Training Without Ammo (Part 2: Airsoft)

Has the ammo shortage, or the COVID crisis in general, cut into your range time? Here are some tips to help you sharpen those shooting skills when a trip to the range is not an option.

Truth be told, I used to look down on airsoft guns. I thought of them as little more than a slight step up from children’s toys with little merit beyond entertaining those who couldn’t own real firearms. Well, I’m big enough to admit that I was wrong. Some time ago I met with an instructor who used them as part of his training regimen, and I actually handled some of the better examples of these “guns.” After that experience, I came around to seeing them as viable training tools.

Disclaimer: Let me start by saying I’m no expert on airsoft guns. I own a couple for training purposes, do not “game” with them, and I don’t keep up with the industry as I do with that of firearms.

Gas Guns
The airsoft guns I’m speaking of here are the pistols that have what is called a gas blow back feature. These models are a definite step up from the cheaply constructed, spring-powered, single-shot variety typically found at department stores. The better gas blow back (GBB) guns, and there are cheapos out there, will try to replicate the design and heft of a real pistol and an entry-level model will typically run you at least $100 or more. I’ve seen some that are priced in the thousands that are made for serious airsoft gamers with dough to blow.

So, what is a gas blow back airsoft pistol? As mentioned previously, it’s a somewhat faithful reproduction of a real firearm, except it fires 6mm plastic BBs. The power to propel that BB is provided by gas, either CO2 or something called green gas, which in actuality is propane usually mixed with a bit of lubricant (likely silicone).

The CO2 comes in small metal capsules that are inserted into the magazine of the gun and these are good for approximately 50 shots each. Green gas comes in larger aerosol type cans that are used to fill the internal reservoir of the green gas magazine (sort of like filling a butane lighter). The number of shots you’ll get per fill varies widely from a 15 to 30 or more, depending on the gun.

When fired, both the CO2 and green gas models propel the BB out, force the slide to “blow back,” recock the gun, and come forward reloading a fresh BB from the magazine into the chamber. Sound familiar? The experience of firing one these is about as close as you can come to firing a real semi-automatic pistol while not using a real firearm. But don’t think you’re going to feel anything akin to actual recoil or the kind of impulse encountered when firing a real gun.

Power and Cost
Generally, the CO2 guns fire their BBs a little hotter than the green gas models. Because of this, these higher velocity models (firing at 350 fps or higher) are not recommended for indoor use, unless using an airgun-quality backstop of some kind. My green gas Glock 17 clone fires around 290fps and is more than adequate for my purposes.

It’s generally accepted that the green gas guns are going to be the more economical to run. A $10 can of gas will last for dozens of magazines worth of shooting. And as a side benefit, the lower velocities will make for a safer experience when shooting indoors.

The CO2 variants will cost a little more to shoot in the long term as you’re buying these small metal gas cartridges (approximately $1-$2 a piece depending on location), but you’ll be refilling much less often during your shooting session. And for those who want to train outdoors or who have the space and materials for a proper backstop inside, the extra velocity of CO2 will offer more zip to the shooting experience, especially when plinking. And as a side note: the BBs now come in environmentally friendly, biodegradable variants.

Back Stop
It’s imperative that you have a good back stop to stop and contain these tiny projectiles. You do not want them rocketing around a room, potentially causing damage to windows, belongings, or you. Oh, and for god’s sake, where eye protection. You already do so when at the range with your real guns, so do the same for airsoft training too. A 6mm BB traveling at 300fps to the eyeball will wreck your day, and possibly your long-term vision.

For the CO2 powered models, I’d use an airgun-quality BB/pellet trap, either bought as a bespoke unit or made from materials bought at the hardware store. Many of these guns fire in the 400fps+ range so choose your back stop wisely. You’ve got to stop and contain the BB. And I recommend not firing the CO2 models in just a regular room, even with a good back stop—head to the basement, garage, or better yet outside.

When it comes to the green gas guns, making a good back stop is a lot easier. You can probably find some things around the house that can be put to use. I use a good-sized cardboard box (big enough for my paper target with room to spare) with a large portion of the center of one side cut out (my target side). I’ve stapled an old t-shirt to hang in the interior of the box and threw in some plastic bubble packaging and old packing paper from Amazon orders in between the shirt and the opening. You’ll need to experiment to find what works best for your particular gun and the space you’re using.

Yes, follow the same rules you would with a real firearm. Don’t get into some bad habits just because it’s an airsoft gun. Watch your muzzle discipline, keep your finger off the trigger and up on the frame when not on target, and wear eye protection (anyone else in the vicinity must wear eye protection as well). Make adjustments to your back stop if the BBs are not being stopped and contained.

Finally, enjoy some range time without the noise or cost of a real firearm. In the next article, I’ll offer up some drills to run with your airsoft gun.
-Brian Bertoldo, Instructor, Paladin Group Training, LLC