Never underestimate the power of dry fire practice. I recently saw it work in one try and lead directly to a boy’s first deer—and the kid shot it from 320 yards.
Dry firing refers to pulling the trigger on an empty gun. Click. This is safe with most modern rifles and shotguns, but if you’re nervous, buy a “snap cap” dummy round to absorb the fall of the firing pin.
With no recoil from a departing bullet, both the shooter and trainer can see mistakes such as jerking the trigger, lifting the head from the stock, and closing one’s eyes.
The standard at-the-range dry fire trick is to load (or not) the gun behind the shooter’s back so they assume it’s ready to fire. That’s when they jerk. But there’s another way. Let them know it’s unloaded and instruct them to concentrate on the trigger squeeze, feel and release. But also ask them to watch where the reticle is when the firing pin drops. It should remain where it was before the trigger broke—on the target.
This is what 12-year-old Rhett Sandquist and I did on his recent whitetail hunt. After crawling to the top of a ridge, we found ourselves out of stalking cover with our quarry—two whitetail bucks—some 300 yards away. I told Rhett to rest his Mossberg ATR .243 Win. on my Eberlestock backpack and aim at the biggest of the two bucks.
“Where’s the crosshair?” I asked.
“Right behind his shoulder,” Rhett whispered.
“OK, hold as steady as you can and squeeze the trigger just to see how it feels. The rifle is empty.” I watched closely as the boy dry fired. The rifle never twitched. “Where were the crosshairs after the click?” I asked him.
“Right behind his shoulder.” Perfect.
The bucks were feeding calmly, the wind was in our favor and we had plenty of time, so I laser measured precise distance: 318 yards. The bullet would drop about 6 inches at that range.
“Rhett, if you want to, you can load a live round and shoot at the buck on the left, but I want you to hold the crosshair high on his shoulder, just under the line of his back, like we discussed yesterday. Then hold it steady just like you did before and then squeeze that trigger the same way. You’ll get him. But don’t shoot if you aren’t rock solid.”
Rhett was uncommonly calm and patient for any hunter, let alone a 12-year-old on his first deer hunt. He readied the rifle, aimed, waited for the buck to stop broadside and then squeezed that trigger like a benchrest pro. The 95-grain Winchester Ballistic Silvertip raced across 320 yards of space in an instant, striking the buck in the heart.
Dry fire rehearsal . . . it works great with new shooters. Try it sometime.
Photo by Dave Maas