There are many benefits of dryfire practice and at-home training. If you’re going to put the time in and invest the money to train at home, you want to be sure those skills will successfully transfer to days spent live firing at the range. One important aspect of at-home training is practicing effective exercises; another is ensuring it feels as similar to live-fire as possible.
When I practice dryfire, I often use a laser-training device mounted to my centerfire pistol rather than a plastic laser-training gun because I prefer the heft, trigger press and ergonomics of my real carry gun. Another advantage of using this configuration is that it offers me the ability to practice reloading. Dryfire training has undoubtedly helped my live-fire training, but I still miss the other physical aspects of live-fire shooting such as the felt recoil, the slide reciprocating, and dings on steel or holes in paper. I recently turned to practicing at home with airsoft pistols to explore how it could solve the short comings of my dryfire practice, and to discover any other benefits.
The story of airsoft guns starts in Japan during the 1970s in response to restrictive gun laws instituted at the end of World War II. From the beginning, they were designed as faithful replicas of real firearms, as far as manufacturing processes could allow, with the key difference being that they shot plastic BBs powered by compressed air. In today’s era, the word “airsoft” also describes tactical games played within indoor and outdoor facilities. However, airsoft guns are not just for dress-up games. Law enforcement agencies and military units are currently using them as serious training tools for their force-on-force training to simulate critical situations with threatening role players and situations based on real events.
The realism of modern airsoft guns is incredible. They have become an ideal tool for personal-defense training. If the orange muzzle cap were removed, many gun owners would be hard pressed to distinguish a quality replica from a centerfire model. The Umarex Glock 19X that I’m currently training with, for example, features the same controls and functions as the real thing. Taking Umarex’s Glock 19X apart for maintenance is even similar, with some parts being remarkably familiar.
The magazine is deceptive too. It’s made from zinc alloy and has the same shape and weight as a topped-off 9mm Glock mag. Inserting a magazine into the airsoft’s pistol grip feels as if you’re loading a centerfire pistol.
The gas-powered semiautomatic airsoft pistols cycle the slide with each shot and provide the hand with firm felt recoil. To illustrate the realism of functionality, my Umarex’s Glock 19X even locks the slide after the magazine is empty.
Hits & Misses
The flight of an airsoft’s BB is tunable by way of its high operation power up, or “hop-up.” The hop up imparts backspin on the BB and is adjusted with a dial or lever. The net effect of the adjustment extends the BB’s range and affects the BB’s point of impact rather predictably.
You won’t hear “match accuracy” and “airsoft” mentioned in the same sentence (except this one), but small groups are not what airsoft is intended to achieve. The bore of the barrel is smooth and produces what many would call “combat accuracy” results on target.
Getting started shooting airsoft guns is easy — very easy. No license is required to own one, and they can be shipped directly to your home provided there are no local or state laws that prohibits the purchase.
Airsoft guns are available in popular shooting platforms such as AR-15-type rifles, bolt-action rifles, and a variety of handguns. They are most often powered by springs, CO2, green gas, or electric motors.
For self-defense training, I recommend CO2- and green gas-powered guns. The gas-powered guns will offer blowback systems, which makes the slide cycle and produces a stronger recoil force. Typically, the slide will lock rearward after shooting the last BB.
Of the two gases, CO2 produces higher pressures. CO2 power can be harder on equipment. Green gas is no slouch though, as it can propel BBs at 300 feet-per-second (fps), which is plenty of power for personal-defense training distances. The cost to run either is similar. The advantage of CO2 cartridges is that they are smaller and more portable than green gas, but for at-home use CO2 may not offer a significant benefit. To add, the downside to CO2 is that some manufacturers don’t recommend leaving a CO2 cartridge in the magazine for storage because it may weaken the runner seal and create a leak.
The magazine is where all the magic happens. If you’re using green gas, the gas reservoir is built into the magazine and is filled by removing the magazine’s baseplate to expose a brass nipple. Insert the canister’s nozzle into the nipple until the reservoir has reached equilibrium with the canister.
Once your fuel of choice selected, you’ll have to choose the projectile type. Airsoft guns use 6mm plastic BBs. As with the gun-powder version, not all ammo is created equal. Cheap BBs may not run smoothly, so buy quality BBs. BBs come in different grain weights as well. Since I’m shooting at targets within 12 yards, I find a mid-sized BB of .20 grams offers good accuracy and consistency. Heavier BBs require more gas to propel them, which produces little benefit when shooting at home in close-quarter distances. BBs are inexpensive though, so experimenting with different weights is cheap.
Another available option you may want to consider is using a bio-degradable BBs. These BBs breakdown overtime in an exposed environment such as a backyard or field.
Eye protection is a must. BBs launch from a muzzle at 300 fps and easily penetrate cardboard. Not surprisingly, ricochets at close distances can damage your eyes.
A great thing about training with a replica of your personal defense firearm is that you can use the same holster and magazine pouches that you use as part of your everyday carry (EDC). The airsoft Glock 19X I shoot fits perfectly in my Blade-Tech holster and mag pouches. I love that I don’t need to buy new gear. “Train as you intend to fight,” as SGM Kyle Lamb says.
You wouldn’t carry a firearm without an extra magazine, right? The same thought process applies to airsoft training. Reloads are an important part of handgun training, so spare mags are a must-have. When practicing speed reloads over a hard surface such as a tile or concrete floor, place a pad where the magazine will land to avoid damaging it.
Loading the small BBs by hand is not difficult, but purchasing a speed loader makes it much easier. The Walther Speed Loader I use holds 100 BBs and swiftly injects BBs into the magazine channel. I haven’t dropped BBs since.
There are a variety of targets available including pop-up targets, cans, steel, reactive targets, and paper targets. (Or, just use paper plates.) Surprisingly, the plastic BBs pack enough punch to pass right through paper and cardboard. For those days in which I don’t want to pick up BBs, I use a homemade target frame with an inexpensive mat backstop and to trap the BBs for easy clean up.
Like firearms, airsoft guns also need lubrication, but they require lubricants that are designed for their specific use. Using the wrong lubricant can dissolve rubber seals and make an airsoft gun inoperable.
Cleaning the barrel is as simple as putting lubricant on a patch and running it through the bore. Finish by pushing dry patches through the gun until it’s clean. It’s that easy.
Shooting airsoft guns is obviously different than shooting a firearm. They all produce softer recoil, and the shooter knows that the BB’s aren’t deadly (unless you swallow a whole bottle or have a serious plastic allergy). The weight of the extra magazine on the belt, the similar handling and trigger pull are indistinguishable from a centerfire pistol. Once you experience the thwack of the BB perforating cardboard or spinning a reactive target, your senses are just as excited. The differences between centerfire training become minimal for the purpose of at-home training. Increase the difficulty and stress by introducing a shot timer. There’s no way that this approach to airsoft training at home can’t improve your skills beyond dryfire practice. Select a quality airsoft gun and you’ll find yourself practicing for longer periods and more often.
- Umarex Glock 19X: $180
- Spare Magazine - $50
- Elite Force BBs, .20 gram - $9 (2,700 ct.); $15 (5,000 ct.)
- Elite Force Fuel (green gas) - $12 (6 oz.)
- Walther Speed Loader - $5