Can Airsoft and BB gun training translate to real firearms? You bet they can!

A few years ago, I recommended the use of BB and/or Airsoft handguns as an ultra-low-cost training resource, to improve skill with a real handgun.  I repeated that advice a couple of days ago in a new article.  After that came out, I was challenged by a few shooters who insisted that “playing with a toy” could not possibly translate to usable shooting skills with a real firearm, and that I was “sucking this out of my thumb”.

I’m never going to persuade everyone:  but to those willing to watch with an open mind, here’s about as much proof as you’ll ever need.  In Japan, private ownership of firearms is just about impossible, and severely restricted even for those with enough “pull” to get a permit.  Therefore, the use of Airsoft guns as a sport has become very popular.  There are even organized tours from Japan to the USA to allow those who’ve never fired a gun, to shoot one at a range here.  Some businesses (e.g. in Las Vegas and elsewhere) actually make their living out of catering to the tourist shooter market (not only from Japan, of course).  Those who come over here having familiarized themselves with firearms using Airsoft “toys” tend to do OK.

Some Japanese take this to extremes, participating in Airsoft championships that are right up there with the top matches in the USA in terms of the demands placed on shooters.  You can see numerous videos of their efforts on YouTube.  One such competitor recently came to the USA after exposure to that level of shooting.  He’d never fired a real firearm in his life – only Airsoft weapons.  Watch for yourself how he did when handed a real Glock and a real AR-15 – and then tell me, if you dare, that Airsoft experience doesn’t translate to real firearms with only a minimum of transition training.

I think that video proves my point fairly conclusively.  I’m nowhere near that young man’s ability:  age and physical infirmity have taken my level of skill down more than a few notches from when I learned to use firearms the hard way, in the bush warfare environment of Southern Africa.  (I’ve written about Rhodesian-style “jungle walk” training before, most recently in this article.  If you get the chance to try it, do so – it’s worth it.)  Even so, I benefit (and save a lot of money) from practicing with BB guns instead of real handguns.  The former cost me less than 1c per round fired, compared to 4c-6c per round for decent-quality .22LR, 16c-17c per round for the cheapest bulk-pack brass-case 9mm target ammo, and 25c-26c per round for the ditto .45 ACP.  Guess which option I can afford to shoot the most?

If I (or anyone else) can shred the center-face or center-mass area of a target, on demand, using BB or Airsoft weapons, what makes you think we can’t do the same with something rather more useful for defensive purposes, given even a little transition training and practice – something I do at almost every range session?

I rest my case.



  1. @Quartz: Which is why I say you still need to practice enough with full-power firearms to be able to control recoil and keep your sights on target. That goes with the territory. However, if you shoot (say) 200 BB's in a training session, followed by 20 rounds of full-patch ammo to verify your skills with a firearm rather than a toy, you'll still be much better off than firing only the latter.

  2. For those who poo-pooh airsoft training, the difference is recoil. But good airsoft (and BB) guns have working slides, which provide a great deal of realism and recoil. When you're working semi-auto, there is very little real difference. As for rifles, it's not like AR's have much recoil, anyways. The only thing you are really missing is the "twang" and bang.

    A real difference is effective range. Airsoft is only good out to about 20-30 yards. BB/pellet pistols are good to any practical pistol range. BB/pellet rifles are good out to around 100-150 yards. When was the last time you practiced tactical drills on something longer than 100 yards?

    Inside the ten yards than most drills operate at, there is no practical, substantial difference in skill use between these "toys" and similar firearms. Aside from a bit of recoil and the noise from the shots, of course. (Saving your hearing is a plus in my book.)

  3. Hey Peter;

    After reading this post and the one you did Yesterday? about stashing your guns and operating under restrictions that may be coming to your area and you mentioned "BB" and "Airsoft". It is a good idea, I have been doing this with my "Daisy" BB gun off my back porch. The fundamentals are the same whether you use a BB or a "Real" Rifle and since the AR has low recoil it really ain't. I have seen the prices of Airsoft rifles and the good ones will run you a "C" note or 2. Up until a couple of years ago, there was an airsoft range that offered combat style shooting, where 2 groups of people would play "Capture the flag" and the airsoft pellets do hurt. Bouncing around like that reminded me that I am a summer chicken, not a spring chicken like I once was.

  4. Re: The tourist shooter – When I was working in the Central Pacific, I went through Honolulu, HI. There was a range there obviously catering to the Japanese trade (SHOOT A REAL GUN! in Japanese & English, pictures of very photogenic Japanese models on the walls). Cost was IIRC $100.00 for 20 rounds of .22 LR (and this was in the '80s when a C-note was real money), but it had been so long since I'd held a boomstick in my hands that I broke down and did it. I was the ONLY haole/gaijin in the place.

  5. I believe pellet rifles are good training. CO2 BB pistols
    are also good training.

    The bigger difference is performance from airsoft to BB to
    pellet. Using CO2 BB is good for rapid fire and trigger
    work. For distance and accuracy pellets and then step
    up to pellet rifle. The Airsoft is good for training
    on running the gun.

    When people say BB I think of 450-500fps CO2 and smooth bore
    accuracy to 15 yards can be good, more is only ok. By good
    I mean 5 shots in a 1.5" circle at 15 yards. Pellet with
    rifled bore adds 10-20 yards to that at 600fps. Springers
    are at 1000fps and nitropiston springers are above that.
    The PCP at 3000psi are easily 900+fps for the .30cal (44gr
    to to over 100gr) making them more potent than many handguns
    and well outside toy space. They are all powerful enough
    that good handling is a must. Also rule four!

    So the bottom of that range is something you don't want to get
    hit with and the upper end is enough for feral hogs.

    Down side of springers is slow rate of fire being as you cock,
    load for each shot. However a 150$ Umarex in .177 and a
    $5 for 500 pellet tin is cheap shooting.

    As to training that way, I did. Grew up where firearms were
    uncommon and restricted. Got a Crossman 760 (.177 BB/Pellet)
    pump up rifle and a Crossman 1122 in .22 pellet and learned
    to shoot it well after training from father (WWII rifleman).
    Moved to PA and first time shooting chucks with a .22lr and
    was taking them at 100yards and more with iron sights.

    Yes you can train that way and improve skills.
    You can also hunt that way too in some states.


  6. Picked up a spring loaded BB handgun a couple weeks ago to train indoors. It's a pain in the neck recocking after every shot, but it gives me trigger time. As well, I have been using it to familiarize the wife in safe firearm usage. So win/win in my books.
    By the time we can get to a range, she will be more comfortable holding a real handgun and a lot less nervous about firearms in general. So another added benefit to using a BB gun for training.

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