Training With Airsoft Guns: This Is Why You Should

When airsoft guns first came out, they were passed off as a toy gun that shot plastic BBs. Parents bought them for kids not yet old enough to shoot a real BB gun so kids wouldn’t break windows and cause as much mischief. I remember the first time I picked up one of these toy guns too. The light plastic gun felt so cheap I instantly blew it off as a waste of money. I racked the slide which had no pressure at all and shot a plastic BB at the wall. It didn’t appear to have much force because the spring was weak, and the BB had no weight to it.

Airsoft AR-15.
Some airsoft guns are identical to the guns we use and train with every day. [Photo: Jason Mosher]
It was starting to be marketed as an alternative to paintball guns, but I was skeptical. I even remember commenting on how I didn’t think someone would even feel the little plastic BB when it hit them as I pointed it at my left hand and pulled the trigger. Turns out they shot a little harder than I thought. The plastic BB from the single-shot airsoft gun left a red welt on my hand that stayed there for a couple of days.

That was in the early 2000s and like other products, they have advanced a lot since that day. They advanced so much, in fact, that we used them in the police academy when training how to clear rooms. By then, gas-powered airsoft guns were all the rage. Next would be electric, followed by full-blown metal replicas of every popular gun on the market. This includes pistols, rifles, and everything in between. But what else are they good for?

Gun Handling and Familiarity

There are a lot of benefits to having some good airsoft guns as part of your training gear. Because of their advancements, they have remained a popular choice for recreational fun, but they provide a unique training benefit for new and advanced shooters at a surprisingly low cost. One of these benefits is gun handling and becoming familiar with a new weapon or holster system.

For a reasonable price, you can purchase your favorite handgun that is identical to the real thing. This provides a unique opportunity for new shooters to become familiar with holstering and drawing the firearm, and even the function of the gun. Many of the officially licensed airsoft guns from companies like Glock have functioning parts on them. The mag release, slide release, and even take-down procedures are all identical to the real gun. I use airsoft guns in CCW classes and other training events with citizens to demonstrate techniques and safe handling procedures.

Airsoft AR-15 with magazine.
This airsoft AR-15 has a removable magazine and functions just like the real one. [Photo: Jason Mosher]
Plastic versions are the cheapest, but you can even buy green gas or Co2-powered guns that have metal functioning slides. The Co2 powered pistols house the Co2 canister and the BBs making them perfect for adding mag changes to the training. Some models are even close in weight to the real version. New shooters can learn safety procedures without putting anyone in danger. They also work great for learning how to grip the gun when shooting and for learning trigger control.

Advanced Training With Airsoft

Besides their benefits for new shooters, advanced shooters can also use airsoft guns for training. One of the first SWAT classes I went to used airsoft guns for training as an addition to simulation rounds. Simulation rounds hurt much worse than airsoft guns, and they are also expensive. Airsoft guns allowed us to conduct large-scale training with a lot of people. Instead of a few training scenarios, we could train repeatedly without the high cost.

training firearms
Airsoft handguns and rifles allow the shooter to train with the same platform they carry every day. [Photo: Jason Mosher]
This was great when it came to learning new search techniques that involved multiple people and engaging the shooter. During firearms qualifications, most agencies have the officers perform an up-close drill with the target. This involves slapping the target as you back away, drawing your weapon, and firing. This drill is to simulate someone reaching for your weapon or drawing a weapon up close.

With an airsoft gun, you can practice this drill with another person and fire your weapon. Nothing will ever replace real firearms training on the range, and it should not be skipped. But having the ability to perform a drill with someone who can shoot or fight back is beneficial. It allows a real scenario to be played out including firing and reloading your gun. Want to get in some good training on a rainy day? Have your buddy come over and run through some drills in the garage. This can be fun and inexpensive.

Active Shooter Training

Each year, my agency conducts an active shooter event in each school throughout the county. Back in the day, this meant taking your firearm to the training instructors and having it cleared and made safe. They would run safety tape though the receiver of the rifle or handgun to show it had been cleared and was empty. We would then clear the school with empty guns and the event would end when we found the shooter.

Once we switched to airsoft guns, the training became much more realistic. The deputies were able to carry Glocks and AR-15s that functioned just like their real guns. They would search for the shooter (who would shoot back) and the training event would not end until the bad guy surrendered or got hit. We involved the teachers in these drills so they could practice their lockdown procedures during the event.

Training with airsoft guns.
The use of airsoft guns allows real-life training scenarios to take place. [Photo: Jason Mosher]
As I mentioned above, airsoft guns are not nearly as painful as simulation rounds, but they shoot just hard enough that you want to avoid getting hit. This works great for close-quarter training like in houses and buildings. Of course, anytime you train with airsoft guns, several safety checks should still be conducted to ensure no one has a real weapon on them by mistake. Safety glasses are a must as well. Several of our guys were hit in the arms, neck, face, and head with the 6mm plastic BBs that left large welts on them.

Safety Reminder

If you like to shoot and run through drills at the range, you will like training with airsoft guns as well. One advantage, even over paintball guns, is that you can carry the same weapons you train with on the range. If you want to have a fun day of war games with your buddies in the woods, airsoft guns are a blast. Use your real holster and gear, just replace your gun and mags with airsoft versions.

Airsoft guns come with an orange tip, and I would encourage you to leave them there for safety reasons. Because airsoft guns are so realistic looking, they can be confused with real guns. This is not just an issue for law enforcement, but also for training purposes. You don’t want people getting confused about which gun they are carrying. If airsoft guns are involved, all real firearms, ammo, and magazines should be removed and secured somewhere else.

If you are training with someone else, use the buddy system of double-checking each other’s gear to ensure that only airsoft guns are involved. Eye protection should also always be worn because these things shoot hard enough to damage an eye if hit by one.

Ready to change up training?

Airsoft guns can be a great way to safely train while keeping the function and feel of a real firearm. You can attach a tac-light, red dot, scope, or any other item to improve your familiarity with the gun or gear on the gun. It’s fun to shoot ammo at the range, but we often overlook other areas of training that are harder to perform with live ammo.

Adding airsoft training to the mix will open up a new window of opportunities at little cost. They also work great as an introduction to firearms, safety, and weapons handling for kids at the range. Training should be well rounded and adding airsoft is another layer that can provide some insight you won’t receive at the range.

Sheriff Jason Mosher is a law enforcement generalist instructor as well as a firearms and tactical weapons trainer. Jason graduated from the FBI-LEEDA (Law Enforcement Executive Development Association) and serves as a Sheriff for his day job. When he’s not working, he’s on the range, eating steak, or watching Yellowstone.

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