by Al Voth
These days, it seems like there are only two kinds of rain: too much and not enough. However, I'm not talking about moisture today. The topic is ammo. And while we've all recently seen situations of not enough ammo, there's certainly no such thing as too much of it.
While we would all like an endless supply of cartridges, sometimes it's a good idea to pull the trigger on an unloaded gun. It's called “dry-firing,” and there's definitely a right and a wrong time to practice it.
Is Dry-Firing Safe For Your Gun?
The first question that comes up in any discussion about dry-firing is whether it is damaging to a firearm. The answer is: it depends. A reasonable amount of dry-firing is not damaging to any well-designed centerfire rifle, shotgun or handgun. However, this is not true for rimfires, air rifles or some muzzleloaders.
Rimfires shouldn't be dry-fired because the firing pin is designed to strike the rim of the cartridge in a location where it is supported by the edge of the chamber. If no cartridge is present, the firing pin might reach all the way to this support point—called the anvil—and if it does, damage will result to either the firing pin, the chamber's edge or both.
Air rifles, particularly break-barrel rifles, shouldn't be dry-fired because the resistance of the pellet being forced down the barrel is necessary to slow that spring or gas-powered piston enough that it won't be damaged when it reaches its at-rest position. If no pellet is present in the barrel, the piston slams into that stop position with full force and gun-wrecking damage is quickly done.
Muzzleloaders can be damaged, too—especially those that use a cap-and-nipple arrangement for ignition. This design typically has no way of stopping the hammer if no cap is present, and the hammer's repeated slamming into the nipple will quickly deform it enough to render it useless.
Cartridge-like devices called “snap caps” are available to help reduce any damage dry-firing might do, and Lyman offers a wide selection under their A-Zoom brand.
If I'm dry-firing in order to practice my shooting technique, I like to use them because of the volume of clicking I'm doing—which, incidentally, is one of the best ways to learn trigger control, overcome a flinch or refine the ability to shoot from a particular position. Some competition firearms even come with a dry-fire "switch" that allows the shooter to practice via dry-firing with no worries about damaging the gun.
Any experienced competition shooter will tell you that dry-firing is one of the best practice techniques available. Of course, any dry-firing is done under the assumption there really is a live round in the chamber and the gun is therefore pointed in a totally safe direction.
I'll also dry-fire regularly when hunting in frigid temperatures, particularly every time I unload my rifle. That's not only another way to ensure it's empty, but it also confirms all the parts are still moving as they should and things haven't frozen in place. This limited amount of dry-firing does no damage at all and is another example of the value of shooting without ammo in the right circumstances.
So, you see, sometimes a lack of ammo is a good thing.