Competitive Shooting

Airsoft Practice for Maintaining Shooting Skills

I’ve been shooting a lot of IDPA matches lately. I used to shoot them every week, although a change in my schedule three years ago meant I would not be able to compete as much. What was worse, the new schedule seriously cut into my available range time.

Now that I can get out and shoot more, it’s become painfully obvious how much my shooting ability has declined. Like they say, “Use it or lose it.” So, I’ve developed a new routine to ensure I spend 30 minutes practicing every day. No, I didn’t suddenly win the lotto so I could afford enough ammunition to practice every day. I am not even going to the range. Using dry-fire practice and airsoft replicas, I am practicing at home.

One of the biggest impediments to consistent regular practice is the cost of ammunition, especially since there has been a significant spike in ammunition prices in the past couple of years. Ideally, I’d like to practice with live ammunition on a range, and the reality is ammunition costs are prohibitively expensive.

Nothing beats being able to shoot and move with a pistol and live ammunition, although airsoft replicas come close.

Many different models of airsoft guns are available and most are exact replicas of actual firearms. Pistols like this HK USP are faithfully recreated in airsoft form. Many even have reciprocating slides that lock back after the last shot. The best part is airsoft ammunition is incredibly inexpensive.

While an airsoft gun may not duplicate the recoil of an actual pistol, training with them is useful for the first shot. Using an airsoft pistol, you can easily practice drawing from concealment and engaging a target with the first shot.

The other reason people cite for not practicing is a lack of time. There’s no easy answer here— if you want to improve, you simply must set aside the time to practice. Practicing at home is at least a partial solution to the time problem. Considering the amount of time it takes to pack up your gear for the range, drive there, drive back, unload and clean your firearms (you do clean them after every range trip, right?) the time saved can easily be an hour or more.

Even still, practicing at home only provides you with so much experience. There is no way to accurately practice followup shots at home—for that you need to be at a range. Practicing double-taps and Mozambique drills (two to the chest, one to the head) pretty much requires using live ammunition so you can train for handling muzzle climb and bringing the front sight back down onto the target.

The reason you need live ammunition to practice follow-up shots is because when you practice, you are training muscle memory. The reason for repetition drills is to ingrain the proper motion into your brain until it becomes instinctual, requiring no conscious thought to perform perfectly. If you train using practice equipment that does not work exactly as the real deal, you ingrain the wrong muscle memory and your performance suffers. For this reason, limit drills at home using airsoft or dry-firing to “first shot” drills—ones that stop after the first shot.

This does not help you on your splits although, believe it or not, that is not where most speed is made up. Most of the time spent in practical shooting competitions is drawing from the holster, reloading, and maneuvering. Fast shooting looks cool, and if you spend 8 seconds on a reload, it does not matter how close your slits are. The complex actions of drawing and reloading eat up most of the time. Luckily, airsoft and dry-fire practice is very effective at improving your speed in drawing and reloading. Practicing these actions at home increases your performance enormously.

Experts say it takes 10,000 repetitions before something becomes so ingrained that it can be done effortlessly and perfectly, without thought. That is a lot of practice. What is worse, if you do not continue to practice regularly, those skills fade. Using airsoft replicas and dry-fire practice at home for just 30 minutes a day helps you improve and maintain your shooting skills.

Do you practice with airsoft? How has it improved your shooting? Tell us about it in the comment section.

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Comments (5)

  1. For the most part–and in the context of competitive shooting–I agree with your comments. I also think that practicing with a .22 caliber pistol that replicates your centerfire pistol has great value. About the only thing the .22 can’t do is replicate the recoil of the centerfire pistol. And, .22 ammo is still relatively cheap. I think that where the use of .22’s, AirSoft, BB-guns, and dry firing come into play is when practicing the fundamentals–grip, stance, aiming, breath control, trigger control, etc. They also work with multiple target transitions. Again, I believe the only thing these alternative practice methods can replicate are those factors related to recoil management.

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