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Can Airsoft Training Translate to Real World Shooting Skill

Recently, I came across a really great article from Readyman Media’s Blog, and I wanted my chance to weigh-in. The article can be found here, and it has to do with Readyman’s extensive experience using Airsoft Training as an aid to bettering themselves and their club members out on the range.

At first, I was a skeptic to this school of thought. Initially, I had only ever really thought of Airsoft in the light you see on Instagram. However, after digging a bit deeper into the topic I think they (Readyman) among other great instructors may have actually changed my mind completely on this. Let’s dig into it a bit.

The Idea of Airsoft Training.

Airsoft Training in Practice
Image Courtesy: Readyman Media.

When you initially look into the world of Airsoft, what you tend to see is pretty cringe-worthy. On your initial inspection to hashtags related to #airsoft on places like Instagram and Facebook, you’re going to find a lot of young kids ranging from 12 to 18 years of age. A majority of these kids will be dressed up in knock-off tactical gear, and covered from head-to-toe in morale patches. An even further inspection of the surface layer of the Airsoft world leads you to a bunch of YouTube content. That YouTube content happens to be full of “Call of Duty” hit marker sounds, and young-adults throwing absolute temper tantrums.

So, the real question we need to ask is this: Can Airsoft be treated seriously? The guys over at Readyman seem to think so as evidenced by their blog post linked above. They’re also not alone in that train of thought either. Many other members of the tactical community have started turning an eye towards Airsoft training. Even groups like Haley Strategic, T-Rex Arms, and Student of the Gun are starting to hop on this train and prove to us one simple fact.

When taken seriously, Airsoft can and will elevate your shooting skills.

The key here is the word seriously. At the very heart of Airsoft, 1:1 model firearms have been produced to play a semi-competitive sport similar to Paintball. The real kicker here is the 1:1 model firearm. With this tool, you are able to get more repetitions in with the firearm of your choosing for a fraction of the cost. On top of this, according to T-Rex Arms, those repetitions translate to real-world muscle memory that very easily allow you to elevate your shooting.

That said however, you get out of things what you put into them. If your purpose with an Airsoft gun is to treat it like a toy, or to use it for the semi-competitive sport of Airsoft, then you’re only enhancing your ability to play with a toy or be semi more proficient as an Airsoft player. Let’s continue and dig a bit deeper.

Airsoft Training vs Flat Range Training.

Now that we’ve established the above, there are now two schools for you to train at. On the one hand, you have the purely conventional flat range. This is where you go to shoot targetry from ranges of 0 to 25 yards, or even as far out as say 1,000 yards in some places. On the other hand you can now add in airsoft training as a new school to study and improve your skills.

Like any school, both of these are going to have both their advantages and disadvantages. No one school is going to outright be better than the other, however I would argue that if you only train with your airsoft gun, you are going to be in for a bit of a struggle when you finally get out to the flat range for training. Also, it’s worth noting that completely skipping the flat-range really only bars you from force on force style training that instructors like the Readyman crew swear by. On top of this force on force training, you’re really missing out on a ton of nearly free repetitions without using airsoft training.

In short, if you can take it seriously, there’s no reason not to subscribe training with Airsoft firearms.

Pros and Cons of Airsoft.

Airsoft Training is Cheap

Right out of the gate, and before we even move forward, I want to talk about the largest advantage of airsoft training. With airsoft, one crucial component of training opens up to you. That component is force on force training. If you have never taken part in any true force on force training, I can’t recommend it enough. You don’t truly know who you are as an individual, nor do you truly know how you will react in a situation, until you’ve put yourself into a compromising position with a real-pain feedback result for your failures. Obviously, shooting at your buddies will result in a real-pain feedback, but unfortunately that’s a training session you can only do once. And, at the end of it, you do not pass go, you do not collect $200. You go directly to jail.

Pros.

  • Cheap. Like extremely cheap.
  • You can do it anywhere.
  • 1:1 scale models recreate the same experience as your chosen firearm.
  • Repeatable realistic Force on Force training.
  • Infinite repetitions.
  • Cons.

  • Easy to not take it seriously.
  • No or drastically reduced recoil.
  • Limited target feedback on accuracy.
  • Difficult to find 1:1 models for some firearms.
  • Instagram haters won’t like you. (This is changing.)
  • Pros and Cons of Flat Range Training.

    The flat range has two major advantages over airsoft training. Those two things are the fact that you get to actually become accustomed to the operations and recoil of your weapon, and you get instant target feedback if you are using paper or steel targets. The feedback from the targetry tells you exactly how you are shooting, and that information can be used to improve your shooting technique over time. On top of this feedback, you also get to see the ballistic capabilities of your firearm first-hand on the range. You can get used to things such as the trajectory of your rounds, and what those rounds actually do when fired at different ranges. IE, your point of aim and point of impact become truly relevant, and you learn to shoot your firearm using that as a reference point. This is not something that Airsoft can replicate, yet.

    Pros.

  • Actual handling of the firearm you intend to use.
  • Real-time feedback from the weapon.
  • Ballistics information relayed to the shooter.
  • Mastering muscle memory in relation to the feedback of both your body and weapon system.
  • Way cooler for Instagram photos.
  • Cons.

  • Expensive. Seriously, have you seen 9mm prices?
  • Requires travel to and setup at the range.
  • Impossible to conduct repeatable realistic force on force training.
  • Safety concerns, especially with new shooters.
  • More time consuming overall.
  • My Opinion on Airsoft Training.

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    I, much like many people in the firearms world, initially viewed airsoft training as nothing more than a children’s game. It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to train with the guys out at Readyman that I actually did a complete 180 on the topic. Also, after reading their article, and seeing many other shooters “come out of the Airsoft closet,” I figured what the heck, it really can’t be that bad. As a direct result of both my first hand experience training seriously with an airsoft gun, and the opinions of much better shooters than myself, I now believe that Airsoft is a fully viable way to train.

    That said, it’s only a viable way to train if you take it seriously for the duration of your training session. That means, if you’re going to train with your airsoft gun, treat it just as you would a normal weapon system. That means, treat, never, keep, keep, and the whole nine-yards of firearms safety also applies. Furthermore, it’s your responsibility as an individual shooter to not fully substitute out actual flat range trips in lieu of using airsoft as a cheap alternative to keeping your skills sharp. Use it as a supplement, not a replacement, and you will see the results.

    Conclusion.

    In short, I believe airsoft is an outstanding tool in the toolbox of any shooter out there. You’re able to get a lot of extra repetitions in for next to free after your initial investment. If you treat airsoft like a supplement to your already (hopefully) rigorous firearms training regimen, then you will see the improvements in your shooting at the range.

    But, that’s just the opinion of one individual shooter. I want to hear from you down in the comments. Do you use airsoft as a supplement to your own training routine? Have you ever done any force on force training with airsoft? What are your thoughts? Let me know down below, together as a community we can come together and truly become better shooters. I also do my absolute best to reply to as many comments as possible.

    6 thoughts on “Can Airsoft Training Translate to Real World Shooting Skill”

    1. Charles@pendingdelete.com'

      >>>Easy to not take it seriously.

      Just wear shorts, see if that mindset remains.

      We were on the range that way. My partner, trying very hard not to get hit, fell on the ground like a fish at the start of a drill. He’d done a clean and complete tear of his achilles tendon. Wife picked him up and took him to the hospital to have it reattached.

      Years later I still feel bad and can recall the entire event in my minds eye. There are a dozen witnesses to the event.

      There is a reason people wear heavy clothing.

    2. joe@gmail.com'

      If, after doing force on force training, you don’t come to a sober realization of how vulnerable you are in a real gunfight, then you didn’t take it seriously enough. This doesn’t mean you can’t laugh or have fun, but think deeply about that BB or two that just bounced off your chest; having cool gear or training means nothing if you get shot for real.

    3. jhazzard@email.arizona.edu'

      I have participated in a number of church and home security training (room clearing, armed intruder, active killer, etc.) sessions in which we use Airsoft replicas of our carry weapons. Obviously the pain factor is not as great (or lethal) as using real ammo, Simunition, or UTM systems, but you will know when you are hit. For anyone wanting to so security training under more realistic conditions, Airsoft is a very beneficial training aid. Another factor to be considered is that if one wants to keep their muscle memory honed during these times of extreme ammunition shortage (and ease the pain to the wallet), Airsoft systems are the way to go if (1) you choose a 1:1 replica of your carry weapon and (2) it has a blowback slide. Recoil management is obviously going to be a lot different. Based on advice I have gotten from more knowledgeable people, doing mag dumps is not advisable as it might damage the feed lips of the mag, so one gets to practice tac reloads. Personally I can see no drawbacks to doing serious training with Airsoft weapons.

      1. Excellent comment James. Thanks for the advice, and your experience with the topic! Do you have any Airsoft brands that you would recommend for solid 1:1 replica systems?

      2. mark@strategosintl.com'

        James our company has been using Airsoft in our LE/Military training since about 2004. We use it extensively for force on force training but I also have a course on how to use it as an alternative training tool. We don’t just use it for scenario training but primarily for drilling that is a very high round count allowing someone to get lots of reps of micro fights against an opponent shooting back.
        You can break training down into scenarios, scenario drilling and drills. The drills allow someone to practice, under stress and unscripted fighting against another person or teams. A scenario drill is designed to provide a micro fight, more contextual, such as fighting around one door way and a scenario allows people to go into a scripted scenario to test their decision making and principles learned in the drills applied correctly. We have been known for a long time for the amount of F-on-F we conduct in our classes. During a week long training course with 20 students we will shoot well over 10k BB’s at each other.
        We have used all of the various training platforms from paintball, Sims, UTM to Airsoft and they all have advantages and disadvantages. For us we would use Airsoft for the drills and switch to Sims for the scenarios as an example. But if we relied on Sims the cost of ammunition alone would add an additional $5K to the cost of the course. You also have to have more safety equipment for many of the platforms. Airsoft used in F-on-F requires a full mask to protect the eyes, ear canal and mouth but thats about it. It is also much easier for me to find a good training location with Airsoft compared to other platforms.
        In my two cents it is a great training tool but is only one part of a comprehensive training program.
        You did ask about which manufacturer. This is one area you have to do your homework and you can learn a lot by researching what the gamers are using and saying. Not each model is created equal, i.e., a Glock 17 clone by one manufacturer may be a great gun but a turd by another manufacturer. In my opinion KWA makes one of the best Glock replicas on the market. If you wanted a Sig you may be better off with another manufacturer. I hope this helps

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