WHY AIRSOFT GUNS?
Whether you’re brand new to the use of firearms or you’re already a grizzled veteran, training is absolutely essential. But not just any training – training that comes from a reliable, competent source.
As much as the guy you just met at the range or your self-proclaimed firearms expert cousin/friend/neighbor might be enthusiastic about imparting their wisdom, they aren’t always a reliable tutor.
The same goes for those so-called “YouTube experts,” who – even if they are real experts – can only do so much from the other side of a camera.
Which…to be fair, might have you asking how much you can learn from an online course such as Using Airsoft Guns to Supplement Your Firearms Training. The difference is we aren’t seeking to provide training.
Instead, we’re hoping to help you understand and apply your existing training better without needing to pepper your tutor with questions.
Fittingly, this first chapter will attempt to answer a few of the questions you probably already have.
THE BASIC PRINCIPLES OF AIRSOFT TRAINING
Maybe you already have a pretty good idea of why you might want to include airsoft training in your learning. If so, this brief section will summarize the relevant reasons covered in the remainder of the chapter.
However, we do hope you’ll not skip over Chapter One completely. This first section can act as a good TL;DR version when skimming over the course for your first read, but it remains nothing more than a summary.
The rest of this chapter will go into more detail, providing some valuable information that – even if you’re already familiar with it – is always worth revisiting.
So, what are the basic principles of airsoft training?
First, using an airsoft gun to supplement your firearms training is cost-efficient.
Second, airsoft training is time-efficient.
Third, it balances out one of the inherent weaknesses of dry-fire training.
Fourth, it’s safer than dry-fire training (to an extent).
The four basic principles ensure that, when done correctly, airsoft training is both accessible and effective as a supplement to traditional training methods. Let’s take a look at them in more detail!
Something we’ve come to appreciate over the course of being gun owners – and, of course, networking with dozens (if not hundreds) of professionals – is that live fire training very quickly becomes very expensive.
Consider the fact most professionals will spend three or four sessions at the range. In the case of law enforcement and military personnel, these are over and above their professional training sessions.
That’s three or four personal training sessions per week, and might include paying for time at a commercial range rather than using their work facilities. For those of us who don’t have the luxury of using a shooting range at work, training like the professionals means always using a commercial range.
Prices vary depending on the nature and location of the range, as well as the length of your sessions (not always applicable).
For example, a range might charge $249 per person for a year’s membership (plus a once-off administration fee, usually about $49) and waiver single session fees. Lifetime membership would also waiver range usage fees, but charge around $2,400 once-off.
If you aren’t a member of the range – for example, because you’re traveling – you might pay $20 for a day pass instead. (Please bear in mind these are rough averages based on range fees as of March 2020.)
On top of the range fees, you still need to pay for your ammunition. Another thing we’ve found to be almost universally true among the pros is that at minimum, they fire 100 rounds per session. Many of them fire 300+.
Not all of us are trying to reach quite the same level of expertise, of course.
But even assuming you stick to only 200 rounds per week, that already adds up to more than $3,200 a year (using the average price-per-round for 9mm handgun ammunition in March 2020). With more sessions, more rounds, and/or more expensive ammunition, the price quickly climbs much higher.
For argument’s sake, let’s say you’re able to supplement your live fire training with dry-firing at home and at the range.
You still need to put in at least one live fire session at the range every week if you want to become highly competent with your firearm. Using the same average price-per-round figure and assuming 100 shots per session, that’s still in excess of $1,600 a year.
But airsoft pellets are a lot cheaper. Using the cheapest tin of .177 cal (4mm) hollow-point pellets we could find on Amazon.com, 200 shots per week adds up to about $180 a year plus shipping.
Four sessions per week at 250 shots per session (a full tin of the aforementioned pellets) will only cost about $880 a year, again excluding shipping.
That’s about 6% of the cost for firing the same number of 9mm rounds a year. And if you’re doing live fire training at a range where you pay $20 per day, 4 sessions a week would set you back almost $4,200 a year.
With just one pay-per-session a week, that drops down to $1,040. You’d still be advised to become a yearly member, though.
All told, 100 shots per session at a range where you’re paying membership fees will still cost you nearly $1,000 a year at one session every second week.
Three sessions of airsoft training a week, shooting a full tin of pellets every session, will cost another $660 a year (again, minus shipping). And you likely aren’t going to be using a full tin every session, so the costs are going to be even lower.
Compare that to nearly $7,000 for four sessions per week, 100 rounds per session, with live firing, and you can see just how cost-effective using airsoft guns to supplement your firearms training is.
Bear in mind, you’ll still be spending a fair bit on gas for your airsoft gun. But even so, it’s still going to be a fraction of the cost compared to pure live fire training.
Another way airsoft training makes things a lot cheaper is you won’t be firing your actual gun as often, which means less wear-and-tear. While you should still have your firearm serviced professionally as often as necessary, you’ll find with less use, those services are going to be fewer and further between.
Then there’s the reduced cost of replacement parts. Not that the parts will be cheaper, of course, just that – once again – you’ll be forking out for them less often.
Considering a handgun barrel could easily cost $200+ and might need replacing after a few thousand rounds, that’s another massive saving made by using airsoft guns to supplement your firearms training.
Finally, something most people don’t even consider, is the fact you’ll be spending less money on gas. After all, you won’t need to travel to and from the range for an airsoft session. And of course, you’ll be putting your vehicle through less wear-and-tear too, which translates to even more savings.
In business, you’ll often hear the saying “time is money.”
We won’t be thinking of it in quite the same terms, but the underlying point remains relevant: time is a valuable resource. And unlike money, there’s no way to regain lost time.
There’s no denying that reloading an airsoft gun is time-consuming. But the same can be said for charging a magazine with fresh rounds. And with some of the more sophisticated airsoft gun models (a topic we’ll cover in Chapter Two), you can prepare several magazines in advance to practice reloading too.
So even if you’re not spending less time reloading an airsoft gun than you would with your firearm, you’re not spending more time either.
Where, then, does the time-efficiency come into play?
Consider how long it takes you to get to the range for live fire training. You might want or need to head home first, change out of your work clothes, retrieve your firearm, and then sit in traffic – again – to get there.
Then you’ve got to sign in as a member or pay a day’s range usage fee if you’re visiting. There’s the possibility you’ll need to wait for a lane to open up (especially if you’re not a member). Only then can you get started on your session – and once it’s over, you still need to get back home.
All that travel and waiting is time-consuming.
But with airsoft training, you can get started within a few minutes of getting home. You’ll still need to travel from work, of course, and you might decide to get changed.
But at least you don’t need a special venue for airsoft training!
You can easily set up a space in your backyard or garage. It could even be the same area you use for dry-firing (we’ll cover this more in the next section). There’s no need to sign in, wait for a lane to open up, or travel back home again afterward.
At the end of the session, all you need to do is close it properly, put your airsoft gun away (possibly do some cleaning and recharge the magazines again), and go about your usual daily routine.
How much time do you think using an airsoft gun to supplement your firearms training will save you? It could easily be an extra hour a day, possibly more.
BALANCING OUT AN INHERENT WEAKNESS OF DRY-FIRING
For those who aren’t familiar with dry-firing, this is the practice of firing your gun without any ammunition loaded. While this can be considered even cheaper than using airsoft guns to supplement your firearms training, it still involves putting your gun through stress.
Dry-firing also has a number of shortcomings, especially if you’re hoping to shoot on a professional level. Like airsoft training, it should be considered supplementary.
In Chapter Four, we’ll talk about dry-firing in more detail, as airsoft firing isn’t going to be replacing it entirely either. But for now, let’s focus on one of its more subtle limitations – one often overlooked, but which airsoft training can balance out.
We’re talking about shot accountability.
While dry-firing has many, many positive aspects, there’s simply no 100% reliable way to ensure your “shot” truly “landed” where you were aiming. You have to rely entirely on your ability to eyeball even the most subtle of deviations from your exact target.
Deviations which might seem negligible when using a paper target at a relatively short distance, but which could end up being the difference between putting an attacker down from a greater distance or having their weapon used against you.
So what is shot accountability?
Well, if you haven’t guessed as much already, it’s a visible mark on your target, showing you exactly where your shot landed. This is usually a hole or indentation in your target material.
Dry-firing won’t give you that kind of shot accountability.
But using an airsoft gun and pellets will.
Whether you’re using plastic BB pellets or the metal variant (such as the hollow-point hunting pellets we used for our cost calculations earlier), an airsoft gun will propel it with enough velocity to make a visible mark on your target.
Of course, how much of a mark is made will vary depending on your target material, distance, and velocity. But you’ll still have a visual representation of your ability to shoot on-target without needing to rely entirely on your ability to eyeball the most subtle deviation imaginable.
AIRSOFT FIRING SAFETY VS. DRY-FIRING SAFETY
Again, we’ll be discussing the more practical and in-depth aspects of airsoft and dry-firing safety in Chapter Four. But as it’s an important principle here, it’s worth taking a quick look at how airsoft training can be safer than dry-firing.
When dry-firing, you’re using a real firearm. And while you should be taking all the usual gun safety rules into consideration, as well as making doubly sure your firearm is well and truly unloaded before starting a dry-firing session, accidents do happen.
And often, it’s because someone figured they’d take just “one more shot” after reloading, or they forgot to clear the chambered round.
Such accidents can be fatal.
Even when they’re not, they’re almost always highly destructive. If you’re lucky, the only thing that gets destroyed is your target (and possibly the wall behind it). Just a little less lucky and you obliterate a valuable object and/or injure someone.
To be perfectly clear, an airsoft gun can still wreak considerable damage. I’ve heard stories of people successfully wounding an attacker with an airsoft gun, at least enough to dissuade the assailant from continuing.
And of course, if you’ve ever been shot with an airsoft gun as a kid, you know how much even the cheap ones hurt from a fair distance.
So you still need to follow every gun safety rule when handling an airsoft gun. Just because you might think of it as a toy doesn’t mean you can start slacking. Practicing firearm safety, no matter the type of gun, is never an option – it’s an absolute necessity.
And it also helps develop gun safety muscle memory, which is always a major plus. In fact, it should be part of your reason for using airsoft guns to supplement your firearms training in the first place.
But with that admonishment out of the way, using an airsoft gun is still safer than dry-firing. After all, there’s no chance of live ammunition being accidentally fired.
You won’t even be able to fire a “blank,” which can be just as fatal. That’s how Brandon Lee died – the aspiring actor was accidentally shot with a blank on set while filming The Crow.
The point is, even when accidents do occur while using an airsoft gun (and it really isn’t a matter of “if,” but “when”), they won’t be as bad as a dry-firing accident. Your buddy might get bruised or even have a pellet embedded in their flesh, but unless you manage to shoot them through the eye or windpipe, they’re highly unlikely to die.
STOP THINKING OF AIRSOFT GUNS PURELY AS TOYS
In the previous section, we pointed out that even if you do think of airsoft guns as toys, you should treat them as you would any firearm. To close off this chapter and lead into Chapter Two: Introduction to Airsoft Equipment, we have a final piece of fundamental advice.
Stop thinking of airsoft guns as toys. Besides the fact they can do considerable damage and airsoft training can help make gun safety an instinctive default, they’re tools for enhancing your shooting skills.
Not just yours, though. You might not be aware of the fact, but law enforcement has been using airsoft training since at least 2011. Military forces, not only in the US but elsewhere in the world as well, have been doing the same since at least 2012.
In fact, in 2018, the US Coast Guard formally adopted the SIG-branded P229 airsoft pistol to train new recruits.
The caveat here is it’s typically only used by law enforcement and military forces as a means for training new recruits. Once the fresh faces are a little less green, they move onto using real firearms and ammunition.
But the airsoft training period, reportedly, made the advancement of necessary skills a fair bit quicker. Not to mention it’s a lot cheaper for Uncle Sam to fund, as we’ve already covered.
Let’s bring our focus back down from aspirations of becoming a true professional to simply becoming a highly competent shooter capable of self-defense when the need arises.
And let’s bear in mind your pocket probably isn’t nearly deep enough to undergo as rigorous a training regime.
Airsoft training isn’t going to be an introductory phase that precedes making your first handgun purchase.
If you’re already a gun owner, it’s very much too late for that anyway.
But airsoft training will make the transition between complete beginner to relatively intermediate a lot easier, cheaper, and safer for you. And with persistence, it can do the same for going from intermediate to expert – so long as you remember it’s a supplement, not a replacement.