.
I know this sounds so simple, but accomplishing this task is the secret of an accurate shot. When you get down to it, the bullet goes wherever the gun is pointed at the moment the round leaves the muzzle. If you aim the gun at your target and then move it when you pull the trigger, aiming was a waste of time!
Lastly, learn to manipulate the firearm. What this means is learn how to operate the safety (on and off), load it (pretend loading, no live ammo!), clear it of any malfunctions, get into a shooting position with it, and draw it safely (for pistols) or sling/unsling it (for long guns).
I know that if you spend some time dryfiring during the cold winter months, your shooting skill and enjoyment will be significantly upleveled when the weather improves, and you feel like making a trip to the range again. You know, right before the mosquitoes come out.