Humans beings learn by doing and the heat of battle is no the time to figure out how to fight, especially when your life depends on it. AirSoft pistols and rifles work very well for shooters wishing to immerse themselves in safe, but highly realistic scenario-based training simulations (so much so most military and law enforcement agencies have adopted them as go-to training tools) and in 2012, airsoft guns out there marketed for self-defense training aren’t really that far from the real thing.
To be sure, purchasing an airsoft handgun or rifle for training purposes is an entirely different animal than just buying airsoft weapons for recreation with a much more explicit set of considerations attached to it. AirSoft guns can vary greatly in terms of quality, style and usefulness and in the context of reality-based self-defense training it’s important that your weapon’s features add to the realness. Remember, how you train is how you’ll fight so the goal is to chose a training weapon as close to the real thing as possible.
Accordingly, your airsoft training arsenal should reflect your combat arsenal; if you carry a Glock, you should get an airsoft gun that is similar to a Glock. If you prefer an AR-15 or M4 style rifle, look for airsoft replicas that are as close to the real thing as possible in both look and function.
What’s out there?
Airsoft guns can be broken down into three categories according to their method of operation: spring-operated, gas-operated (CO2 and green gas) and what’s are called automatic electric guns or battery operated. All three come with plastic/polymer or metal bodies (or bodies that use a combination of the two).
For training, I recommend the metal-bodied airsoft guns because of their enhanced realism (in look, operation and weight) and durability. I also advise against battery operated airsoft guns for serious self-defense training. Automatic electric guns make fine toys and are very user friendly, but they are not realistic or durable enough to effectively train with. Accordingly, I’m only going to address the other two types: spring-operated and gas-operated.
Spring AirSoft guns are the cheapest in price of the three styles, especially the see-through type, which can go for less than $20. Depending on whether you’re considering a rifle or a pistol, prices can range from $20 all the way up to $150.
If you’re looking to start airsoft training but do not want to invest a lot of money at the beginning, this genre is probably your safest bet, but as always there’s a considerable downside to the bargain route.
First, spring guns usually require manual slide manipulation for each shot, which is great for practicing shooting fundamentals training during combat, especially if your gun has a trigger and hammer that break, but can seriously downgrade your training simulations level of realism. Also, most spring operated models do not put much force behind a BB, which you’ll see later is actually very important for effective training. Lastly, spring guns are usually made of plastic, which breaks easily.
Top of the Line
The other side of the coin is gas-operated AirSoft guns. Gas-operated systems take magazines filled with gas, usually feature “blowback” actions for semi-automatic fire, and are without rival the most realistic looking, often made entirely of metal parts (sometimes even using real gun components like pistol frames). If you’re serious about airsoft reality-based training, gas-operated is the way to go.
The problem is that this style is cost prohibitive. Guns start at about the $100 mark and go all the way up $500 dollars. When using green gas (although it’s not cheap), the magazine holds the gas. The seals can dry up and crack so keep it filled with some gas even and especially during storage.
Where do I buy airsoft?
Most airsoft replicas are imported to the United States from Asia (especially from China, where the don’t need no stink’n licensing agreements to make airsoft clones of the world’s favorite guns), so only buy from a reputable dealer. Also, because of this import relationship/the nature of the business, many airsoft guns are sold via the web. AirSplat is a large online purveyor, who you can visit here. Red Wolf AirSoft is another good online airsoft site, which features pretty funny reviews.
Recently I was looking to buy a good airsoft training pistol and after some detailed search, I purchased a number of different guns with 1911-style frames. The Tokyo Marui performed the best. It was very accurate and very realistic. Models start around $140.
My advice about what airsoft ammo to use is the same advice I would give someone asking me about practice ammo: don’t run junk through your gun. With that in mind, most brands of airsoft BBs are acceptable. A can of five thousand .25 gram BBs will cost you a little over $10 (you can purchase some here).
I suggest you use black BBs. These help shooters concentrate on their sights instead of the white or light colored BBs flying through the air (it’s very difficult to see black BBs, which is good). Simunitions FX rounds and UTM (Ultimate Training Munitions) Man-Marker Rounds are the high-end varieties of airsoft ammunition favored by military and law enforcement agencies (and can pack quite a whallop).
Both of these ammo styles are actual cartridges that use two primers in the round to propel the projectile downrange (they also come with conversion kits to turn real guns into airsoft guns) and are accurate out to about 100-feet. To give you an example of pricing, a case of 1000 5.56 mm caliber rounds retails for around $600-$800.
An AirSoft pistol can hurl a .20 gram BB around 350 fps while AR-style and sniper AirSoft rifles operate anywhere in the 400-600 fps range. With projectiles flying about at velocities like these, your safety (as always) is of paramount importance and while an AirSoft gun might not kill you, losing an eye because of carelessness would be horrendous (and seriously effect your future ability to train).
Be sure to wear good head, face, neck and groin protection. If there is going to be any type of force-on-force training, ANSI-rated wrap around goggles are a must because normal range glasses or sunglasses still leave too much of your face exposed.
Also, be careful about shooting walls. AirSoft BBs can damage surfaces and are also known to ricochet off of hard surfaces, especially if the projectile hits a wall at an angle.
All Guns are Real Guns
If you decide to start training with a less-than-lethal AirSoft gun, don’t take this as an opportunity to get lax about firearm safety. Shooters sometimes let themselves slip into the thinking that their airsoft training weapon is a toy rather than a gun. To get the most out of your self-defense lessons, you need to treat your training gun just like the real thing. Keep in mind any habits you cultivate in your reality-based airsoft training, good or bad, will still be there when you switch to real weapons. And besides, real guns and ammo just universally do not mix with fake guns and ammo, so when you’re training, treat all guns like real guns.
No Pain, No Gain
One of the most unique things about AirSoft guns is learning tactics by pain compliance. When you get shot with an airsoft training rifle or pistol, it should hurt for a number of reasons.
First, painful shots force you to remember what you’re doing is practice, not play. Playing is fun and sometimes it’s useful because it’s healthy and relaxing, but if you really want great training you have to get into the right mindset and this must entail force-on-force training scenarios.
Second, non-permanent injury as punishment for mistakes has been used by battle training instructors since time en memoriam and is one of the most proven methods to imparting lasting knowledge and forging personal discipline. In other words, if you screw up and it hurts, you’re less likely both consciously and subconsciously to make that same mistake again.
Along those lines, besides heightening the realism of the battle (you think a 9mm round is going to hurt a little more than a BB?), knowing a hit means pain will likely dissuade you from making overzealous moves, hence forcing you to act more realistically to how you would in combat. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be courageous and aggressive—you should act with decisiveness, speed and control, justified violence—but taking unnecessary risks will not help you in an actual battle and is more characteristic of playing than practice.
That stated, be sure to implement mental toughness—training where you mentally don’t feel a thing and you don’t stop, even if you’re hit a hundred times. Fight through the pain and win the fight.
Your AirSoft simulation will be as real as you make it and one of the things that needs to happen if you are going to effectively use airsoft to hone your tactical skills is to envision the simulation as a real, lethal confrontation.
During scenario-based training, staying in character is vitally important. Act like it’s really happening. Believe it or not, it has been proven that if you lose yourself mentally in these training scenarios deep enough you can actually experience a physiological and psychological change (even though they take place in a safe environment). This can prepare you for real world situations and it should come as no surprise that because of the ubiquity of AirSoft guns, the reasonable cost and the effectiveness of mental and physical tactical training that can come from using these guns in reality-based scenarios, a lot of police departments use these tools.
Tailor your actions according to the situation. Don’t use false protection and pretend it’s cover, when in realty the thin hollow core door will stop an AirSoft BB, but not a real gun. Don’t get clipped in the shoulder by a tiny nonlethal pellet and fall to the ground in an Oscar worthy performance of pain and agony. If your HK45c only holds 8 rounds plus one, only load your airsoft side-arm with 9 pellets.
Until next time, continue to hone your skills and keep adding to your tactical toolbox.