Firearms training when you can’t get ammunition


I’ve had a number of requests from readers to discuss how they can train with their firearms during a time like this, when ammunition is all but unavailable.  All is not lost.  There are options.

First off, remember that you don’t actually have to fire your gun in order to train with it.  Obviously, firing is better:  but “dry fire” without ammunition can be very useful in retaining the skills you’ve already developed.  (This assumes that it’s safe to pull the trigger of your gun with an empty chamber.  Most rimfire weapons – .22LR, .22 Magnum, etc. – are not safe to shoot like that;  it can break the firing pin, or leave a permanent mark in the metal surrounding the chamber.  Make sure you’ve checked that in your gun’s user manual, or with the manufacturer, before you take a chance.)  It’s also a good idea to use snap caps to protect your weapon’s firing pin during dry fire training.

Dry fire is intended to practice grip, stance, use of the sights, and trigger control – in other words, every aspect of getting off an accurate shot except actually firing a round.  It won’t necessarily do you much good unless you’ve already practiced those elements in live fire, learning to place your shots accurately;  but once you’ve gained that knowledge and experience, it helps to keep them fresh.  Basically, you begin by making sure – and double-checking, then triple-checking – that your firearm is unloaded, and that there’s no ammunition in the room or nearby.  That done, draw your firearm, bring it up to a firing position, make sure your grip and stance are correct, line up your sights on a target (which can be anything – a nail in the wall, or a knot in a fence post, or a leaf lying on the grass in your back yard) and try to activate the trigger without disturbing your sight picture.  When the hammer falls or the striker is activated, the firearm should not move at all – the sights should still be on what you want to hit.  To help train themselves to keep the firearm still, some shooters will balance a coin on top of the front sight (flat, of course).  If it falls off when they pull the trigger, they haven’t kept the gun still enough.

You can get training equipment and/or systems to help you dry fire more effectively and more often.  Here are three alternatives to begin with (there are more):

There are many articles out there about dry firing, how to do it, and the benefits it provides.  Here are three to get you started.

If you want to actually send rounds downrange, BB guns and Airsoft guns offer a low-cost alternative to real firearms for training purposes.  I’ve discussed their use extensively in this article, so I won’t repeat that information here – please click over there to read it, and the comments left by earlier readers (which are often very informative).  Suffice it to say that many people have tried them, and found them very useful.  I highly recommend that you look through these lists of BB or Airsoft guns, find one similar to your defensive firearm, and use it for practice and training purposes.  It’ll pay dividends.  (If you’re interested, I use this one.  It’s not identical to my Glock carry pistols, but it’s close enough.)

Of course, BB and Airsoft guns can’t duplicate the noise and recoil of a real weapon.  However, they do offer actual “trigger time”, sending real projectiles downrange.  If you can train enough to put all your BB or Airsoft projectiles where you aimed them, over realistic distances for such toys, you’ll be able to do the same with a real gun with minimal transition training and practice.  The skills do carry over.  Want proof?  Here it is.  I wrote about this video some months ago, but it’s worth embedding it again.

That’s pretty darn impressive!  I daresay that youngster had fired tens of thousands of rounds of BB and Airsoft ammo, so he was far better than most of us before he ever laid hands on a real gun;  but even so, I think his performance proves my point.

There’s also training with .22LR weapons.  This is my preferred solution when I don’t have enough full-power ammo for my carry weapons (or can’t afford it), because .22LR is a real round, fired from a real gun.  It has noise and recoil enough to make it more meaningful for practice purposes than BB’s or Airsoft.  Many firearms have rimfire “twins”, guns so similar that practice with them translates directly to proficiency with one’s carry weapon.  For example:

  • Glock’s Model 19 (chambered in 9mm), 23 (.40 S&W) or 32 (357 SIG) carry weapons are almost identical to that company’s Model 44 in .22LR.
  • Smith & Wesson produced its M&P Compact in .22LR some years ago, then used that weapon’s frame and slide as the basis for its Shield EZ pistols in 9mm and .380 ACP.  The latter models use a grip safety, but apart from that are almost identical to the earlier .22 model, which makes the latter an ideal training weapon for them.
  • Small-frame revolvers from Smith & Wesson, Ruger, Taurus and other manufacturers are available in defensive calibers such as 9mm, .38 Special, etc., and also in other models chambered for .22LR.  Practice with the latter translates directly into useful skills for the former.

One can also get rifles in BB and Airsoft formats, and in .22LR (including adapters that allow one to fire .22LR ammunition in a full-size AR-15 carbine or rifle, if you wish).  The sport of minisniping (using airguns) is also a lot of fun, and a great way to develop your shooting abilities.  (You don’t have to use telescopic sights;  if you use larger targets, iron sights can also come into play.)  There’s no reason not to keep your skills honed, even if you can’t get full-patch ammunition easily.  Also, don’t forget to keep looking for ammunition.  It’s out there – it just takes extra effort and money to get it.  (Sometimes one can still find bargains at pre-panic prices.  Just last weekend, I picked up 2,000 rounds of .22LR high-velocity ammo for $120 – 6c per round.  I’m not complaining!)

So, you see, there are plenty of choices out there.  You’ll have to decide for yourself which is best for you.



  1. #6 blue plastic wall anchors fit well in a 22 for snap caps. Much cheaper than designed snap caps and last a lot of uses. A dental hook is good for removing them.

    Someone already mentioned air weapons for training. Using our hosts own ping pong ball training and maybe some cardboard-fishing line-paint to set up a short range cowboy action shooting session with 1/3 sized targets. That way you can get used to moving targets and Shoot-NO Shoot targeting in a realistic way. For extra points add a 50 yard sprint to the firing line, pick up your weapon and engage. Simulates the situation in a real shooting situation as your stress and breathing will NOT be normal range bench.

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