Pachmayr produces spring loaded primer rounds known as snap caps. Photo courtesy of Pachmayr.
Officers and professional operators who are serious about their training are always looking to improve their skill set and to maintain their proficiency. Second to the human mind, the firearm is the most important tool at our disposal. It is therefore critical that we maintain as a high a level of training as possible with both the handgun and the long gun.
Upon graduating the academy, most officers only maintain the "required" level of training and think this is sufficient to meet their needs. This is both a dangerous and foolish notion. Firearms training mandated by agencies is a reflection of cash strapped budgets and a "bare essentials" attitude.
Unfortunately, an environment where live-fire drills are possible is not always available to those who need it most. Many officers who live in large urban areas find that civilian range facilities are sparse and police-only ranges offer limited access. Certain areas of the country are more permitting than others, but the realities of today place severe restrictions on both time and access.
The challenges of limited live-fire opportunities can be easily remedied by dry firing. Dry firing is the practice of discharging a firearm without the use of live ammunition. The cartridge-firing sequence is replicated by using dummy ammunition. These types of rounds are known as "snap caps." The most common are solid plastic rounds available in such common calibers as 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP. Some officers use empty shell casings when snap caps are not available.
The best dummy rounds are Pachmayr spring-loaded primer rounds. These come in packs of five per caliber and run $15-$20 per five-round pack from major suppliers like LA Police Gear, 5.11 Tactical, and Midway USA. These are the ones I recommend, since they produce the least amount of stress against the gun's firing pin and won't cause as much wear on the firing pin itself. As the firing pin hits the primer area of the dummy case, the spring tension absorbs the impact. Unlike a solid plastic dummy round, the Pachmayr spring loaded dummy round has a soft rubber primer pocket and will be kinder to your firing pin and therefore kinder to your wallet in the long run.
Dry firing can be done almost anywhere. Once you have decided to implement this course of action, you must develop a plan on paper and stick to it. I dry fire every morning using a SIG Sauer P226 pistol in .40 S&W. In the event I can't dry fire on a certain morning, I'll commit myself to at least five sessions per week. I also alternate pistols. Some mornings I'll dry fire with a Glock 23 in the same caliber since this and the SIG Sauer are the two pistols I carry most.
I begin in my bedroom in front of the dresser mirror (you can use the bathroom also). I clear the area of any live ammo and secure the live ammo in a lock box or safe. I check the process twice to make sure. Most dummy rounds are color coded orange, red or blue. This will contrast with the brass or nickel cases of live ammo and make it harder to mistake one for the other.
Once you have cleared the area of live ammo, load the pistol magazine with the rounds. Close your eyes; breathe and relax. Repeat the process several times to calm myself after other morning distractions. This "Zen-like" process will effectively calm your nerves. It is used by professional operators, snipers and Olympic-level shooters.
Next, assume your Weaver or Isosceles stance, as well as a kneeling or squatting position, and implement the dry firing. I examine my grip, my sight alignment and my breathing.
I take a deep breath, hold it, exhale and then hold it again. I squeeze the trigger in a consistent uninterrupted manner rearward while maintaining minimal movement as to not disturb the sight picture, while focusing on the front sight blade/notch. This can also be done with partners who can keep a close eye on the front sight as you squeeze the trigger. Everyone flinches to some degree because breathing causes movement. Excess movement transfers from the head to the arm, then to the trigger finger—and ultimately it reaches the front sight. It's all connected; the goal is to minimize it.
I repeat the process five times with a two-handed grip and then with a one-handed grip. This builds muscle memory as well as confidence. This type of subconscious reinforcement is what will make you a more accurate and confident shooter if the need ever arises. Develop a plan and stick to it.
This is something that must be done diligently. I would also recommend building hand and finger strength by using inexpensive hand-resistor grips and hand weights available at stores such as Sports Authority and Wal-Mart. These run $5 to $15, but are well worth it. Hand and finger resistor grips will allow you to develop strong muscle tension in the finer aspect of your hand and wrist, which results in better execution of the fundamentals.
In the end, nothing is as good as live-fire drills. They should always be your top priority. Live fire places real life tension and recoil energy on your body. This type of stress is the best practice, but dry firing is the next best thing and should be part of everybody's practice plan.
Please also note that dummy rounds are also available for long guns in calibers such as .223, .308, 7.62x39, 12-gauge and 20-gauge. Revolver dummy rounds are available in .38 and .357, but .38s are a bit cheaper and can be used in a .357 cylinder. I use the .38s in my Smith & Wesson J-Frame .357 compact revolver. One five pack of .38s fills the cylinder and you are ready to practice.
Please don't neglect your long guns and backup revolvers. Practice proficiency with them and it may save your life one day.