Part one of a four-part series looking at ways to minimize cost (both time and money) to not only maintain skills, but further proficiency in certain technical and even fundamental skill sets.
Training Efficiency Part 3 of 4:
Though dry fire is an incredibly efficient training method, it still has limits. I hesitate to call these limits disadvantages because some (no recoil, for example) helps us identify and strengthen deficiencies as discussed in the previous article. But occasionally we need to add layers to our more efficient training methods in order to address other pieces of the “complete shooter” puzzle. So the question is: how do we get impacts on target, sight picture disturbance, and execute standards without going to a range and using live ammunition? Some of you reading this aren’t going to like the answer as the über-tactical types have been conditioned to abhor and mock it unmercifully while many LEO agencies, competitive shooters and others have been reaping the benefits for years. The answer is airsoft.
I can already hear the “airsoft is barely a step above using video games for training”, arguments, the “yeah it has some recoil but it doesn’t generate enough recoil” retort, and the most formidable “but airsoft is gay” claims. All of these are valid arguments, and if you follow me through this article, each will be addressed to your complete satisfaction. Those who make the aforementioned arguments are unfortunately missing out on the numerous benefits of training with airsoft, namely: effects on target, force on force capabilities, fun, all for less time and money than would otherwise be possible.
First I would like to address the benefits of having effects on target. The obvious benefit is the same as we have during live fire: indication through sight and sound of proper or improper execution of shooting techniques. Consistent hits on target (usually) indicate the proper execution of technique, while a lack of consistent hits indicates otherwise. Of
ten during a formal course there are a number of drills or standards with certain time and accuracy criteria that represent an array of competencies. While dry fire allows us to focus on and solidify the mechanical aspects of standards, it lacks the accuracy piece. Further examination and refinement of our execution of the standards is required through analysis of rounds on target. Similar to live fire, airsoft gives us the benefits of sending rounds down range, and similar to dry fire, we can practice from the comfort of our own home.
Since this is a discussion about training efficiency, I feel monetary costs should be discussed before going any further. Gas blowback airsoft pistols (gas powered, recoiling airsoft guns) range from $80 - $190 depending on manufacturer and features. An entire series of articles could be written on the differences between the available platforms but there are other, more educated people, on the subject than myself so I would refer you to them. Suffice it to say, any GBB (CO2 or green gas) pistol costing in the neighborhood of $100 should meet your needs. I purchased a Glock 34 replica, 3,000 BBs and enough green gas to fire them all for about $150 shipped to my door.
Since a Glock 34 is a 9mm pistol, the appropriate monetary cost comparison would be with that of 9mm ammunition plus range fees. I can usually find bulk 115gr FMJs for about $210 per 1,000 rounds, so that brings me to $630 before tax or shipping for ammo. I’d say 100-150 rounds is a typical range session, so that would be about 20 trips to the range for a total of $100 (for me anyway) in range fees. Not including the other peripheral expenses (gasoline, targets, ear pro, etc.) you are about $730 invested into 3,000 rounds, and that’s conservative. Once you have an airsoft gun, green gas and bb’s are a minimal expense compared to live ammunition. I agree, however, that you can’t make a direct cost comparison to airsoft. One round of airsoft does not equal one round of live ammo, and it can’t ever completely replace live training, but many would argue that it does equal a considerable portion. How much of a portion is up for debate (I would be very interested to hear your opinion), but I would say that a 2:3 ratios are not beyond reason, and if so, would account for considerable savings.
Now that is only a comparison to live ammunition giving no consideration to force on force munitions (i.e. Sim-munitions, UTM etc.). Each round costs anywhere from $0.50 to $1.00 and distribution is usually restricted to LEO/Mil agencies and accredited training companies, not to mention the conversion kits required to run training munitions. Taking reasonable precautions to protect fragile home stuffs and other occupants, you can practice force on force in your own home or other venue for a fraction of the cost of a class or unit training. This, assuming your significant other is either onboard or out of the house. I assume for most of you that the latter is more likely needed.
On to time savings. For most working professionals it would be difficult to manage a trip to and from the range once a week where you expend 100+ rounds of ammunition. For me, a person living in a semi-rural area of Utah, this would consist of at least 2 hours of commute and shooting time, more likely 3 hours. I have made the occasional half hour range session, which in total took me one full hour including commute, but that is rare. Most people, if investing the time and money for a range trip, will make it worth their effort, so I believe 2-3 hours of total time is a reasonable assumption. Now, how frequent are these range outings? I’d say probably once every two weeks to once a month is fairly typical for the committed shooter. For any sport, that isn’t a great deal of frequency, and I think we can all agree that it would be somewhat difficult to improve any skills with that rate of occurrence.
With an airsoft gun, I can go through 100 rounds in 20 minutes in my own home. I can shoot the same steel targets I bring to the range or make smaller scaled ones (see pictures) for a minimal cost. I can run the exact same pistol drills and test myself against the exact same standards I learned in a course or am held to in qualification. Practicing in this manner and with the frequency of 2 times a week can absolutely sharpen skills and make improvements on my next qualification.
Now to address the dissenting opinions. First, the “airsoft is barely a step above using video games for training”, argument. I would agree with that statement if you “play” airsoft or employ airsoft guns in gaming/unrealistic manner. Let’s review airsoft’s similarities to live fire: similar to exact same battery of arms, accurately fires a projectile, fits same holsters, mag pouches, and accessories. There are more, but I think you get the point. If you practice qualification stages, standards, or other well established drills, to include force on force with airsoft, then it would be difficult to argue a lack of training value.
The argument of airsoft not having enough recoil is, in my opinion, the most valid dissenting argument. I sincerely doubt that airsoft will ever be able to, or want to, efficiently replicate recoil comparable to live fire. Proper recoil management is essential to any shooting discipline. My Glock 34 airsoft pistol generates about ⅔ the recoil of a .22lr pistol. That’s not a lot, but it is some, and enough to disturb my sights. If I am not addressing my airsoft pistol properly, it does make a difference in my target re-acquisition. If it’s not enough for your taste, make your targets smaller to compensate. This will make target re-acquisition more difficult as well as expose recoil management deficiencies.
And finally, the
most formidable argument: “but airsoft is gay”. Grow up, check your ego, and make the most out of the resources you have. Airsoft is an effective training solution.