Dry Fire Training Experience (Part 1)

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Premise

I am a huge supporter of the concept of dry fire training, and have been for quite a while. Putting it into daily practice is another thing. And I have always wondered if there is actually measurable training value in it.

The biggest mental hangups I have with dry fire are related to training with items and techniques that are not how I would do things in a fight or competition. As an example, when practicing a draw stroke and trigger pull with my Glock 17 (no live ammo, thank you very much), I find that I am training myself to pull the trigger, but not be able to actuate the trigger reset, nor do a follow up shot. To do either of those, I would have to rack the slide, which is a behavior I would rather not imprint after every single shot.

The other thing that is lacking in dry fire, which is also the most important feedback that you get from live fire, is the actual end result of the shot that you took–where is the hole in the target? There is not really an easy way to get feedback indoors, without the use of a laser, especially not in a manner that you can easily measure.

My ideal setup would be a way to use any of my existing guns to basically shoot exactly how I would on a range, without the use of actual rounds. I would need something to run the action of the gun, and to project a dot exactly where a bullet would go. I think it is also important to get feedback on what your manipulations are doing to the gun–are you pushing, heeling, etc. Ideally, I would also like to keep the cost of the equipment to under a couple of cases of ammo.

If I could shoot one hundred rounds a day, five days a week, for a solid month I assert I would see an improvement in accuracy. That translates to around two thousand rounds, which, in 9mm, would be about $400. To consistently train this perishable skill you would need to be wealthy enough to afford the ammo (or work for someone that is), and have the disposable time to go to the range at that frequently. Both things are just not feasible for the average Joe (or Jane) that wants to improve their shooting, or train consistently.

Pipe dream, yes, I know…

Components

The four components I used during this training period are below.

Atlas 8

The Atlas8 is a dry fire training target that allows you to train anytime and anywhere. It is wireless (so it can link a number of units together) and can be used both indoors and outdoors.

Two Atlas8 units with SIRT pistol.

Two Atlas8 units with SIRT pistol.

http://www.thesaltedearth.com/portfolio-item/atlas-dry-fire-laser-training-target/

CoolFire

CoolFire is a patent-pending firearms training system that utilizes CO2 and an integrated laser to convert a standard pistol (your pistol) into an effective firearms training tool.

CoolFire components, basically a barrel replacement with spring, and a laser.

CoolFire components, basically a barrel replacement with spring, and a laser.

http://coolfiretrainer.com/

MantisX

MantisX is a patent-pending handgun attachment that helps firearms enthusiasts and professionals train more efficiently. While attached to a handgun, it analyzes every shot and generates actionable data you can use to improve your shooting mechanics.

The MantisX in the magazine mount configuration (which ended up being the most accurate mount for my situation)

The MantisX in the magazine mount configuration (which ended up being the most accurate mount for my situation)

http://mantisx.com/

ShootOffApp

ShootOFF is free, open source software that enhances laser dry fire training by detecting your shots using a computer and a webcam. Process your shots as they happen with a training exercise to keep score, call out random targets, practice shoot-don’t-shoot drills, and much more.

http://shootoffapp.com/

Plan

The CoolFire Laser Training System is really the corner stone of my plan. Without having a way to reciprocate the slide (aside from manually racking it), I think ultimately there is the potential to engineer bad habits. Also, without something making the gun mechanically function, you cannot dry fire practice follow up shots.

From there I need a way to get immediate feedback as to what effect my manipulations are having. Am I introducing inaccuracy by bad mechanics? The MantisX fills that needs.

Finally I need a way to measure my shots and to get feedback on how they are doing, hopefully recording and scoring the data, so that I can measure improvement over time.

Baseline

The baseline drill that I shot was the Dot Torture Drill. I think it is a decent test of skill and accuracy, and it’s difficulty can be increased by distance and time pressure if needed.

I had considered other drills but ultimately chose this one, as it is a pretty good assessment of pistol handling and accuracy.

My pre-training shoot was freaking horrible. Ugly nasty horrible. But I will own it. I shot from the 5 yard line and was all over the place. At least I was mostly on the paper… :/

Seriously? At 3 yards? Well this is what I started with. I can only go up from here...

Seriously? At 3 yards? Well this is what I started with. I can only go up from here…

For reference, the Dot Torture Drill (which I found on Pistol-Training.com, who in turn credits Dave Blinder, who says that the originator of the drill is not known…):

  • Dot 1 – Draw and fire one string of 5 rounds for best group. One hole if possible, total 5 rounds.
  • Dot 2 – Draw and fire 1 shot, holster and repeat X4, total 5 rounds.
  • Dots 3 & 4 – Draw and fire 1 shot on #3, then 1 shot on #4, holster and repeat X3, total 8 rounds.
  • Dot 5 – Draw and fire string of 5 rounds, strong hand only, total 5 rounds.
  • Dots 6 & 7 – Draw and fire 2 shots on #6, then 2 on #7, holster, repeat X4, total 16 rounds.
  • Dot 8 – From ready or retention, fire five shots, weak hand only, total 5 rounds.
  • Dots 9 & 10 – Draw and fire 1 shot on #9, speed reload, fire 1 shot on #10, holster and repeat X3, total 6 rounds.

Training

I set up my training to mirror the Dot Torture Drill, following the “specificity of training” principle–if you want to get better at a thing, you practice doing that thing as close as possible.

To better simulate the drill, I used some circle reflective patches (from Rogue Dynamics) as my targets. They are the same material (on the surface) as are the targets included with the CoolFire, and happen to be the same size as the circles.

The original goal was to wall mount the patches and then use the ShootOff App to record the hits. That way I would get immediate visual feedback from the shot via a bright flash, and would also have the actual data. That particular plan did not survive contact with the “enemy”, which I will discuss later.

As an alternate plan, I would just shoot on the reflective circles, following the rules of the Dot Torture Drill.

These reflective patches from Rogue Dynamics are the exact same size as the dots on the Dot Torture sheet I used.

These reflective patches from Rogue Dynamics are the exact same size as the dots on the Dot Torture sheet I used.  They were well picked up by all laser systems I used.

The intention was to shoot the dot torture drill four times a day, which would be the equivalent of 200 rounds per day (which is twice what I asserted I would like to do with live rounds). I allotted thirty total minutes for training.

Midway through the training period, I was contacted by Philip at Salted Earth, and was able to meet up with him to acquire a couple of Atlas demo units. While I had the Atlas units, I dropped my repetitions of the Dot Torture to three, and kept my overall time (of thirty minutes) as a boundary.

Also, during the training period, I planned to not fire any live rounds. Which also worked out since I was traveling a bunch during the period.

Since this article went pretty long, we’ve broken it into two parts.  Stand by for Part 2 of this article where I will go over my observations and the ultimate results…



Tom is a former Navy Corpsman that spent some time bumbling around the deserts of Iraq with a Marine Recon unit, kicking in tent flaps and harassing sheep. Prior to that he was a paramedic somewhere in DFW, also doing some Executive Protection work between shifts. Now that those exciting days are behind him, he has embraced his inner “Warrior Hippie” and assaults 14er in his sandals and beard, or engages in rucking adventure challenges while consuming craft beer. To fund these adventures, he writes medical software and builds websites and mobile apps. His latest venture is as one of the founders of IronSights.com; a search engine for all things gun related. He hopes that his posts will help you find solid gear that will survive whatever you can throw at it–he is known (in certain circles) for his curse…ahem, ability…to find the breaking point of anything.


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  • JD

    atlas-08 $650 each
    coolfire for my G17 – $350
    mantisx – $150

    2 atlas, coolfire, mantis = $1800
    vs
    9000 rounds of 9mm @ 10/box

    wasn’t dry fire supposed to be saving us money?

    • Doc Rader

      The Atlas was a last minute addition. FWIW, Salted Earth is coming out with a more inexpensive “home” edition”.

      If you were to stay with just the CoolFire and Mantis, you’d be at ~$500. Given that I effectively shot 200 rounds per day for a month, there would a significant savings. Even with the 2 Atlas units added in it would be almost a wash on price.

      • JD

        Yes, elimination, or significant price reduction on the atlas changes the economics quite a bit.

        • Different product Tiers aside it’s the age old problem of comparing fixed asset costs to consumables. If the products listed only could be used for one year your comparison holds true to live fire.

          I’ve sold to departments that have been using BeamHit trainers that they purchased 10 years ago, if you did your dry-fire training @ 9k rounds per year for anything more than a single year the economics stack in favor of the Dry-Fire.

        • J.K.

          A few more areas of savings which are harder to quantify in $ saved:
          – Round trip time to and back from the range and the associated costs around vehicle fuel, maintenance, etc.
          – Exposure to hazardous fumes and lead at indoor ranges, a bit less so for outdoor ranges.
          – Less wear and tear on your firearm.

  • JumpIf NotZero

    Looking forward to part2, I’ve been looking at the coolfire but not sure how long it lasts per charge or how well it works.

  • Lloyd A Sullivan

    Coolfire doesn’t seem to want to say how many shots you get per charge… How many did you get before having to refill?

    Also do you have to take the barrel out to refill?

    • android_04

      I have the CoolFire system for my M&P with 4.25″ barrel and each charge lasts about 15-17 “full-recoil” shots. After that the recoil gets weaker until there’s not enough gas. There is an extended capacity attachment that they sell that threads onto the CoolFire barrel and on my M&P it lasts about 35 “full-recoil” rounds.

      To charge the standard CoolFire barrel, you unscrew the laser from the muzzle and press a charging nipple to the charging station. Then screw the laser back (takes a few seconds). With the CoolFire extended capacity attachment, no need to unscrew anything. You just push the charging nipple to the charging station for a second.

      Even after there’s no more “full-recoil”, the gun still cycles enough for 10-20 rounds to reset the striker and fire the laser (depends on regular or extended).

  • OJS

    Use a SIG or similar blowback CO2 pistol for a little more fun, shoots .177 pellets and kicks the heavy metal slide back to simulate recoil. May be a little loud for an enclosed room but I did not feel short of earpro when shooting it outside. About 3 16-rd (8+8 flipper) mags per cartridge. <$100 I'll have to print out some of those Dot torture sheets to try this with.

    • jamezb

      I was going to suggest getting either a metal gas blowback bb or pellet pistol, or a metal gas blowback airsoft pistol for the same reasons…actual slide movement, muzzle flip, the ability to actually punch paper, rather than electronic scoring, and the ability to buy a trainer that looks and feels like your carry pistol and fits your holsters…generally a very-very realistic one costs $150 or less. I don’t understand why so many shooters abhor the thought of practice with modern airguns/airsoft guns, -often calling them toys-, … yet may consider spending hundreds more on glorified laser tag.

      • mazkact

        I agree. I have a CZ-75 compact airsoft,a Python airsoft, a very nice full metal Tanfoglio C02 bb that replicates my full size Cz-75 and a myriad of other bb and airsoft. For real time feedback practice in the backyard or garage they are great. I shoot airguns everyday,great training tools.

  • Might have to resort to buying software. I tried ShootOff, but I can’t get it to do anything other than recording splits.

  • Doc Rader

    Thanks!

    Unfortunately LASR is not native on the Mac (and I am loathe to run Windows). Otherwise looks like a great app.

  • MattCFII

    As a couple others have mebtioned, LASR is my software of choice for dry fire training.

  • Aaron

    I couldn’t help but notice the similarity of the Rogue Dynamics patch to the Jedi Order emblem.

  • Call your shots based on your sight picture and you don’t need a laser. The laser tends to draw your eye from the sights to the target, which you don’t want.