UNDERSTANDING THE LIMITATIONS OF AIRSOFT TRAINING
There are several reasons law enforcement and military forces only use airsoft training as an introductory phase.
The most obvious is officers and soldiers need to use real firearms in the line of duty. But what might not seem as immediately obvious is this also means they need to train with real firearms.
This underlying reason behind the obvious essentially summarizes every other reason airsoft guns are only used as a temporary training tool. It can be shortened even further, into a single word: limitations.
REALISM VS. GRITTY REALISM
In the first two chapters, we repeatedly mentioned high-quality airsoft guns (both AEG and gas) can be very realistic copies of real firearms. When it comes to blow-back enabled gas airsoft guns in particular, they can even be near-perfect clones.
But barring some currently unimaginable advancement in their sophistication, even the best airsoft replica is no true replacement for training with a real firearm. It essentially comes down to a matter of realism vs. gritty realism.
When you’re holding a real gun, it feels like a real gun. There’s no unconscious difference that separates the most realistic airsoft gun from the real thing.
Knowing how to handle a real gun requires being familiar with that intangible feeling. We know that sounds like a contradiction, but it’s true. “Intangible” is probably the wrong word for what we’re talking about. It’s more of an inexplicable yet incredibly basic intuition.
Do yourself a favor. Put your real firearm and your airsoft replica in front of you, side-by-side. Close your eyes and have your buddy switch the two around a couple of times – just enough for you not to be sure which is which.
Then reach out, pick one up, and tell your buddy whether you’re holding the real deal or the airsoft replica without opening your eyes.
We’re willing to bet that indescribable difference tipped you off pretty accurately.
There’s a big reason we advocate opting for an airsoft gun with the blow-back feature. As covered in the first chapter where we mentioned it as an advantage over dry-firing, this feature replicates recoil.
But it’s by no means a perfect replica. Airsoft blow-back is so subtle compared to recoil that you might end up questioning why you ever bothered spending the extra cash to get the feature.
Here’s why: airsoft training is a transitional step up from dry-firing, not a replacement for it or live fire training.
During your dry-firing sessions, you’re building muscle memory that doesn’t register any sort of recoil whatsoever. This can be massively advantageous to you when it comes to handling recoil. But if you’re careless, it can also lead to not compensating for recoil at all, resulting in wide shots.
Blow-back during airsoft training helps to hedge your bets against that happening. By introducing just a little bit of recoil (comparatively speaking), you force yourself to make sure you’re properly compensating.
The shot accountability and added safety of airsoft training works in your favor here too. You can immediately see if that blow-back is causing any deviation in your aim, especially with rapid-fire.
And even if that small “recoil” is throwing you off by a fair bit, you’re not putting anyone (or anything) in any real danger while simultaneously identifying a critical area of necessary improvement.
With most airsoft models, no matter what type you’re using, you won’t be able to practice reloading in the true sense. While you’ll still need to replace spent ammunition during a session – and, possibly, a gas cartridge – the motions won’t be exactly the same as reloading a real firearm.
This is one of those areas where dry-firing has the advantage (the other being gritty realism). With dry-firing, you can use dummy magazines to simulate reloading.
Here’s another limitation you might not have realized, but one we already highlighted: the difference in noise levels.
Undoubtedly, airsoft training will prepare you for handling the sound of an actual discharge a lot better than dry-firing ever will. Dry-firing is almost completely silent – and you shouldn’t be hearing anything other than a “click” and your action sliding back into place when pulling the trigger.
With airsoft guns, there’s at least a little more noise. AEGs and gas models can be especially loud.
But it’s still not the same as hearing a real gun discharge. It’s the same as holding a real gun: there’s a marked difference you can’t quite explain. Once you get used to the sound of either, even a car backfiring is obviously different to the sound of a gunshot.
And knowing how to remain calm and continue shooting on-target in the midst of all that noise is crucial to safe, responsible, and effective gun use.
It can take months, even years to get truly used to the sound, but if you never use your gun at the range before you need to use it defensively, you’re probably going to soil your pants and/ or panic after that first shot.
At least, more so than you would with proper live fire training.
This sort of falls under the whole “intangible difference” aspect, but it neatly summarizes the entirety of the realism vs. gritty realism argument.
When you’re holding a firearm, the knowledge that it’s real and that pulling the trigger will unleash deadly force causes you to act more responsibly. Not necessarily in terms of observing gun safety rules – you should be doing so with an airsoft gun anyway.
But, once again, it’s an indescribable shift in subconscious thought. You’ll probably hesitate to discharge your firearm in situations where you wouldn’t give a second thought to blasting away with your airsoft rifle.
Because beyond the obvious considerations of lethal force vs. severe bruising, part of your brain is calculating how much pulling that trigger will cost you.
Think about it. When you fire your airsoft gun in self-defense, you’re using less than a single cent’s worth of gas to eject a projectile that didn’t cost much more than that.
And unless using an airsoft gun can reasonably (or legally, which isn’t always the same thing) be considered unnecessary force, it’s far less likely you’ll find yourself paying legal bills.
But when you fire a real gun, you’re discharging a projectile that costs more than you’ll probably spend on BBs for an entire week’s airsoft training. More to the point, there can be very real legal repercussions beyond the simple matter of financial cost.
You need to train with a real gun to properly appreciate this level of responsibility. And that includes risk assessment – knowing within a few seconds whether pulling the trigger will cost more or less than not pulling the trigger.
This, perhaps more so than any of the other limitations covered in this chapter, is why airsoft guns are only a supplementary tool. They will never truly replace live fire training.