Updated: Jun 5, 2019
Leveraging Airsoft to Make You and Everyone You Know a Better Shooter
Before we even begin, let’s take care of the elephant in the room: Yes - this article is going to argue in favor of how using airsoft as a training tool can vastly improve your shooting skills. So we’re on the same page: no, this is not the airsoft of 10 years ago; we’re not talking about clear, plastic toys for kids. While those still exist, they are not the subject of this article. We are talking professional level training weapons systems.
I understand: there’s some of you out there that are shouting “airsoft is lame” right now, and that’s fair. It is accessible to younger demographics, and they apply it in the only fashions they know - and to some of you, their application is not what you are familiar nor maybe agree with. That said - airsoft is just a technology to be applied, and how it is applied, and with what seriousness or attention, is paramount. Stick with me and let’s together explore how airsoft as a technology, if applied seriously and in a professional way, can drastically reduce the gaps that exist between dry and live-fire exercises.
A little background about me before we dive in: I am an avid civilian shooter who subscribes to the defensive mindset; I have a personal passion for training to those skills. I adopted airsoft as a tool for training about 6 years ago. Fast forward, I’ve been lucky enough in my travels to become a sponsored personality in the airsoft and military simulation industries. Through this, I have had the amazing opportunity to work and train alongside many current and former soldiers - including SOF members - and high-risk law enforcement officers/agents. It’s something I’m very grateful for, and is something that has given me great perspective on my own training objectives, especially in terms of the application of airsoft in training.
So, then: what exactly is airsoft now, if not a toy?
Absorb this fact right out of the gate: an airsoft gun can replicate your service or personal weapon 1:1. from its weight, to the accessories you run on it, to most importantly the action and manual of arms - an airsoft gun can be the training equivalent of the exact gun you carry every day or count on for home defense. It is much more realistic than when the technology hit anyone’s radar. While there still is a huge demographic of younger and older individuals who use it to enjoy the gaming/sporting side - the technology has progressed to such a degree that it can be applied in a serious training environment.
And this is something that has not escaped many of the major weapons and accessory manufacturers. A vast number of these companies license out replica versions of their products to allow their use in customizing airsoft weapons. Agency Arms, Mega Arms, Troy, Daniel Defense, Centurion Arms, Colt, Kriss, CZ, Kimber, Nighthawk, LMT, Warsport, etc. - you get the point; we could literally go on forever. If you can get it in the firearms world - there’s a near-absolute chance you can get it in the airsoft world. And it’s that fact which makes a huge difference: it means you can create a training weapon that exactly replicates your real weapon systems. You can run the weapon light you run on your real weapon; just take it off your gun, and transfer it to your airsoft weapon. Run the same sling, the same sights/optics, rail covers, vertical and angled grips, etc.
In terms of the technology itself in relation to training environments - gas-blowback technology allows for the realistic cycling of a pistol slide or rifle bolt, mimicking the real world counterpart, by using a propellant gas to fire BB and cycle the action. That means there’s a recoil impulse (albeit lighter than a firearm), there’s sights to pick up and track, and no need to manually reset the weapon.
What you end up with is a full-spectrum training tool, that is safer, cheaper, and in most cases - aside from the difference in felt pain - out performs as a training tool compared to Simunition. Airsoft has better ballistic-performance in terms of effective range (100-200 feet), which widens the scope of possible training applications, and doesn’t require special training nor the purchase of specialized equipment sold at premium pricing. It also does not require specialized, oversized headgear, neck guards, or groin guards - allowing you to train closer to how you would actually be fighting in the real world.
It’s Dry Fire, but so much more.
Where airsoft really begins to show its value is in the fact that it is a functioning weapon: when you pull the trigger, the weapon cycles completely - with full feedback. There is no need to manually cycle the weapon between shots, which is the huge advantage over standard dry fire practice. While dry fire is very useful, due to the fact the action must be manually cycled between shots, it creates a gap in your training.
Airsoft trains to everything that dry fire does, except that a gas-blowback airsoft rifle or pistol replicates the cycling of a bolt or a slide, respectively. While the recoil impulses generally aren’t as powerful as a .22 cartridge, there’s enough impulse to necessitate the tracking of the sights. In essence - airsoft allows you to practice your follow through procedures, without the training-gap created by manually cycling the action. It’s the difference between going to the range with an extra 5000 reps of reload to reload training, or 5000 reps of cycling the action manually between each shot. This also means you’re achieving more efficient and productive live-fire range days, as well. This potentially lowers the amount of money spent on ammo in the long run to achieve the same progress with live-fire alone. The plastic BBs of airsoft also allow for an extremely safe way to remain accountable for your shots even during dry fire. Even in your own home.
Being able to train at home is a massive convenience. Training at home allows most people to train more and more often. It eliminates the need to travel any great distances to any special facilities, which also allows the ability to train in between other tasks throughout any given day. It allows you to train the full cycle of your weapons and ensures you maintain your perishable skills more efficiently between live-fire range or training days, over just dry firing alone. Small amounts of training, more often and with more consistency, is generally always better than relying on larger training sessions, less often and spaced further apart. Airsoft allows you the convenience of fitting more training in and around your schedule much easier. Do failure drills in your living room; do barricade drills in your yard; pull your car behind your house and do vehicle drills. All from the convenience of your home.
There is a considerable difference in cost when compared to other full-spectrum training tools such as UTM/Simunition (or even real rounds at the range). You can pick up a can of propellant (propane-based) and a bag of 4000 BBs for an airsoft weapon for $25. No kidding. The math on that works out to be about $0.005 per BB. Compare that to the average cost of $1 per round for UTM/Simunition, potentially. With airsoft - better dry firing training doesn’t need to break the bank, either, as you can see.
It’s a weapon you can safely and legally shoot your friends and family with.
Paper targets don’t shoot back. They just don’t. And as such - you’ll never fully be prepared to handle a real-life situation without the addition of some form of force-on-force training. For many, acquiring adequate force-on-force experience is usually one of the biggest hurdles, due to its cost and safety factors, and the fact that you need to take a special course in most cases to get it.
Airsoft solves that by providing a safe means of practicing your skills against real people, that requires no special location or course, at a fraction of the cost. An airsoft weapon is the perfect tool to practice the defense of your own home; full-scale, as if it were a real home emergency. Find and experiment with the best cover points; come up with your defense plan - practice it; practice firing your weapon and immediate actions in your home, live. In essence, airsoft provides you a more organic, real-world training experience, to be better prepared should you need those skills for real sometime in the future. You can never be too prepared when it matters most.
What about your spouse? Kids? How do they train - do they train? Airsoft is the perfect platform to not only introduce firearms and firearms safety in the home, but to allow your loved ones to learn and train the same skill sets you train in order to keep you, your family, and your home safe. Not only is it a great training tool for the whole family, for the same reasons it is for you - I previously made note of the gaming/sport side of airsoft: people of all ages love it as a hobby activity, especially families. I know of a huge number of veteran’s families who airsoft as a shared-family experience and a way of understanding and enjoying the armed forces.
In an expanding market of private contracting and personal protection companies, airsoft becomes the perfect training tool to be utilized in 3rd Party Protection drills. Here again - cost, the lack of special equipment or training, and the realism of the platform make it a perfect tool to ensure more repetitions - more opportunities to train - in order to ensure the principle remains how the principle should be: alive and well. Airsoft allows you to effectively dress how you would dress - the same suits, the same belts, the same holsters, the same everything - with minimal invasive protective equipment (as little as ballistic sunglasses).
As you can see, it’s about time for a paradigm shift when it comes to the idea of airsoft and its applications. Gone should be the days of simply viewing the technology as a game for kids, and here should be the realization that at certain levels of application, it can bolster individual and unit skills from a supplementary training perspective.
For the civilian shooter, airsoft can serve to provide you and your family more opportunities for better repetitions of training, thereby increasing the speed of progression, while possibly lowering the cost of skill acquisition. From the perspective of departmental, agency, or unit training - airsoft can serve to provide more opportunities for force-on-force training, eliminating location and safety concerns, despite the shrinking or the lack of training budgets. For both parties - it means being better prepared when things go bad, and when they matter the most. And while some portions of airsoft are strictly for “play”, this play is a pathway to inspiring future Officers and Operators, EMTs and Firefighters - and provides a safe platform for reinforcing firearms safety and advocacy.
Does the technology have its limitations? Of course, much like any form of technology. As long as training is conducted within the contextual limitations of the technology, airsoft serves to broaden the ability to train to the fullest spectrum of tasks, in the absence of live-fire training. With all that considered - airsoft is the training tool by which you and everyone you know will become better shooters.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rob Murray is an avid shooter and works for a major global information security corporation. In his spare time, he has become a Military Simulation industry athlete and personality; advocating the use of airsoft technologies to enhance the dry fire and force on force training experiences in the firearms and tactical communities. A graphic-designer by education, he also owns and designs for Robo-Apparel.com - which makes casual apparel for the defensive and combat oriented individual.