The ammunition shortage, paired with crazy busy ranges, can make it hard to get in good quality practice these days. Dry fire practice is always a great option, but sometimes that can get a little boring. (Come on, I'm not the only one who feels that way...). So what are some other options to help improve your shooting during these challenging times? Glad you asked! Here are 5 gun free ways to improve your shooting.
Improve Your General Fitness
Shooting a gun is a physical activity. It may not feel like it when you are standing on the firing line at an indoor range, but it is. If you've ever done a lengthy range session and left feeling tired and sore you know what I mean. This fatigue can contribute to poor sight alignment and recoil control, as well as a host of other issues.
Developing your flexibility and coordination, as well as doing strength training, are all things you can do away from the range to improve your shooting. You don't have to go all out and become a gym rat, but adding some regular physical activity designed to work on each of these can make a major difference in your next live fire session.
If you are a casual shooter, getting some hand weights and doing a few exercises daily should be plenty. Bicep curls, tricep dips, and overhead presses are all simple to do and can have a significant impact. Add some cardio like taking a daily walk and some stretches for flexibility and you are good to go. Competitive shooters and serious/tactical firearm trainers may want to consider hiring a strength coach to get the most benefit. Remember to check with your doctor before starting any exercise routine!
The Farmer's Carry
I have been strength training with Varg Freeborn, author of Violence of Mind and owner of Cognitionis Training Systems, for the past several months. I have some serious training goals, both physically and for shooting, so I decided that hiring a professional was the best option for me. He has me doing a wide variety of cardio and strength training exercises designed specifically to improve my shooting and my mindset.
One of the things many people struggle with, myself included, is grip strength. According to Varg, the number one exercise you can do to improve your grip is the farmer carry. The farmer carry is simple to do and doesn't require a lot of complicated equipment. All you need is a heavy enough weight and some room to walk. To do it, you grip the weight in one hand and walk 40 yards carrying it, then switch hands and do 40 yards the other side. Do this 3-4 times on each side. The weight should be heavy enough that it requires some effort to carry it without leaning too far to the other side. If you don't have a dumbbell or kettle bell any heavy object you can grip will do in a pinch.
Gripping the heavy weight helps strengthen your overall grip better than any other exercise. Yes even better than those metal grippy things. The farmer carry requires a sustained grip, not just squeeze and let go. It also helps build calluses. We all want soft hands, but if you are shooting a lot or your gun has aggressive grips, then calluses help. Bonus points go to the farmer carry because it can help more than just your grip when shooting. It also builds muscle in your upper back, increases core strength, and improves your work capacity.
The Clicky Pen
One of the issues we often see with accuracy is trigger finger placement and isolation. I personally have struggled with some accuracy in the past and have addressed a few different issues to get back on track. Practice sessions with the MantisX have showed that occassionally I use too much trigger finger. I've got smaller hands, so too much trigger finger causes my finger to rest on the frame and push it off target when I press the trigger. I love my MantisX. There is so much data and feedback you can get from a relatively short session. However, my EDC is a Glock 48, which has no accessory rail. I bought an after market rail specifically for use with my MantisX, but sometimes it's a pain in the rear to have to put it on and take it off every time. Plus, the MantisX can be a little cost prohibitive to many people.
Besides finger placement, trigger finger isolation is very important. Fortunately, there are a few tricks you can you to help improve your trigger finger isolation. My favorite is super simple, can be done just about anywhere, and costs next to nothing; the clicky pen. I learned this trick from a fellow instructor and it has been great for demonstrating proper trigger press with new students, as well as a simple way to practice anywhere. Simply grip a clicky pen in your hand and use your trigger finger to gently press the device just like you would your trigger.
Obviously it won't have the same weight and take-up (slack) as your trigger. It does however have a wall and reset point and mimics a good trigger press when done correctly. You can also see the pull to the left when using too much finger that is hard to see even when dry fire practicing. There's also the added bonus in flexibility. You can get in a few practice presses when sitting at a long stop light or while watching TV. Just be aware of those around you and try not to be too annoying.
Water is vital for all parts of our bodies. It acts as a detoxifier, flushing out all the bad things our bodies absorb throughout the day. Beyond that, it supports a wide variety of systems, and the effects of dehydration can be disruptive at best, deadly at worst.
Dehydration can cause decreases in cognitive performance and impact our moods. It can negatively impact our thought process, reaction times, and memory. Severe dehydration can cause muscle twitches and even seizures. Dehydration can also lead to low blood pressure which can result in fainting.
When you are shooting a gun, you want your mind and body to be at peak functioning levels. Thought processes, reaction times, and muscle control are all vital to good shooting skills. Plus, fainting or a reduced ability to think clearly are both dangerous when you're holding a gun. You can't simply chug a bottle of water on your way to the range and be magically hydrated. Good hydration requires regular, adequate levels of water consumption. Make sure you are getting your enough water every day and you'll see better results in your shooting and general health in the long run.
Do Some Research
One of the primary causes of negligent discharges is a lack of understanding how a firearm functions. While no one likes to read a boring owner's manual, it is imperative that you develop a clear understanding about the parts of your gun and how they work. You should know how to safely load, unload, disassemble, reassemble, and clean your firearm. Know what safety features your firearm offers and how to manipulate them. YouTube is a great resource. You can find step by step instructions on all these for almost any firearm. I even found a video on how to disassemble an antique shotgun I inherited.
YouTube can also be a good resource for videos on improving your stance, grip, sight alignment, etc. Just be cautious. Anyone can start a channel and call themselves an “expert”. And having served as a law enforcement officer or in the military doesn't make you an expert in civilian self defense either (sorry, not sorry). There are many highly respected, quality channels out there worth looking into. Some of our recommendations here are: Gun Nuts Media, Lucky Gunner, Practically Tactical, Presscheck Consulting, and Sage Dynamics.
Look Into Training Options
Finally, consider looking into some sort of advanced class beyond a basic pistol or conceal carry class. The fact is, if you ever have to use your firearm in a defensive capacity, it might not happen standing in a straight line at 3 yards with no obstructions or movement. There is also way more to self defense than owning a gun. Take this downtime to research classes you might like to take once ammunition becomes more readily available. The number one class I recommend is ShivWorks' ECQC. It covers a wide variety of topics from mindset, orientation, grappling, firearm employment, and awareness. Consider non-firearms classes as well. Chuck Haggard, owner of Agile Training and Consulting, offers a fantastic class on less lethal methods that includes how to use OC (pepper) spray.
Whatever your situation, make sure you have a training plan. Shooting is a perishable skill and requires regular practice to stay effective. Even if you can't get to the range there are things you can do every day that will help.