Effective pistol training alternatives.

A buzz has erupted in the training community about the impact that comes with the recent passage of Initiative 594. Some local training programs have simply been cancelled. Others just don’t know what the impact will be and are consulting with attorneys. As I announced on my home page, I am proceeding with caution and will no longer loan firearms in my classes after 594 takes effect to avoid the background check for every transfer nightmare. My belief is, with time, there will be prosecutorial guidance and/or an update to the legislation relieving this burden. For now, if I cannot loan a lower caliber gun to a student as a training tool to start out with, what can I do to help them out? This is a good time for me to expand on a training method that I have been working with for several years: Airsoft.

Stay with me and let me explain. I am NOT talking about the cheap plastic spring operated “toy” Airsoft guns you see at local retailers. What I am writing about are the 1:1 replicas of actual firearms. The Airsoft I use for training are gas operated full metal guns with removable magazines, working slides (blowback), and functioning operational controls such as safeties, decocking levers, and realistic take down procedures. Many models on the market are licensed reproductions of their bullet firing inspirations. For the remainder of this post, when I use the term Airsoft I am talking about this level of Airsoft pistol for training, not the toys for gaming.

My Airsoft guns fire a plastic BB, powered by compressed gas. Semi-automatic and revolver models are available. The BBs are loaded into the magazine of a semi-auto that also holds the compressed gas. BBs in a revolver model are loaded into casings and inserted into the cylinder and the compressed gas is stored in the handle under the grips of the gun. The result is a realistic replica gun that also fires a projectile to the target. While not technically a gun under the law, it offers a great training opportunity because of the realistic feel and function. Given the fact you are shooting a projectile; you need to practice proper gun safety when using Airsoft just like you would with a bullet firing gun.

At the most basic level, the fundamentals of pistol shooting are stance, grip, sights, and trigger control. You can practice all of these principles effectively with Airsoft. Because of the realistic feel and operation of the Airsoft gun the only thing missing is the sound report and recoil involved with firing real bullets. As far as training goes, especially for a new shooter with first shot anxiety, being without the loud bang and recoil is not necessarily a bad thing. The gun handling characteristics, of inserting/removing magazines, working the slide, etc. are the same as a real gun but with greatly reduced spring pressure making the process much easier. That has also been a great training device for beginning shooters that will translate directly to using their actual firearm. Am I sure it can be effective? Yes, as proven by Tatsuya Sakai who won a national pistol speed shooting competition several years ago. Sakai is from Japan and had only fired Airsoft guns. He worked for about a month in the U.S. learning about recoil management and won the Steel Challenge event.

Hopefully, you can see the direct translation of focused Airsoft training to your shooting skills. If you can see that benefit, let me throw a couple more at you: cost and available training locations. Cost is always a factor. These days, 9mm training ammunition runs about $16 for a box of 50 rounds. I recently bought a bag of 5,000 Airsoft BBs for $8. Yes, that is half the price for 100 times more. You still need gas and that is not as easy to quantify in a concise post, but it should be obvious that you can shoot your Airsoft for a fraction of the cost of conventional ammunition. What about training location? With Airsoft you don’t need a traditional firing range. I have incorporated Airsoft shooting into the classroom portion of my pistol courses. I have also used Airsoft for private instruction. It is great for building repetitions of drawing from a holster and other defensive considerations. I have also used Airsoft in Law Enforcement training circles for force on force scenario based training exercises or to practice in advance complex live fire range drills. It is safe to practice Airsoft indoors and with the proper target configuration the BBs remain contained. Remember eye protection is always recommended.

Like so many things in life, you will get out of training what you put into it. Training with Airsoft can be serious and effective pistol training, but only if you have the proper mindset. You have to make it gun training, NOT toy gun training. Making your session serious and realistic is up to you.

NOTE: This post in no way is intended to prove Airsoft is the end-all beat-all training cure. There are other methods like laser training, or sub-caliber training, dry fire, simunitions, etc. Airsoft and all the others are useful training tools but you never have only one tool in your tool box.

Train for real. There are no lucky shots.

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  1. Phil Arbeit says:

    Excellent overview of this seemingly optimal training tool. How have your students reacted to their use in training? Even the LE students? Other than lack of recoil and report, any other “negatives” show up during training? Great post.

    • Karl says:

      For beginning students the Airsoft has been perfect for working through “first shot anxiety”. They can work through grip, sight picture, etc without the worry of the sound and recoil. It has been very effective. In the LE community, I favor Airsoft because of two things: cost effectiveness and less protective gear. Everybody likes a lower price point (even the Government). The key to scenario based training is realism. With Airsoft, you need less protective gear than you require with Simunitions so I think you can build a more realistic environment that adds to the realism. For personal training I have developed a target system that captures all the BBs. Those things were everywhere before, so that was an advance for training in your living room or garage. I am also working on a new laser training system, so stay tuned. I will be posting about that when it comes online. Thanks for checking in!

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