March 25, 2021
By Richard Nance
Once dismissed as mere child’s play, airsoft is now widely considered a legitimate, if not critical, component of defensive firearms training. Recently, the police department I work for, like many others, made the switch to airsoft from another, more expensive, complex and malfunction-prone force-on-force training option. Whether learning gun safety, working on the fundamentals of marksmanship, practicing advanced shooting skills or engaging in force-on-force training, airsoft can give you a tremendous advantage.
An airsoft gun has moving parts that function nearly identically to the real gun they are designed around. Magazines can be inserted and ejected, the slide reciprocates, the trigger can be pressed and reset.
In many cases, you can purchase officially licensed airsoft guns that are even stamped with the manufacturer’s logo, as is the case with my Glock 17. The only indicator that it’s not a real Glock is the bright orange protruding barrel, which is indicative of airsoft guns.
As a firearms instructor, I can think of no better way to teach safe gun handling and basic pistol operation than to train with an airsoft version of the real pistol a new shooter will be using. The authentic look, feel and functionality of a quality airsoft gun will enable the newbie to gain confidence, without risk of serious injury or property damage. Once the new shooter has demonstrated a firm grasp of gun safety and basic operations like loading and unloading, it’s time to get to the fun stuff.
Since a quality airsoft gun will have the same dimensions as the real pistol it replicates, the airsoft gun should fit in a holster designed for the actual pistol. This means the new shooter can practice drawing and holstering without risk of injury. Draws can therefore be practiced virtually anywhere. (However, since an airsoft gun is difficult to distinguish from a real gun, don’t display it in public.)
Of course, airsoft is a great way to improve your aim. Achieving proper sight alignment and sight picture is crucial to accurate shooting. Sure, you could practice these skills with a confirmed unloaded real pistol, but with airsoft you get feedback in the form of a 6mm plastic BB impacting the target.
As far as targets go, something as simple as a tin can will work. If you want something a little more sophisticated, you can easily construct targets with wooden stands and carboard backers, or, if you’re so inclined, you can purchase steel targets that are calibrated for airsoft.
Add a timer to the mix to really amp things up. What better way to keep develop and maintain your shooting skills?
Some skills that may be required of you in an armed encounter are extremely difficult to train. For instance, let’s say you want to practice drawing your pistol while seated in your vehicle. An airsoft gun enables you to develop this rather complex skill in the comfort and safety of your driveway, backyard or garage.
Maybe you want to practice drawing your pistol with your non-dominant hand. Again, you can figure out how to best accomplish this using an airsoft gun. Perform several repetitions so that when you transition to your real pistol, the seemingly complicated task is rather easy.
Of course, if you and a friend each have an airsoft gun you can engage in the often humbling but always exciting world of force-on-force training. For this, you’ll need, at minimum, eye protection. I’d recommend donning a full-face shield and that you cover any exposed skin. Airsoft hurts, especially at close range.
Mistaking a real gun for an airsoft gun could have tragic and irreversible consequences. Before engaging in force-on-force training, it is absolutely critical that all live weapons are removed from the training environment.
Ideally, force-on-force training should have a “safety officer” who’s also wearing protective gear but is not participating in the scenario. His or her sole function is to ensure the safety of the participants and immediately stop the scenario at the first sign of danger.
The more realistic the scenario, the better it will prepare you for a real armed encounter. For example, if you create a scenario where there is simulated cover, you are able to reinforce the importance of using cover via the “pain penalty” associated with getting shot by an airsoft BB.
Expect to spend $200 to $300 on a quality airsoft gun, BBs and either green gas or CO2 cartridges, depending on how your airsoft gun is configured.
While eye protection is sufficient for solo airsoft training, as I mentioned you’ll want a full-face mask for force-on-force training. This may seem like a lot to spend, but it’s an extremely economical alternative to live fire, and the benefits you’ll surely reap from airsoft training are priceless.
Airsoft training is affordable and convenient, and ammunition is readily available. It’s an excellent way to supplement your live-fire training. However, airsoft can’t realistically represent recoil, so it’s not the best barometer for ensuring you have a proper shooting grip or that you are capable of making fast and accurate follow-up shots.