Dummies Steal Dummy Rounds, Smart Shooters Use Them

by Hubert Townsend

Technically, a bullet is the projectile that comes out the front of the firearm. The cartridge is the whole banana and consists of the primer on the bottom of the brass case which holds the powder inside and the bullet on top. A dummy round (cartridge) doesn’t have any powder or primer, absolutely nothing to propel the bullet anywhere. The government issued dummy rounds that I received to train troops on their 9mm pistols even had holes drilled into the sides of the cases so it was obvious that these were an inert system. Yet, despite my dummies being placed in a clear plastic container labeled in English “dummy ammo” some TSA hoonyat decided they were a threat to air travel in my well marked Army luggage. But that situation is another rant.

Dummy rounds have a great use in marksmanship instruction. They are used to load, unload and perform immediate action drills. If someone “gets stupid” while learning these unfamiliar motor skills, well, it is a dummy round in the firearm, a cheap lesson learned without endangering anyone.

These skills are normally learned very quickly and it is with actual live fire that dummy rounds have their most important usage. Even better than dummy rounds are commercially available snap caps. They are like dummy rounds except that the primer end will offer resistance to the firing pin when dry firing, which is easier on the guns mechanism and prevents the low possibility of firing pin breakage.

While practicing at Stuckenhoff range I have recently seen a lot of hunters sighting in their rifles. My old coach’s eye naturally goes to their trigger finger and watches its action during firing. If I see their finger bounce off the trigger during recoil, instead of keeping the trigger to the rear for a second or two ( termed “followthrough”), then I know that they have slightly jerked and thereby opened up their group.

This slight jerk is due to our inborn startle reflex. We don’t like loud bangs in front of our faces, so we naturally avoid that slight surprise psychological shock by giving the trigger a mild yank.

One fellow had fired an entire box magnum cartridges ($25) and was complaining of his rifle unable to consistently group at 100yds and even miss completely. I asked to shoot two of his remaining ten rounds. Seeing those two shots were less than an inch apart he agreed that perhaps it might not be the rifle.

But how could it be the shooter and not the gun? After all, he had a very steady position shooting off a bench rest. To prove to him that he was subconsciously jerking the trigger I did the good ole’ ball-and-dummy drill. I had the fellow close his eyes and, not having a 7mm magnum dummy round or snap cap, I loaded the rifle’s chamber with an empty 7mm case instead and told him to really watch the cross hairs and tell me exactly where they were when the gun went bang.

At the sound of the ferocious “click” any bystander could see the front of the barrel perceptibly move, which, when shot at 100 yards would move the impact of a bullet considerably. He now knew the true source of the gun’s problem. After that it was just a matter of continuing the drill, him never knowing if he was about to shoot a live round or a dummy, until he achieved a good followthrough and, not surprisingly, a small group downrange.

Using dummy rounds or empty cases is a good and cheap way to determine if one is pulling the trigger properly and following through. If the shooter sees the sights still aligned and somewhere on the target, or the crosshairs of the scope still within its previous wobble area after he hears the “click” then he knows that he has achieved proper trigger control. If, after doing the dummy drills interspersed with occasional live rounds one finds that the shooter is still flinching it is time to go back to an air rifle or .22 and try to unlearn that bad, ingrained habit.

It helps to use double ear protection – securely inserted foam ear plugs along with ear muffs to lessen the sounds impact on our startle reflex. The flincher needs to overcome the desire to jerk the trigger or else s/he will forever be frustrated with the shooting results. If you can’t do it with a low recoiling .22, how will you ever do it with a much larger caliber rifle?

So, if you are having problems zeroing in that hunting rifle and you don’t know if the problem is you or the gun, then either do a ball and dummy drill to verify your fundamentals or else ask a good shooter to give it a go. The $$$ and frustration you save will be your own. Good shooting and happy hunting.