Sure, the headline was a little clickbaity, but I thought it was funny. Regular dry practice with your rifles and pistols is an important component to keeping up your skills. Done right, it dramatically cuts back on the amount of range time and ammo you need to spend while also greasing the groove of your fundamentals.
But one of the quirks of getting into rimfire rifles is that dry firing becomes a bit of a challenge. Most people who’ve been around firearms for long enough probably heard that dry firing a rimfire weapon will damage it. Therefore, you shouldn’t dry fire, right?
The truth is a bit more complicated and depends on a lot of factors. While doing all my searching I came across this one “weird old trick” for safely dry firing any rimfire weapon.
Why Can’t You Dry Fire a Rimfire?
It has to do with the arrangement of the firing pin. With centerfire rifles such as the AR-15, M1/M14, and just about any rifle with serious power behind it, the primer of the cartridge sits in the center of the case head. The firing pin within the bolt strikes the primer and starts the ignition sequence.
With centerfire, if the cartridge is not present then the firing pin impacts nothing. Generally, this means it’s safe to dry fire just about any modern center fire weapon without any problem. Of course, there might be exceptions here and there, so check the manual.
But with rimfire it’s a slightly different arrangement.
The priming compound inside of a hollow channel around the perimeter of the case head. Manufacturers get it there by dropping some priming compound in the case and spinning it at high velocity. The centrifugal force then squishes the primer into the hollow cavity in the rim.
Of course, that means the firing pin must strike the edge of the case in order to ignite the charge. So…rimfire..duh. But that also means that if the cartridge is not in the chamber, then the firing pin will hit the breech face of the chamber.
Without the soft brass case to serve as a cushion, there’s a good chance that either the firing pin or breechface will get damaged over time. While some modern rimfire pistols or rifles have some features explicitly preventing this from happening, not all of them do.
My Tikka T1x manual, for example, suggests against dry firing due to potential damage.
So what are we supposed to do about it?
Rimfire Snap Caps…Or Not
Of course, the answer most of us jump to for dry practice when we need something in the chamber is snap caps. I use them for 9mm, 5.56, and 308 practice all of the time. So when I realized that I needed to stick something in the chamber in order to have a good practice session, I set off to find some rimfire snap caps.
I found plenty of dummy 22LR cartridges on the market, but they all had the same kind of warning on them.
“Not for dry fire use.”
Then I found several purpose-built 22LR snap caps for dry practice, but they were only good for a handful of shots before the rim was too badly chewed up. Unlike my centerfire snap caps, which are typically good for hundreds of shots, the rimfire versions are only good for a few. And at $12 for a box of 12, it’s not very cost-effective.
So then I came across the weird old trick…
Yep, that’s the trick. Drywall anchors. Specifically the 4-6-8 ⅞” variety.
These feed just fine from my T1x magazine, fit the chamber well, absorb the impact of the firing pin for several hits, and also extract and eject normally. And I can get a 100-pack of them for just a few dollars.
The particular ones I have are Hillman, but I’m sure just about any anchor of this size would do. Each one is good for around 6 or 7 impacts of the firing pin. However, make sure to rotate it between shots so that the pin isn’t hitting the same point over and over again. You can see from the third photo here that the rim does get chewed up in the process.
Is there another option besides cheesy-looking drywall anchors as a stand-in for 22LR? Yes, but you’re going to pay a lot more for it and it’s not going to do the job any better.
So there you go, a perfectly good way to get your dry practice (including dry fire) in at home with a rimfire rifle.
Sure, it’s a little less convenient than just picking up the rifle and practicing with nothing in the chamber, but there’s really not an excuse to get those reps in with position building and trigger control.
Of course, if you have a rimfire rifle explicitly designed to allow for dry fire, then this doesn’t really apply to you. Then again, it never hurts to have the extra safety margin.