We tell you all the time that it’s important to practice with your firearm, and that’s true whether it’s a hunting rifle, a competition shotgun or your concealed-carry handgun. The more you practice shooting your gun, the more familiar with it you’ll become, and familiarity makes you faster, more efficient and more accurate. But we get it: Practice is expensive, and those of us with limited resources only have so much money to devote to ammo and range fees. You can make the most of your time, money and effort with these tips to save money on practice.
This is the best money saving tip I can offer, because it costs you literally nothing. Most modern center-fire guns can be safely dry-fired with damaging the gun, but I recommend using snap caps or other dummy ammo just to eliminate any potential problems with firing pins and to provide a more realistic experience.
When you dry-fire, always triple-check that the gun is unloaded and there are no live rounds anywhere near where you’ll be practicing. Follow the rules of safe gun handling and utilize a safe direction for your dry-fire practice.
You can and should practice safely drawing your concealed-carry handgun from its holster and firing, or, if you want to work specifically on your trigger press, try the old trick of holding the gun steady, balancing a coin on the top at the end of the muzzle, and squeezing the trigger without knocking the coin off.
As long as you have a safe direction, you can dry-fire your hunting rifle in much the same way, even practicing field positions. Before a big out-of-state hunt, I will often unload my rifle and get down on the floor to refamiliarize myself with my most comfortable sitting, kneeling and prone shooting positions.
Try At-Home Training Systems
Training systems that pair with an app, such as MantisX, are excellent tools that let you take dry-firing to a totally new level. They do require an initial investment, but the practice is free after that, so the more you use it, the quicker it will pay for itself in ammo savings. Most of these devices include a small piece that attaches to the gun that will record exactly what your muzzle is doing from draw to trigger press, what it’s doing at the exact moment of the trigger press, and what it’s doing from one shot (or pre-set stop) to another. This lets you clearly see if there’s any wasted movement in your draw, if you are dipping your muzzle or pulling your shot to the left or right, or if you’re waving your muzzle in a direction you might not have realized.
This kind of intel is hugely valuable, and combining this with your dry-fire practice will put the pieces together in a way that shaves lots of time off your learning curve. You’ll be motivated to keep practicing until your draw-to-trigger-pull time shrinks and your movement becomes much more efficient.
At some point, you do have to actually pull the trigger on live ammo in order to get the full benefit of practice. When you do, be deliberate and intentional about what you’re doing. Going to the range and dumping mag after mag of ammo, or punching holes in paper with your hunting rifle from the bench, is a lot of fun—but if you’re doing so aimlessly, you’re not learning much and you’re not practicing. You’re just shooting.
Go into practice with a plan for what you want to work on and how you plan to work it. Pick some specific drills you want to shoot, and make each shot count. Focus your energy on what you’re doing and on your form rather than just firing off rounds.
If you’re practicing for a hunting scenario, get off the bench and make yourself take careful, deliberate shots from field-shooting positions (assuming your range allows it). Then time yourself as if you were rushed to take a shot on an animal that might run off at any moment.
If you’re practicing for sporting clays, trap or skeet, don’t just shoot a round with your buddies and call it practice. Pick a station or a target presentation that’s giving you trouble, make a plan for how to tackle it, and shoot it repeatedly until you feel more comfortable with it, adjusting your plan as needed as you go. Make sure to repeat it a few times in your next practice session to help reinforce what you’ve trained.
Join and Volunteer
If you shoot frequently, you can usually save money on range fees by joining your local range or gun club rather than paying each time you go. Joining might also come with additional perks like a certain number of targets per month or extended hours or days for members only.
In addition to that, see if your club needs volunteers and if they’re willing to trade range time and/or targets for your volunteer hours. If there’s a youth team, they might need coaches or assistants. The range might need volunteer range safety officers on busy days. The shotgun club might need volunteer trappers for their monthly sporting clays shoot—will they let you shoot the course for free the next day if you work the event for them?
When it comes to ammo costs, buying in bulk (usually online) can save you money, particularly if you pay attention to sales, and reloading can still save you money in the long run on many loads if you’re willing to put in the time and upfront costs to get started.
Reading articles from NRA Women and other trusted sources, while not practice per se, can definitely help your mental game and prepare your mindset for self-defense and hunting scenarios. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that reading a lot will prepare you if you haven’t actually trained with your gun, but combining physical practice with a lot of reading and mental preparation can be a powerful one-two punch.
Many top shooters and athletes of all types use visualization to practice when they can’t be on the field or at the range, particularly if they compete. Close your eyes and visualize yourself standing on a particular station of the trap field or shooting a particular stage on a 3-gun course. “See” yourself load the gun, prepare your body, and go through each motion of the station or stage with good technique. This kind of visualization is serious mental work, so don’t take it lightly, and be sure to set aside a time and place where you won’t be distracted or interrupted.
Finally, consider getting some professional instruction, particularly if you’re new or trying to learn something you haven’t done before. Paying for instruction might seem to go against our “cheap practice” premise, but learning from a pro can shorten your learning curve so dramatically that you will save money (and time and effort) in the long run. Use the benefit of someone else’s experience to learn in a few short lessons what might have taken you years of work to put together on your own.