1. THEY’RE CHEAP PLASTIC TOYS. There are two broad categories of airsoft. Toys, and Training Pistols. You’ll find the toys in discount stores and some sporting goods stores. They’re usually clear plastic, lightweight, fragile, inexpensive, and inaccurate.
The training pistols, sometimes called Professional Training Pistols or PTPs. PTPs are the same size and weight as their real counterpart…to the degree that good PTPs will fit in the same leather or kydex holsters as your real firearms. The controls are the same. They break down the same way. They don’t have hoses coming out of them or any funky attachments sticking out.
The magazines hold both a small propane gas cylinder and plastic 6mm bbs. The propane gas cylinders propel the bb’s and throw the slide back to provide recoil. The trainer rifles have accessory rails that you can put your real optics on for training. Since most of the rifles have a 300-600 round per minute “full-auto” option, they use electricity from a lithium battery instead of gas to propel the bullet.
These training airsoft firearms look so real that if you brandished one in public, you should fully expect to get shot.
The solution to this “problem” is to get high quality, metal airsoft trainer replicas of one or more of the firearms you own.
2. LACK OF RECOIL. High end airsoft guns DO have recoil, but it does not compare to a real firearm. There is no doubt that this is an accurate criticism…but it’s also a GREAT benefit. One of the most common problems with handgun shooters is anticipating recoil. Basically, the brain decides that it knows how much the muzzle is going to rise after each shot and tries to compensate by pushing the muzzle down that much as you’re shooting. The problem is that the timing seldom works right and the end result is low, inaccurate groups.
When you do dry fire training with airsoft, you don’t have very much recoil and you train the brain to keep pointing the sights at your target all the way through your shot and reacquire them quickly after each shot. Since there’s so little recoil to push the muzzle off target, you know immediately that any deviation in aim is because of something you’re doing and you have the opportunity to quickly correct the problem.
This is especially helpful with new shooters or when teaching experienced shooters new techniques. By taking the feeling, sound, and shock wave of live rounds out of the equation, it allows the shooter to focus on their technique and not on the shock, euphoric feeling, or muscle fatigue that you get from firing live ammunition.
One of the problems that the lack of recoil DOES cause is that it messes with the cadence and rhythm that speed shooters have when practicing multiple shots in rapid succession. This IS valid, but doesn’t really apply to very many shooters. Most shooters would benefit greatly from thousands of repetitions of smoothly clearing their cover garment, acquiring a solid, consistent grip, presenting their firearm, QUICKLY acquiring their sights and smoothly squeezing off the first shot. And, even competition shooters can and do use airsoft to practice everything up to double taps.
While you can’t accurately practice double taps, you can practice follow-through by reacquiring your sights after each shot. In addition, what I do is set up two targets, 20 feet away from me and about 10 feet apart from each other. The practice that I get transitioning from target to target carries over very well to live fire…and this is something that my local ranges won’t let me do outside of competitions.
One last note on the topic of recoil. .22 caliber barrels & uppers have gotten quite popular in recent years for 1911s, Glocks, AR-15s, and other firearms. I own a couple and LOVE them. As you can imagine, when you shoot your normal firearm with .22 rounds, you don’t get nearly as much recoil or muzzle rise. The .22 inserts still provide a valuable training aid and help shooters put thousands more rounds downrange than they would otherwise. Is the recoil exactly the same? No. Can you still practice the fundamentals? Absolutely…just like you can with airsoft.
3. EXCESSIVE MAGAZINE CAPACITY. I really get a kick out of people who have this “problem” with airsoft training. It goes something like this, “You can’t do serious training with airsoft because they hold so many more rounds than a real firearm.” Well, this “problem” requires a MOTO (master of the obvious) solution…when your training would benefit from realistic magazine capacities; don’t load them up all the way. If you load 7 or 28 rounds in your real magazine, load 7 or 28 rounds in your airsoft magazine.
This isn’t really an issue at all. If I’m training my draw stroke, I load the magazine all the way. If I’m training reloads, I only load 2-4 rounds in each magazine, whether I’m training with airsoft or live ammo.
Even when training force on force…whether it’s with airsoft, simunitions, or paintball, I load as few rounds as possible so that the interactions don’t decay into a game.
4. TRIGGER WORK. The trigger pull and trigger reset on airsoft trainers are different than on real firearms, but they’re also different between real firearms. Airsoft trainers still reward solid fundamentals. Press the trigger straight back and you’ll get tighter groups than if you over grip, pull with your trigger finger, or jerk the trigger.
Eliminate over-travel and start your trigger press as soon as the trigger resets, and you’ll shoot quicker and more accurately, regardless of the firearm. These fundamental truths apply to both airsoft and live fire. You won’t be able to practice the EXACT squeeze or the EXACT reset that you have with your real firearm, but you will be able to practice the fundamentals.
5. MAGAZINE CHANGES. With a real firearm, the magazine gets lighter as you shoot it and when your magazine is empty, it weighs a lot less than when it’s full.
This is very different with an airsoft pistol mag. Airsoft pistol magazines have a gas reservoir in them, as well as the bbs and are a big part of the weight of the gun. Since the bbs are only a fraction of a gram apiece, the magazines are almost as heavy when they’re empty as when they’re full. This wouldn’t be a BIG problem, except that on almost all airsoft magazines, the feeder lips and the baseplate are both plastic and can break.
When you drop an empty airsoft pistol mag, you need to be a lot more careful than when you drop an empty real pistol mag…especially on concrete, tile, or other hard surfaces. Since the baseplate and the lips of the mags are plastic, they can and do break if they’re dropped on hard surfaces.
There are three things that you can do to get over this shortcoming. The first is to position foam memory pad, a heavy blanket, a sleeping bag, or even remnant carpet strips wherever you plan on dropping your mags if you’re training on a hard surface. The second option, if you don’t have access to anything soft, is to do tactical reloads and retain your partial mags instead of doing emergency reloads and dropping your mags. The third is to use a drop bag on your belt and practice pulling your mags from your mag well and putting them in the drop bag. (This is standard operating procedure for many deployed units) None of these are perfect solutions, but they are workable.
6. PEOPLE WHO PLAY AIRSOFT. Airsoft is a popular sport around the world. People who play it seriously dress up like military/SWAT (some are/ were military or SWAT) and run scenarios against other teams, much like you would with paintball, laser tag, or like what our armed forces does with the MILES system. Some people take it as a game and view it like an adult version of “cops and robbers” and others use it as a serious form of force on force training. In fact, more and more law enforcement and military units are turning to airsoft as a training aid because of the extreme low cost of training.
But there are people who play airsoft who blur the line between reality and not reality in their mind and talk like they’ve actually been in combat. Law enforcement door kickers who have been in live fire situations and combat veterans who have been there and done that hear these airsofters talk and get turned off by the entire method of training. This is a case where you should judge the training based on the facts and not on who else uses it.
In addition to the reasons I gave why these arguments don’t apply to you, perhaps the simplest way to look at airsoft training is not to look at it as a substitution for live fire, but as a really fun and effective way to do dry fire drills, as well as some training drills that you just can’t do with dry fire.
What’s that mean? It means that neither dry fire or airsoft training shouldn’t be viewed as a complete replacement for live training and that you should always follow up your dry fire and airsoft training with live fire. Some people suggest a 50/50 mix, while others suggest that you can make rapid improvements with 90% dry fire/ airsoft and 10% live fire. In truth, don’t get too hung up on the ratios.
Do as much dry fire and airsoft training as you can and you’ll start seeing your live fire performance rapidly improving. Personally, I shoot 50-200 rounds of airsoft per day (integrated into my workout), dry fire a couple hundred rounds per week, and live fire a few hundred rounds per month on my own plus formal training and events.
Airsoft training is a case where perfect is the enemy of good. It could be easily argued that perfect training would be all live fire. Few elite forces would agree with you, but many competitive shooters make that argument. In any case, few people can afford the time and money required to do the repetitions necessary to lock in and maintain muscle memory with JUST live fire.
Keep in mind that the time you spend training with airsoft will ALWAYS be superior to the time that you wanted to spend training live fire but didn’t actually do it because something got in the way.
One of the most famous anecdotes about using airsoft to train for live fire shooting comes from 2004 when Tatsuya Sakai won the US Steel Challenge. He couldn’t legally train with a real firearm in Japan, so he trained with an airsoft gun for one year before the event. He came to the US one month in advance and trained with a real firearm to get his timing figured out and went on to win by beating some of the best names in shooting…guys who’d been training with 50,000- 100,000 rounds of live ammo per year for several years.
I don’t suggest that you only go out and shoot your real firearms once a year, but the time may come where that is more of a necessity than simply an option due to ammunition costs or restrictions on firearms. In the meantime, the benefits of cost, frequency of training, and the ability to train “prohibited” techniques makes it hard to beat airsoft training.