By Sam Hoober, Alien Gear Holsters
Bad news: the ammunition shortage isn’t going away until at least next year at the soonest, and that’s being pretty darn optimistic.
At the end of 2020, Hornady was reporting 3 years’ worth of orders to fill. In November of that year, Vista Outdoors – Vista owns Federal, Speer and now Remington’s ammunition concerns – reported a $1 billion backlog.
And that was a few months ago. Clearly, the ammunition won’t be coming back for a while. So what the heck are we going to do to maintain proficiency?
Well, dry fire is certainly a good thing (and you should be doing a certain amount of it anyway) but a lot of people are going to want to take that next step. How do you make dry fire more realistic? Or – failing that – dry fire with some feedback that helps you track performance?
There are two really good methods for doing that. You have laser training systems, and buying an airsoft gun.
Which is better? That depends on how you define “better.” Both have their pros and cons, so you want to understand what you’re trying to get out of it before you jump into one or the other.
Let’s start with airsoft.
Airsoft pistols, BB pistols, pellet guns, whatever term you want to use, are available in a lot of different designs, including the operating system.
Eschew anything spring-powered. For realistic practice, what you’re looking for is a gas-operated pistol with blowback. How it works is that pressurized gas propels the BB, but also vents off to operate a reciprocating slide.
You also want to pick one that’s just like your actual carry pistol, or at least close to it. The good news there is that a lot of popular makes and models of gun have a blowback airsoft copy in production, which means your holsters and so on will usually work with them.
If you carry a Glock, get one of a Glock. If you carry a Beretta 92, there are Beretta 92s, get a 1911 if you carry one, you get the idea.
Look for CO₂ or green gas operated airsoft guns. Green gas, if you haven’t heard of it, is propane with the odiferous agent (sulfur) taken out of it. Propane fuel has sulfur added so you’ll smell a leak; green gas doesn’t.
Now, what’s the benefit here?
Realistic practice. It’s the same gun – or at least such a close copy that it makes no difference – and you also get the sensations of recoil and noise from the blast. You won’t get the same recoil force, but it’s pretty close to that of a 9mm pistol.
In other words, most of the same stimuli of shooting an actual gun, just with the intensity dialed down a notch.
What’s the downside, though?
For one, the sights usually suck, and point of impact may have a lot less to do with the point of aim than it normally does, and for several reasons.
Airsoft pistols are smoothbores, and – unless you live on rural property or you’re some kind of lunatic – the ammunition you’ll feed it is plastic BBs. Trajectory is not necessarily as stable as it is with a bullet and rifled barrel.
It is up to a point, however, so you have to pattern your air pistol to find the distance at which the pellet starts to drop.
Additionally, trajectory is also heavily dependent on pressure. The more you shoot, the less pressure is left in the cartridge or tank (depending on what kind of system your airgun has) and eventually point of impact starts to deviate from point of aim.
Running costs are pretty cheap, especially compared to shooting an actual pistol even before an ammunition crisis. Buy-in costs are a bit steep, depending on what kind of gun you buy.
Blowback CO₂ air pistols can be had for as little as $60 for basic models, but some approach $300 or more depending on all the features and intricacies.
Chief among the drawbacks is the inconsistencies regarding accuracy and high buy-in costs. However, again, it’s the most realistic practice you can get short of having a huge stockpile of ammunition.
Top Tip: if you typically carry a DA/SA pistol, make sure the airsoft gun you buy has an actual DA/SA trigger system. Many of the lower-end models are DAO, so that’s something to bear in mind.
There are also airsoft AR-15 and AK-47 guns as well.
If also looking for one of those – and if you keep a carbine for home defense or what have you, you should for the same reasons – avoid the electronic full-auto models. Those are for fun, not for serious training. Opt for a semi-auto only model with a blowback-operated bolt.
Ideally, you’ll want to install the same sights as your actual carbine, or get the cheapest Chinese knock-off of it you can find.
Then we come to lasers.
Now laser dry fire training systems give you the best feedback in terms of accuracy, as your point of aim and point of impact will be more or less the same as if you’d been shooting actual ammo.
However, the drawback is that most laser systems don’t simulate recoil, but there are some that do, which we’ll get into.
What all of them do is put a laser cartridge with a button primer in the chamber. The firing pin hits the button and a dot appears on the target. That tells you where the shot would land and thus giving you feedback in terms of accuracy.
Laser training cartridges typically start somewhere around $40 and go up from there. So if that’s all you’re doing – dry fire, see where the dot goes – then it’s definitely cheaper to get into. Get it in the caliber your gun is chambered in and off you go.
Running costs are incredibly low as you’re just paying for watch batteries.
That’s the basic version. If you want to get a little higher-tech (and it’s a good idea) you can add a training system, which is typically tracking software. Said software tracks shot placement, which shows you how consistently you’re shooting.
That gives you actual data regarding grip, trigger press and sight alignment and so on.
In a lot of ways, a laser dry fire training system lets you – again – do all that foundational work, and you can also use it to dial in that first shot from the holster, especially if you start incorporating a shot timer.
The drawback, of course, is that it doesn’t give you any impetus for simulating recoil, and managing recoil is (obviously) an enormous part of building good shooting skill and certainly of maintaining it.
Unless, that is, you add a recoil simulator.
Recoil simulator systems are conversion kits that add a gas system (much like a blowback airsoft gun) to a pistol or are a standalone laser pistol with a blowback gas system.
Costs, however, are a little prohibitive as a recoil simulation conversion kit is typically quite expensive, costing upward of $300 or more, and that’s from the companies that will actually sell one to civilians.
Which is a little weird; you’d figure the people who make this stuff see a need for civilians to be good marksmen as well as police and military personnel, but so much for that.
So which is best? That really depends on how you’d define that. If you asked me, my opinion (whatever that’s worth) would be to get the airsoft pistol.
Unless you’re going whole-hog on a laser system, replete with tracking software, and a recoil simulation system, a blowback airsoft gun is going to let you do a lot more meaningful work than a laser cartridge alone.
Then again, what you could do is get an airsoft pistol with an accessory rail, and add a MantisX dongle to it. MantisX is a tracking system that gives you the same data as a laser training software system. That would give you the best of both worlds.
Folks, it’s going to be awhile before ammo is plentiful and cheap again. And if the gun grabbers have their misguided way, it may never be. These are tools for practicing and training when you have to conserve ammunition, so they’re well worth looking into. That’s valuable.
Sam Hoober is a Contributing Editor to AlienGearHolsters.com, a subsidiary of Hayden, ID, based Tedder Industries, where he writes about gun accessories, gun safety, open and concealed carry tips. Click here to visit aliengearholsters.com.