Is dry firing bad for my firearm?
What is dry firing? - Dry firing is when you fire a gun with no ammunition in the chamber. You pull the trigger and the hammer strikes with a *CLICK* and *CLACK* but no bang and no shot fired.
For a long time, it was believed that dry firing damages a gun. It was a case of live fire, or hold fire.
For many years, this was accurate. Decades ago, firing pins were made of less solid material, so it didn't take much for them to fail in an older pistol or rifle. That's why it was commonly held that no round in the chamber means you're going to damage the weapon when you pull the trigger.
With today's innovations in firearm technology and breakthroughs in metallurgy, the common wisdom has changed and we're here to get you up to speed.
The 3 main dry fire categories
Whether dry fire damages your gun or not depends on the type of gun. We've broken them into three broad categories:
- Rimfire guns
- Centerfire guns
- Modern firearms
This is our personal view - be sure to do your own research on your specific model or consult with a specialist to be certain.
Dry firing rimfire guns can damage the firing pin
There is broad agreement among gun experts on one aspect of dry fire practice:
DON'T DRY FIRE A RIMFIRE GUN
With this type of gun, the firing pin is positioned to strike the brass rim of the cartridge. Brass is a softer metal than steel. When dry firing a rimfire gun, the firing pin will strike the much harder steel of the breech face, transferring a tremendous amount of force.
The firing pin may escape damage if you dry fire infrequently (or it may not), but it's proven that excessive dry firing of rimfire weapons will "peen" the firing pin. Peening is the formation of a dent, or a micro-space, where the firing pin strikes the chamber mouth.
A frequently dry fired rimfire gun is prone to malfunction and misfire. The last thing you want is for your weapon to be unreliable when your safety could depend on it.
Is it bad to dry fire a centerfire gun?
Dry firing most centerfire rifles and handguns is generally safe. There are a few exceptions, like older pistols, with the key being the durability of the firing pin.
When dry fired, the firing pin on centerfire rifles and some semiautomatic weapons travels until it hits the end of the channel. This over-traveling can cause the pin to hit the frame with tremendous force, causing damage to the striker. If the firing pin is brittle, it's just a matter of time before it breaks. The firing pins on some older centerfire pistols are softer than their modern counterparts and prone to break or peen after just a few dozen dry firings.
Generally speaking, centerfire guns are safer to dry fire than rimfire weapons, but each gun has its own nuances that vary from model to model.
Dry fire with a modern firearm - low risk, but why risk at all?
Most would agree that dry firing a modern gun is not much of a problem. Modern guns are made of better materials: improvements in metallurgy, design and technology mean components have become more robust and longer-lasting. This means you can pull the trigger and dry fire modern guns with more confidence than older firearms. A modern gun can withstand thousands of instances of dry fire.
But why take that chance? Firearms were designed to be fired with a round in the chamber, so every time you dry fire you are taking a risk - even though it's a small one.
Snap caps - the safe way to dry fire
Firearms are designed for live fire. The mechanics of a firearm are built around the action of launching the firing pin into the primer, creating the explosive force of ignition that propels the round out the chamber at great speed. All of this happens in a split second when you pull the trigger.
When firing without ammo, the striker forcefully impacts SOMETHING to stop it.
Enter: snap caps.
Snap caps allow you to fire almost any gun and eliminates the risk of damage. Snap caps cushion the firing pin's impact. These dummy rounds substitute the cushioning effect that live rounds provide. They are relatively inexpensive, especially when compared to the hassle of replacing or repairing your firing pin.
Final thoughts on dry firing
Most modern centerfire guns are perfectly fine to dry fire if you want to clear the weapon, drop the hammer or striker, or just try out the trigger. But if you want to be 100 percent certain that you're not damaging your firearm, you should definitely use snap caps.
When it comes to rimfire guns, you're taking a big risk if you dry fire them without using dummy rounds (made of softer metals like brass or aluminum) or snap caps to protect your striker.
Of course, it goes without saying that all responsible gun owners only dry fire their firearms when they are certain that the gun is unloaded and pointed in a safe direction.
If you're handling a firearm at the gun store, or your buddy's gun at the shooting range, it's good practice and good etiquette to ask the owner for permission before you pull the trigger on a gun that has no round in the chamber. Always treat every firearm as though it's loaded with live ammunition.
If you're interested in other ways to take care of your gun, be sure to check out our guide to preventing gun rust and the best pistol case for storage.