I'll come right out and admit it: As it turns out, I am an airsoft kind of guy.
I will admit a negative bias before I ever even tried airsoft. I’d always considered airsoft guns, which shoot plastic pellets, as something akin to grown men playing cops and robbers. A lot of people make a lot of claims about the viability of practicing with airsoft equipment as a way to improve your actual live-fire shooting skills. That was the question in my mind before I purchased my first airsoft “weapon” – could training with this equipment really translate into improved performance on the range? Could this, in turn, enhance my survivability in a real fight-or-flight, life-and-death self-defense situation?
For those of us who are ordinary human beings (mere mortals instead of high-speed, low-drag operators, who have the privilege of Uncle Sam paying for unlimited ammo and range time) the only way we can hope to train realistically for force on force scenarios is with airsoft guns. But when you say “airsoft” these days, people don’t think primarily of training tools. They think of toys. Airsoft, though, covers the whole spectrum. There are the clear plastic toys that kids buy; there are the slightly more realistic repeating guns and electric machineguns that young men use for skirmish recreations; and there are the high-end, metal reproductions whose purpose is to look and feel like a real firearm (for those who, for whatever reason, can’t or don’t have access to the real thing).
Part of the reason that airsoft gets dismissed is because there’s a whole youth culture devoted to “military simulation,” or “milsim,” that is really just capture the flag with airsoft guns and camouflage uniforms. The issue is that these guys tend to think of themselves as skilled with firearms even if they’ve never picked up a real gun. You can find these idiots on YouTube, blathering on about room-clearing and malfunction drills and magazine changes under fire, all the while using cheap plastic airsoft guns to live out their fantasies. Isolated to this circle of YouTube users, it’s no big deal if a bunch of overgrown children want to play-act. The problem is that some of these tools have followings online. They are spreading misinformation about airsoft as some sort of magical stand-in for firearms, and this simply isn’t right.
The fact is, however, that a quality airsoft gun is NOT a toy; it can be, when used in conjunction with realistic live firearms training, a very good way to fill in the gaps. What I mean by “gaps” is that there are things an airsoft gun can’t do for you. If you understand the limitations of these stand-in weapons, however, and you tailor your training to take advantage of these while remaining realistic about them, you can enhance your overall training regimen.
I got “schooled,” when it comes to the reality of airsoft guns, by PTS Syndicate. PTS, which stands for Professional Training and Simulation, not only provided me with a great deal of information and assistance, but more importantly helped me understand the underlying attitude required to learn. Their website lists their goal as “to provide the highest quality replicas for not just training, but also for playing and collecting. This includes maximizing realism in function and maintaining superior quality and workmanship over the ‘average’ airsoft toy product.” To accomplish this, PTS licenses brands and designs from firearms accessory companies in order to offer the best replication products on the market. I can’t say enough good things about PTS, whose training philosophy not only helped clear up my reservations about airsoft, but also demonstrated to me just how far the company goes to provide useful knowledge and training to the shooting community at large.
Among the things I learned was that while you don’t have to have an expensive gun, you should strive to train with a high-quality model. What this means is that the cheap gun-shaped airsoft pistols that don’t have much in the way of realistic features, magazines, or operation should be left on the shelves of big-box discount stores where they belong. A decent airsoft gun will have a magazine release where the magazine goes. It will have decent sights that simulate the sights on a real handgun, and it will have realistically sized (and, ideally weighted) magazines. If you use accessories like a mounted light, your airsoft gun should have strong, realistic rails that work just like the real thing.
I have 'real' Sig Sauer 226 & Glock 19 pistol and I also own the high-quality KWA airsoft guns that matches it. If you put these two guns together you would have a hard time determining which is which. These are examples of high-end, reproductions whose purpose is to look and feel like a real firearm. They even weigh the same. Sure, the recoil isn’t the same, and you can’t train only with airsoft and never with the real thing and think you are learning to shoot, but training with my KWA I have vastly improved my presentation from the holster and my ability to get my sites quickly and efficiently on the target.
I also own a Mega Arms MKM GBBR from PTS. Its impossible for me to say enough good things about this rifle. Like every one of the brands offered through PTS it is unmatched in quality and performance. It has to be to create the most authentic training experience possible.
The best results I have experienced has been to practice with the holster you would normally use (as you should pick an airsoft closely matching your carry gun if at all possible). If you can’t match the gun exactly, use the same type of holster with similar retention. Get into your shooting stance, draw your weapon as you normally would, and engage a stationary target. Ideally, this target should be made of paper.
Make sure your paper target has an actual mark on it that you’re shooting for. Make the target a face and shoot for the “eye box,” for example. The idea is that if you cannot learn to draw, shoot, and hit accurately and consistently using a weapon that has NO recoil, you will never be able to do so with a weapon that fires live rounds.
Once you’ve gotten good with stationary targets, try varying them. You can’t really set up moving targets, but what you can do is place a number of targets around the room and try engaging different ones at different times and from different positions and angles. Can you draw, present, and shoot without jerking, flinching, or otherwise screwing up?
Most recently I have been incorporating both my pistol and rifle drills with Dom Raso's CQB High Low Drill. This is an excellent transition drill utilizing both carbine and pistol in conjunction and is a perfect example of the kind of drill that can be practiced in relative safety in the back yard. These skills can then be taken to the range and adapted to live fire. At first, you may not see a real improvement, but trust me, if you get really good at pulling a no-recoil trigger consistently, that will become a skill of pulling the trigger of a real pistol without jerking. Your airsoft training will thus reinforce and facilitate your live fire training. I am not a terribly coordinated individual, (understatement) but not only have I been able to improve my shooting skills practicing with my airsoft equipment, I’ve also learned that almost anyone can do the same. (PTS was very helpful in educating me in this regard.)
This is really the whole “trick” to enhancing your training with airsoft. You’ve got to do it in conjunction with live fire, and with a mind toward your ultimate goals. As long as you keep all that in perspective, you WILL succeed, and the training you do -- whether at home, at the range, indoors, outdoors, with blue guns, with empty firearms, with airsoft guns, with laser training guns -- will all build on one another to reinforce what you are trying to accomplish.
Your goal is to become a solid shooter, someone who can engage targets under stress with consistency and accuracy. This isn’t all there is to defensive shooting, but you can’t do any of the rest of it without this vital foundation.