Training with Airsoft: Another Perspective

Shooting is an expensive venture. Whether you’re engaging in competition, practice, or fun; ammunition is expensive. Furthermore, not all of us have access to ranges that allow rapid fire, drawing from a holster, or the ability to work moving and shooting. Besides motivation, finances, and accessibility are the three greatest roadblocks for a shooter to improve their skills. Enter the benefits of airsoft.

For many, airsoft is seen as a bunch of kids running around shooting at each other while trying to recreate scenes from video games like “Battlefield” or “Call of Duty.” In reality, airsoft has advanced to a point where it’s a fantastic training tool for the whole spectrum of shooters – from novice to advanced.

Simunitions, a type of projectile fired from a modified cartridge with a paint marker, are cost-prohibitive and often require a specialized firearm or modification. 500 rounds of simunition 9mm pistol sell for around $350, while a bottle of 500 airsoft BB’s sells for around $10. As a result, airsoft is far more cost effective for the average shooter and less likely to cause serious injury. I’ve had sim rounds embed the projectile into clothing and even penetrate the fabric. This has not been my experience with airsoft projectiles.

Airsoft Types

For airsoft training applications, I use a licensed Glock 19X that I purchased around three years ago from a local airsoft dealer. Airsoft guns can be mechanical or spring-operated (requiring the shooter to cock the gun after each shot), electrical (battery-powered), and gas-powered (powered by CO2 cartridges or “green” gas, a form of propane with oil). The Glock 19X that I own runs on green gas and is slightly lighter than a real Glock. It utilizes magazines with a refillable gas cylinder and a 20-round capacity.

A Glock 17 MOS next to an airsoft Glock 19X. The airsoft gun is very close in feel to the Glock Model 44 in .22 LR

I consider the green gas Glock to be an excellent training tool because the slide cycles during shooting. The recoil impulse is similar to a .22 Long Rifle and gives the shooter felt recoil. At a minimum, the experience and action of shooting the airsoft pistol forces the shooter to re-acquire the sights for follow-up shots due to the slide’s movement and perceived recoil. An airsoft gun in this role falls into a similar category of using a .22 as a trainer for skill development – except significantly cheaper.

I also use a licensed Glock airsoft pistol because the controls, such as magazine release and slide lock, are the same as the Glock 17 that I carry daily both on and off duty. The slide even locks back on the last shot, giving the user immediate feedback that they need to reload their firearm. Glock is not the only licensed firearm available that simulates a real pistol. There are licensed products for Heckler & Koch, Smith & Wesson, Walther, and many others that have a similar feel, some felt recoil, and consistent controls compared to their actual firearm counterparts.

Licensed airsoft pistols are approved by the manufacturer of their real counterparts. This Glock 19X locks back when empty and the controls are set up the same as a real Glock.

Rifle setups have similar benefits. I have a battery-powered AR-15 with similar controls and setup to an actual AR-15. I acquired an inexpensive red dot to use on the rifle to simulate previous setups I had on my old patrol rifle that was equipped with a micro red dot. This setup was functional but had some differences from the real deal – mainly in the realm of capacity. Most airsoft rifle magazines have capacities that far exceed their real-life counterparts – in the realm of 100 or more rounds per magazine. Nevertheless, the shooter can control how much ammunition is placed into the weapon to simulate similar capacity experience on their own firearms.

While slightly lighter, this electric-powered airsoft rifle has served well in its role as an analog for my normal patrol rifle.

Airsoft is a Long-Term Investment

I discussed the cost of using simunitions earlier and how airsoft compares in price. In the long run, airsoft is cheaper to shoot regularly as it only requires replenishment of BBs and gas/electricity. I recommend staying away from mechanical airsoft guns that require constant re-cocking of the gun as it doesn’t closely simulate the real experience of shooting a firearm and can develop undesirable habits.

A can of green gas and around 1,000 BBs will cost the user around $30 or less while supplying the shooter with enough gas to discharge close to, or all, of the BBs in that container. This diminished cost helps cover the upfront cost of purchasing a quality licensed airsoft pistol or rifle. For instance, my airsoft Glock 19X cost around $180 when purchased and the rifle was around $300. I purchased additional magazines and batteries for the rifle while I obtained an additional magazine for the pistol. Overall, I was up and running with a complete setup for less than $600. When considering this would barely cover the cost of 1,000 rounds of .223 at many retail locations, this was an excellent investment when integrating it into your training regimen. Over the course of time, the more this equipment is used, the more the cost-benefit is felt.

Training with Airsoft

The best part about spending the money to purchase a licensed airsoft product is how it can be used with your current gear. The airsoft Glock magazines work in my Glock magazine carriers and the firearm’s rail system allows me to use the same weapon lights I use on my duty firearm. When equipped with my Surefire X300 Ultra, the airsoft Glock 19X works properly in my Safariland ALS duty holster. The retention, draw, etc are exactly the same as the real deal.

Yet another benefit of purchasing licensed airsoft products. This airsoft Glock 19X works with retention in this Safariland ALS holster. I’ve had no issues with this airsoft gun being used in any of my other Glock holsters. The same is true for the magazine carriers.

My AR setup is much the same. The magazines work in my plate carrier no differently than standard AR mags. This ability to cross-train with a non-lethal setup eliminates the need for me to go to the range to conduct drills while adding the capability for me to train around my home, vehicle, and in different locations where shooting a real firearm would generate an undesirable police response or unnecessary safety hazard.

Airsoft has its limitations as BBs are not going to provide long-distance accuracy like a real firearm. Thus, I recommend keeping airsoft training at distances inside 50 feet. In reality, this distance and closer is where most defensive engagements occur for law enforcement and the average citizen.

Nothing fancy or special to see here. A stack of cardboard or a blanket easily stops BBs from going to places where you’d prefer they not go.

Practice with airsoft can be done indoors with consideration for the cleanup involved. If I’m using a dedicated target, I set up a box and fill it with paper or cardboard to stop the pellets. A blanket can also suffice as a backdrop and will help collect pellets. This makeshift range in your home allows the shooter to practice magazine changes, draw, target transitions, etc with consideration to budget and convenience.

Airsoft is a safer alternative to simunitions and is less likely to cause injury to any person shot by it. Regardless, there is a danger to using airsoft for training, and eye protection is mandatory. The adage of “you’ll shoot your eye out kid” is in full effect.

Arguably, the greatest benefit of airsoft is its application in force-on-force training. Many reputable firearms instructors use airsoft because it is inexpensive but still offers the reinforcement of “that hurt, I don’t want that to happen again” when shot by a BB. I’ve engaged in this training and the drills were fun as well as educational. The options for this application really are endless. From the civilian end of things, airsoft allows you to practice in a wide variety of scenarios such as carjacking or home invasions. For law enforcement, active killer and ambush response are the tip of the iceberg for training opportunities.

If you purchase quality and reputable airsoft equipment, you will enjoy the benefits of these training tools for years. You may even find yourself running around in a tournament with friends as I have before. While incredibly fun, it was eye-opening to be engaged in an experience where someone was shooting back at you and you had to address an active, mobile, and human threat. Ultimately, modern-day airsoft guns open doors to training that most people don’t have the money or accessibility to commit to.

Tom Stilson began his firearms career in 2012 working a gun store counter. He progressed to conducting appraisals for fine and collectible firearms before working as the firearms compliance merchant for a major outdoor retailer. In 2015, he entered public service and began his law enforcement career. Tom has a range of experience working for big and small as well as urban and rural agencies. Among his qualifications, Tom is certified as a firearms instructor, field trainer, and in special weapons and tactics. If not on his backyard range, he spends his time with family or spreading his passion for firearms and law enforcement.

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