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Bob Whaley

7 Defensive Handgun Training Myths

Myths, such as the one about using your sights in a defensive scenario, are common but should be dispelled by competent instructors.

There are many myths out there when it comes to proper defensive handgun training techniques. Here, seven of the most common are debunked.


I know; we have study after study, reams of empirical evidence and the commentary of really smart folks that say you will not use your sights under stress (Oh Lord, I hate that word). Most of the studies are based either on simulated gunfights under laboratory conditions or interviews with individuals involved in gunfights. In the case of the former, no simulation, no matter how carefully constructed, can exactly re-construct what occurs in real life. More on that later.

In the latter case, I’ve read lots of studies based on participant interviews, and with those supporting the “won’t-use-your-sights” theory, one thing always jumps out at me. We will accept that an individual will perform any number of actions without conscious thought as a result of deeply ingrained training leading to unconscious competence.

When, however, that same participant expresses any doubt about using the sights—an action they have performed literally thousands of times—the researcher will immediately conclude the sights were not utilized. If you accept that the shooter performs various actions due to ingrained training, why do we discount that phenomenon when it comes to using the sights? Could it be that the shooter used the sights and just didn’t register the action because it was so ingrained he performed it without conscious thought?

Your training is what you’ll fall back on in a defensive situation. Make sure you’ve trained to a high level.
Your training is what you’ll fall back on in a defensive situation. Make sure you’ve trained to a high level.

Well, I’ve done my own study. Thirty years of police work with 15 years on my department’s full-time SWAT team and (wait for it) two shootings. I know two is not a big number, but it’s a whole lot more than most of the researchers have experienced! And I used my sights in both instances. Friends of mine who have preformed well in shootings will say they performed well because they used their sights. We used our sights because we trained with outstanding instructors who demanded excellence. Then we obtained the experience to remain calm under pressure.

I will add one more thought on the use of sights in a gunfight. If you disregard your sighting system (iron sights, red dot or visible laser) and fixate on your target, you will most likely miss. I trained in instinct/unsighted/reflexive fire throughout the years, and it is impressive on a static range. History has shown, however, that unsighted fire leads to failure in actual shootings. Remember, the universal hit rate is 100 percent. A hundred percent of the time you launch a projectile down range, you will hit something.

Using the sights gives you the best chance of hitting your intended target and solving your problem. Fixating on the threat and blowing rounds somewhere down there ensures you’ll likely miss your intended target and hit an unintended target. That unintended target may be an inanimate object or a 4-year-old child. It’s your choice. Ensure success or accept failure.


No. Nope. No way! Don’t get me wrong. Force-on-force training is a vital category of training and, if done right, can give you a low-level base of experience—the final level of training. But force-on-force is not “exactly like real life.” How do I know? Remember those two shootings?

First, force-on-force training should be carefully constructed to validate training presented in the class. The training should provide you with all the answers. All you need to do is figure out the question during the exercise. Next, the best exercises are based on real world events, not the instructor’s imagination. Last, the instructor should not allow the exercise to descend to the level of a paintball game or allow the students to “stress out” (Man, I hate that word). Exercises should be carefully controlled so the student achieves all the needed training goals. But, to be clear, force-on-force is not “just like real life.”


In fact, you will default to your level of training. Further, in a real event, your skills will likely deteriorate, at least in the initial encounter. You must have highly developed physical and mental skills to perform at a level that will ensure success. A fighting or combat mindset without the skills to back up that mindset is useless. Mindset alone is “talking the talk.”

Developing skills to back up your mindset is “walking the walk.” You have to have both. So many people in the defensive weapon craft community want to take short cuts in training. Go ahead, it’s only life and death. What is your life worth to you? Put in the work, and you won’t have to rise to the occasion. The occasion will have to rise to your level of competence, and you will have won before the fight even begins.


This comment is usually attached to the instructor’s favorite technique, position or method of performing a given act. With the exception of natural point of aim, there’s nothing about using a gun that’s instinctive or natural. It’s learned behavior.

You either learned it in a class, saw it on TV, heard someone talking about whatever it is you think came natural or you learned it by some other means. How do I know? I know because I make pretty good money teaching fighting arts, including use of a variety of firearms. If this activity was natural or instinctive, anyone of any age could shoot. They wouldn’t need to be taught; they would instinctively know what to do. It would be truly hardwired behavior.

Ask yourself: Did you know how to shoot before someone taught you? Of course not!
Shooting is learned behavior. You will learn, accept and perform what you believe is relevant to you and what you believe is valid. An instructor that explains everything by saying a given action is natural/instinctive either doesn’t know what he’s talking about or is too lazy to explain his training program. Either way, he’s shortchanging the student. The technique may be perfectly valid. But it’s learned behavior. Find an instructor who knows how to teach.


Virtually no aspect of shooting is instinctive or natural. Only training will ensure you act appropriately in the situation.
Virtually no aspect of shooting is instinctive or natural. Only training will ensure you act appropriately in the situation.

There are no universal actions in response to stimuli of any kind. How we react/respond is based on our individual experiences, training/education and perceptions. A couple examples come to mind.
Years ago, there was this popular idea that—when surprised—everyone would crouch down and square up to the perceived threat. Remember that thing about me being assigned to a full-time SWAT team for over 15 years? Well, my buddies and I thought about that. Want to see someone surprised? Knock down their door and burst through pointing guns at them, throwing flash bangs and yelling to get on the ground. Then you see what people really do when startled. Freeze in place, turn and run, assume a fetal position (lying, sitting or standing no less) but very few squared up to us because those were the ones that got launched, and very few got launched! Most people, after an initial shock, followed directions. The reactions to our induced shock were individual. Nobody did the same thing as the last guy.

The second example is the universal startle reflex, i.e. throwing up their hands in response to sudden stimuli. Ummm, ever been hit in the face by a fist, pillow, ball etc? Hands didn’t come up, eh? Let that happen enough, and you’ll get those hands up. Practice it enough, and throwing your hands up in a startle response indeed becomes ingrained. It can become ingrained to the point you may just do that instead of what is really needed in the moment like moving, going directly to your gun or deflecting an incoming punch or gun pointing at you.

You can build similar actions among a training population. That can be good or bad based on the nature of the instruction. Responses have to be based on the circumstances of the event. Broad-based skills are important, but you must be able to remain calm enough to select the right tool for the job. If you buy into the universal action myth, you may just find the universal action you had to be taught anyway doesn’t fit your problem. That means you’ve wasted time, and time is a commodity you don’t have in a life or death situation.

O.K., I admit, I’m a horrible person. I wanted to test this theory, so I used my 3-year-old granddaughter as a guinea pig. I took a sponge ball (not a baseball, so I guess I’m not too bad) and tossed it at her head. In response to that stimulus, she did not, in fact, perform a universal action of lifting her hands to protect her head. In fact, the sponge ball bounced off her head. She thought that was hilarious! It was a sponge ball! After several attempts and Pawpaw showing her how to get her hands up, she’s starting to get pretty good at getting her hands on the ball. Catching will come. She had to learn how to lift her hands to protect her head.


Ok, here’s an admission. Nothing I’ve stated so far is my original idea. I have read comments and counter comments to virtually all the myths presented here and compared the credentials of the commenters. Heck, bouncing the sponge ball (come on, it was just a sponge ball) off the granddaughter’s head wasn’t even my idea! So when this myth came up years ago, I was curious if it had validity.

I talked to doctors and a variety of trainers who both did and did not agree with the concept. The trainers were split just about 50/50 for and against the concept. The doctors, who included sports medicine specialists and cardiologists, all said the concept was without merit. I deferred to the docs, and this myth has pretty much been de-bunked over time.

The docs all indicated the same thing. If your heart beats too slow or too fast, it eventually stops working. Not good! That’s the only effect your heart has on performance. As long as your heart beats within a range that doesn’t adversely affect your health—in other words you die—you can pretty much do whatever you have trained to do. Pretty simple actually.


Stress—Oh Lord, I really hate that word! This myth relates to myth #5 in that the proponents of this myth advance the idea that everyone will experience the same effects under stress (Oh Lord, oh Lord, I really, really hate that word). First of all, we all do not perceive the same things as stressful. Some folks can sleep soundly through the craziest of circumstances while others fall apart if their mail is late. Beyond perception, we are all wired differently in relation to our individual ability to manage stressful situations. Training and experience can help us manage critical incidents more efficiently, but on a virtual cellular level, some folks will just always do better than others in these situations.

Why do I hate the word stress so much? It’s a perfectly good word. It’s only six letters. It’s easy to spell. And it’s also so overused it has virtually no meaning left. Everything is stressful to someone. There’s no way we can say  that any of us have universal responses to stress. Folks, simply put this one out of your mind. Might you be excited in a shooting? Yep. Might you wet your pants? Yep. Might you stand there and sling lead like you’ve done it everyday of your life and it’s a perfectly normal part of you day? Yep. And you won’t know exactly how you’re going to react in that situation until you’ve been there.

So, there they are. Seven myths I’ve encountered in my many years of training and engaging in the defensive application of firearms. Some are the result of well-meaning individuals attempting to explain something they just did not really understand or because they didn’t have the skills necessary to investigate the issue. Others have come about because someone was simply trying to differentiate his training program from another instructor’s. Either way, they are myths that absolutely get in the way of training proven over time in the hands of competent operators. If anything, I hope this information can help you avoid these myths and keep you from wasting your limited training time and money on non-productive concepts.

This article appeared in the November 2015 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine. Click here to download the full issue.

Active Shooter Response: A Different Look at Run, Hide, Fight


How you react and respond to an active shooter situation could mean the difference between life and death. Trainer Bob Whaley critiques the current practice of “Run, Hide, Fight” and offers an alternative.

Before we go any further, I want you to take a careful look at the title of this article. This is a different look at the all-too-common mantra, “Run, Hide, Fight,” that has been promoted as the definitive response to active killer incidents. I purposely selected this title because I am unwilling to embrace yet another strategy that has failed to stop a single active killer event. You’re probably thinking, “Whoa there, big boy! The experts say to ‘Run, Hide, Fight!’ Who are you to disagree?” Frankly, I’m the guy who wants to win in a fight for my life rather than leave me or my loved ones’ fates in the hands of a maniac.

So what’s wrong with “Run, Hide, Fight” as a response plan? Well, nothing short of reality. If I run away, I get shot in the back, which is exactly what happened at Columbine, Westgate Mall and so many other incidents chronicled on real-time closed circuit TV. How about hiding? The argument goes that if they can’t find you, they can’t kill you. That works until they find you. Then, as happened in so many real-world incidents, they kill you. So, Bob, you have to admit that fighting can only be your last resort? After all, the bad guys have guns!

Yes, they have guns. And in the future, likely, bombs. So when the party kicks off, your adversary’s force capability, metaphorically speaking, is on the 100th floor of the skyscraper, whereas your force options are in the parking garage, because you’re likely in a location with a “No Guns Zone,” which is really a “Criminal Safe Zone.” If you wait to fight until the last resort, you’ll never bridge the gap. It’s my goal to take a different look at the problem and see if there is something that makes better sense from a tactical standpoint.

First, where did the idea of “Run, Hide, Fight” come from? The “experts,” of course. You might ask, which experts? The ones at the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies of the sort—more or less academics that study violence in the classroom. So upon what evidence/information did they base their decisions? Certainly not successful management of specific real-world incidents, because this strategy just gets people killed. No, their decisions, I believe, are based on political correctness. It’s not politically correct to tell people to fight back.

We hear all the usual arguments justifying a passive response: “Somebody might get hurt,” “Good guys fighting back will only make the situation worse,” “If you fight back/use violence, you’re no better than the terrorists,” and “Citizens fighting back will make it harder and more dangerous for the police coming to save us all.” So to satisfy a cowardly agenda and make everyone equally dependent no matter how many good people die, many have championed the failed strategy of “Run, Hide, Fight.”

Let’s start applying some critical thinking to the situation. First, somebody might get hurt. Too late! Somebody’s already getting hurt. Innocent men, women and children are getting killed. If all the good guys are running and hiding, ain’t no bad guys gonna get hurt, that’s for sure!

Training from reputable sources is the only way to build the skills and mentality needed.

Next, we have the ridiculous mantra that fighting back will only make things worse. My question is, For whom? We already have some maniac walking around indiscriminately shooting innocent people. If I, or a group of my buddies, smash this guy like a bug, for whom did we make it worse? Certainly not for all the innocent people this criminal can no longer kill. So again, when someone babbles on about only making it worse when you fight back, by extension, those “experts” seem to be placing more value on the life of the killer than the victims.

How about the “If you fight back, you’re no better than the terrorist?” Yes, I am. My application of violence is limited in scope and directed to a very narrow target set. The terrorist’s actions are unfocused and applied against anyone in his line of sight—man, woman, child, young, old. I will stop when I have accomplished my mission and the terrorist is stopped. He won’t stop until he runs out of victims, ammunition, has taken his own life or has been stopped by good guys willing to take him on. It’s a simple case of good versus evil, and I know which side I’m on.

And my favorite, as a trained law enforcement officer, is that if you fight back you’ll make it more dangerous for police officers responding to the call. Really? So, I and a bunch of like-minded citizens take the initiative and smash this bug before he can carry out his plan. No one will be shooting when the coppers show up. The good guys will have accomplished their mission, so there’s no need for them to fight anymore, especially with responding police. The good guys have disabled the bad guy so he’s not shooting anymore. Just how did citizens willing to counter attack the active killer make it more dangerous for the police? Do you really think the good guys are going to go over to the other side and turn on the police when they show up because they’re willing and able to fight?

“Well, if you have a gun in your hand when the police show up, they won’t know the good guys from the bad guys.” I was a cop for over 30 years. How will I know you, the good guy with a gun, are not a bad guy with a gun? For one, you’re not the guy with the gun people are running away from. You’re not the guy with the gun with a pile of bodies lying around you, and one of these individuals is likely shooting at the cop, whereas the other is shooting at the guy who is shooting at the officer. Not too hard to figure that one out. In law enforcement, we call that a clue! Shoot at the one who’s shooting at you and figure the other person shooting at him/her is on your side. If the situation changes, the officer’s response will change. It’s called common sense coupled with a cop’s experience.

As the off-duty police officer, plain-clothes officer or private citizen/CCW holder, it is incumbent on you to have a practiced plan in place to de-conflict the situation and establish a safe link-up with responding officers. Drive the conversation. For responding police, we need to understand the principles of target discrimination, especially as it applies to demeanor.

So, what about my comment that “Run, Hide, Fight” is based on cowardice? I’ll stand behind that all day. It takes guts to run to the sound of the gunfire. It takes guts to advocate your population to empower themselves to run toward the sound of the guns. But you know what you get when you advocate an active response versus a passive response? Someone no one wants to mess with.

Active killer events most often occur at soft targets. A soft target is a location where the victim pool isn’t likely to have the capacity or willingness to fight back. If your policy is to encourage violent resistance to evil, then evil will, in most cases, seek an easier target. That means the politicos have to be willing to give up control and admit they cannot protect everyone all the time and relinquish responsibility for personal safety to the individual.

A ballistic response is without question the most effective way to end an active shooter scenario.

A Better Way
There is only one response that prevents a criminal/terrorist from killing innocent people once he has decided to launch his attack, and that is an overwhelming, decisive, focused, violent counter force sufficient to kill the attacker. Until the attacker has been rendered incapable of any viable action, he can kill innocent people. So how, exactly, do I advocate you, me and the rest of the willing populace respond?

First, understand the nature of the beast. History teaches us that the individuals willing to carry out an active killing are overwhelmingly poor at their trade. Their weapon handling skills and tactical capabilities are minimal. They have been successful against helpless victim populations. They attack with bullets and bombs. The longer they are viable, the more people they kill. They are not super men. In the majority of cases, when faced with even minimal counter force, the killers run, cower, kill themselves or are killed by those with the capability to do so. If you’re aggressive and act fast, your chances of success are good. Remember two U.S. service members and their childhood friend on a train in France?

Next, understand that these events happen. The odds of being caught in an active killer event, whether it’s a terrorist incident or the result of a psychotic episode, are small…that is, until they’re 100 percent. It just may be your unlucky day. So accept what is happening and don’t talk yourself out the obvious. Orient toward the threat, prepare mentally to fight and look for an opportunity to improve your tactical situation.

active-shooter-2By orienting toward the threat I mean both physically and mentally, turn toward the source of the stimulus that has drawn your attention and begin moving toward cover so you can accurately assess the situation. Fighting is the only way you can be absolutely sure the attacker will be stopped, so start looking for opportunities to apply your fighting capability to the problem. Any moment an opportunity presents itself, strike. You might not get another chance. Mentally and physically, get ahead of your adversary in the decision-making race and stay there.

If the opportunity to strike is not immediately present, look to improve your tactical situation. That may mean bounding forward, moving from cover point to cover point until you can either ex-filtrate the area or engage and disable the attacker. If forward movement isn’t viable, break contact by moving away from the crisis point and going cover point to cover point until you can either ex-filtrate or engage the active killer. Keep this in mind: You always set to fight. That’s proactive. You have to stay ahead of your enemy’s attack capability. You’ll likely be behind the power curve when the action kicks off. You fight at any moment the opportunity presents itself because that indicates you’re within your fighting capability and by extension, the killer’s attack capability. If you don’t fight back at the first available moment, you’ll likely lose the initiative and become a casualty, and any dependents with you will be killed.

I use the terms “bounding” for moving forward and “breaking contact” for moving back. Those are military terms and reference battle drills. They’re fighting movements. You must keep your head in the game, and this game ends in life or death. Fight your way onto the target. Fight while on the target, and fight your way off the target. That’s an aggressive, proactive mindset that puts you ahead of your adversary.

Running away is passive and does nothing to negatively impact the killer’s ability to create victims. Review the video of the attack at LAX a couple years ago as an example. People ran blindly away from the sound of gunfire with no cover. Many, by habit, dragged their luggage and carried their expensive coffee as they followed the herd. They were completely dependent on the actions of others to protect them and keep the killer from pressing his advantage. Don’t be a herd animal.

If trapped in an area, don’t hide. Set an ambush. Establish the best tactical position possible, arm yourself and as soon as the killer enters your battle space, strike. If you allow him to enter your space and establish control, you and your dependents are dead. Be aggressive. Counter attack before the active killer can react. The Mumbai attacks are a perfect example to review for the result of a passive response from victims. As the terrorists penetrated multiple locations where victims were hiding, they were unopposed and killed without a single victim posing a credible counter threat.

active-shooter-proneTraining is Paramount
As I mentioned, the response concept I’m advancing here is based on an aggressive mindset that creates a proactive response, thereby putting you ahead of the criminal/terrorist response curve. But mindset alone isn’t enough. You have to have the mental, physical and equipment capability to carry out the response. One without the others will prevent you from presenting a truly viable response.

Bottom line, ballistic intervention is the best way to end an active killer event. In other words, good guys with guns end the threat posed by bad guys with guns. Avoid “criminal safe zones,” and make sure those locations know why you do not patronize their establishment. Vote for politicians who support your unalienable right to self-protection. Arm yourself with a modern pistol, get your carry permit and carry all the time. Fight attempts by the emotion-driven false narrative that further restrictions on guns prevent active killer attacks and crime in general, which are used to limit your access to modern firearms. Why should you, as a law-abiding citizen and a person willing to intercede on behalf of the weak and helpless, have to protect your life, the lives of your loved ones or the lives of your fellow law-abiding citizens with equipment less capable than your enemy because proponents of gun control are over-emotional twits incapable of facing reality? We need to stand strong against this rhetoric. Drastic gun laws did not stop the attacks in Paris, Brussels, Kenya, Australia, China or any other location. Murderers will find a way to acquire a gun, bomb, knife, car or other means to inflict damage on an unarmed, helpless populace.

Training from a reputable source is critical. Just talking about skills or reading about skills or watching YouTube videos won’t get it done. You have to put in the time necessary to create the mental overlays and physical/mental balance to get the job done. Active killer response programs for civilians from providers such as Gunsite Academy or Combat Shooting and Tactics are excellent. They are skill-specific and cover everything from basic shooting skills, medical and movement to de-conflicting/link-up with police. You don’t know what you don’t know until someone points it out. Get trained.

Training is your best ally when it comes to active shooter situations.

Just once, after yet another active killer scenario unfolds, I’d like to see an American leader, instead of merely crying for the victims, making excuses for the perpetrator, or worse yet, advocating a sit in for increased gun control, start to encourage Americans to defend themselves. Rather than fostering a mentality of passivity in the face of mounting terrorist and active killer threats, what we need is an emboldened stance against such reprehensible behavior.

Unfortunately, the world we live in is one in which disgruntled students walk into a school and start killing their fellow classmates, seeking to inflict as much loss of life as possible. And as the recent Orlando shooting demonstrated, there’s now terrorist-motivated agendas behind such events, too. It’s time we advocated a response to such events that put the populace in a better position to defend itself. At the end of the day, military and law enforcement training demonstrates how an overwhelming, decisive, focused, violent counter force sufficient to kill the attacker is the best possible way to put an end to such threats. As a long string of recent events illustrates, a passive response leads to greater casualties, which is the very reason active killers seek out soft targets like gun-free zones.

September 11, 2001, was a terrible day for America. A trio of hijacked airplanes were purposefully crashed into the World Trade Center buildings and the Pentagon, killing thousands of Americans. The damage could have been far worse, however, as United Flight 93 was likely bound for the White House. What prevented the fourth plane from accomplishing its horrific mission? A group of courageous Americans willing to fight back. Todd Beamer, among those who led a counter attack on the hijacked cockpit, and the rest on that flight lost their lives, but their active response to a terrorist threat saved untold lives. It was not passivity, but courage in the face of great fear and evil that put an end to the horrors of that day. What a lesson for us today.

Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from the Concealed Carry 2016 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

active shooter - HGN Training

The Confidence to Defend Yourself

Self defense can be a matter of life and death for your family. Keeping your shooting skills sharp is important to using the best home defense weapon possible when the unexpected occurs. Turn your handgun into the best handgun for home defense with the drills outlined in Handgun Training – Practice Drills for Defensive Shooting. Nothing will give you more peace and security in your own home than the confidence you will hit your target. Learn More

Training with Airsoft and Air Guns

Air gun -MM8_0613-FAirsoft and air guns add another dimension to your training regimen, bridging the gap between dry-fire and live-fire training.

Anyone who has followed columns I’ve written over the past few months knows what a stickler I am for training. If you are serious about carrying a concealed firearm for self-defense, training from a competent source trumps all the gadgets and whiz-bang, voodoo magic mind spells currently the rage in the age of the YouTube “expert.” The skills you acquire from those competent sources are perishable, and you don’t want to lose those hard won skills you took the time and money to learn. Therefore, sustainment training becomes vital to maintaining response capabilities. The problem that comes up regarding our ability to attend training and to practice acquired skills can be brought down to a single word: adulthood!

Air gun _1MM0202
SIG's new line of replica models are perfect training tools.

We only have so much time between jobs, kids/grandkids, social life and other essential activities to dedicate to defensive skills practice. We need to get the most bang for our buck and available time. Dry fire, of course, is essential. Reams of information have been published on the positive value of dry fire, so I don’t have to re-hash the topic here. Simply stated, dry fire. It’s good! Do it! Can we, however, add an additional component to our non-ballistic training that pushes beyond the limitations of dry fire practice? Enter modern Airsoft and air gun equipment.

Don’t get me wrong, nothing beats a well planned out and executed live range session. That’s where some of the rubber meets the road. We have to be proficient with our defensive measures and practice with the actual equipment we carry on a day-to-day basis, but we also need to fill the gaps, especially when a range session isn’t in the cards for one reason or another. Use of Airsoft and air guns can bridge that gap by providing a means to hold us accountable for specific performance standards through visible results.

Here’s what I mean. Dry fire provides us with a system to practice various aspects of our response plan absolutely perfectly. When we press the trigger at the end of a presentation, we can easily see if there’s movement to the front sight or issues with grip throughout the press—really, all types of issues—because recoil and muzzle blast aren’t present. Again, essential practice. But, there is no accountability for the precision of the “shot” because there are no measurable results, i.e. a hole in the target. Ok, no worries. Dry fire is still valuable practice because of the very absence of recoil/muzzle blast, but what’s next?

Adding additional practice with Airsoft or air guns adds the accountability. You can see the results on a target and know graphically that your dry-fire actions were correct. Neither, of course, replaces live practice, but both add to your ballistic training. And you probably can use the same area for dry fire and Airsoft or air gun training. There’s no downside really.

Inexpensive pellets, like those available from SIG, offer more bang for the shooter's buck.

Airsoft and air gun equipment is getting better all the time. Major firearms manufacturers, like SIG Sauer, are beginning to either make exact replicas of their product line or are having equipment produced under license agreements. That means you can procure a practice pistol or carbine that for all intents and purposes, looks, feels and functions exactly like the live firearm you operate on a day-to-day basis. Likely, you can use the same holster or carry system you use for EDC during your air gun or air soft training session. These are all positive aspects.

The quality of this equipment obviously varies with the price. As many are already aware, yes, you do get what you pay for. Function ranges from single-shot spring operated models to gas or battery operated models that provide extended semi-automatic operation in Airsoft platforms, while air guns are available in spring-piston, pneumatic and CO2-powered options. Ammunition for either choice is relatively inexpensive. Targets specific for Airsoft and air gun training are available and are worth the price. For example, I’ve shot Airsoft with a dedicated target that provides the ability to capture your pellets, which become insanely tiny when they escape and begin rolling around your training area. It can be like trying to clean sand from the beach out of your car. The more you clean, the more that appear. Plus, many of the dedicated targets provide the opportunity to re-cycle pellets which is not usually recommended if they are allowed to “free range.” I’ve also shot without Airsoft and air gun specific target systems, and it works just fine if the area is properly prepared. It’s really your call.

_1MM0436So, my recommendation for equipment to get the most from your money and time would be to acquire an Airsoft or air gun replica of your primary carry gun. It should either fit your EDC holster, or you should purchase a copy of your holster that fits the replica. Next, if it exists for your Airsoft or air pistol, get at least one extra magazine and mag pouch. Lastly, I recommend you buy a dedicated target system. SIG Sauer, for example, has an entire line of shooting targets that make training more enjoyable and rewarding.

Next, you need to prepare your training environment. I’ll talk about Airsoft for force-on-force training in a minute, but for now, I’m outlining the procedure I use for training that mimics my dry fire plan. First, in this context, I consider the Airsoft or air gun a live instrument since it has the capability to launch a projectile. That means I have a backstop that is capable of stopping the round expelled from the Airsoft or air pistol. Since I already have a dedicated target, I’m halfway home. I use the same area for my Airsoft training as I use for dry fire, that being the unfinished area of my basement. That means the target is placed in line with a blank concrete wall, which is underground—no way anything is escaping from that backstop! All procedures for ensuring a live, ballistic-capable firearm is not introduced into the dry-fire and Airsoft/air gun training area are followed. Remember, your next negligent discharge is just one trigger press away. Following established protocols will help push that unfortunate event back another day.

For me, this non-ballistic training usually follows an abbreviated dry-fire session. I say abbreviated dry fire because there are times I will perform dry drills only. If I add Airsoft or air guns, it’s usually in conjunction with dry practice. You may certainly do something else if you prefer. That’s just the procedure that my brain wraps around. My Airsoft and/or air gun training plan will follow the dry-fire training plan and is intended to add that vital verification aspect I talked about earlier. Nothing is perfect in life. You can perfect the wrong behavior with dry fire as easily as you can with live fire. Adding levels of verification helps ensure you are, indeed, ingraining the level of precision you want.
I see some folks using Airsoft for force-on-force training, and with proper safety procedures, I see nothing wrong with this application for air soft equipment. The issue I see comes up when people shortcut safety protocols established in conventional marking round training. In my opinion, that’s a recipe for disaster.

Air guns allow shooters to evaluate technique while also seeing results. Here, SIG Sauer's P226 air gun variant.

If you’re going to use Airsoft for force-on-force training, make sure you are performing actual training and not simply engaging in a game. And again, don’t get me wrong, games are fun, but they’re not always meaningful training. So to do it right, script a scenario based on an actual event or a compilation of real events. Have a coordinator who will brief role players and control the event so specific training goals are achieved. In addition to the event coordinator, you need a safety officer who will ensure nothing that can be used as a weapon enters the training environment. Once the scenario launches, play it out to the end. If necessary, the coordinator can push things in different directions to achieve the listed training goals.

Targets like SIG's Texas Star Spinner, designed for air gun use, are excellent training options.

As for gear, many Airsoft guns can be calibrated to a point as to power. Some folks feel they need to crank them to the top limit of power so a significant amount of pain is experienced if trainees get shot. I don’t feel that’s necessary. First, it’s a safety hazard. Injury not only limits the amount of training that can be performed but also opens up aspects of liability and may lead to a prohibition on force-on-force training long term. Throttle back kids! A tiny owie is as good as a big one!

Next, whether it’s marking rounds or Airsoft, I require full-face protection, at least heavy clothing (marking round chest protection is better), neck guards, gloves and groin protection. In addition, the event coordinator will ensure there is adequate stand off between trainees to prevent the risk of “contact” injuries. There must be at least an arm’s length between participants for a round to be discharged. Any closer puts us in jeopardy of unnecessary injuries and all the aforementioned problems. That’s a lot of work, but a safe training environment is mandatory if we want to gain the most possible from the event. If there’s one significant injury, then your training event is wrecked. Don’t let it happen.

The addition of Airsoft and/or air gun equipment to your training regimen can add an additional link in developing and sustaining skills necessary to respond to a critical incident. Initial outlay costs are reasonable for most budgets, and the equipment is becoming more robust all the time, so maintenance should be modest. And, if you have 10 to 20 minutes of extra time, you can execute an effective training plan in an environment not conducive to live ballistic training. All in all, I’d say that’s pretty good bang for you buck.