Lessons Learned From a Year of Dry Practice

Twenty-nineteen is complete, and so is my (first) year of dry practice! My “plan” to do 10 minutes of dry practice per day in 2019 was something I dreamed up – and then posted on the spot – on January 1st. I didn’t give it much serious thought, I just came up with it and did it.I learned an awful lot this year. Way more than I can put into an article. My skill developed by leaps and bounds. In some places it seem to stagnate, but even in those places I knew I was putting repetitions in the bank.

NOTE: Before engaging in any dry practice, I strongly recommend reviewing my Dry Practice Safety Deep Dive.

By the Numbers

Hours and Minutes Spent Practicing: 62 hours, 20 minutes
Longest Consecutive-Day Streak: 46 days
Longest Break in Training: 8 days (January, vacation to Iceland/Ireland)
Days I Left Home with >24 hours of Recency of Experience: 40

2019 Dry Practice Log

January 1 – 11: 200 minutes, January 12 – 31: 140 minutes
February 1 – 15: 140 minutes, February 16 – 28: 130 minutes
March 1 – 15: 160 minutes, March 16 – 31: 160 minutes
April 1 – 15: 140 minutes, April 16 – 30: 160 minutes
May 1 – 15: 140 minutes, May 16 – 31: 170 minutes
June 1 – 15: 180 minutes, June 16 – 30: 160 minutes
July 1-15: 150 minutes
, July 16 – 31: 130 minutes
August 1-15: 150 minutes, August 16-31: 170 minutes
September 1-15: 140 minutes, September 16-30: 140 minutes
October 1-15: 190 minutes, October 16-31: 150 minutes
November 1-15: 150 minutes, November 16-30: 110 minutes
December 1-15: 220 minutes, December 16-31: 140 minutes

Goals

The goal of this year wasn’t to take a few 100ths of a second off my draw stoke or even out my splits. I went into this year with three goals: maintaining recency-of-experience, achieving automaticity, and practicing skills that I can’t work on the live-fire range. I’ve written about these concepts in long-form on Lucky Gunner Lounge. If you’re unfamiliar, I highly recommend you check out that article. I’ll attempt to briefly summarize, though.

One of the keys to successful performance of a skill under stress is Recency of Experience. The brain retrieves skills more quickly based on how recently they were performed. If you’ve drawn your gun within the last 24 hours, you have vastly more recency of experience that someone who hasn’t drawn their gun in three months. This is an incredibly important component of “stress-proofing” oneself for a fight.

Automaticity is another key factor for being able to perform a skill under extreme stress. Automaticity is a state that is achieved only through lots of practice spaced over lots of time. Automaticity is a state of heavy myelinization of neural pathways responsible for the skill. This helps the brain retrieve those skills under extreme stress, and helps the brain maintain them over periods of disuse. In conjunction with recency of experience, automaticity is another very important component of “stress-proofing” skills.

Finally, I got to practice a lot of skills that I simply can’t practice on the live range. Even the most generous of ranges probably isn’t going to let me drag furniture in to practice shooting from seating positions. My range has chairs, but they aren’t going to let me begin facing all clock directions, including uprange. My range won’t turn out the lights for me, won’t let me move (forward or laterally), has a problem with one-handed malfunction clearances of the belt/boot… The list goes on. And this isn’t atypical; I travel a LOT, and I shoot at a lot of ranges. It’s very hard to find one that will allow you to do all of those things. Fortunately, you can practice all of it dry.

Now that you know what my goals were, let’s take a look at some of the things I’ve learned this year.

Personal Lesson Learned:
If I can Do it, Anyone Can

I’m just some dude. I’m a veteran, but I’m not a 25-year veteran of Delta or a former Team Six guy. I’m not a top-tiered trainer whose name you would recognize. I’m not an LEO. I’m not a nationally-ranked competitor. To be honest, I’m also not an incredibly disciplined dude. I can make myself do some stuff, but I’m not doing two-a-days in the gym…or even doing one-a-days as often as I should. I’m just some guy that started a blog.

I made this happen, though. You can, too. To be honest, it doesn’t benefit me at all if you improve your skill with firearms. Still, it would make me ridiculously happy to see a lot of you experience the skill-building/reinforcing I’ve experienced this year. There’s very little reason not to. The only cost is the very modest investment in few snap caps, some upfront time to sketch out a plan, and a few minutes a day. All of us, no matter how busy, waste at least ten minutes a day. As I’ve asked in most of these posts, why not turn that time into something productive?

So maybe you travel a lot. That’s cool – how about committing to dry practicing every day you aren’t on the road? Maybe every day is too much for you for whatever reason. In that case, why not commit to dry practicing every weekday and taking weekends off? Maybe between work, the gym, picking kids up, and everything else, weekdays are too tough. How about committing to dry practicing a few minutes every Saturday and Sunday for the coming year? There’s an awful lot to gain. What do you have to lose?

Performance Lessons Learned

Here are some of the things I learned by attempting to dry practice every day for a year.

There Were Some Very Hard Days: every instance of “10 minutes” in each Dry Practice Report is not equal. There were some days when it was incredibly tough to get up and get moving. There were days when I was tired and days when I was sick and days when I was bored with dry practice. Counter-intuitively, some of these ended up being excellent days. A realization of “why” I’m doing this, even tired and sick, motivated me to put everything I had into it.

Missed Days Add Up: All of those days I missed really added up. Forty days with no dry practice??? It sure didn’t seem like it was that many, but the numbers don’t lie.

Dry Fire Drives Live Fire: I found that the more I dry practiced, the more motivated I was to go to the range and live fire. I wanted to validate skills in live fire, and find new things that needed improvement. This year was one of my highest round-count years in several years. I fired around 12,000 rounds this year and averaged a range trip almost every week. Dry practice seriously motivated me to get to the range.

Live Fire Drives Dry Fire: This ended up working in reverse, too. When I noticed deficiencies in my live fire routine, I would tailor my next dry fire sessions to work on those deficiencies. This helped me drastically improve some skills. Reloads are clunky? No problem – just spend two weeks smoothing them out. Malfunction clearances not coming as fast as you’d like? Again, not a problem – just do the work in dry practice before you come back to the range.

Training Begets Knowledge. The more I learned about myself, my skills, my firearm, the more I wanted to learn. Training begets knowledge, and not just the knowledge gained directly from training. I learned from myself, to be certain. But sometimes training raised questions about the “right” way to do something. The more I dry practiced, the more books I wanted to read, about dry practice, firearms manipulation, etc. I asked questions of friends and experts. I learned a LOT this year. Dry practice wasn’t responsible for all of it, but it was a catalyst.

You Will Turn Massive Corners: You will turn huge corners. About halfway through the year I saw a sudden, massive improvement in my slide-lock reloads. Out of nowhere they got real smooth and much faster. At some point (probably around August or September) I saw a huge improvement in ability to shoot fast and accurately simultaneously. My accuracy stayed the same while my speed improved. These things just seemed to “happen” after months of relatively modest, incremental improvement. I am better off with all of the skills I practiced, but massively better at some. If you practice at anything diligently, you will see big improvements. Usually it is very slow and incremental, but occasionally, you’ll figure something out and have a huge stride. Don’t get cocky, though…

You Will Plateau: You will definitely plateau. You’ll go the range and see your times stagnate. Occasionally, they might even slide backwards a little bit. I can understand how this is discouraging, but I never let the shot timer get me down. To me, that’s not all that important. Like I said, I didn’t start this year with the goal of of taking a few hundredths of a second off of my splits. My goals were automating already-learned skills and maintaining recency-of-experience. That doesn’t mean I don’t care about performance – I definitely want to get better, too, but it wasn’t the primary goal.

Even when you’re hitting a plateau, don’t forget that you’re putting reps into the bank. Don’t get lazy and don’t short-change yourself. Also, don’t rush so quickly that you’re taking shortcuts. This happened with me with slide-lock reloads early in Q2 I wanted to see improvement, so I began rushing. I was rushing so fast I was failing to acquire a solid support-hand grasp, tryign to get a shot on the timer faster. NOT COOL! When I would catch myself doing something like this I reminded myself: every bad rep reinforces a bad practice or habit. Make every single repetition count!

Administrative Lessons Learned

Ten Minutes is Really ~15 minutes: By the time I unload/clear, setup, then tear down targets and reload my gun, we’re really looking about about 15 minutes spent each day. The ten minutes is ten dedicated, focused minutes. So really, you need to find fifteen minutes a day, but I don’t feel that’s a huge ask, relative to what we all spend in front of the TV, surfing the internet, scrolling social media feeds, and other unproductive pursuits.

Record-Keeping is Imperative. Records keep you honest. I know exactly how much I dry practiced this year. How many of you can say the same? I would strongly encourage you to keep records. I also know exactly how many times I went to the range, what drills I shot, and how many rounds I fired. It’s really, really easy to under- or (more likely) overestimate how much you’ve trained if you don’t have it in black and white.

If you aren’t keeping records, it’s also difficult to keep track of what you’ve worked on, and when you last worked on it. When is the last time you, dear reader, worked through SHO malfunctions? If it’s not on paper and you didn’t do it in the last week, you probably can’t answer that question. Without records, it’s also hard to plan what you’re going to work on. And it’s hard to keep yourself accountable to those very un-fun skills you should probably be “conversant” in.

Record keeping also keeps you motivated. I’ll be honest – at times this project got hard to follow through on. Looking back over all my logs was a huge motivator to keep going.

Again, keeping records doesn’t take a lot of effort or time. If you’re training, why wouldn’t you keep records? I use an app called Standard Notes. It’s a dead-simple, free, encrypted note-taking app. There are no fancy features to distract you – just a white screen and black letters. It is available via web, or as a native app for every major operating system.

Disadvantages

There are some disadvantages to dry practicing daily. Most of these disadvantages stem from using my EDC firearm as my main dry practice firearm. Obviously I believe the advantages to far outweigh the disadvantages, but they are worth addressing.

Increased Risk: Every single time I handled my gun administratively, I created some risk of a negligent discharge. Because I was using my EDC firearm, I had to unload it almost every single time I dry practiced. I was exposed to a great deal more risk than I would have been otherwise. If you’re considering doing this, and finances permitting, I would recommend purchasing a second, identical firearm with which to dry practice.

During this year I never felt that I got “close” to negligently firing a live round. I always adhered to the best practices I laid out here. Whenever possible I also had my girlfriend clear me out, even though I “knew” I was good to go. I am proud to say I never took a safety shortcut.

Wear and Tear: This also put a lot of wear and tear on my firearm. For every round I put through my EDC gun in live fire (~5,500), I probably put ten cycles on the slide and firing mechanism. This takes its toll. Again, this would be an excellent reason to have a second, identical firearm to put most of your practice reps on.

Wear and Tear on Ammo: Finally, I put a lot of wear and tear on carry ammo. I have quite a few Federal HSTs that have been loaded and unloaded several times. Repeated cycling of the same round (or couple of rounds) can cause bullet setback and dangerously increase pressures.

Obviously, I want to avoid this, so I kept cycling my carry ammunition out. I tried to be strategic with this, cycling “used” rounds to the bottom of the magazine, then cycling them all into my spare magazine before finally cycling them into the pile to shoot. At the risk of sounding redundant, a second, training-dedicated firearm would solve this problem.

Mistakes

I made one major mistake that was directly related to dry practice. In May, I walked out of my house (actually, a hotel room in Northern Virginia) with a magazine of snap caps in the gun and a snap cap in the chamber. I didn’t discover it until that evening. I press-checked my gun before heading out for dinner. Seeing the red snap cap alarmed me, so I checked my spare magazine. It, too, had snap caps in it. I remembered that morning; I’d been in a hurry and rushed out the door to get to the classroom. I left my loaded magazines on top of the hotel room’s fridge. Big mistake, and one I didn’t make a second time.

blogging Lesson Learned: No One Cares

OK, some of you do care. Unfortunately, the numbers don’t lie, and very few of you open skill development articles. This was probably the most surprising lesson learned this year. These articles are the least popular on the entire site by a huge margin. Reviews of guns and gear eclipse just about any articles about training or skill, not just my Dry Practice Reports.

The most popular Dry Practice Report I wrote in 2019 was August 1 – 15 (Low Light). I posted it as a Saturday post because I had learned so much. Working with a handheld light is a universal skill. I felt that article was a fantastic standalone article on practicing with a handheld light, and deserved a Saturday spot of its own.

On that weekend it was way down the list of viewed articles. Rather than several hundred views that is typical of the masthead, Saturday post, it only got 81 views on the day it ran. It was behind gun reviews that were several months old. It was even behind a two-and-a-half year old review of my 686. Disappointing to be sure. It’s still only up to 220 views – one of my all-time worst performers. Don’t worry – this is the last post of its kind that you’ll see here on RevolverGuy, at least in the foreseeable future.

Where do I go from here?

I’m starting on my second year of dry practice! Who’s coming with me?

The Bottom Line

This year I have practiced about all the skills I can imagine (and certainly I have not imagined everything). Some skills are almost impossibly extreme outliers, like WHO double-feed clearance and were only practiced occasionally. Most are at least somewhat likely, like basic “tap, rack, bang” malfunction clearance, and were practiced with some regularity. Others, like drawing, are absolutely essential should I actually employ my firearm, and were practiced every single time I practiced.

We carry firearms because we believe we may be confronted with a violent threat that can only be solved with lethal force. If you had to confront that threat tomorrow, are you confident with your recency of experience?

Author: Justin

Justin Carroll is a former MARSOC Marine and veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan. Leaving service after eight years in the U.S. Marines, Justin continues his involvement with a variety of government agencies to this day. Justin began RevolverGuy.com in late 2016 with an simple idea: provide an source of high-quality information for revolver enthusiasts.

11 thoughts on “Lessons Learned From a Year of Dry Practice”

  1. I’m glad you stuck with it! So many things in life people just seem to quit these days, so, while you didn’t mention it, this also reinforces that ability to just sludge through the monotonous things… I think we all need more of that. Also, yes, we are gear driven, so not so many read articles on training, but for those who do, it’s helpful… don’t be disheartened!

  2. Well, I read all these posts, and have been thinking about the 10 minutes a day thing (not just for dry-firing, but also for other skills I’m interested in), so I hope you keep posting them on Swift Silent Deadly. Congrats on seeing this through this year, and good luck for next year.

  3. Thanks, Tyson – I definitely know that some of you guys read these. Don’t think about it too much – it’s really easy to talk yourself out of!

  4. Thanks, Riley. You guys helped more than you can know – because I had to report to you guys every couple of weeks it wasn’t optional. That really kept me going.
    I’m not too disheartened – I just need to reframe it as, “holy cow! EIGHTY people showed up to see what training I did!”
    Thanks again, buddy!

  5. Congratulations Justin!
    I appreciate you sharing this with us. I did pick up snap caps but the practice has been sparse.
    Your perseverance is encouraging and I look forward to following next year.

  6. Happy New Year. I do not plan to copy your training, but as a result of this series, I dry fire more often. I also practice more live fire, too. It is a perishable skill, as an RSO I really respect told me decades ago.

    Do not feel glum about the page views; if you got a few dozen of us to practice more, you did a fine job and that could save a life.

  7. This subject is a bit dry but it’s also honestly one that has kept me practicing and dry firing more .
    The same goes for Grant Cunningham’s book on revolver self defense but it’s one who’s pages I have read and re-read due to its useful information.
    Your blog is one that I come back to week after week and I thank you for sharing all the knowledge you have gleaned to those of us not able to make the time .

  8. My wife and I love the dry fire; the biggest benefit is safe handling routines. I am confident with my shotgun/rifle handling while in the field hunting as I was schooled properly. My Dad was WWII infantryman in Europe and a competitive rifleman and hunter after the war. Safe gun handling was drilled into us starting with BB guns, then the single shot 22 then finally the adult sized long guns. Handguns were not his thing, so I was on my own. The rules are the same, but there is a substantial difference when handling hand vs long guns. Dry fire is the best thing not matter what your age or experience.

  9. Justin,
    Thanks for sharing all of your dry fire results throughout this last year. It is obvious the time you spent doing dry fire practice was very beneficial to you.

    I didn’t open each one of your update posts but just having them pop up was a good reminder to get off my rear end and put in some dry practice work. Your updates also motivated me to encourage my officers to conduct dry fire practice. At least two of them have done so and the results during live fire are telling. Thank you to you and your team for all of your hard work and effort that you put into Revolver Guy. Happy New Year!

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