The physical, aural and visual feedback that airsoft training offers is more engaging than dryfire practice. When I added airsoft guns to my at-home training, quality training time zipped by. The following list includes the gear and target arrangement that I’ve been using to practice at home. I’ve also added a number of drills that I’ve adapted from live-fire training to build certain skills applicable to personal defense.
Since the goal of my training is to improve my firearm skills for personal defense, I treat the airsoft gun as I would a firearm. I follow the same NRA safety rules because I don’t want to develop bad habits that could creep into my firearms training. When training with airsoft, my mindset is the same as it is with shooting rimfire or centerfire ammunition: I’m responsible for every projectile that leaves the gun.
For training, I continue to use Umarex’s Glock 19X. The airsoft gun is affordable, easy to use, feels and operates like the centerfire pistol it’s based on. This adds to the realism I get from training with it. When I run out of ammo in this CO2-powered airsoft pistol, the slide locks to the rear as the magazine goes empty. This allows me to practice reloads as I would if I were training with a centerfire pistol. The weight and balance are also similar to the real G19X that it doesn’t feel like a toy. When training, only the low felt recoil suggests that this is an air-powered gun.
To enhance the realism of my training, I’ve been using the same targets I’m already familiar with: VTAC targets and IDPA targets. These are popular for self-defense training and have hit zones built into the target’s design.
I also bought sheets of 24-inch by 35-inch cardboard target backer as support for the targets. Paper targets tear easily when shot with airsoft projectiles without a backer, and thus limit their life span. With a backer, the 6mm BBs make small holes that can be taped up with masking tape to get more use out of each target. For those with limited indoor space such as a garage or basement, I recommend Birchwood Casey Eze-Scorer 12-by-18-inch targets practice. They are half the size of a standard target and give you a smaller target size. Visually, it’s like increasing the distance to the target.
Targets stands are cheap and easy to build even if only own a handsaw and a drill. The cuts are right angles, so there’s nothing fancy about them. Each stand uses three 1-by-2-by-72-inch furring strips and a single Douglas fir 2-by-4. The cost of the wood per stand was $10.
To hold the frame together, I chose exterior wood screws so they would not rust. For the 1-by-2-inch frame, I used 10-by-2-inch screws. The 2-by-4 base required longer 10-by-3-inch screws, and I secured the ramps with 10-by-1½-inch screws. Before you assemble the 1-by-2-inch frame, first drill a hole for the screws, or the wood may split. Use a drill bit that’s smaller in diameter than the screw so the threads of the screw will still bite into the wood.
Since the airsoft BBs easily punch through two pieces of cardboard, having a backstop on the back of the target stand is a must. After some experimenting, I used a welcome mat made of fake grass. The plushness of the plastic blades not only scrubs kinetic energy off quickly, but I found that it also captured the BBs. The mat offered the added benefit of minimizing ricocheting and made clean-up easy. The mat also has a heavy backing and should last for years.
During clean-up, I funneled the BBs toward the center by cutting two angled ramps and securing them to the frame with screws. I guesstimated the angle by holding a 1-by-2 to the frame and then dragging a pencil along the outer edge of the frame. Once I had one cut I, used it as a template for the rest. (The ramps are optional.)
The height and width of the backstop was determined by the welcome mat which was a half-inch smaller than an IDPA target. If my local stores would have had the large rolls of fake grass in stock, I would bought it by the yard and made the backstop longer to accommodate the few drills which include pelvic shots. If you are using smaller targets, you can adapt my template to suit your needs.
The Firing Line
Like firearm training, you’ll need at least two magazines, eye protection and a shot timer. If you don’t have a timer, look for one that is sensitive enough to pick up the report of an airsoft gun. I hang mine off my chest to detect the shots. I also recommend a rapid charger to quickly fill the magazine with BBs.
If you’re new to airsoft guns, you may need to adjust the hopper to get the BBs to land on your point of aim. Refer to the manual on how to adjust this and dial it to zero. When you’re at the target, start at 5 yards and shoot three shots. If your point of impact is close to your point of aim walk back to 7 yards and repeat. If the shots are low, dial up the hop up so that it puts a back spin on the BB to bring the point of impact up.
I kept the distance of the drills faithful to original firearm drills. If you find your BBs are dropping too much for accurate hits, simply decrease the distance. It’s important that you don’t condition yourself to compensate for BB drop because you may begin doing that with a rimfire or centerfire firearm.
When running the timed drills, it’s easy to focus too much on speed. What you should you be thinking about is refining each component of the technique so that it’s smooth and well executed, speed will become a byproduct of this. I recommended that you record yourself (perhaps with a camera on a tripod) so you can see what you’re really doing. The old adage “practice makes perfect” doesn’t work here; only perfect practice makes perfect.
Ken Hackathorn’s Wizard Drill
Developed by Ken Hackathorn, the “Wizard Drill” is a test to determine whether a shooter is competent with their concealed carry firearm. This tests the fundamental skills necessary to survive a close quarter encounter at realistic distances.
Wear what you would normally wear on the street for concealed carry. The drill involves one IDPA target and is timed at 2.5 seconds for each distance. It is simply pass or fail. If you exceed the time limit or miss a headshot, you “fail.” On the chest shot, if you lose more than 2 points, you “fail.”
- 3 yards, 1 head shot — strong hand only
- 5 yards, 1 head shot — 1 or 2 hands
- 7 yards, 1 head shot — both hands
- 10 yards, 2 chest shots —both hands
Shooter Tip: If you don’t have an IDPA target, the drill is easy to set up with cardboard, a roll of masking tape and an 8-inch paper plate. On cardboard, use the roll of masking tape to draw a circle in the top of the target to represent the lower face, and then use the paper plate or draw an 8-inch circle to represent the thoracic cavity.
Mike Pannone’s Mad Half-Minute Drill
This drill emphasizes what Pannone terms “visual patience,” that is to keep the sights on the target long enough to make clean hits. While running this drill, it’s easy to rush and miss shots.
This is a 30-second timed drill. Place the target at 10 yards from the center shooting position and then place a marker 5 yards to the left and right of the center point. The shooter starts from the holster at the center position with hands held up. At the beep, draw and fire one round into the target, and then move to the left 5 yards and shoots one round. Next, run back to the center position and fire one round and then move right and fire one round. Continue this until 11 shots are fired or 30 seconds expires.
Shooter Tip: Remember to breathe as you run back and forth. If your BB drops too much to make consistent hits, move in closer.
Dave Spaulding’s 2x2x2
“Aim small, miss small,” the saying goes. The “2x2x2” is a drill I learned at a Handgun Combatives course by firearms instructor Dave Spaulding. The purpose of this drill is to hone the draw stroke, sight alignment, recoil management and trigger press so they flow into a single motion.
The 2x2x2 drill sounds simple: Within 2 seconds, fire 2 rounds at a 3x5 card from 20 feet. For the purposes of airsoft, the drill represents a close-quarter defensive shooting where you have to end a life-threatening situation with a quick draw and two shots to the heart. (Instructor Note: In real life, it may take more than two shots to stop a deadly threat.)
To simulate a real-world scenario, drawing from concealment is a necessary part of this drill. With your hands in front of you in a defensive position, hit the timer. When the buzzer sounds, clear the garment, draw and shoot. Another tip about shooting with a timer: Begin the draw the moment you hear the beep of the timer; Don’t wait for the beep to end to start your draw.
Shooter Tip: The important takeaway is to be honest with yourself and analyze what component needs work in your skill set. As yourself, is your grip on the pistol high and tight? Or is there some bobble? Is your support hand pushing you off target? Are you seeing the front sight come into view? Are you jerking the trigger?
Kyle Lamb’s Triple Threat Pistol Drill
This is a fun and intense drill, and great for challenging a shooting partner with. Any miss and you score zero.
This close quarter drill is all about pushing your speed limit and keeping your eyes on the sights. A timer is used to induce stress. Set the targets a yard apart, and 5 yards away.
Start the drill facing the targets, and hold your hands chest high. At the beep, first engage the center target with three shots to the chest, 1 to the head, and 1 to the pelvis. Then, engage the right target with three shots to the chest and one to the head and pelvis. Lastly, shoot the left target three shots to the chest and then one to the head and pelvis. If you choose, after shooting the center target you can shoot the left target and then right; it doesn’t matter. You can also shoot the pelvis after the center shots and then go to the head, too.
Shooter Tip: Use your sights and don’t point shoot. To transition from one target to the next, first look at the target you want to engage and then move the gun. You’ll find the gun and body will naturally follow where you are looking.
Jeff Cooper’s El Presidente
This is a classic drill you’ll find in many handgun courses. Col. Jeff Cooper, founder of Gunsite Academy, developed this shooting drill as a measure of a shooter’s skill. It’s not meant to be practiced, but it’s intended as an impromptu gauge on one’s skill development.
The four components to this drill are turning, drawing, accuracy, and reloading.
There are 3 targets spaced 1 yard apart. This drill involves one reload and a time limit of 10 seconds.
The “El Prez” begins with the shooter’s back to the targets. On the beep, the shooter turns around and shoots each target twice in the chest. After shooting each target twice, the shooter performs a reload and shoots each target twice again. The shooter can engage the targets in the order they choose.
Each round in the 8-inch ring in the center of the chest scores 5 points. Shots outside the ring but on the body score 2 points. If a shooter completes the drill before the 10 seconds, their score is augmented by 5 points for every full second under the 10 seconds. If they complete it after 10 seconds, they are deducted 5 points for every full second.
Shooter Tip: At the sound of the beep, look over your shoulder to see a target and then turn as you draw. How do you know which way to turn toward the target? If you’re a right-handed shooter, look over your left shoulder, pivot on your left leg and turn counter-clockwise. If you’re a left-handed shooter, look over your right shoulder, pivot on your right leg, and turn clockwise. Don’t draw and then turn. Instead, begin turning as you draw; this is the fastest way to get on target. By the time you’re facing the target, your gun will be pointed downrange. As you transition from target to target, look at the next target first and your hands and body will naturally follow. Think smooth is fast.
The time I spent developing fundamental skills easily exceeded my indoor dryfire practice by 30 minutes a day. Using these products to shoot these drills have also made look forward to building skills in my backyard that were only achieved on a private range. Give airsoft a try, and I suspect you’ll find there’s more value in training with it than you imagined.
Read Part I of Guns & Ammo's Practice to Protect series here.