Practicing With Your Handgun Without Ammunition

Over the past 14 months, ammunition has been difficult to obtain for everyone. Prices have sky-rocketed, both at the retail and the wholesale levels. Bulk ammo is double or even triple the cost that it was in 2019. If one did not have a stash of ammo, it is now difficult or impossible to practice shooting. No one wants to shoot up the last of their ammo just so they could practice.

So what to do? How does one keep perishable shooting skills without having ammo to shoot?

My students are used to hearing this from me because I have been telling them this advice for many years. I have three suggestions:

  1. Dry fire practice your trigger press and your sight picture.
  2. Practice the mechanics of drawing and shooting.
  3. Practice force-on-force scenarios with airsoft handguns.

Dry Fire Practice

Dry fire practice helps eliminate jerking or snatching the trigger, aka anticipation. Anticipation is the unconscious reaction of the brain to the noise and recoil of the handgun. Generally speaking, the larger the caliber and the lighter the handgun, the more likely a shooter is to acquire this habit from live firing. The more you dry fire your handgun (no rounds firing and no resultant recoil), the more your brain hard wires the correct way to press the trigger.

Many gun owners are unaware that they acquired this undesirable habit. There is an easy way at the range to determine if you anticipate and how strong your anticipation is. Buy some inert rounds (snap caps, dummy rounds), and randomly mix them in a loaded magazine or a revolver cylinder along with live rounds. Then fire the handgun. When you press the trigger on an inert round, did the front sight dip, even a tiny amount? If it did, you are anticipating the recoil and moving the point of aim before the bullet leaves the barrel. If you do not eliminate this habit, you will be frustrated at your lack of improvement.

I know dry fire practice can get boring. Do it regardless. You will see dramatic improvements in your accuracy. Don’t forget to follow the safety rules while you dry fire. No live ammunition in the area.

Drawing and Shooting

Drawing and shooting takes much practice to become proficient. Practice drawing from whatever type of holster or container you use when you carry concealed. If you do not carry concealed but keep your handgun at home, practice obtaining it from wherever you store it. Practice scenarios that involve home invasions, armed burglars, angry in-laws (just kidding) and so forth. Practice magazine changes and clearing malfunctions. As with any martial art, practicing the physical movements will make you more efficient should you ever have to defend yourself. Remember, slow is smooth and smooth (eventually) is fast. Don’t force the speed. It will come naturally. Don’t forget to follow the safety rules. No live ammunition in the area.

Airsoft Force-on-Force

This is a practical and affordable way for the common man to practice simulating the stress and decision-making that an actual attack will create. We cannot simulate the level of stress that a real attack creates, but we can create a mild simulation of it. Having a real, live, moving, interacting opponent who holds a weapon that hits you with a stinging projectile creates stress and a more realistic test of your abilities.

Many, many misconceptions are shattered by force-on-force. For example, the mild square range “two step” that is taught in many schools is shown to be ineffective when confronted with an armed, alive, thinking opponent. It becomes an explosive movement “off the X” in an effort to avoid being shot. Standing still while returning fire makes you a “bullet magnet”. Doing a quick peek around a corner twice in the same spot rewards you with a shot in your face mask from the opponent. Force-on-force is a great teacher of Murphy’s Rule and the School of Hard Knocks. It is a real eye-opener to what works and what does not work. Make sure you use eye protection – no exceptions.


All three of these suggested practice activities will not expend one round of ammo. So don’t make the excuse that you can’t practice because you don’t have enough ammo. Go for it and try these and you will see that I am speaking the truth. For practicing airsoft force-on-force, I recommend the Active Shooter course.