Dry-Fire Trainers: Save Money While You Gain Performance
We test LaserLyte, Dry-fire Mag, CheapShot, Laser Ammo, iTarget, Mantis, and G-Sight products to see which offers the most realistic practice environment with the least fuss.
Dry-fire training should be part of every shooter’s training routine. It helps build the fundamentals of shooting and reinforces muscle memory. In the old days, we bought a SnapCap or other dummy round, loaded it into our firearm, and practiced our grip, sight picture, and trigger press. You knew you were in a good place if you could dry-fire the firearm without flinching and keep the sights rock steady as the pistol fired. The fact is, however, you didn’t know if you actually hit the target you were aiming at, nor was there a better way to measure training success and progress. Enter technology, which offers a variety of high-tech lasers, laser-friendly targets, and apps that allows shooters to train in the comfort of their own homes, without the cost of going to a range and, further, without incurring the cost of ammo. The beauty of dry-fire training is you can do it any where you want and at any time. No loud noises, just the clicking of tripped firing pins and a flash of red laser, though some apps and target do have sound effects.
Important Safety Steps to Always Take
Remember when dry-fire training, first be sure your weapon is unloaded and ammunition is not accessible. Holes in the living room wall can be embarrassing at the least and at its worst, deadly for someone in the next room. Always follow common-sense gun-handling safety rules. Also, when using a laser, never point it near your face because it can damage your eyes.
We tested a number of dry-firing trainers to see how they worked, how easy they were to adapt to our existing firearms, and how to track our training progress. We wanted to know if all this dry-fire training improved our shooting skill or were we just wasting our time. We took into consideration those shooters who may be on a limited budget, those who don’t use modern technology like smart phones, and those who seem connected to their phone 24/7.
There are a variety of dry-fire trainers from simple low-tech solutions like Dry-fire Mag to easy-to-use high-tech lasers from LaserLyte, CheapShot Tactical Training Laser, and Laser Ammo SureStrike, as well as laser-compatible targets like the LaserPET and iTarget, which can actually measure a shooter’s performance. The Mantis doesn’t use a laser, but is instead a device attached to the accessory rail that records shot data to your smart phone. Apps like G-Sight and iTarget mean you don’t have to invest in more equipment since some of the equipment is already built into your smart phone, if you have one.
When using these devices, the shooter is required to break his grip to rack the slide and reset the weapon’s trigger. Some help measure a shooter’s training, which means a shooter can measure progress with dry-firing training. The Mantis system was unique in that it allowed us to dry-fire as well as live fire train.
How We Tested
We procured a number a dry-fire trainers in 9mm and used them in a variety of 9mm pistol platforms — Glock G17 Gen3, S&W Shield, S&W M&P, Arex Rex Zero, Kahr CM9, Springfield Armory Range Officer, Beretta 92S, and a SIG P226. This various 9mm pistol platforms allowed us to better understand how different pistols performed with the trainers. We found that with single-action pistols, such as the Springfield Armory Range Officer 1911 and striker-fire pistols such as the Glock, Kahr, and S&W Shield, you need to break your grip to either cock the hammer or rack the slide. So, essentially, you are practicing one shot each time. With double-action-to-single-action-trigger pistols like the Beretta 92S, SIG P226, and Arex Rex Zero, you can continuously fire the pistol in DA mode without breaking your grip. In SA mode, you have to break your grip to cock the hammer. The biggest drawback in dry-fire training, in our opinion, is you don’t get the true experience of firing the handgun because it does not cycle, recoil, or reset the trigger. Live-fire training is still required, and dry-fire should be considered a next-best alternative that has limitations.
We tested in brightly lit interiors all the way down to dark rooms at laser-friendly targets, meaning targets that recorded hits, as well as standard targets and items in the room. We also used the laser to practice our draw, and we found this training exercise to be quite enlightening. We also found training weak hand helped build up the muscle memory in our support arm, something we rarely train for during live-fire drills.
We all wish we had unlimited ammunition and range time, but in reality we do not. The bottom line is dry-firing will help you improve your shooting, and some trainers actually showed us the stats to prove it and suggestions on how to be a better shooter. Here’s what we discovered.
Dry-fire Mag for Glock Standard Frame, $99
Dry-fire Mag for Smith & Wesson M&P, $99
GUN TEST GRADE: A-
The Dry-fire Mag looks like a polymer magazine and is identified as being a training magazine by its orange floorplate. The DFM is designed to allow the user to continuously press the trigger without racking the slide to reset the trigger in either a Glock or S&W M&P pistol. In our opinion, the DFM helped build trigger memory using repetition with a close simulation of the weapon’s actual trigger pull without breaking the shooter’s grip. We procured two DFMs, one for a 9mm Glock, which will fit all standard-frame Glocks in all chamberings — 9mm, 40 S&W, 357 SIG, and 45 GAP — in full, compact, and subcompact models. The other DFM is for all 9mm and 40 S&W M&P pistols that use a double-stack magazine. It has a 30-day money-back guarantee and is made in the U.S.
To use the DFM on the Glock or S&W M&P, rack the slide to set the trigger and insert the DFM into the magwell. The first trigger press will be heavy as the DFM releases the firing pin. Subsequent trigger presses are 5.5 to 6 pounds. The trigger feel can be adjusted slightly up or down via a screw in the back of the DFM. You can also purchase a Spring Pack ($10.95) that allows you swap out springs of different pull weights.
Our Team Said: The DFM allows you to train without breaking your grip and resetting the trigger. We found the trigger pull of the DFM is similar to trigger pull of our pistols, but not an exact match, and that is because the DFM is not releasing the striker. That is also why the DFM will not work with a laser cartridge. We liked using the DFM even if it was the low-tech option and if the trigger pull weight wasn’t exactly like the trigger pull weight in our weapon. We think the DFM would be enhanced if it was the actual weight of a fully loaded magazine because it would give the pistol a more realistic weight and better simulate the shooting experience.
LaserLyte Trainer Pistol 9mm, $87
GUN TEST GRADE: A-
The LaserLytecomes in a blister pack with batteries already installed and three extra batteries. The 9mm cartridge is built with a brass body and a rubber O-ring located forward and aft of the cartridge to center and secure the cartridge in the chamber. The firing pin hits a rubber pad at the aft end that activates the laser, which flashes for 1/10th of a second. It runs on three LR44 batteries. The cartridge unscrews to insert batteries. Battery life is 3000 shots. The laser power output is 650nm, 5mW, and it is a Class III R laser. It has a three-year limited warranty.
To install the unit, lock the slide back, drop the cartridge into the chamber and press it into the chamber or press the slide release and let the slide chamber the laser cartridge. You can then aim, press the trigger, then watch as a red dot flashes on the target when the firing pin is released. To remove the cartridge, we used a pencil or cleaning rod inserted from the muzzle end to gently push the cartridge out. The LaserLyte worked as advertised.
Our Team Said: We liked the O-rings because they could be replaced as they wore, and they did not allow the brass cartridge to contact the inside of the chamber. It worked with all laser-compatible targets, and that is the way we preferred to use it. On its own, the red-dot flash of the LaserLyte gave the user instance feedback about whether the target was hit. On its own, it is good, with a laser-compatible target, it is better, which we will get into.
CheapShot Tactical Training Laser 9mm, $39
GUN TEST GRADE: A-
The CheapShot cartridge is similar in design to the LaserLyte. It is made in China, comes with batteries installed, and has a one-year limited warranty. The cartridge is brass with no rubber O-rings. Brass is softer than steel, so there is no issue when placing the cartridge in the chamber. It runs on three AG4 batteries and has a battery life of 3000 shots. The cartridge unscrews to insert/remove batteries. The laser power output is 650nm, 5mW, and it is a Class III R laser.
Our Team Said: The CheapShot cost less than the LaserLyte and Laser Ammo cartridges and worked just as effectively.
Laser Ammo SureStrike Premium Kit 9mm, $150
GUN TEST GRADE: A
The SureStrikecartridge came in a soft zipper case with cut foam to hold all the small pieces: cartridge; secure safety system with short pipe, extension pipe, and nut; six reflective targets, and batteries. Unlike the LaserLyte and CheapShot, the Laser Ammo SureStrike uses a stainless-steel casing and one rubber O-ring at the front. We felt the stainless would likely wear better than the brass models and not tarnish. The Uhr secure system consists of a threaded pipe and nut that helps align the cartridge in the chamber and bore. Plus, for additional safely, a visual orange indicator can be attached at the muzzle, identifying that the gun is being used for training purposes.
The laser power output is 630-660nm, < 5mW, and it is a Class III R laser. The SureStrike is made in Israel, and the warranty is one year of 5000 shots for the cap and lifetime for the laser. You will get about 2000 hours, or 18 million shots, before needing to change the batteries.
What sets this laser cartridge apart from the others is that you can buy optional caliber adapters, so the 9mm laser cartridge can be configured to train with 40 S&W, 45 ACP, and 357 SIG ($12.94); 5.56 NATO, 7.62 NATO, and 300 Win. Mag. ($39.95); and 12 and 20 gauge ($39.95) shotgun adapters.
Inserting the cartridge was similar to the other laser cartridges, and the shooter could use just the cartridge or install the pipe extensions and add the safety cap. We found that field-stripping the pistol to remove the cartridge and attached pipe was the best way to disassemble the set up. The SureStrike performed well and worked with every press of the trigger.
Our Team Said: Though the most expensive, the SureStrike offered better construction and an added level of safety with the threaded pipe extensions and safety cap. We also liked that the kit was stored in a case and not easily misplaced. We liked the included target and the cartridges’ ability to adapt to other pistol and rifle calibers as well as shotgun gauges.
Laser Ammo LaserPET, $120
GUN TEST GRADE: A
The Laser Personal Electronic Target (PET) is a standalone laser training target that is used in combination with the SureStrike laser cartridge or any other laser cartridges. It worked with the LaserLyte and CheapShot, too. The PET is about the size of a smart phone and is made of plastic. It comes with a stand so you can set it up on a flat surface, and it has a hole in the back to hang it on a wall, and it can be attached to a tripod. It takes two AAA batteries. It features four skill modes: Hit Counter, Shot Timer, Magazine Change/Burst Shooting, and Double Tap. Modes are changed by pressing the mode button and scores are deleted by pressing the reset button. Five target cards slide into the LaserPET. Target cards consist of three differently sized bullseyes, a B-27 NRA style target, and a crosshair. Since the bullseye of the target cards vary in size, you can change out the cards to increase the difficulty or place the target farther away. Without a laser target inserted into the unit, the laser sensor window measures 1.8 by 1.8 inches.
We found that we needed to aim precisely with the LaserPET to score a hit. The target cards decrease the size of the laser window. We used the LaserPET to practice our draw from concealment by setting it on the Shot Time mode, and we could see our time decrease from 2.01 seconds to 1.62 seconds over the course of one training session. The Magazine Change/Burst Shooting gives you 5 seconds to make a magazine change and hit the target or hit the target as many times as possible in 5 seconds. With the Beretta, SIG, and Arex, we could use the double-action triggers, but with the striker-fire pistols, it was a time suck to reset the trigger every time. Same with the Double Tap mode, which gives you 4 seconds to hit the target. Using a DA/SA trigger pistol, the drill could be performed in DA mode. With striker-fire and single-action pistols, down time skewed high because we had to reset the trigger. The target zone is small, and we know the saying “aim small miss small” should apply, but it took some skill to draw and fire from the hip — simulating a face-to-face encounter with little time or ability to aim the pistol.
Our Team Said: The LaserPET helps you record hits and times, and this makes the training more valuable because you can chart your progress. In our opinion, this target is well suited to drawing and firing on a target. Most public ranges do not allow this type of training, and for good reason — it is dangerous for bystanders to be swept with a loaded pistol. This allows you to train in ways you cannot at a public range. If you want to get a general indication of your progress, we’d pair the LaserPET with a laser cartridge.
iTarget, Target Sled and Laser Bullet Package, $89
iTarget Quick Draw, $5
GUN TEST GRADE: A
The iTarget works with both Apple and Android devices. It comes with a plastic base that holds the smart phone in front of the target. You need to download the free app to your phone and make sure your phone’s camera has permission to use the app. We had issues until we realized we needed to go into our phone settings to give the app permission. The system uses the iTarget app, the camera in your smart phone to view a target, and a laser cartridge. The camera of your smart phone captures the laser hits on the target and saves them to the phone.
The first step is to fit the target area into the phone’s screen, then specify the bullseye area using the phone’s screen. This second step tells the app the area to be scored. Then the shooter sets the distance he will be shooting from.
As the laser hits the target, a subtle gunshot sound is made and a hole appears on the phone screen. The shooter can track his progress by saving the target image to the phone, or you can share it with your friends for bragging rights. An additional Quick Draw app is used to help you practice your draw. The app buzzer sounds, and you are timed on how fast and accurately you can draw your weapon and hit the target. We used iTarget with all the laser cartridges so you can use it for all type of firearms if you have the proper laser cartridge insert.
Our Team Said: We liked that this system provided a holder for your smart phone, which makes using these apps easier. We also liked the ability to save targets and refer to them after multiple training sessions to see if our scores decreased or increased. The Quick Draw app is worth the cost since many of us want to practice our draw and see if we are making progress.
G-Sight, 10-Shot free download, $5 Shot Timer, $5 Unlimited Shots
GUN TEST GRADE: B
G-Sight is an app you download for either an Apple or Android device. We used an Apple iPhone 8 to download the app. The free download allows you to fire 10 shots, untimed, and see the total results on the screen of your phone. The app uses the camera in your phone to record the shots from a laser cartridge. All the laser cartridges worked with G-Sight.
With the app downloaded to our phone, we were instructed to align the target by pinching the edges to zoom into the target — the same as you would to increase the size of an image on your phone. This allowed us to literally focus the app on a specific target. You need a stand to prop up your phone and position the phone in front of the target. The app recorded hits on the phone’s screen one at a time and recognized a shot with an audible “gun shot” sound. After 10 shots, all hits appear at once on the phone’s screen.
Our Team Said: In our opinion, the free download was worth the cost. We opted for the Unlimited Shot mode ($5) and felt it was okay. It just recorded our shots on the target similar to what we would have with live-fire training. The Shot Timer mode ($5) was also a bit of a let down, we felt. In Shot Timer mode, you could set the Number of Sessions, Shots Per Session, Time Between Sessions, and Session Lengths and Starting Ready Time. Audio announces “Shooter Ready” and a buzzer goes off to start a session. This does not provide any stats on how fast you fired the first shot or time between shots, so you don’t know if you are improving, though it does provide that pressure to be fast on the buzzer. We would have liked to be able to download or share the target; this way, we could compare targets from different training sessions to see if we improved or not. We’d also like to see the order of shots fired. For a low-budget trainer — if you have a smart phone — pair this with the LaserLyte or CheapShot for best results.
Mantis Tech Mantis X, $150
GUN TEST GRADE: A
The Mantis Xtrainer is quite different compared to the other trainers. It can provide immediate feedback on each shot you take, whether dry-fire or live fire. It uses a sensor that attaches to the Picatinny-style rail of any pistol or rifle. If your firearm doesn’t have a rail, an optional barrel mount or floor plate attachment is available ($14 to $25). For revolvers, the floor plate attachment can be attached to the revolver’s butt. The sensor uses a built-in battery and is charged via a USB cable. Battery life is about 8 to 10 hours. It is made in the U.S. and has a two-year warranty. The sensor comes in a zippered hard case along with a USB charging cable.
The sensor attaches to your firearm and works via an app the shooter downloads to a smartphone or tablet. It wirelessly communicates with the sensor using a Bluetooth connection. With the sensor attached to the pistol, it records the movement of the firearm for nanoseconds prior, during, and after the trigger press, and sends the data to smart phone, which in turn analyzes each shot’s motion and offers recommendations for improvement. Not only does this trainer track your shots, it offers suggestions on improving your accuracy.
In the Settings section of the app, we filled out the info on firearm type, make, and model, left- or right-hand shooter, live/dry/CO2 practice type, mount direction, and mount location on the firearm. The app can be used by multiple shooters and data saved per user. Use any spot as a target. Mantis recommends firing 10 shots at a time, then checking the shot analysis on the app. One display shows direction and magnitude by tracking the movement of the barrel during the trigger pull. Shots are grouped according to movement pattern. A second display shows a shot-by-shot tracking score of each shot and analysis of any trends. A third display offers a detailed trace with different colored traces—Blue: hold/sighting, Yellow: trigger pull, Red: Shot breaking and recoil pattern.
There are a variety of training programs: primary hand only, support hand only, reload out of battery, reload tactical, compressed surprise break, etc. Short videos accompany each training program and explain the goal of each program and how to perform the drill. We dry-fired on a chamber loaded with a laser cartridge and dummy rounds. We recommend you use dummy rounds when training with the Mantis because it will force you to fully rack the slide instead of just resetting the trigger, plus you do not want to damage your weapon’s firing pin.
Our Team Said: We used the Mantis in live- and dry-fire training, and we felt this trainer provided the best data collection, plus it offered recommendations on how to correct bad shots. The sensor is about the size of a small laser sight and that poses a problem for some who use a concealed-carry holster that is not compatible with a laser device during drawing drills.
Written and photographed by Robert Sadowski, using evaluations from Gun Tests team testers.