The importance of rifle dry fire practice at home and while you’re hunting
There’s something to be said about a perfectly executed rifle shot. You know, the one where everything just...clicks; your bubble is perfectly level on your rifle, your body is in a comfortable position and your crosshairs are dead still. Everything is ready. Then you take a few breathes, utter a few words to help you focus and your shot naturally breaks. After the dust settles you just made the perfect shot on the animal of your dreams after a grueling four days on the mountain.
Sounds like a dream situation? Well, you can easily make that scenario more of a reality. All it takes is a little discipline at the range, a few minutes of practice several times a week at home or, just a few practice “shots” before you put a live round in while you are hunting. The practice method that I feel is very underutilized is dry fire rifle practice.
Why dry fire practice with your rifle?
Dry fire rifle practice is a great way to get extra comfortable with your trigger, work on your breathing techniques and overall, it's the perfect way to develop an unanticipated shot with your rifle. Note: It should go without saying, but the utmost safety should be taken whenever handling a rifle. You MUST ensure your rifle is unloaded for this type of practice!
To me, dry fire practice is an easy (and very cheap) way to practice that perfect shot, over and over again. I like to think of these dry fire practice sessions as an additional way to work on my shooting form and breathing techniques because the entire time I'm dry firing my rifle, I am working on calming myself down, controlling my breathing and executing a perfect break of the trigger.
Just as in archery, I feel that to accurately execute a shot over and over again with precision, you need to practice and shoot a lot to fix bad habits that might inhibit our shooting. We want the trigger squeeze (or push a button as I was instructed by Bob Beck of Extreme Outer Limits at a long-range shooting school this past spring) to become sort of subconscious as we focus on aiming. My dad taught me that if you have to think about the trigger... your probably wrong and/or too late as your sight picture has already moved. He's one of the best shots while hunting that I know of. You put an animal or target out in front of him and he will hit it!
A simple test to do with your friend
One of the best tricks/tests out there is to get your friend to take a shot with your gun or better yet, their gun, and get them to take the "shot" with no round in the gun to test their flinching. It should go without saying, doing this, you should be out in the mountains or some random chunk of public land. I say this to reinforce a safe shooting environment.
What you need to do is get set up for a shot at a target, and then randomly mention to your friend to jump down and take the shot instead. You could do this with your gun, or even their gun. Let your friend know the gun is currently on safe and you already loaded a round. This is the true moment when you will see how much they flinch when they pull the trigger with no round in and react to squeezing the trigger. You can even go one step further and mention that you are going to film their impact with your phone through your spotting scope. But instead of filming the shot, you film your friend. Once they break the trigger, you will instantly see if they flinched and anticipated the recoil. Or if they broke the shot cleanly.
Steps for dry fire practice
The steps for dry fire practice are extremely easy. They are so easy, that I regularly dry fire practice in the comfort of my living room. Also, because dry fire practice is so quick and easy, I highly recommend taking a few dry fire shots while hunting during random downtimes, or even before you take your animal if the animal doesn't know you are there. This is a great way to knock the nerves down.
What you will need to do is get into your shooting position and get your scope lined up on a target. I prefer to do this from the prone position. If you’re in a hunting situation, you could practice at anything, a tree, a rock (keep in mind you are pointing a rifle at something, so always be sure of where you are aiming and that your rifle is unloaded).
If I’m practicing in the field, I will range the target, adjust my scope to the correct MOA, check my scope level and set my bipod to get it level, get my body in the correct position, and then double-check my level. Those are steps I do in a real hunting situation, so I want to re-enforce that in any practice session.
Next, I will calm myself down by focusing on my breathing. This is when I'm all about focusing those crosshairs on the precise spot I want to hit on the target, here I will focus on my breathing techniques again and squeeze the trigger until it breaks. Once the trigger breaks, take note on the amount of movement of your crosshairs. If they moved a decent amount, you were not steady enough with squeezing your trigger, had a bad shooting position, etc. Repeat this several more times. What we are doing here is building muscle memory and reinforcing proper habits.
Another way to dry fire practice at home is to take a laser (boresight or similar product) and aim it at a wall in your house. You might not be able to exactly see the laser in your scope, but you can see it if you let your eyes see it around the side of the scope. Then execute a shot (again, with an unloaded gun!) and see the amount the laser moves as you break the trigger.
Is dry fire practice safe for your rifle?
Dry firing a centerfire rifle is actually perfectly safe for the gun. But excessively dry-firing a rimfire type rifle is not good for the gun.
Work on breathing techniques while dry firing
Rifle dry fire practice also allows you to practice breathing techniques. My dad explained to me that I needed to execute a shot between heartbeats if I wanted to make the best shot possible. My resting heartbeat averages a fairly low 41 beats per minute, so even when I'm excited, I have a decent gap in-between beats to execute a shot. You can really see the impact of your heartbeats in your riflescope if you are looking through your scope at max power and have the rifle against your shoulder. What you'll start to see is the reticle is moving up and down from your heartbeat (also your breathing). So my dad always told me to take a deep breath, slowly exhale, take another deep breath, slowly exhale and relax to the point when that last bit of air is just about to be pushed out on the exhale (roughly 50 to 75% or your breath). At this point, you will be at a point when you'll notice your body gets really calm to the point that you can actually feel your heart beating. The rest of your body is perfectly still, but you can feel the exact beats of your heart. That is then when you will take your shot between the small pause of your heartbeats. Now some people might say this is taking things a little too far and complicates things, in my mind, it can't hurt to practice.
In the field practice video
You can also check out the video below where I explain dry firing that was from a recent Montana bear hunt.