Rimfire Rifles And Dry Firing: Safe Or Not?

Certain topics cause opposing sides to dig in their heels and become entrenched in their beliefs. Dry firing seems to be one of those sensitive topics. Where do you stand on it? Let’s take a look and see if we can uncover some concrete information to prove or disprove whether or not dry firing harms a rimfire rifle.

What is dry firing?

Dry firing refers to cocking the mechanism of a firearm and pulling the trigger, “firing” the gun without a live round in the chamber. You get a click instead of a bang.

People often do this to get a feel for the trigger before they purchase a firearm. I’ve been in gun shops where I’ve asked to dry fire a prospective purchase and the salesperson looked at me as though I’d just splashed him in the face with sizzling hot bacon grease, such was the level of his feeling offended.

Other times, the reply is, “Sure, go ahead.”

Even growing up, people who were “in the know” would occasionally admonish me to never, ever dry fire a gun. My dad was one of those people. The folklore goes that we will damage the firing pin if there’s nothing in the chamber to absorb its impact.

On the other hand, there are people who practice dry firing to hone their trigger skills regularly.

Research

In case you’re not confused yet, let me help you. In researching this article, authorities seem to be divided evenly on whether or not it’s okay to dry-fire rimfire rifles. If you check ten different sources, you’ll get 11 answers. Some say it shouldn’t cause damage in most rimfires. Others say that anyone who would remotely consider dry firing a rimfire is, at a minimum, the second cousin to the Anti-Christ.

It’s literally impossible to find any 100% conclusive opinions either way on the matter.

Rimfire Cartridges

Rimfire cartridges differ from centerfire cartridges, in that a centerfire cartridge has the primer in the center, where the firing pin strikes it.

 bottom view .22 LR and 9mm rounds showing the comparison between rimfire and centerfire primers
To the left is a .22 Long Rifle rimfire round. On the right is a 9mm centerfire round.

When rimfire cartridges are made, a tiny bit of powder is dropped into the rim around the cartridge’s head. The cartridges are then spun in a centrifuge at the factory. That powder is deposited all around the hollow space at the round’s head so that when a firing pin strikes it, anywhere on that rim, it detonates.

Some Rationale

From what I’m able to gather, firing pins are made of hardened steel. This is great for hitting objects, especially objects that are not as hard as the firing pin that is striking them (such as the brass case of a rimfire cartridge). However, the steel’s ability to stretch is not one of its noted attributes.

One concern that people raise is that the firing pin will be deformed when it impacts the breech face. Or conversely, the firing pin will begin to dent or dimple the breech face.

Breech of Colt Huntsman.
The chamber area, showing the breech face of a .22 rimfire. The breech face is the metal area around the chamber. In this case, it’s a Colt Huntsman pistol.

The firing pin is a smaller, more delicate piece of metal when compared to the larger chunk of metal that comprises the breech face.

In center-fire firearms, this wouldn’t be a concern because the firing pin would hit the empty space in the center of the chamber. However, in some rimfires, maybe the firing pin is long enough to hit the breech face in the absence of a round being there. And that act of hitting the breech face will break the firing pin.

It seems that many people believe the firing pin of every rimfire out there will hit the breech face and break. That seems to be a gross oversimplification of the matter.

Direction From Companies

A few companies have put out information about dry firing their rimfire firearms.

  • Smith & Wesson states that dry firing can damage rimfires.
  • Henry Repeating Arms says that dry firing is not harmful.
  • Ruger’s position is that dry firing their 10/22 will not damage the rifles. They also note that their LCP II and MK IV can be dry-fired in their manual.
Ruger 10/22.
Ruger states that it’s fine to dry fire the 10/22 rifle.

Obviously, not every single firearm’s firing pin will impact the breech face. So the urban legend that all rimfires will be damaged by dry firing obviously does not hold water.

Ruger MK IV 22/45.
Ruger’s MK IV 22/45 and other MK IV series can be safely dry-fired, according to Ruger.

If the firing pin on your particular rimfire does happen to be striking the breech face, that pin will likely break, or at least peen. A peened firing pin will flatten out and eventually will not fire rounds. It will be like a flattened-out nail.

Modern Materials

The materials used in modern firearms are, in many cases, superior to those used in years past. This is probably why some manufacturers have deemed dry firing to be a safe practice. Plus, those particular firing pins won’t be hitting the breech face, or those manufacturers wouldn’t give their blessing to dry fire.

Better materials and designs allow us to get better use and longevity out of modern firearms. Older firearms, with their often inferior firing pins, can be the subject of damage sometimes.

A good first step for those wondering whether or not dry firing is good for the firearm(s) in question, consult the user’s manual. Often, the answer lies therein.

If an answer is not found in the manual, why not give the company a call? Someone there might be able to provide an answer. Or, some companies have a “Chat” feature on their website, so consumers can chat live with a customer service rep.

Semi-Autos

There are a number of semi-auto .22s on the market that have no hold-open device after the last round is fired. Because of this, the signal to the shooter that the ammunition is expended is a “click.” Yes, the shooter dry-fires the rifle every time the ammo is expended. The Ruger 10/22 is one such rifle with no hold-open device.

Alternatives

If you’re still not able to come up with a concrete answer, there are alternatives. You can chamber a spent cartridge for dry fire. That will give the firing pin the normal medium to strike as it falls.

.22 snap cap.
Snap Caps are a great way to practice dry firing for any firearms. This one is a .22 Snap Cap. 

Another option are Snap Caps. They’re available from several companies, so there are choices out there. These are inert rounds that provide the firing pin something to land on when the gun is dry-fired. They’re typically not expensive and usually come in packs of five or six and they’ll last for thousands of dry fires.

Aside from dry firing, snap caps are useful for practicing stoppage drills as well as loading/unloading. These can be a real help for novices who are learning about firearms.

Conclusion

Personally, I don’t make a habit of dry firing any of my firearms on an empty chamber (whether rimfire or centerfire). Even if the manufacturer deems it to be safe. The bottom line is that it’s wear and tear, no matter what. And I guess having it drummed into my head for decades that it will completely destroy the gun might play a role in my reticence to dry fire, as well.

With that said, there are times to dry fire. Checking to ensure the weapon is unloaded or clearing the weapon, I’ll drop the hammer afterward. An occasional practice shot to reacquaint myself with the trigger pull is not out of the question.

If I plan on doing any sort of serious dry firing, I’ll simply dig out some fired cases, or better yet, some snap caps.

For the most part, from what I can gather, the fervor over dry firing is likely a bit blown out of proportion. With that said, why take any chances on a firearm that we’ve invested our hard-earned dollars in?

Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities. He is a dedicated Christian and attributes any skills that he has to the glory of God.

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