Low-Ammo Range Drills: Can You Train with Less Ammo?

— Jason MosherCADRE Dispatch

The cost of ammo changes drastically depending on a multitude of factors. This makes training expensive because modern-day guns eat up ammo like a kid at a candy store.

I remember the days when I would blast through entire mags, just for fun. Now I cringe every time I pull the trigger on a firearm. My internal calculator won’t stop adding up how much it’s costing me to shoot.

Recently, 5.56 ammo has been hitting the 50-cent mark and above in my part of the country. That means one AR mag costs me $15 to shoot. Shooting is fun, but that’s too expensive for me in today’s economy.

We don’t want the price of ammo to hinder our training though. This led me to a search for low-ammo training drills with minimal ammo usage.

Chambering a Glock 49 during failure drills.
Running failure drills are a great way to create muscle memory and get the gun back up and running. [Photo: Jason Mosher]

For the most part, you can take just about any drill and cut down the amount of ammo it calls for. However, some drills were designed for a specific ammo count, which makes reducing it a little hard. I have multiple books full of range drills and every class I’ve ever attended introduces me to some new ones.

Range drills are any type of event designed to improve a shooter’s skill. The nice thing is this doesn’t mean you have to shoot thousands of rounds to get better at some skills.

So, here are some of my favorite shooting drills for when I’m attempting to keep the ammo count to a minimum.

Dry Fire Exercises

Most people don’t think of dry-firing as a range drill, but you can learn a lot from dry-firing exercises. These can be done at the range or at home. Of course, you need to make sure the gun is unloaded and the chamber is empty before dry-firing a weapon.

People are often concerned about the damage dry firing will cause to their guns. You never want to dry-fire a rim-fire weapon as this will damage it, but most hammer and striker-fired weapons are safe to dryfire.

I was first introduced to the idea of dry-firing my Glock 17 in the police academy. We would sit around and dry fire for hours to gain muscle memory with the trigger. This could also be done with live ammo, but why waste it? By the time we hit the range for the first time, everyone was familiar with the trigger pull of their gun.

Dry Fire: Trigger Reset Drills

Getting used to the reset of the trigger helps with muscle memory so you can shoot faster. The trigger only needs to be let forward enough to reset and then it can be pulled again.

If you let your finger off of the trigger all the way, it takes longer for the next shot because the trigger needs to be pulled further. Letting your finger all the way off the trigger when shooting quickly can also cause accuracy problems. Ideally, your finger should stop the moment the trigger reset and be ready to pull it again.

If you have not done a trigger reset before, point the gun in a safe direction (after ensuring it’s unloaded) and aim at a target. Slowly pull the trigger until you hear the click but don’t let up on the trigger.

While holding the trigger to the rear of the gun, pull the slide back and release it. Now, slowly release the trigger until you hear a “click” which is the sound of the trigger resetting. This will work on most semi-auto handguns and rifles.  

Dry firing a handgun as part of training while saving on the costs of ammunition.
Incorporate dry firing into your regular training routine. [Photo: Jason Mosher]

Dry Fire: Trigger Pull

It’s weird to think that firing a gun with no ammo will improve your accuracy on the range. Dry firing allows you to focus on the trigger pull and front sight without any other distractions. Your body doesn’t anticipate the recoil because you know there is no “bang” coming.

With an unloaded gun pointed in a safe direction, pull the slide (on a handgun) or charging handle (AR-15). Make sure there is no magazine in the firearm when doing this. Pick a small object to aim at and slowly pull the trigger. Watch the front of your sight as you do this. When the trigger releases the firing pin you will hear a “click.”

Ideally, the front sight will not move at all when you hear this sound. If it does, something probably needs to be adjusted with your grip or finger positioning on the trigger. This drill will help you learn to move the trigger without moving the rest of the gun in the process.

Mag-Change Drill

This drill works great with any semi-auto firearm with removable magazines. Only two mags are needed but you can use more if desired. Each cycle of this drill uses two rounds, making it extremely cost-effective. A shot timer is recommended but not needed with this drill.

To prep for this mag-change drill, you will need one magazine holder for your rifle or handgun. For concealed carry, place a spare magazine wherever you would carry it daily. This could be a front pocket, IWB mag holder, back pocket, etc. The same goes for your holster as well. I like to use both my Safariland duty holster and Species IWB holster for this drill.

Load one round into the first magazine and multiple rounds into the second (depending on how many times you want to run the drill). If you have a shot timer, attach it to your belt loop so you can use it hands-free.

Mag change drill on the range.
Competitive shooter Mark Smith changes magazines while on the move to increase his overall time. [Photo: Jason Mosher]

Place the first magazine into the gun and chamber it. The magazine in the gun will now be empty and will stay that way for the rest of the drill. Place the second magazine in your mag holder and set the shot-timer.

When you’re ready, fire one round at your desired target. The slide (or bolt on a rifle) will lock back indicating the gun is empty.

Change the mag with your second one and fire one round. This completes the drill, and you can check your shot-timer to see how long it took you.

Take the second mag back out of the gun and place it back in the mag pouch. Put the empty mag back in the rifle and restart the drill. Try to get a little faster with each drill.

Failure Drills

We hope our guns will always fire as they should, but magazines, ammo, carbon, and other things will inevitably cause issues at some point. A failure drill, sometimes called an “immediate action drill,” is any type of drill that purposely causes the gun to malfunction.

Have you ever been shooting when something goes wrong, and it takes you a minute to figure out why the gun stopped firing? In a self-defense situation, there is no time to “figure” out what’s wrong. You must react, and that’s why it’s a good idea to incorporate failure drills into your training.

AR-15 Failure Drill

With an AR-15, the simplest way to train for a failure is to have a friend stand beside you and hold a small wood block over the ejection port. This will cause a round to stay in the chamber while the gun tries to cycle the second round.

To clear it, you must place the safety on, remove the magazine, and rack the bolt to clear the chamber. You then replace the mag, rack a new round into the chamber, and continue.

If you want to improve your time, fire one shot (malfunction), clear the chamber, reload, and fire a second shot after. Time it and try to improve your speed each time.

Glock (or semi-auto) Failure Drill

There are several ways to do failure drills with a handgun, but my favorite is to use a dummy round made for this. LiveFire Tactical Training LLC makes a “Type 3 Malfunction Round” that is perfect for this drill.

LiveFire malfunction rounds for use in shooting drills
LiveFire Type 3 Malfunction rounds can be added with live ammunition to create malfunction during training. [Photo: Jason Mosher]

You simply load your magazine and insert a Type 3 round between two live rounds. For the most cost-effective method, load two live rounds, then a Type 3 round, and one more live round.

When you fire the gun, it will malfunction, and you will need to clear it before firing at your target again. Again, time yourself to get an idea of how long it takes.

This is a good time to practice the “slap, rack, bang” method.

Rifle-to-Handgun Transition Drill

It’s always fun to do transition drills and these are easy to do with any amount of ammo. Because 9mm is much cheaper I shoot more of that and less 5.56.

If you have a rifle and handgun available, a rifle should always be your first choice of weapon. Load two rounds in two different AR mags and five rounds in your handgun magazine.

Set up a starting position, a cover area about midway to your target, and at least one target. You can choose the distance for each location. A B-27 target works great if you only want to use one target.

Transition drills on the range.
Transition drills can be done without shooting very much ammo. They’re also fun. [Photo: Jason Mosher]

From your starting point, fire two rounds at the head area of the target. When the AR locks open, transition to your handgun and fire the five rounds at the body center while moving toward cover. When you reach cover, holster your handgun, load your second mag into the rifle, and fire the last two at the head area again.

This drill causes you to work on accuracy, speed, transitions, and mag changes with a total of four rounds of 5.56 and five rounds of 9mm. Again, use a shot timer to get an average time so you can work on improving it each time.

Ready to run some low-ammo Range drills?

Many more range drills are just as fun to shoot and don’t use very much ammo. I like to find ones that incorporate as many skills as possible.

Find some range drills and modify them to meet your needs. Nothing is set in stone, and you can change up any drill to make it fun and focus on improving your skills. Don’t skip the range because the ammo is high — adapt and overcome.

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